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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Jul 17, 2002

    Meiji : a real cultural revolution

    In the mid 19th century, Japan had been a country closed to the Western world (with the notable exceptions of the Dutch trading post in Nagasaki) for about two and half centuries. During that time, Japanese society and technological advances progressed very slowly compared to Western powers.
    Pressed by foreign insistance to open its ports to international commerce, the Japanese shogunate first tried to ignore them, but then had no choice but to cede after the Americans, under commodore Perry, threatened to use their guns' power if Japan refused to cooperate. Japanese thus reluctantly let the "long-nosed barbarians", as they were referred to, trade in a few Japanese ports under a fairly unequal trade treaties. That included not only the Americans, but also the British, French, Dutch and Russians.

    This caused great discontentment among the Japanese, and a few samurai planned to overthrow the government. Their first intention was to subsequently push the foreigners out of Japan, but as they organised their rebellion, they had no choice but to negotiate with Western powers themselves. After a failed uprising in Choshu (Western end of Honshu), some samurai from Tosa (southern Shikoku) created a alliance with samurai from Satsuma (southern Kyushu) and the remaining Choushu samurai. While France backed the shogunate, Britain helped the rebels by providing them with guns. The rebellious samurai could this way arm peasants to fight on their side, and eventually suceeded in a few weeks in taking control of the whole country.

    In a complete reversal of situation, the new leaders were now convinced that Japan had to modernize itself, which meant adopting Western technology, system and knowledge. Thus started the great changes of the Meiji restoration. Here is a list of the transformations that Japan underwent during the last 3 decades of the 19th century.


    - adoption of Western weapons
    - adoption of Western uniforms
    - adoption of Western-style military music
    - adoption of Western military organization (titles, etc.)
    - creation of a Western-style Navy
    - Beginning of conscription

    Culture & Education

    - compulsory schooling
    - first universities
    - developpement of Western-style literature (in contrast to haiku, kabuki, no, etc.)
    - developpement of Western-style painting (in contrast to ukiyoe)

    Government & Society

    - Western legal system (=> one condition to revise the unequal treaties)
    - bicameral parliament
    - nation-wide tax (as opposed to daimyo domain taxes)
    - creation of prefectures (in replacement to daimyo domains)
    - suppression of samurai rights (swords...) and stipends
    - suppression of the fixed social classes/occupations
    - permission for commoners to move outisde their villages
    - creation of family names for everybody


    - adoption of Western clothes ( 洋服 ) for everybody from the Emperor to manual workers.
    - adoption of Western hairstyles
    - develpopment of Western entertainment (dances, music, literature...)
    - Western-style houses/buildings (which has evolved to a new hybrid style after WWII)
    - Westernized etiquette (though only partly)
    - women stopped shaving their eyebrows and blacken their teeth.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Mar 14, 2004 at 00:41.

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