Summary and Keywords
The Meiji Revolution (1853–1890) transformed Japan from a double-headed federation state with hereditary status system into a unitary monarchy that afforded greater rights and freedoms to the Japanese people. After ending the revolution by the establishment of constitutional monarchy, Japan promoted industrialization that would later energetically support its imperial expansion during the first half of the 20th century.
Intellectuals during the late Edo period (1603–1868) became disillusioned with the hereditary system of the Tokugawa regime. Because tradition prohibited them from criticizing any upper authorities directly, the intellectuals capitalized on a threat from outside to advocate for the necessity of political reforms, when Western envoys urged the opening of Japan toward the West after more than 200 years of seclusion. The intellectuals at first appealed to their lords to recreate military powers. Soon, they directed their efforts towards the emperor in Kyoto, and began to criticize the Tokugawa Shogunate openly. After ten years of political negotiations and small civil wars, they finally chose imperial restoration to oust the Tokugawa and set out for a series of radical reforms that would abolish local governments, dismantle samurai status, integrate discriminated people with commoners, and introduce various social institutions from the West.
Interesting characteristics distinguish the Meiji Revolution from other modern revolutions. For one, it fully utilized the authority of monarchy. Second, it appealed to the symbol “return to our ideal past” instead of the symbol “Progress.” Third, the death toll was also quite low: about 30,000, in contrast to 2,000,000 in French Revolution. At first glance, these characteristics would seem to set the Meiji Revolution apart from European movements—nevertheless, the Meiji Revolution inaugurated the beginning of an egalitarian and free society, and careful examination of the Meiji Revolution has the potential to shed new light on hidden aspects of other modern revolutions across the globe.
Overview and Terminology
The Meiji Restoration was one of the largest revolutions in the modern world. Japan transformed itself from a double-headed federation-state with a hereditary status system into a unitary nation-state under a constitutional monarchy that promoted social and economic liberalism during the third quarter of the 19th century.
Traditionally, this fundamental change has been called the “Meiji Restoration” in English.1 This comes from one of the translations of the Japanese term Meiji Ishin.2 Yet, it is inappropriate. The term “restoration” stresses the return in 1868 of the emperor to a position of political primacy in Japan and tends to conceal the following radical reforms, including the dissolution of the samurai aristocracy and the beginning of the liberation of the discriminated classes. In addition, the new government not only pursued economic development but also introduced constitutional politics. The Meiji Ishin was completely different from the royal restorations that took place in 19th-century France. Thus, it is better to call the Meiji Ishin the “Meiji Revolution” in comparative perspective.3
Structural Changes: Japan in 1858 and 1877
In order to assume a bird’s-eye view of the Meiji Revolution, it is useful to compare the state of Japanese polity and society in 1858 and 1877. The year 1858 was the starting point of the collapse of the early modern regime, while the year 1877 saw the beginning of a period of steady development following the end of armed rebellions against the new Meiji state.
Changes in Polity: From a Double-Headed Federal State with a Hereditary Status System to a Unified Nation State under a Single Emperor.
In 1858, Japan had a very unique polity that consisted of two ruling heads who governed around 260 integrated daimyo states.4 The basic units of governance were local states headed by daimyo lords who controlled administration, taxation, and justice within their domains. The largest daimyo was the Tokugawa Shogunate, which governed one-fourth of Japan. Other daimyo had feudal relationships with the Shogunate, which monopolized such supreme powers as command of the national military, diplomacy, the minting of coins, and the authority to supervise the royal court in Kyoto. Around thirty daimyo were large enough to finance their armies. Yet, they were excluded from national decision making, regardless of their kinship with the Tokugawa Shogunate.5
Each top-level daimyo had about 1,000 to 2,000 registered samurai vassals. Among these vassals, 2 percent became top administrators, and others assumed various offices according to their hereditary status. Commoners who lived in rural areas and towns shared the obligation to pay taxes and provide corvée labor. At the bottom of the social ladder, there were peoples called Eta and Hinin segregated from others by birth. In spite of the ubiquity of the hereditary status system, there were some people who moved beyond status borders, such as Buddhist monks, physicians, surgeons, scholars, and the blind. Such figures were visible by their lack of the ubiquitous topknot hairstyle that characterized members of other social groups.
Early modern Japan had another political head in Kyoto: Tennō (emperor in English, hereafter). From ancient periods, the emperor retained the right to worship national deities and to confer ranks to court noblemen, the Tokugawa, and other samurai. In this aspect, the emperor’s court held a higher status than the Shogunate. Yet, it had no right to make country-wide decisions and was compelled to obey laws set forth by the Shogunate. While people did not question this double-headed monarchy during the early half of early modern period, by the late 18th century, intellectuals began to promote and disseminate the idea that the emperor in Kyoto was the true sovereign of Japan.6
In 1877, Japan became a single polity organized under the authority of the Meiji emperor. The emperor directly legitimized governmental policy and law. Governmental officials were sent to rule the former daimyo domains. Moreover, the Meiji government began to create a nation through various means: the invitation of men of ability, including commoners, to governmental offices; the establishment of a compulsory educational system and a military conscription system; the abolishment of the hereditary status system; and the announcement of the future adoption of a constitution. The Meiji Revolution led to a highly centralized political system and brought about a semi-classless government, at least in principle.
Changes in Society
One of the most remarkable changes during the Meiji Revolution was the abolition of the samurai aristocracy.7 The Meiji government began its efforts to ease status discrimination from the first stage of the Meiji Revolution. The Meiji emperor announced the integration of court nobility and samurai in his very first decree and declared the invitation of any person with ability irrespective of their hereditary status in its first constitution (Seitai) in 1868. Thus, non-samurai by birth accounted for 20 percent of governmental positions before 1877.8 Next, the government dared to dissolve the traditional hereditary status system. The samurai class, which amounted to around 6 percent of the Japanese population, lost their income in exchange for small amounts of public bonds and were forced to eke out a living for themselves. On the other hand, the Meiji government incorporated traditionally discriminated groups into the status of commoners. Yet, there was an exception to this official renunciation of status distinction. The government created a new Peerage class, consisting of about 400 families of former court nobility and daimyo lords. The royal family remained separate from the subjects.
Reform of the taxation system not only improved public finance but also changed social ties among the people.9 The old system of rice-based agricultural taxes was transformed into a new cash-based land tax, which was collected according to a uniform nationwide standard. This change greatly eased the process of budget making for the Meiji government. Yet, it is noteworthy that this reform changed the nature of people’s rights and duties. Before, taxes were imposed on communities, villages, or towns. After the reform, individuals became taxpayers who were officially recognized the right to own property. The tax reform eased the transfer of land ownership. Yet, it also loosened preexisting social ties within various groups of people. Peasants with heavy debts became obliged to relinquish their land in order to pay taxes after villages ceased to subrogate the tax.
The Meiji government also relaxed various regulations that had been previously imposed on the people in regard to travel, habitation, occupation, and marriage. Such measures were meant to increase social mobility in order to expand national power. Thus Meiji leaders combined these measures with plans for enlightenment and industrialization. They made great efforts to acquire Western knowledge, sending students abroad, creating a compulsory education system, and forming state schools and state factories. Such measures encouraged and supported peoples’ ambitions for an improved standard of life. The Meiji state thus institutionalized its Westernization efforts.10
The Meiji Revolution introduced radical changes in polity and society and created a nation with equal rights, at least as far as males were concerned. These changes mirrored similar developments in the West during the same century. Yet, it is remarkable that people never discussed the abolition of discrimination among people of various statuses during the late Tokugawa period.11 In order to understand this unexpected outcome, we should turn to the political process itself instead of searching for absent manifests for radical reforms.
Political Changes during the Meiji Revolution: 1853–1890
The Meiji Revolution began in 1853 and ended in 1890. In 1853, U.S. envoy Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan and challenged Japan’s seclusion policy toward the West. In 1890, the new government established in 1868 opened the National Diet and became a constitutional monarchy. To fully comprehend the Meiji Revolution, it is better to analyze changes over a longer period than simply the era of political turmoil from 1858 to 1877.
Japan’s Opening toward the West and Its Technological Reforms (1853–1858)
Perry’s arrival forced Japan to open its ports to Western vessels.12 After expelling the Spanish and Portuguese from Japan in the early 17th century, the Tokugawa Shogunate maintained very limited international relations with the neighboring states of Korea, Ryukyu, and China, as well as the Netherlands in the West. At the end of the 18th century, the Tokugawa government began to pursue a conscious seclusion policy after becoming aware through Dutch sources of the reappearance of Western powers in East Asia. Perry’s arrival confirmed the Tokugawa Shogunate’s worst fears about the Western threat. Perceiving its military weakness, the Tokugawa government made a concession to the American envoy to open a few select ports. It also began implementing reforms such as the introduction of Western military technology and the encouragement of the study of English, French, and German in addition to Dutch.13 On the other hand, this concession also evoked a strong sense of humiliation and anger among samurai elites.
The Beginning of Political Disorder: The Emergence of Public Opinion and Demand for Imperial Rule (1858–1863)
This latent disaffection exploded in 1858 when the government concluded its second treaty with the United States to begin formal diplomatic relations and trade based on a policy of gradual opening. In order to build a national consensus around this decision, the Tokugawa government, for the first time in its history, asked the emperor in Kyoto to approve the treaty. This move resulted in an opposite, fatal outcome when the Tokugawa later signed the treaty despite the emperor’s refusal to approve it. This contempt of the emperor stirred up public opinion against the Tokugawa’s deliberate decision, which was denounced as unmanly treachery.
Criticism of Tokugawa foreign policy happened to be intertwined with another grave issue: the selection of the Shogun’s heir. Some major lords like Echizen, Satsuma, and others longed for an able leader to overcome the grave foreign crisis. Yet, the Shogunate chose another candidate and punished these lords when they protested the decision. The regents of the new, young Shogun purged all their opposition from positions of power, which included not only protesting daimyo and their vassals but also Kyoto noblemen and various intellectuals.14
These measures fomented further anger and discontent at the ruling Tokugawa order, starting a fatal vicious cycle. Men of high purpose (Shishi) sought for any method of resistance, with some of them finally assassinating the Shogun’s regent in 1860. After this incident, lords, their vassals, and intellectuals began to express open defiance toward the Tokugawa government and headed for Kyoto to engage in “national” politics.
In the midst of the crisis, there emerged two slogans of defiance: “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians,” and “public discussion for Japan.” Major lords appealed to the latter in order to justify their ambitions for national politics.15 The head of Satsuma initiated his bid to mediate between the emperor and the Tokugawa regime by demanding the Shogunate’s reform. After securing the emperor’s support, he succeeded in releasing the court noblemen and major lords punished in 1858 and making two of the latter become the top leaders of the Tokugawa government. Yet, another lord blocked the completion of his ambitions. The lord of Chōshū decided to dedicate his domain to the cause of “expelling the barbarians.”16 In 1863, the Tokugawa was forced to decree the expulsion of the Westerners following the demands of the royal court, which in turn was largely driven by the radical sentiment prevailing in Kyoto. Radicals in Chōshū, after shelling Western ships at Shimonoseki Strait, proceeded to carry out a military campaign against the Tokugawa. They planned to gather the lords in western Japan in the name of a national war against the West that would be led by the emperor.
The Efforts to Rebuild Political Order: Toward Two Ways of Imperial Rule and Armed Conflicts (1863–1868)
Yet, this move made the other major lords, court noblemen, and the emperor himself anxious about the prospect of a civil war. The lord of Aizu in ally with Satsuma and other daimyos launched a coup d’état to expel the radicals from the court and started planning for the reconstruction of the political order. The anti-Tokugawa sentiment that had been mounting since 1858 apparently seemed to have stopped.
At this critical point, the Tokugawa Shogunate made a fatal mistake.17 It did succeed in reconciling with the emperor through mediation by Satsuma and its ally Echizen, one of the influential daimyo within the Tokugawa family. Yet, it refused to bestow any rewards on Satsuma or its allies. Tokugawa officials were obsessed by the dream to recover Tokugawa hegemony before 1858, when the orders by Tokugawa cabinet consisted of small daimyos were faithfully obeyed. They coldly rejected Satsuma’s demand to be a member of the Tokugawa cabinet. Instead, they won the emperor’s favor by making a false promise to close the largest port, Yokohama, and also succeeded in establishing a liaison organization between the Shogunate and the imperial court in Kyoto.18 Yet, their success left a strong sense of disappointment, dishonor, and anger among the Satsuma samurai. Satsuma quit lending aid to the Tokugawa regime and began searching for any way to realize the participation of major lords in national politics. Their conclusion was to become allies with Chōshū, a former rival and hostile power against the Tokugawa.19 At this point, Chōshū had already abandoned its expulsion policy and shifted its goal to radical, domestic reform in the cause of restoring the emperor’s glory.20 The new political order in 1864 was far from stable, with two large, energetic enemies outside the Tokugawa regime’s control.
In 1864, Chōshū dialed in recovering Kyoto. The emperor became hostile enough to order the Tokugawa to punish Chōshū. Facing the allied powers including Satsuma, Chōshū offered an apology. Yet, it remained obstinate. Perceiving Chōshū’s apology inadequate, the Tokugawa government tried to reorganize its forces to launch a punitive mission. Yet, most major lords refused to join them, as the rumor spread that Satsuma openly criticized the second campaign. There was a secret agreement between Satsuma and Chōshū that the former would check Tokugawa forces in the case of war.21 Thus, the Tokugawa was forced to attack Chōshū with a few allied lords among Tokugawa vassals and failed.22 The victory of a single domain against the Shogunate, Chōshū, made all the parties concerned expect that a new regime was necessary to recover peace and reunify Japan.
Under this situation, Tokugawa Yoshinobu became the head of Tokugawa. At first, he sought for the introduction of an extended cabinet with some major daimyos to recover their support. Yet, after emperor Komei refused this plan, he assumed the position of Shogun and concentrated his efforts on the reform of Tokugawa organization by promoting lower retainers to higher positions, re-creating his army in French style and giving audiences to Western diplomats to demonstrate him as a sovereign.
Radical Reforms in Polity and Society by the Meiji Government (1868–1877)
Amid the political dispute that had been ongoing since 1858, a consensus arose among Japanese leaders that any new government should be established in the name of the emperor. The death of the emperor Kōmei in 1867 paved the way. The shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu decided to yield the Tokugawa’s sovereignty to the royal court, expecting that he would be the prime minister of a new cabinet under the new, young emperor, which would consist of able daimyo and court noblemen.23 Yet, Satsuma and Chōshū provided another plan to exclude Tokugawa from the coming government.24 By doing so, they attempted to totally abolish the Tokugawa regime, a federation of states manned by a hereditary aristocracy.
In early 1868, Satsuma and court nobility Iwakura Tomomi carried out a coup d’état of imperial restoration. The new government declared the restoration of the emperor as the only sovereign and the abolishment of old institutions within the royal court in addition to the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In the coup d’état, Satsuma tried to divide the pro-Tokugawa major daimyos. In order to make power transfer easier, Satsuma tried to isolate Aizu who had been clinging to Tokugawa hegemony by forming an alliance with Echizen, Owari, and Tosa. Utilizing this situation, Echizen and Owari succeeded in getting the new court’s decision to welcome Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who had moved to Osaka with Aizu to avoid war, to the new government in exchange for his approval to return Shogunate domain.
Yet, new government under Tokugawa Yoshinobu would never be realized. When outraged Tokugawa banner men and Aizu attempted to recapture Kyoto by force, the allied powers of Satsuma and Chōshū, which had entered Kyoto after the coup d’état, defeated Tokugawa armies in a small battle near Kyoto. This victory urged Echizen, Owari, and Tosa to fully support the Satsuma-Choshu leadership, and daimyos in western Japan began to join the alliance one by one.
In this situation, the Meiji emperor promulgated the “Charter Oath.” This brief platform consisted of five articles, in which the first article ordered that “various meetings should be held to make all decisions through public discussion,” a statement developed from various discourses circulating during the late Tokugawa era.25
Although the last Tokugawa shogun avoided opposing the new government, some domains in northeastern Japan began a war of resistance in cooperation with a few Tokugawa banner men. They fought hard against the allied powers of domains in western and central Japan with Aizu at the center. Yet, the outcome was almost decided when Aizu surrendered in November, leaving a small group still resisting at Hakodate in Ezo island until June 1869.26
One month after the end of the civil war, the Meiji government ordered all daimyo to present Tokugawa certificates that had endorsed the right to govern their domains to the emperor. After collecting them, the Meiji government changed the lords into governors appointed by the emperor while allowing them to rule their former domains. Then, two years later, in 1871, the government finally changed the daimyo domains into imperial prefectures and ordered the former lords to move to the capital Tokyo (formerly Edo). Japan was transformed from a federation of some 260 domains into a fully integrated political body directly controlled by Tokyo.27
This second coup evoked almost no salient resistance from former lords and their vassals. Yet, as the Meiji government proceeded to abolish the hereditary status of the samurai, a few rebellions occurred in the region that had supplied the government with major forces in 1868, while no rebellions occurred among the defeated domains in the northeast. After resigning from the government in protest, political leaders from Saga, Chōshū, and Satsuma gathered frustrated former samurai in each region to launch a rebellion against Tokyo. The largest of these rebellions was the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, led by Saigō Takamori, the most famous figure during the imperial restoration.28 The Tokyo government barely won this civil war, the death toll of which was almost similar to the one in 1868, by utilizing the conscripted army it established after the restoration.
Toward a Constitutional Monarchy (1877–1890)
The Satsuma Rebellion marked the threshold to the age of peaceful, continuous political development.29 People perceived that it was now impossible to return to the past. Newcomers to the political arena abandoned violence as an essential means of governance and decided to concentrate mainly on manipulating public discussion to gain political power. This change of political strategy allowed newly formed political parties to gain support from local elites with wealth and knowledge. When the general election of the lower house of the National Diet started in 1890, political parties continuously won majorities.30 This fact forced the Meiji government to take measures to compromise with them. After both sides made various efforts to win power within the newly established constitutional framework, the Meiji monarchy reached an equilibrium after the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 that Meiji bureaucrats and a majority party in the House of Representatives began to organize cabinets alternately.
The Meiji Revolution in Comparative Perspective
In comparative perspective, the Meiji Revolution had some interesting characteristics. (1) It was accomplished through a series of consecutive reforms without years of sustained reactionary opposition. (2) It was carried out through the use of the emperor’s symbolic authority. (3) Core leaders quickly changed their slogan without hesitation from advocating a “return to an ideal past” to promoting “progress.” (4) The human costs of the conflict, about 30,000 deaths, were comparatively small for a revolution that entailed such a radical redistribution of social rights.
The Meiji Revolution took many years: about twenty years in terms of political conflicts, including armed confrontations, and thirty-eight years from its origins in the sudden change in the international environment that beset late Tokugawa Japan to the institutionalization of political development by the introduction of constitutional politics. Yet, the length seems to be average for a revolution of comparable scale.
The progression of changes that took place during the Meiji Revolution was noteworthy. It was slow in its early stage and became very quick later on. It took ten years for the Tokugawa Shogunate to collapse; considerable time was spent on political negotiations, which were interspersed with a few armed conflicts. Yet, following this collapse, the new Meiji government rushed into a series of radical reforms, including the abolition of daimyo domains in the three and a half years following the restoration coup. This pattern was opposite to that of the French Revolution, where major changes occurred in its early stages: the establishment of a National Assembly and the Declaration of Human Rights in the first year, and the abolition of the monarchy in the fourth year. The Meiji Revolution was gradual enough to nurture national consensus for coming radical reforms, and there was little reactionary protest after 1877.
The Role of the Monarchy
After the catastrophe of 1858, the slogan to “return sovereignty to the emperor in Kyoto” almost reached the point of national consensus by 1868, with the exception of a few samurai loyalists in Aizu domain and a small portion of Tokugawa vassals. The descendent of a long line of ancient emperors held enormous significance as a symbol of radical reforms.
It is natural to question how the Meiji Revolution could both abolish samurai aristocracy and limit the power of the emperor within a constitutional framework. It was because Japanese emperors had possessed little power in decision making since the 14th century. Emperors’ authority was traditionally contingent upon the ability of the Shogun, whom they relied on for actual power. The late Tokugawa-era emperor Kōmei hardly deviated from this tradition to share sovereignty with the shogun, even though he dared to express his opinions on foreign policy. The Meiji emperor also followed this tradition when he was enthroned at the age of seventeen by seldom resisting the advice of his cabinet members on national affairs.31
The Japanese emperor’s political position was similar to the position of British modern monarchs who “reigned but did not rule.” This was why the status of Japanese emperors was seldom challenged, although the throne was sometimes disputed within the family. The samurai founding fathers of the Meiji government utilized this tradition to build a constitutional monarchy that limited the power of emperor even while his status remained ostensibly absolute. Such a system was relatively rare worldwide. While Korean and Chinese monarchs tried to adopt constitutional systems with the successful Japanese model in mind, they nonetheless never dared to abandon the power of decision making on personnel and budget allocation.
Symbol of Revolution: “Return to an Ideal Past”
The Meiji government was established via a declaration that demanded “returning to the time when the first emperor Jinmu established our dynasty.” Yet, the government soon began to adopt European models to reform Japan in the name of “civilization.” Although some intellectuals who believed in restoring the mythical past of Japan were disappointed by this move, most political leaders who had led the imperial restoration showed little hesitation. They quickly changed their political slogans from “returning to the past” to “progress” and suppressed any resistance from anti-Westernization groups. This attitude appeared to contradict the “Great Cause” they had initially utilized to mobilize the samurai. How can we solve this aporia?
Historians tend to interpret modern revolutions and reforms in terms of the standards of “progress” introduced by 18th-century Europeans. This is why many feel perplexed to see the slogan “returning to the past.” But is there no room to regard the idea of “returning to an ideal past” as a general phenomenon for human beings present before the 18th century?
In 19th-century Japan, the idea of “return to ideal past” was used for a variety of reforms, not simply for the restoration of the emperor to the sovereign of Japan.32 In 1862, Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi announced a radical reform of his army along Western lines. Politicians after the Meiji Revolution would use the slogan “progress to civilization” to enact similar reforms. Iemochi declared,
My government has become corrupt and ostentatious, with the morale of banner men in decline. It is a serious deviation from what my house ought to be. Especially, we have to recover our military strength after beginning international relations with foreign countries. To adapt my government to the current situation, I would like to make fundamental reforms by returning to the origin of my house when institutions were simple and samurai lived in a humble way, and thus recover our great military glory.
There is another example. In 1838, just before the outbreak of Opium War in China, Koga Tōan, a Confucian scholar of the Tokugawa Academy, wrote a book named “On Coastal Defense,” in which he insisted on lifting the ban on sending Japanese ships abroad. He justified his assertion in the following manner: “We cannot predict the various situations that our navy will face in the ocean. If we are to acquire sufficient naval defense capabilities, we have to practice in real situations. . . .We should return to the old policy in place before the 1630s and allow our vessels to go abroad to India, Siam, and Vietnam to engage in trade.”
The above examples show how the Japanese before the 1870s used the slogan of “returning to the past” to legitimize fundamental reforms. Because it was their custom to make use of precedents to justify every policy, they used remote historical precedents to justify present reform initiatives. When making minor reforms, they made use of more recent historical precedents; when engaging in radical reforms, leaders looked to more distant historical precedents or mytho-histories. This idea of using historical precedent, in fact, might have been the only way for pre-Enlightenment societies to foster appeal for radical reforms.
Justifying radical reforms by the symbol of returning to a legendary past was a general practice during the premodern era. The idea of a “return to the past” as being compatible with the idea of “progress” was similar to how the French people utilized Roman-style symbolism during their revolution.33 Yet, among the revolutions and great reforms that utilized this symbol, there were not many as radical as the Meiji Revolution. Most of them were caught in the trap of old institutions. Japanese in the 19th century were fortunate enough to be able to refer to the mythical era of emperor Jinmu, about which no institutional memory was inherited. They could create any institution they wanted and even imitate Western models at will as long as they simply adhered to their “Great Cause”: the centrality of the throne.
We can also find another symbol of social reform: millenarianism.34 Millenarian ideas have existed even in societies that lack written history. According to Peter Worsley, a phenomenon called “cargo cults” existed in early 20th-century Melanesia. One day, a prophecy began circulating that predicted the return of their ancestors with a hoard of treasure aboard a ship. Hearing this news, villagers stopped working, wore clothes of the opposite gender, and began a feast to welcome the ancestors. A similar phenomenon is also found in societies that have written history. During the Meiji Revolution, groups of people near Kyoto engaged in a millenarian carnival-like religious spree just before the imperial restoration. Singing “ee ja nai ka” (“who cares?” Or, “isn’t it great?”), they welcomed the coming of deities that would bring paradise on earth.35
Limited Death Toll
The course of world history shows that revolution and other abrupt political-social reforms cause untold suffering. In general, however, the Meiji Revolution emerged through relatively peaceful political negotiations. Still, civil war, assassinations, and other punishments occurred throughout the period. During the civil war between 1868 and 1869, combined dearth tolls totaled around 13,600 people. Moreover, during the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, both sides suffered a combined total of 13,200 deaths. These two lone incidents claimed the lives of at least 26,800 people. If we include the Mito Uprising in 1864, Chōshū Rebellion in 1866, foreign wars, minor revolts by former samurai during the early Meiji period, punishments, and assassinations, the death toll for the Meiji Revolution likely reaches as high as 30,000 people in a country with a population of 34 million.
Compared to other revolutions, however, the death toll was quite low. The French Revolution had a death toll of at least 600,000 out of a total population of 27.8 million.36 If we add the death tolls incurred in its foreign wars, the number may reach 2 million. The Russian and Chinese revolutions were even more violent and perhaps led to much higher death tolls. Seen in this light, the Meiji Revolution was not nearly as violent as other great revolutions, although it accomplished the abolition of daimyo domains and the samurai aristocracy.
Why was the Meiji Revolution able to achieve its goals with comparatively smaller sacrifice? It would be improper to attribute it to some fixed characteristic of the Japanese people. It was true that they experienced over two hundred years of peace just before the revolution. There had been no civil wars from 1639 to 1863 and no foreign wars during the same period except for small skirmishes with Russia in the early 19th century. Yet, the Japanese after the Meiji Revolution fought many foreign wars in which combined death tolls might exceed 10,000,000. We cannot think of national character as the determinant of the death toll.
Shared nationalist ideology and a custom of conflict avoidance developed during the long peace of the Tokugawa period, which may explain the limited death toll.37 Yet, it is inadequate. It was true that daimyo and upper samurai did share a sense of common Japanese identity with people of lower social classes. Yet, it must have been difficult for samurai aristocracy to abandon their hereditary rights. We have to find other causes that led them to give up their hereditary status.
Initial Conditions: Double-Headed Federation State
The early modern Japanese state was easily dissolvable. Unlike the centralized polities that existed in France, China, and Korea, its federation structure enabled the reorganization of coalitions among lords without disturbing the order within their domains. On the other hand, early modern Japan was also easy to re-integrate. Once the Tokugawa Shogunate lost its legitimacy by giving concessions to the foreign barbarians, people could rely on a Kyoto-based political authority who expressed a hardline expulsion policy. This was the condition that made the Japanese polity easy to reconstruct and reconfigure under the preexisting authority of the emperor.
Yet, this unique set of initial conditions was not enough for the Meiji Revolution to succeed. It must have been very difficult for daimyo and upper samurai to abandon their privileges. Why did they accept such a painful proposition?
One answer is that samurai unconsciously entered the path of the “indirect approach.”38 The “indirect approach” means that if you hope to accomplish goal A, which is unpopular with the majority, you had better present another goal B, which not only is acceptable to the people but also has a high probability of accomplishing goal A.39 It is well known that Meiji leaders utilized this strategy when they attempted to abolish daimyo domains.40 Because they had expected strong objection from daimyo and their vassals, they followed an indirect approach; in 1869 they asked four major daimyo to propose the return of their domains and peoples to the emperor. After the four daimyo made this proposal, other daimyo joined in, following the tradition of returning the certificates authorizing rule over their domains when a new Tokugawa Shogun assumed his duty. The Meiji emperor accepted these “voluntary” proposals, praising those daimyo’s loyalty to the “Great Cause” of the Imperial Restoration.
However, most reforms and changes were not achieved by this intentionally indirect approach. During the late Tokugawa period, most political leaders merely pursued short-term goals that would bring about medium-term solutions. After extensive negotiations, they made reforms one by one at a very slow pace. After Perry came to Japan, they recommended some lower vassals to learn Western languages and technology. As political negotiations with the Tokugawa and other daimyo became frequent, they accepted the need for promoting men of ability from among low-ranking samurai. Once radicals and some daimyos gathered in Kyoto, they began to accept the authority of the emperor. They also accepted proposals from below, including those from ronin (self-professed samurai). Thus, the ruling elite became ready to accept radical reforms when a new government was organized in Kyoto. They embarked on an indirect path toward the abolition of domains and the samurai aristocracy. Once such conditions had ripened, leaders from Satsuma and Chōshū began to intentionally utilize this indirect approach to realize their ideals for a future Japan. Daimyo and upper samurai lost every possible opportunity to protect their traditional hereditary privileges.
A Side Effect of the Civil War in 1868
The civil war of 1868 provided important conditions for the abolition of the hereditary status system. Although the war was fought in a limited area in northeast Japan and ended in a year, it had enormous side effects. No daimyo except minor ones could escape mobilization to the battlefield for either side. They had to cut customary expenses and pool limited hereditary stipends to cover war costs, especially by reducing the stipends of upper-strata samurai. Upper samurai could not follow the traditional way of fighting: going to the front on horseback while accompanied by their valets. As the Meiji government ordered daimyo to present musket troops only, they had no other choice but to line up with lower samurai or to stay home if they were unfamiliar with commanding musket units. After the civil war, heroes from below began to demand official upper positions. As in World War I and World War II, conflict often acts as a social equalizer. Thus, the civil war in 1868 Japan indirectly paved the way for the abolition of the samurai aristocracy.
The Meiji Revolution in Global Context
The Meiji Revolution occurred in the midst of the revolution of global communication by the West. The purpose of Perry’s expedition to Japan was to open Pacific lines toward China that would complete the around-the-world steamship lines.41 Although the first liner from San Francisco to Shanghai via Yokohama departed fifteen years later, steamship lines on the Pacific became active when many coolies from China began to use the line for the construction of North American transcontinental railways. Two years after the first transcontinental railway was completed, top leaders of the Meiji government led by Iwakura Tomomi visited the United States and European countries by this newly installed global transportation system.42 Their route was almost similar to the one Jules Verne described in his Around the World in Eighty Days, published just after their stay in Europe. It is noteworthy that the Iwakura mission was ordered to come back through transcontinental telegram when the two cables from Europe to East Asia had been connected in Nagasaki.43 The waves of globalization by the West not only prompted Japan to execute the Meiji Revolution but also offered a big chance for Japan to launch socioeconomic development.
After the establishment of the Meiji government, Japan, in turn, sought for the renovation of international relations with neighboring countries. It concluded a treaty with China in 1871 that restored diplomatic relations after 300 years’ absence. Japan also concluded a treaty with Korea in 1876 to open Korean ports. In addition, Japan began to redefine its territory according to Western international law; it first absorbed the northern island Ezo-chi as Hokkaido in 1869, and annexed Ryukyu kingdom as a prefecture Okinawa in 1879 that had maintained double tributary relationships with China and a Japanese daimyo Satsuma since early 17th century.
When Japan began redefining its relationships with neighboring area, not a few conflicts with China and Korea occurred. The main reason was the clash between traditional Chinese tributary system and Western international laws Japan had adopted. Yet, Japanese government was cautious enough to avoid war, although public opinion tended to become hawkish to expand Japanese influence toward neighboring areas. It was in the early 1890s that Japanese government decisively changed its attitude toward neighboring countries. Japan chose the war against China to become a European-style empire by utilizing newly acquired economic, military, and national powers.
Discussion of the Literature
Research on the Meiji Revolution has evolved from political history to a focus on economic and social history. Political history began to flourish around 1890, before and after the convention of the first Japanese National Diet.44 To avoid political conflict, the government, led by former Chōshū and Satsuma samurai, decided not to edit an official history but to encourage former daimyo to compile their documents from the period, which were later published as the Nihon Shiseki kyōkai sōsho.45 Intellectuals, including former Tokugawa officials, also published various histories. This intellectual climate led to the publication of two voluminous, and relatively impartial, histories around 1920. This was true not only with the biography of the last Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu,46 but also with Suematsu Kenchō’s history of Chōshū.47
Yet, simplification of the period’s history began as people who lived during the late Tokugawa period passed away. Around 1940, the government published a five-volume official history, the Ishinshi.48 It presented a master narrative focused on imperial restoration promoted mainly by Satsuma and Chōshū. Marxist historian Toyama Shigeki, one of the authors of the Ishinshi, further placed singular importance on the role of Chōshū in a 1950 book that would become a standard text in postwar Japan.49
One of the factors behind this tendency derived from bias in the data they relied on: the Dai Nihon Ishin shiryō kōhon compiled for the Ishinshi.50 This was a vast collection of materials arranged in chronological order. Yet, apart from arbitrary selection from the original data, it had another significant bias. The choice to begin its narrative at the enthronement of Emperor Kōmei meant a lack of any mention of the Shogunate’s Tenpō reforms; ending the narrative with the abolishment of daimyo domains resulted in a lack of documents about the dissolution of the status system and ex-samurai rebellions. The Shiseki kyokai sōsho also shared this bias, as the scarcity of documents from the Tokugawa side shows.
Later historians tended to unconsciously inherit this bias. Except for Marius Jansen, even English-language writers could not avoid it, as classical studies by W. A. Beasley, Albert Craig, and Conrad Totman testify.51 Yet, it is necessary to ask whether it would have been possible to accomplish the Meiji Revolution with limited bloodshed if the clash between the pro-Tokugawa and the anti-Tokugawa forces had really dominated the political arena. Would have it been possible for Satsuma and Chōshū leaders to accept the demand for national participation from below if they had also not committed to the ideal of “public discussion” beforehand?
As for international relations, the field has long been defined by two classics: Inobe Shigeo’s book on foreign policy before Perry and Ishii Takashi’s account of late Tokugawa diplomacy based on British archives.52 Yet, there has emerged new lines of study, in addition to Mitani Hiroshi’s book.53 Yokoyama Yoshinori presented a revisionist account of diplomatic history before Perry by utilizing original materials in Japanese and Dutch. Fukuoka Mariko analyzed the conclusion of a Prussian–Japanese treaty based on German, Dutch, English, and Japanese sources. Hoya Toru analyzed the British plans of military operations that began by Shogunate’s demand for the closing of port Yokohama. Yet, there are still few studies of foreign relations, especially with regard to the relations with neighboring countries today.54
From the 1920s, Japanese research on the Meiji Revolution welcomed the age of the social sciences. Yoshino Sakuzō, a famous political scientist, organized the “Society for the Study of Meiji Culture” to explore the origins of the Japanese public sphere. Osatake Takeki’s books are still useful in this field.55
Socioeconomic history emerged during the same period. As Marxism became influential, the ideology formed the master narrative that defined the scope and narrative of historical studies.56 There were two schools determined by their respective attitudes toward the Comintern’s world revolution program. One school followed the Comintern program by regarding the Meiji Revolution as a formation of absolutism, while the other regarded it as the beginning of bourgeois society. Scholars in the latter school made great efforts to collect original materials concerning the economy. After World War II, the former also began similar research and formed the mainstream of the Japanese academy. The history of landownership was a favorite theme of this school, reflecting the urgent political issue of land reform. Among them, Niwa Kunio’s book on land tax reform during the Meiji Revolution became the classic.57
After the 1980s, as ordinary Japanese began to enjoy affluent lives, Marxist interpretations lost their former influence, and various approaches began to flourish. In economic history, quantitative analysis led by Ohkawa Kazushi, Hayami Akira, Nakamura Takafusa, and others revealed the continuity before and after the revolution and paved the way for comparative studies of economic history with younger generations.58 Satō Seizaburō played a similar role in political history.59 Leftist historians also began the search for new horizons. Haraguchi Kiyoshi presented reliable accounts of late Tokugawa politics.60 Inoue Katsuo analyzed the changes in the decision-making system of Chōshū domain;61 Miyachi Masato uncovered the rural information network that flourished during the era from the arrival of Perry to the spread of newspapers. Miyachi also retains a classical interpretative focus on the “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians” movement while utilizing numerous original materials.62
After World War II, historians became interested in social and intellectual history. Once Irokawa Daikichi paved the way, many historians like Kano Masanao entered this field.63 The object of research shifted from literate, wealthy commoners to ordinary people. Yasumaru Yoshio succeeded in approaching the latter group by focusing on “new religions” that emerged during the late Tokugawa period.64 His analysis, along with Makihara Norio’s works, revealed the cleavage between the illiterate ordinary people and the governments and upper commoners that tried to include the former in the body of the nation through Confucianism, Shintoism, and Western thoughts.
In social history, scholars writing in the English language contributed much.65
After so-called modernization theory lost influence, Harry D. Harootunian explored the new realm of intellectual history from postmodernist viewpoints. Ann Walthall wrote a biography of an older woman who joined the “revere the emperor” movement. Its feminist approach, along with its skillful use of original materials, provides a lively image of the period. Kären Wigen analyzed the long-term effects of the Meiji Revolution on local society in central Japan. Daniel Botsman analyzed the transformation of the official punishment system before and after the Meiji Revolution, subsequently also highlighting changes in the status of outcasts. David Howell studied another minority, the Ainu, to stress the meaning of status-system abolishment in forging a new national identity.
Today, the East Asian context of the Meiji Revolution attracts historians’ attention. Park Hun suggested the role of “Confucianization” as a fundamental factor behind the revolution.66 Bitō Masahide’s analysis of Sonnō thought and Matsuura Rei’s biography of Yokoi Shōnan, together with Watanabe Hiroshi’s lucid lectures on early modern intellectual history, would offer invaluable insights into this field.67
For beginners in Japanese modern history, the handbook edited by Miwa Ryoichi and Hara Akira offers a useful introduction to various documents and statistics.68 For more detailed information, see Meiji jidai-shi Dai jiten, 4 volumes.69
For political institution and personnel data of the central governments during the late Tokugawa and early Meiji period, supplemental volume in Monbusho’s Ishinshi is useful.70 For long-term economic statistics, Nihon Ginko’s handbook offers reliable data in one volume.71 There are fourteen volumes of long-term economic statistics available on line.72
For the political history from 1846 to 1871, one must refer to Dai Nihon ishin shiryō kōhon (manuscript of historical materials on the great Japanese revolution),73 a huge collection of primary sources compiled in chronological order. Its microfilm images are available online via Ishin shiryō kōyō (a summary of historical documents on the Meiji Revolution),74 http://wwwap.hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ships/shipscontroller. Various sources of daimyo, shishi, and so on were compiled in Nihon Shiseki Kyōkai sōsho (library of historical sources by the Society of Japanese Annals).75 Shidankai sokkiroku (stenographic records of the Society of Reminiscences) offered the testimonies of survivors.76
For Tokugawa Shogunate, Zoku Tokugawa jikki offered official records of personnel and orders.77 Ii-ke Shiryo presented the records of Ii house, the largest fudai daimyo that included regent Ii Naosuke’s documents.78 Katsu kaishū zenshu (complete works of Katsu Kaishū) showed the reforms of the Shogunate during the late Tokugawa period.79 For Kyoto court, a huge collection titled Kōmei Tennō ki (complete records of Emperor Kōmei) is useful.80
Among daimyos, Daimyo of Mito among the Tokugawa family played an essential role in the early late Tokugawa period that compiled a good annotated collection of documents: Mito-han shiryō (records of Mito domain).81 For Daimyo of Fukui among the Tokugawa family that took an initiative of open political participation allying with Satsuma (Kagoshima), see several volumes such as Saimu kiji in Nihon Shiseki Kyokai Sosho along with the letters and other writings of Hashimoto Sanai, who was one of the brightest figures during the period: Hashimoto Sanai zenshū (records of Hashimoto Sanai).82
For the daimyos who became major figures in the establishment of the imperial government, see Kagoshima-ken shiryō: Nariakira-kō shiryō (records from Kagoshima prefecture: records of Shimazu Nariakira),83 Kagoshima-ken shiryō: Tadayoshi-kō shiryō (records from Kagoshima prefecture: records of Shimazu Tadayoshi),84 Kagoshima-ken shiryō: Tamasato Shimazu-ke shiryō (records from Kagoshima prefecture: records of the Tamasato Shimazu house, i.e., Shimazu Hisamitsu),85 and Yamaguchi kenshi: shiryōhen Bakumatsu Ishin (history of Yamaguchi prefecture: materials from the late Tokugawa period).86
The following materials from Higo (Kumamoto) will offer a fine third-party’s view: Kaitei Higo-han kokuji shiryō (records of Higo-han on national politics during the late Tokugawa period, revised),87 in National Diet Library Digital Collections: http://dl.ndl.go.jp/.
For diplomatic history, first consult a fine, one-volume book by W. G. Beasley: Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853–1868.88 Its data came from Tsūshin zenran (complete diplomatic documents), and Zoku tsūshin zenran, which covered from 1858 to 1868 in sixty volumes.89 These data are being re-compiled, adding other original materials as Dai Nihon komonjo: Bakumatsu gaikōku kankei monjo (documents concerning foreign affairs during the late Tokugawa period).90
For diplomatic history before Perry, see Tsūkō ichiran zokushū (records of foreign affairs, continued), which covers the era from 1825 to 1854.91 To understand the foreign information received by the Shogunate, see Betsudan Fusetu-gaki ga kataru 19 seiki: honyaku to kenkyū (the Dutch special reports to Japan: a depiction of the 19th century: Japanese translation and interpretations).92
To find basic political data and the titles of sources, consult the Meiji emperor’s chronicle: Meiji Tennō ki (biography of Emperor Meiji).93 To get more precise data of orders and laws, see Hōrei zensho (complete collection of laws and regulations) available online.94 For various publications during the Meiji period, see Meiji bunka zenshū (collection of sources on Meiji cultural history).95
For economic documents, see Meiji zenki zaisei keizai shiryō shūsei (collected documents of economic and financial affairs during the early Meiji era)96 and Shibusawa Eiichi denki shiryō (complete collection of sources related to Shibusawa Eiichi).97 For social history, see Nihon shomin seikatsu shūsei (collected sources on Japanese commoners’ lives).98 For newspapers, there is a useful selection of articles: Shinbun shūsei Meiji hennenshi (collection of paper articles during the Meiji era).99
For intellectual history, useful collections have been published: Kindai Nihon shisō taikei (collection of sources on Japanese modern ideology).100
Links to Digital Materials
A chronological index of political incidents from 1846 to 1871 that allows the access to primary sources is Ishin shiryō kōyō (ISK), 10 volumes: http://wwwap.hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ships/.
Orders and laws after November 9, 1867, are accessible from the index at http://dajokan.ndl.go.jp/SearchSys/index.pl.
National Diet Digital Collection is partly available on line with 350,000 books, 9,000 journals, and so on: http://dl.ndl.go.jp/
The table of contents of Shibusawa Eiichi denki shiryo is available at http://www.shibusawa.or.jp/eiichi/mokuji.html
Long term statistics are available at http://www.ier.hit-u.ac.jp/histatdb/stats/view/4?lang=ja.
There are many excellent studies of the Meiji Revolution in Japanese. Yet, I was obliged to limit the number to a minimum of works seldom explored by English-languages scholars.
Fukuzawa, Yukichi. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. Translated by Kiyooka Eiichi. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.Find this resource:
Sato, Ernest. A Diplomat in Japan. London: Seeley, Service and Co., 1921.Find this resource:
Shiba, Goro. Remembering Aizu: The Testament of Shiba Goro. Edited by Ishimitsu Mahito. Translated by Craig Teruko. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.Find this resource:
Shibusawa, Eiichi. The Autobiography of Shibusawa Eiichi: from Peasant to Entrepreneur. Translated by Craig Teruko. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1994.Find this resource:
Yamakawa, Kikue. Women of the Mito Domain: Recollections of Samurai Family Life. Translated by Kate Wildman. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:
Studies in Japanese
Bitō, Masahide. Nihon no kokka shugi (an intellectual history of nationalism in Japan). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2015.Find this resource:
Fukuoka, Mariko. Puroisen Higashi Ajia ensei to bakumatsu gaikō (Prussian expedition to East Asia and Japanese diplomacy during the late Tokugawa period). Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 2013.Find this resource:
Hoya, Toru. Bakumatsu Nihon to Taigai senso no Kiki: Shimonoseki Senso no Butai ura (the Japanese crisis of foreign wars: British plan for Shimonoseki War). Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 2010.Find this resource:
Inoue, Yoritaka, and Sakamoto Koremaru, editors. Nihon-gata Sekyo Kankei no Tanjyo (the formation of Japanese style relationship between politics and religion). Tokyo: Daiichi shobo, 1987.Find this resource:
Kusumi, Shinya. Bakumatsu no shogun (Shoguns during the late Tokugawa period). Tokyo: Kodansha, 2009.Find this resource:
Makihara, Norio. Kyakubun kara kokumin e (from mere tax payers to Japanese citizen). Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1998.Find this resource:
Makihara, Norio. Meiji 7 nen no dai ronsō: kenpakusho kara mita kindai kokka to Minshū (national debate in 1874: popular addresses that revealed the relations between the modern state and the people). Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Hyōronsha, 1990.Find this resource:
Matsuura, Rei. Yokoi Shōnan. 3d ed. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 2010.Find this resource:
Matsuzawa, Hiromichi. Kindai Nihon no keisei to Seiyo keiken (Japanese experience of the West in the formation of modern Japan). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1993.Find this resource:
Meiji, Ishinshi Kenkyūkai, editor. Kōza Meiji Ishin (studies in the Meiji Revolution). 12 volumes. Tokyo: Yūshisha, 2010–.Find this resource:
Mitani, Hiroshi. Meiji Ishin to nashonarizumu (the Meiji Revolution and nationalism). Tokyo: Yamakawa Shuppansha, 1997.Find this resource:
Miyachi, Masato. Bakumatsu ishinki no shakaiteki seijishi kenkyū (a study of sociopolitical history during the late Tokugawa and early Meiji era). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1999.Find this resource:
Namihira, Tsuneo. Kindai Higashi Ajiashi no naka no Ryūkyū heigo (Japanese annexation of Ryukyu in modern East Asian history). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2014.Find this resource:
Ochiai, Hiroki. Chitsuroku shobun (the abolishment of hereditary stipends in Japan), revised edition. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2015.Find this resource:
Yasumaru, Yoshio. Kamigami no Meiji Ishin (transformation of deities during the Meiji Revolution). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979.Find this resource:
Studies in English
Abe, Takeshi, Osamu Saito, and Yuzo Yamamoto, editors. Economic History of Japan: 1600–1990, volume 2: Economic History of Japan 1860–1914: The Age of Industrialization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.Find this resource:
Botsman, Daniel V. Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.Find this resource:
Conrad, Totman. The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1980.Find this resource:
Craig, Albert. Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961.Find this resource:
Howell, David. Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth Century Japan. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.Find this resource:
Jansen, Marius B. Sakamoto Ryōma and the Meiji Restoration. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.Find this resource:
Mitani, Hiroshi. Escape from Impasse: The Decision to Open Japan. Translated by David Noble. Revised edition. Tokyo: I-House Press, 2008.Find this resource:
Takii, Kazuhiro. Itō Hirobumi: Japan’s First Prime Minister and Father of the Meiji Constitution. Translated by Takechi Manabu. Edited by Patricia Murray. Abingdon: Routledge, 2014.Find this resource:
Walthall, Anne. The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.Find this resource:
Watanabe, Hiroshi. History of Japanese Political Thought, 1600–1901. Translated by David Noble. Tokyo: I-House Press. 2012.Find this resource:
Wigen, Kären. The Making of a Japanese Periphery: 1750–1920. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.Find this resource:
(1.) For a traditional understanding of the period’s history, see W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1972).
(2.) The word ishin was introduced in the early Meiji period to refine the word isshin (to undertake a thorough reform), which was often used during the late Tokugawa period. Although it was based on a Chinese classic “Shi” that originally indicated a change of dynasties, Meiji Japanese derived this word from the classic they were more familiar with “Great Learning,”where it meant the daily innovations undertaken by an existing dynasty. Mitani Hiroshi, Meiji Ishin wo kangaerru (Thoughts on Meiji Revolution), revised ed. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2012), Introduction.
(3.) Hiroshi Watanabe, History of Japanese Political Thought, 1600–1901, trans. David Noble (Tokyo: I-House Press, 2012), preface.
(4.) For a brief account, see Mitani Hiroshi, Ishinshi to gurobaruka (A History of the Meiji Revolution in Global Context) (Tokyo: NHK Shuppan, 2017).
(5.) During the 19th century, there were some federation states in the world such as the German Empire and the United States. Although the total number of daimyo lords in Japan was outnumbered by the constitutive parts of these federation-states, the number of influential daimyo was almost the same.
(6.) Double-headed polities are rare in human history. Vietnam in the 18th century had two courts in Hanoi and Hue for an extended period. Yet there were major conflicts between them, and the Hanoi kingship soon absorbed Hue. The Japanese case was even more rare in that the two courts enjoyed a stable relationship for more than two hundred years.
(7.) Hiroki Ochiai, Chitsuroku Shobun (The Abolition of the Samurai’s Hereditary Stipends), 2d ed. (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2015).
(8.) Masumi Junnosuke, Nihon seitōshi ron (history of political parties in Japan), vol. 2 (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1966), 28.
(9.) Kunio Niwa, Meiji Ishin no tochi henkaku (The Transformation of Land Ownership During Meiji Ishin) (Tokyo: Ochanomizu Shobō, 1962).
(10.) For a brief look, see Nakamura Satoru, Meiji Ishin (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1992); Masato Matsuo, ed., Meiji Ishin to bunmei kaika (Meiji Ishin and Civilization) (Tokyo: Yoshakawa kobunkan, 2004). For an overview of the Meiji Revolution in English, see Marius B. Jansen, ed., The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 5: The Nineteenth Century, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
(11.) The only exception was Yokoi Shonan, a Confucianist hired by Fukui domain, who maintained the abolition of hereditary succession of monarchs according to the oldest model in ancient China. Matsuura Rei, Yokoi Shonan (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 2010)
(12.) Hiroshi Mitani, Escape from Impasse: The Decision to Open Japan, rev. ed., ed. David Noble (Tokyo: I-House Press, 2008). For materials, see William G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853–1868 (London: Oxford University Press, 1955).
(13.) Miyazaki Fumiko presents a fine account of this move in a chapter on the Bansho Shirabe sho (school for the study of barbarian books) in Tokyo daigaku, Tokyo daigaku hyakunenshi (One Hundred Years of the University of Tokyo), vol. 1: Tsūshi (general history) (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku, 1984).
(14.) For the account of the catastrophe in 1858, see Satō Seizaburō, Shi no chōyaku wo koete: seiyō no shōgeki to Nihon (Beyond “Salto Mortale”: the Western Impact and Japan), 2d ed. (Tokyo: Chikura Shobō, 2009), ch. 3. For details, see Yoshida Tsunekichi, Ansei no taigoku (The Great Punishments in the Ansei Era) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1991).
(15.) From the perspective of the opening of the public sphere, see Mitani Hiroshi, “Nihon ni okeru ‘Kōron’ kanshū no keisei” (the development of the custom of “public discussion” in Japan) in Mitani Hiroshi, ed., Higashi Ajia no kōron keisei (Development of the Public Sphere in East Asia) (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 2004), ch. 1.
(16.) At first, Chōshū tried to mediate between the emperor and the Tokugawa by persuading the emperor to adopt a policy of gradual opening. For Chōshū’s turn to the opposite policy, see Albert Craig, Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961); and Thomas M. Huber, The Revolutionary Origins of Modern Japan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1981).
(17.) Mitani Hiroshi, Meiji Ishin to nashonarizumu (the Meiji Revolution and nationalism) (Tokyo: Yamakawa Shuppansha, 1997), ch. 7.
(18.) Iechika Yoshiki, Edo bakufu hokai: Kōmei tenno to “Ichi-Kai-So” (The Collapse of the Edo Bakufu: Emperor Kōmei and His Ally Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Matsudaira Katamori, and Matsudaira Sadaaki), rev. ed. (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2014). For more on the Tokugawa Shogun and his cabinet, see Kusumi Shinya, Bakumatsu no Shogun (Tokugawa Shoguns in the Late Tokugawa Period) (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2009).
(19.) Takahashi Hidenao, Bakumatsu Ishin no seiji to tennō (Politics and the Emperor in Late Tokugawa and Early Meiji Period) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 2007), chs. 5–6.
(20.) Chōshū sent a group of vassals, including later prime minister Itō Hirobumi, to Britain just before the shelling at Shimonoseki. They utilized their expulsion policy as a means to promote domestic reform.
(21.) This was mediated by two samurai who fled from Tosa. Jansen, Marius B., Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1961).
(22.) Miyake Tsugunobu, Bakuchō Sensō (Civil War Between Bakuhu and Chōshū) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 2013); and Shunya Kusumi, Chōshū Sensō to Tokugawa Shogun: bakumatsuki kinai no seiji kūkan (Chōshū Civil War and the Tokugawa Shogun: Political Space in the Last Phase of Tokugawa Rule) (Tokyo: Iwata Shoin, 2005).
(25.) Osatake Takeki, Nihon kenseishi taikō (An Outline of the Formation of Japanese Constitutional Politics), 2 vols. (Tokyo: Nihon Hyōron-sha, 1938–1939).
(26.) Hōya Tōru, Boshin Sensō (The Civil War in 1868) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 2007).
(27.) Matsuo Masato, Haihan chiken no kenkyū (A Study of Domain Abolishment) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 2001). For institutional reforms, see Okuda Hiroki, Ishin to Kaika (The Meiji Revolution and Civilization) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 2016).
(28.) Igai Takaaki, Seinan Sensō: sensō no taigi (The Southwest Civil War in 1877: Saigō’s Just Cause?) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 2008).
(29.) Masumi Junnosuke, Nihon seitōshi ron (History of Political Parties in Japan) vol. 1 (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1965); and Inada Masahiro, Jiyu Minken no bunkashi: atarashii seiji bunka no tanjō (A Cultural History of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement: the Emergence of a New Political Culture) (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 2000). Makihara Norio, Kyakubun to kokumin no aida (From the People Living in a Moral Economy to the Nation) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1998); and Matsuzawa Yūsaku, Jiyu Minken Undō (The Freedom and People’s Rights Movement) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2016).
(30.) Banno Junji, The Establishment of the Japanese Constitutional System (London: Routledge, 2003); and Kazuhiko Takii, Ito Hirobumi—Japan’s First Prime Minister and Father of the Meiji Constitution (Oxon: Routledge, 2014).
(31.) See the diary of Erwin von Bälz, June 25, 1889; June 6, 1891; May 9, 1910, Berutsu no nikki, dai 1 bu, jō, ge, ed. Erwin Toku Bälz (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1951, 1952).
(32.) Mitani Hiroshi, Meiji Ishin o kangaeru (Thoughts on the Meiji Revolution), rev. ed. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2013), Introduction.
(33.) Simon Schama, Citizens (New York: Vitage Books, 1989), ch. 4.
(34.) Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of “Cargo” Cults in Melanesia (New York: Schocken Books, 1968).
(35.) Mita Munesuke, “Yokubō no kaihō to kaihō no yokubō: ‘ee ja nai ka’ no sekaizō to kachi ishiki” (liberation of desires and desire for liberation: cosmology and value consciousness in popular rapture during the Meiji Revolution), in Teihon Mita Munesuke chosakushū, vol. 3 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2012), 1–85.
(36.) René Sédillot, Le coût de la Révolution française (Paris: Perrin, 1987), ch. 1.
(37.) Because nationalist ideology tends to induce people to engage in foreign wars like in France, it requires deliberation to explain why Japanese during the Meiji Revolution limited foreign wars to a minimum in spite of their “expel the barbarians” slogan.
(38.) Mitani Hiroshi, Meiji Ishin wo kangaeru, introduction.
(39.) Basil Henry Liddell Hart, Strategy: The Indirect Approach, 4th ed. (London: Faber, 1967).
(40.) Sidney Devere Brown and Akiko Hirota, trans., The Diary of Kido Takayoshi (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1986).
(41.) John Curtis Perry, Facing the West: Americans and the Opening of the Pacific (Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 1994).
(42.) Kume Kunitake, comp., Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe 1871–73, eds. Chushichi Tsuzuki and R. Jules Young (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
(43.) Mitani Hiroshi, Namiki Yorihisa, and Tsukiashi Tatsuhiko, eds., Otona no tame no Kingendai-shi: 19 Seiki hen (A Modern History for East Asian People: 19th Century) (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 2009); and Tsuneo Namihira, Kindai Higashi Ajia-shi no Naka no Ryukyu Heigo (Annexation of Ryukyu in East Modern History) (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 2014).
(44.) For the historiography of the political history of the Meiji Revolution, see Mitani Hiroshi, “Meiji Ishin no shigakushi: ‘shakai kagaku’ izen,” Yoroppa kenkyū 9 (2010): 179–187 (available at http://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/40018716714).
(45.) See primary sources: Nihon Shiseki Kyōkai sōsho.
(46.) Shibusawa Eiichi, Tokugawa Yoshinobu-kō den (The Biography of Yoshinobu Tokugawa), 8 vols. (Tokyo: Ryūmonsha, 1818).
(47.) Suematsu Kenchō, Shūtei saihan Bōchō kaitenshi (The Domains of Suō and Nagato During the Restoration, revised), 12 vols. (Tokyo: Suematsu Haruhiko, 1921).
(48.) Monbushō, ed., Ishinshi (The History of the Meiji Revolution), 5 vols. (Tokyo: Meiji Shoin, 1939–1941).
(49.) Toyama Shigeki, Meiji Ishin (Meiji Revolution) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1950).
(50.) See primary sources: Dai Nihon Ishin shiryō kōhon.
(51.) William G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1972); Albert Craig, Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1961); and Conrad Totman, The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu.
(52.) Inobe Shigeo, Shūtei zōho Meiji Ishin zenshi no kenkyū (A Study of History Before the Meiji Revolution, revised and expanded) (Tokyo: Chubunkan Shoten, 1942); and Ishii Takashi, Zōtei Meiji Ishin no kokusai kankyō (International Environment of the Meiji Revolution, revised) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1966).
(53.) Yokoyama Yoshinori, Kaikoku zenya no sekai (Japan and the World Before Japan’s Opening Up) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 2013); Fukuoaka Mariko, Puroisen Higashi Ajia Ensei to bakumatsu gaikō (Prussian Expedition to East Asia and Japanese Diplomacy During the Late Tokugawa Period) (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 2013); Hoya Toru, Bakumatsu Nihon to Taigai senso no Kiki: Shimonoseki Senso no Butai ura (The Japanese Crisis of Foreign Wars: British Plan for Shimonoseki War) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan), 2010; and Hiroshi Mitani, Escape from Impasse.
(54.) For the efforts to look at Japan’s international relations within East Asia, see Mitani Hiroshi, Namiki Yorihisa, and Tsukiashi Tatsuhiko, eds., Otona no tame no Kingendaishi: 19 Seiki hen (A Modern History for East Asian People: 19th Century) (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shupankai, 2009); and Namihira Tsuneo, Kindai Higashi Ajiashi no naka no Ryūkyū Heigo (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2014).
(55.) Mitani Taichirō, “Shisoka to site no Yoshino Sakuzō,” in Yoshino Sakuzō (Selected Essays of Yoshino Sakuzō), ed. Mitani Taichirō (Tokyo: Chuō Kōron-sha, 1972), 7–62; and Osatake Takeki. Ishin zengo ni okeru riken shisō no kenkyū (A Study of Constitutional Thought Before and After the Meiji Revolution) (Tokyo: Chūbunkan Shoten, 1934). Nihon kenseishi taikō.
(56.) For brief assessments by contemporary historians, see Aoyama Tadamasa, Meiji Ishin to kokka keisei (The Meiji Revolution and Nation Building) (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 2000), ch.1; Sasaki Kanji, Meiji Ishinron e no apurooch (Approaches Toward Meiji Revolution, 2015), ch. 4; and Mitani Hiroshi, Meiji Ishin o kangaeru, ch. 5.
(57.) Niwa Kunio, Meiji Ishin no tochi henkaku (Changes in Land Ownership During the Meiji Revolution) (Tokyo: Ochanomizu Shobō, 1978). Another fine achievement was Nakamura Satoru, Meiji Ishin no kiso kōzō: Nihon shihonshugi keisei no kiten (The Fundamental Structure of the Meiji Revolution: the Beginnings of Japanese Capitalism) (Tokyo: Miraisha, 1968).
(58.) For a recent achievement of this school, see Takeshi Abe, Osamu Saitō, and Yuzo Yamamoto, eds., Economic History of Japan: 1600–1990. vol. 2: Economic History of Japan 1860–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
(59.) Satō Seizaburō, Shi no chōyaku o koete.
(60.) Haraguchi Kiyoshi, Haraguchi Kiyoshi Chosakushu (Complete Works of Haraguchi Kiyoshi), 5 vols. (Tokyo: Iwata shoin, 2007–2009).
(61.) Inoue Katsuo, Bakumatsu Ishin seijishi no kenkyū (A Study of the Political History of the Meiji Revolution) (Tokyo: Hanawa Shobō, 1994).
(62.) Miyachi Masato, Bakumatsu ishinki no shakaiteki seijishi kenkyū; and Miyachi Masato, Bakumatsu ishin henkakushi (Radical Movements During the Late Tokugawa and Early Meiji Period), 2 vols. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2012).
(63.) Irokawa Daikichi, Meiji seishinshi (Essays on Meiji Intellectual History) (Tokyo: Kōga Shobō, 1964); Irokawa Daikichi, The Culture of the Meiji Period, trans. Marius Jansen (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985); and Kano Masanao, Shihonshugi keiseiki no chitsujyo ishiki (Order Consciousness in the Formation of Capitalism) (Tokyo: Chikuma shobo, 1969).
(64.) Yoshio Yasumaru, Kamigami no Meiji Ishin: Yasumaru Yoshio shū (Complete Collection of Yasumaru Yoshio’s writings) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2013).
(65.) Marius B. Jansen, Changing Japanese Attitudes toward Modernization, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965); Harry D. Harootunian, Things Seen and Unseen: Discourse and Ideology in Tokugawa Nativism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); Ann Walthall, The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Kären Wigen, The Making of a Japanese Periphery: 1750–1920 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995); Daniel Botsman, Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005); and David Howell, Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth Century Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).
(66.) Park Hun, “Higashi Ajia seijishi ni okeru Bakumatsu ishin seijishi to ‘shidaifu teki seiji bunka’ no Chōsen” (The Challenge of “Literati Political Culture” to the Meiji Revolution) in Shimizu Mitsuaki, ed., “Kinseika” ron to Nihon (Japan from the Perspective of the “East Asian Early Modernization” Thesis) (Tokyo: Bensei shuppan, 2015).
(67.) Bitō Masahide, Nihon no kokkashugi; Matsuura Rei, Yokoi Shōnan; and Watanabe Hiroshi, History of Japanese Political Thought, 1600–1901.
(68.) Miwa Ryoichi and Hara Akira, eds., Kingendai Nihon Keizai-shi yoran (Handbook of Documents and Statistics of Modern Japanese Modern Economic History) (Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku shuppankai, 2007).
(69.) Miyachi Masato, Sato Yoshimaru, and Sakurai Yoshiki, eds., Meiji Jidai-shi Dai jiten, 4 vols. (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 2011–2013).
(70.) Monbushō, ed., Ishinshi, furoku (A History of the Meiji Revolution, supplemental) (Tokyo: Meiji shoin, 1941).
(71.) Nihon Ginkō, ed., Meiji ikō Honpō shuyō keizai tōkei (Japanese Basic Economic Statistics After the Meiji Era) (Tokyo: Nihon keizai shinbun-sha, 2001).
(72.) Ohkawa Kazushi et al., eds. Chōki keizai tokei (Long-term Economic Statistics), 14 vols. (Tokyo: Toyo Keizai Shinpo-sha, 1967–1989). Available in online database: http://www.ier.hit-u.ac.jp/histatdb/stats/view/4?lang=ja.
(73.) Ishin shiryō hensan jimukyoku, Dai Nihon ishin shiryō kōhon, 4180 vols. (1931), kept at the Shiryō hensansho (Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo).
(74.) Ishin shiryō hensan jimukyoku, ed., Ishin shiryō kōyō, 10 vols. (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shiryō Hensan-sho, 1937–1939).
(75.) Nihon Shiseki Kyōkai, Nihon Shiseki Kyōkai sōsho, 187 vols. (Tokyo: Nihon Shiseki Kyōkai, 1915–1935).
(76.) Shidankai, ed., Shidankai sokkiroku (Tokyo: Shidankai, 1892–1932).
(77.) Kuroita Katsumi, ed., “Zoku Tokugawa jikki,” in Shintei zōho kokushi taikei (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 2007).
(78.) Tokyo Daigaku Shiryo Hensan-sho, Dai Nihon Ishin Shiryo Ruisan no bu: Ii-ke Shiryo, vols. 1– (Tokyo: Tokyo daigajku shupan-kai, 1959–).
(79.) Katsube Masanaga, Oguchi Yujiro, and Matsumoto Sannosuke, eds., Katsu kaishū zenshu, 23 vols. (Tokyo: Keiso Shobō, 1970–1982).
(80.) Kunaisho, ed., Kōmei tennō ki, 5 vols. (Tokyo: Kunaisho, 1906–).
(81.) Tokugawa-ke, ed., Mito-han shiryō, 5 vols. (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1970).
(82.) Keigakukai, ed., Hashimoto Sanai zenshū, 2 vols. (Tokyo: Keigakukai, 1939).
(83.) Kagoshima-ken, ed., Kagoshima-ken shiryō: Nariakira-kō shiryō (Records from Kagoshima Prefecture: Records of Shimazu Nariakira), 7 vols. (Kagoshima: Kagoshima-ken, 1973–1979).
(84.) Kagoshima-ken, ed., Kagoshima-ken shiryō: Tadayoshi-kō shiryō (Records from Kagoshima Prefecture: Records of Shimazu Tadayoshi), 4 vols. (Kagoshima: Kagoshima-ken, 1980–1983).
(85.) Kagoshima-ken, ed., Kagoshima-ken shiryō: Tamasato Shimazu ke shiryō (Records from Kagoshima Prefecture: Records of the Tamasato Shimazu House), 10 vols. (Kagoshima: Kagoshima-ken, 1992–2011).
(86.) Yamaguchi-ken, ed., Yamaguchi kenshi: shiryōhen Bakumatsu Ishin, 7 vols. (Yamaguchi: Yamaguchi-ken, 2002–2014).
(87.) Ikimi Kenkichi, ed., Kaitei Higo-han kokuji shiryō, 10 vols. (Kumamoto: Koshaku Hosokawa-ken Hensansho, 1932).
(88.) W. G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853–1868 (London: Oxford University Press, 1955).
(89.) Tsūshin zenran henshū iinkai, ed., Tsūshin zenran, 6 vols. (Tokyo: Yushodo, 1983); and Tsūshin zenran henshū iinkai, ed., Zoku Tsūshin zenran 54 vols. (Tokyo: Yushodo, 1983–1988).
(90.) Tokyo daigaku shiryō-hensansho, ed., Dai Nihon komonjo: Bakumatsu gaikōku kankei monjo (Tokyo: Tokyo Teikoku Daigaku, 1910–1960).
(91.) Yanai Kenji, ed., Tsūkō ichiran zokushū, 5 vols. (Osaka: Seibundo, 1968–1973).
(92.) Matsukata Fuyuko, ed., Betsudan Fusetu-gaki ga kataru 19 seiki: honyaku to kenkyū (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 2012).
(93.) Kunaichō, ed., Meiji Tennō ki, 12 vols. (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1968–1977).
(95.) Meiji bunka kenkyūkai, ed., Meiji bunka zenshū, 36 vols. (Tokyo: Nihon hyōron-sha, 1967–1974).
(96.) Ōuchi Hyōe, Meiji zenki zaisei keizai shiryō shūsei, ed. Tsuchiya Takao, 21 vols. (Tokyo: Kaizōsha, 1931–1936).
(97.) Shibusawa Seien kinen zaidan Ryūmonsha, ed., Shibusawa Eiichi denki shiryō, 58 vols. with 10 supplements (Tokyo: Shibusawa Eiichi Denki Shiryō Kankōkai, 1955–1971). The table of contents is available online: http://www.shibusawa.or.jp/eiichi/mokuji.html.
(98.) Tanikawa Kennichi et al., Nihon shomin seikatsu shūsei, 30 vols. (Tokyo: Sannichi Shobō, 1968–1984).
(99.) Nakayama Yasumasa, ed., Shinbun shūsei Meiji hennenshi, 15 vols. (Tokyo: Zaisei Keizai Gakkai, 1934).
(100.) Katō Shūichi et al., ed., Kindai Nihon shisō taikei, 24 vols. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1988–1992).