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The Role Of The Emperor In Meiji Japan

1927 words - 8 pages

Japan is a society whose culture is steeped in the traditions and symbols of the past: Mt. Fuji,
the tea ceremony, and
the sacred objects of nature revered in Shintoism. Two of the most important traditions and symbols in
Japan; the Emperor
and Confucianism have endured through Shogunates, restorations of imperial rule, and up to present day.
The leaders of the
Meiji Restoration used these traditions to gain control over Japan and further their goals of
modernization. The Meiji leaders
used the symbolism of the Emperor to add legitimacy to their government, by claiming that they were
ruling under the
"Imperial Will." They also used Confucianism to maintain order and force the ...view middle of the document...

In the years leading up to 1868 members of the Satsuma and Choshu clans were
part of the
imperialist opposition. This opposition claimed that the only way that Japan could survive the
encroachment of the
foreigners was to rally around the Emperor.Footnote4 The Imperialists, claimed that the Tokugawa
Shogunate had lost its
imperial mandate to carry out the Imperial Will because it had capitulated to Western powers by allowing
them to open up
Japan to trade. During this time the ideas of the imperialists gained increasing support among Japanese
citizens and
intellectuals who taught at newly established schools and wrote revisionist history books that claimed
that historically the
Emperor had been the ruler of Japan.Footnote5 The fact that the Tokugawa's policy of opening up Japan to
the western
world ran counter to the beliefs of the Emperor and was unpopular with the public made the Tokugawa
vulnerable to attack
from the imperialists. The imperialists pressed their attack both militarily and from within the Court of
Kyoto. The great
military regime of Edo which until recently had been all powerful was floundering not because of military
weakness, or
because the machinery of government had broken but instead because the Japanese public and the Shoguns
supporters felt
they had lost the Imperial Will.Footnote6
The end of the Tokugawa regime shows the power of the symbolism and myths surrounding the
imperial institution.
The head of the Tokugawa clan died in 1867 and was replaced by the son of a lord who was a champion of
historical studies and who agreed with the imperialists claims about restoring the Emperor.Footnote7 So
in 1868 the new
shogun handed over all his power to the Emperor in Kyoto. Shortly after handing over power to the
Emperor, the Emperor
Komeo died and was replaced by his son who became the Meiji Emperor.Footnote8 Because the Meiji Emperor
was only 15
all the power of the new restored Emperor fell not in his hands but instead in the hands of his close
advisors. These advisers
such as Prince Saionji, Prince Konroe, and members of the Satsuma and Choshu clans who had been members
of the
imperialist movement eventually wound up involving into the Meiji Bureaucracy and Genro of the Meiji
Era.Footnote9 Once
in control of the government the Meiji Leaders and advisors to the Emperor reversed their policy of
hostility to
Foreigners.Footnote10 They did this because after Emperor Komeo (who was strongly opposed to contact with
the west)
died in 1867 the Meiji Emperor's advisors were no longer bound by his Imperial Will. Being anti-western
also no longer
served the purposes of the Meiji advisors. Originally it was a tool of the imperialist movement that was
used to show that
the Shogun was not acting out the Imperial Will. Now that the Shogun and Komeo Emperor were dead there
was no longer a
reason to take on anti-foreign policies.
The choice of the imperial thrown...

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