The Meiji Period (1868-1912) 明治時代
Ginza Street, Tokyo - Kusakabe Kimbei
Credit: NYPL Digital Collections
Emperor Meiji in 1888
Tokyo street in 1905
Japanese women wearing western clothes
The Lights of Japan
In November 1867, the shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa (1837-1912) abdicated, restoring all powers to the emperor and ending the bakufu regime and isolationism.
Under the reign of Mutsuhito, the Meiji emperor (1852-1912), Japan experienced an overhaul of political, economic and social systems leading to an extremely rapid modernization of the country: it was the Meiji restoration.
THE TIME OF REFORMS
Edo was renamed Tokyo and became the imperial capital in 1868. In the Meiji period, the government undertook major political and economic measures. The four traditional social classes from the feudal system of the Edo period disappear in 1871. The daimyos and the samurai lose their rights and privileges, not without regret. This reorganization of Japanese society sparked revolts in the country until 1877. Promulgated in 1889, the first imperial constitution of Japan invested the emperor with a strong central power. The creation of the yen in 1871 standardizes and facilitates trade.
On the societal level, the regime made education compulsory and created the imperial universities of Tokyo and Kyoto. The abandonment of the Chinese lunisolar calendar in favor of the Gregorian calendar is a marker of the gradual introduction of Western culture within the country.
- Also read: The Meiji-jingu shrine in Tokyo
ENRICH THE COUNTRY, STRENGTHEN THE ARMY
Under the motto fukoku kyohei "to enrich the country, to strengthen the armed forces", symbol of a policy of development of the national prosperity and the military force, Japan bet on a rapid industrialization . The promotion of its new industries (steel, shipbuilding, coal) enabled Japan to rise in 1900 to the rank of a major world economic power.
Relying on its new army, Japan undertook a policy of territorial expansion. Military operations follow one another: Sino-Japanese War in 1894-1895, Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905. Its area of influence expanded considerably thanks to the annexation of the Ryukyu Islands in 1879, Taiwan in 1895 and all of Korea in 1910.
BIRTH OF MODERN JAPAN
The development of new means of transport attests to the rapid modernization of the country. The palanquins gave way to railway and horse-drawn tram lines. The first railway line, connecting Shimbashi to Yokohama, was inaugurated in 1872.
The Meiji era brought a new urban model, inspired by the West. Paved roads, brick buildings and gas street lights all emerged. On this new model, the Western-inspired architecture of Ginza and Marunouchi districts emerging. The Tokyo station, although completed in 1914, is also of European inspiration, with its red brick facade.
- Also read: Tokyo station
The kimono and traditional clothes fall into disuse in front of the yofuku "western clothes". Japanese women adopt western-style dresses and hairstyles. The male gender succumbs to the fashion of the mustache and the beard.
Photography and lithography are greeted with enthusiasm; ukiyo-e prints fell out of favor during this time. The first European photographers installed in Yokohama like Felice Beato (1832-1909) very quickly find many Japanese disciples. The regulations of the written press decreed by the emperor allow the publication of the first daily newspaper in 1871, the Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun.
On the death of Emperor Mutsuhito in 1912, Japan achieved the feat of moving, in fifty years, from a feudal state to one of the world's greatest powers.