Japan in Transition: From Tokugawa to Meiji

Japan in Transition: From Tokugawa to Meiji

by Marius B. Jansen, Gilbert Rozman

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"In this collection of seventeen essays, leading scholars address the question of what kind and what degree of change accompanied the political events known as the Meiji Restoration. The authors make use of quantitative data and recent Japanese scholarship to add substantially to the understanding of this major historical transition. This volume, with its essays of


"In this collection of seventeen essays, leading scholars address the question of what kind and what degree of change accompanied the political events known as the Meiji Restoration. The authors make use of quantitative data and recent Japanese scholarship to add substantially to the understanding of this major historical transition. This volume, with its essays of uniformly high quality, is essential reading for anyone with a scholarly interest in the Meiji Period."--Choice

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"In this collection of seventeen essays, leading scholars address the question of what kind and what degree of change accompanied the political events known as the Meiji Restoration. The authors make use of quantitative data and recent Japanese scholarship to add substantially to the understanding of this major historical transition. This volume, with its essays of uniformly high quality, is essential reading for anyone with a scholarly interest in the Meiji Period."Choice

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Princeton University Press
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Princeton Legacy Library Series
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Japan in Transition

From Tokugawa to Meiji

By Marius B. Jansen, Gilbert Rozman


Copyright © 1986 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-10245-0




This is a book about the changeover from Tokugawa (1600-1868) to Meiji (1868-1912) in nineteenth-century Japan. It was a transition from early modern (kinsei) to modern (kindai), as the Japanese put it; from late-feudal to modern institutions, as many historians have described it, from shogunal to imperial rule, and from isolation to integration in the world economy. Most accounts treat it chiefly in its political dimension, focusing on the events associated with the return of power to the throne. The Meiji Restoration, the central event of that transition, thus serves as its symbol. Too frequently it also serves to shield the student from the longer and deeper process of revolutionary social change that was underway and that gave the Restoration its significance in world history. In their totality, the changes with which these chapters are concerned constituted a profound transformation of Japanese society. But it was one long in taking shape, and its future outlines were never as clear to those who led as their subsequent recollections seemed to indicate.

It is easy to be taken in by the rhetoric of the Meiji leaders, most of it produced long after the state had taken form — a rhetoric that implies an unchanging vision and a steady purpose. In fact, vision and purpose were in process of definition throughout the period of transition. The general outlines of a country that would be able to compete with other countries were in the leaders' minds, but the shape and individuality of its institutions — even its political institutions — were in question for several decades. Kido Takayoshi's discovery of the uses of the 1868 Charter Oath during his visit to Washington in 1872 provides a case in point. Later generations would point to that document as a blueprint, and in recent years it has even been credited with containing the germ of the liberal Constitution of 1947; but at the time it was issued, as Michio Umegaki shows in Chapter 4, the Oath was designed as reassurance for daimyo and leading samurai. Even Kido, who had contributed to its formulation, was startled by his realization of its future utility.

The changes Japan experienced in the middle decade of the nineteenth century had profound consequences for the world state system, the world economy, and world history. A country that had been decentralized, with rule divided among some 260 hereditary authorities (daimyo) who ruled their domains, was transformed into a centralized, unitary state. A society in which roles and aspirations had been limited by hereditary designations of status threw off class restrictions to construct a meritocracy based on educational achievement. An undeveloped country, dependent on the product of premodern agriculture and a complex land tax paid in kind by village communities, launched changes based on individual ownership, monetarization, and commercial integration and diversification to inaugurate industrialization.

Treaties with Western countries, negotiated under duress, opened major ports to foreign presence and goods. Acute consciousness of dangers to national sovereignty forced military changes that replaced hereditary warriors with conscript soldiers and enabled Japan, by century's end, to regain its sovereignty and threaten that of its neighbors. In numerous ways, cataclysmic changes transformed a way of life long isolated from the rest of the world. Glaring inconsistencies with the needs of a modern society were swept away. The enactment and implementation of the reforms that did this are the subject of many of the chapters that follow.

The Organization of This Book

Part One is concerned with the often traveled but still inadequately understood terrain of administrative change. Our coverage ranges from an overview of the changes in central government to a case study of the structure and costs of local government in the Meiji period. Chapters center on the transformation of the ruling class, the crucial decision to abolish the domains in 1871, and the consequences of that decision in one domain. Together these chapters document the political aspect of Meiji centralization in administration.

Part Two is a study of the transformation of some of the most important and diverse organizations in Japan. Of the many areas that might have been selected, our authors have chosen to examine five types of organizations: 1) Buddhist religious organizations, which had been closely linked to the Tokugawa order; 2) military organizations, which, as a primary concern of Meiji leaders, led the way in institutional innovation; 3) the educational system, which developed the human resources to staff all organizations; 4) the press, which quickly became the principal means of communication between the leaders and the public; and 5) shipping, one of the primary arenas of competition between new and old types of commercial organization. The dramatic changes in these organizations in the short space of a decade or two reveal how profound the transformation of Japan was. They show, in the case of education, how quickly a rationalized and uniform system could take hold or, in the case of shipping, how readily foreign technology could be adopted with state support. The transformation of many types of organization reflects the active role of the Meiji government in centralizing without dominating and mirrors the intensely competitive setting of the Meiji environment.

The rapid expansion of social science methods in historical studies of Japan makes possible the use of statistical records to examine the course of Japan's nineteenth-century transition in Parts Three and Four. Here we show the promise of linking the Tokugawa and Meiji periods through detailed statistics that are now available for each. The merging of statistical and descriptive analysis is especially important for a book on nineteenth-century Japanese history for three reasons: the ever wider availability of historical statistics; the need for objective bases for judgments that too often are based on normative assumptions; and the recent growth of interest among Japanese scholars in specialized statistical methods.

We are fortunate to have as contributors to this volume three scholars who exemplify this new trend in Japan: Akira Hayami, Shunsaku Nishikawa, and Osamu Saito. The chapters in Part Three analyze population and urban data; in addition, there is a separate study of the transition in Tokyo (Edo), Japan's largest city and the seat of both the Tokugawa shogunate and the Meiji central government. Part Four focuses on the land tax reform, labor use, and grain consumption as determined from local records. The final chapter explores the penetration of Western living standards into Japan. To an altogether astonishing degree, given the importance of the issue for evaluation of the impact of the Restoration, the land tax reform — though clearly the central administrative device for transforming feudal dues into modern taxes — has hitherto been treated in generalities that emphasize burden more than incentive, tenancy more than the freedoms that came with fee simple possession, and village decline more than growth and diversification. The deflation of 1881-1885 has been taken as symptomatic of a much deeper malaise. Kozo Yamamura raises important doubts about such conclusions, and all our authors show the need for careful analysis that long-accepted generalizations require when quantifiable data can be found.

It is not surprising that the bulk of historical scholarship concerned with the changes of which we speak has concentrated on the political experimentation of early Meiji, and the democratic movement of the 1880s. Foreign policy disputes that intersected with these — the approach and challenge of the West, the nature and impact of unequal treaties, and the issue of Korean policy — have also received their due.

Much less in evidence, whether in Japanese or English, is research that offers a broad perspective on changes in central and local administration, on the transformation of diverse organizations, on changes in demography and the structure of cities, and on continuities and discontinuities in rural life and the standard of living. New currents in social science analysis are now being widely applied in Japanese studies, but these essays are among the first to bring them to bear on the transition from Tokugawa to Meiji. For more than two decades, one of the most productive areas of research in Japanese studies has been the study of dynamism within Tokugawa society. Surprisingly, however, many findings about changing conditions in the last century of the Tokugawa era have yet to be incorporated into interpretations of modern Japan. The bridge needed to link the premodern and the modern across the second half of the nineteenth century remains unbuilt. Here we begin the construction of such a bridge.

Transition, Restoration, or Revolution?

Our studies had their origin in a concern with the deeper sort of change that was occurring as the late Tokugawa and early Meiji shifts took place. Change in class relations was in progress long before the status restrictions were abolished, and it accelerated as the tumultuous years of crisis that followed the coming of Perry put a premium on ability. The domains of the Tokugawa political system had become drawn together owing to joint concern with stability, the interchange of goods, and migration patterns. Official concern with the adequacy of food and popular well-being produced impressive compilations of statistical evidence long before the events of the Restoration. Demographic and urban patterns, which varied by place and time, were transforming the human map of Japan long before Meiji centralization.

It is this transition, rather than the Restoration, that is our theme. But how is it to be delimited? Tides of change vary from measure to measure, and only political decisions provide convenient benchmarks for a programmed survey. Since the early 1930s Japanese historians, in their search for the inception of the Meiji state, have often defined that administration in terms of Marxist categories of absolutism, and they have tended to begin their survey in the 1830s and 1840s. Their reasoning was that the economic reforms and administrative tightening of those (Tempo) years led to increased control in the hands of feudal administrators. Domain monopolies, and greater central control in the hands of shogun and daimyo, seemed to prepare a generation for the integrated and structured trends that lay ahead. The transition years were judged to extend until the 1880s, when political institutions were in place; thereafter, the Matsukata fiscal program produced a countryside dominated, as historians put it, by a landlord-capitalist alliance directed by bureaucrats in the interest of a Meiji "absolutism."

More recent scholarship is less firm about the significance of the Tempo era and the definition of Meiji absolutism. The reforms mounted by the shogunate failed to achieve their purpose, though programs inaugurated by some of the major domains proved more successful in bolstering local economies. The foreign problem was looming larger by the 1840s, but no real response to it came before Perry's arrival in 1853. If there was something new about the Tempo period, it was the growing consciousness that a problem existed in the combination of economic distress and military weakness, an awareness that resulted in unsuccessful attempts to strengthen the Tokugawa center. But those attempts proved not only ineffective but even counterproductive, for domain reforms more nearly strengthened the periphery against the center. Nor can it be shown that reform followed a straight (or even winding) line from Tempo on. The Meiji leaders were born in the Tempo years, to be sure, and by the turn of the century they were being derided by their juniors as the "old men of the Tempo era." Their years of conditioning and experience, however, came well after Tempo.

For most purposes our transition is best defined in terms of the three decades that began with the coming of Perry and ended with the institutionalization of "modern" trends in administration, production, organization, and settlement in the 1880s. In this book we follow the Japanese convention of referring to the years 1853-1868 as bakumatsu, or the end of the bakuhan system, i.e. the political order defined by the Tokugawa bakufu and the 260-odd han (domains). We use "early Meiji" for the 1870s and "mid-Meiji" for the 1880s. The changes that were deliberate found their point of origin in the crisis of foreign policy presented by the appearance of Perry's flotilla. Political and administrative moves can be most clearly dated, and so we begin with them. These provided the framework for a program of defensive modernization to restore the national sovereignty that had been threatened by unequal treaties. Japan's inability to prevent that damage, it seemed to many, could be traced to the lack of institutions able to control and centralize effectively. Incipient central institutions, though initially obscured by an apparent decline in central authority, undermined the pattern of decentralization. Without this preparation for economic and administrative integration, Japan's nineteenth-century transition clearly would not have been so speedy or successful.

We have taken the decades from the 1850s to the 1880s as pivotal to this transition. The foreign crisis became acute with the coming of Perry. It intensified with the opening of the ports in the 1860s, and determined the course of official westernization in the 1870s. Its "solution," in the form of full recovery of national sovereignty through reform of the unequal treaties, required the full length of the Meiji period, but it was in sight by the 1880s and negotiated by 1894. Local autonomy, which had actually been strengthened by the weakening of the shogunate in the 1860s, survived the Restoration and came to an end only in 1871; as late as 1884 the daimyo were rewarded with titles of peerage. Samurai activism and terrorism reached a high in the 1860s, and it required a full decade of Meiji rule before the loss of warrior-class economic and social privileges was sealed by the failure of the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. New institutions of centralization and rationalization of local government developed gradually. The new regime began with the Tokugawa lands, most of which were retained as heartland of the new "imperial" authority; it extended its sway cautiously over daimyo lands in 1871, and then began a process of experimentation that was completed only with the establishment of institutions of local government in the late 1880s and promulgation of the constitution in 1889.

Much Japanese writing has met or avoided the problem of classification by resort to the term "Restoration." This is by no means an empty word, for it is expressed with orthography different from that employed for the cyclical, though ultimately futile, efforts to revive dynastic health in China (restorations rendered as chuko in Japanese). Ishin carries with it ideas of linking change and renewal, and can serve to signify revolutionary or comprehensive change. In both loyalist and non-Marxist historiography, however, it becomes inseparably linked with the return of power to the sovereign. That was what constituted the centerpiece of what Meiji statesmen referred to with satisfaction at the end of their careers as "the great work of Restoration" (ishin no taigyo). Consequently, we find it inadequate to convey the depth and variety of social change with which we deal in this book; and although the term can well accommodate revolutionary social change, it does not convey that meaning for most readers.


Excerpted from Japan in Transition by Marius B. Jansen, Gilbert Rozman. Copyright © 1986 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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