In 1868, samurai from Satsuma and Choshu domains overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate, took over the government, and began a series of major modernization reforms, known as the Meiji Restoration. From 1868 to 1912, Japan grew from a technologically backward nation to a world power, defeating both China and Russia swiftly and decisively. On top of this, Japan had succeeded in establishing a parliament, drafting a constitution, developed a strong financial, economic and legal system, created a strong industry and improved social welfare and education standards. These made Japan internationally recognised and respected as a modernized country. Looking back, we can identify numerous reasons that led to the success of the Meiji Restoration, namely the legacies of Japan, the vision and capabilities of individual leaders and the flexible political structure.
Most historians concur that while the Meiji Restoration was not without its flaws, it was a success in many areas and proved to the world that Asian powers were able match the West in terms of modernization. To emulate such a process and to apply it, it is of utmost importance to first analyse the reasons that made the Meiji Restoration a success despite facing numerous challenges. To refine this idea, the three reasons, namely legacies left behind, vision and capabilities of individual leaders and the flexible political structure will be weighed and evaluated to come to a conclusion as to what ultimately defined the direction of the Meiji Restoration and its success.’
1.3 Research Questions
1. In what aspects did each factor contribute to success of Meiji Restoration?
2. Were the impacts of each factor sustained throughout the entire modernization process?
3. Could the Meiji Restoration have succeeded without a particular factor?
4. How would the Meiji Restoration have evolved differently if any factor was left out?
1.4 Thesis Statement
The most important factor that led to the success of the Meiji Restoration was the flexible political structure the Meiji Oligarchy adopted to fulfil multiple goals of modernization simultaneously.
This paper will focus on qualitative analysis of secondary sources from the viewpoints of historians. Most of the historians looked at will also be Japanese as they take into account Japanese values and ideologies before making a statement. These works will then be placed into perspective of Rozman’s (1981) works on the desirable outcomes of modernization and systematically compared.
1.6 Scope of Research / Delimitation
The main focus of modernization will be Japan’s rise to international recognition, especially in the eyes of the west. This paper focuses on three main factors, namely legacies of Japan, vision and capabilities of individual Meiji leaders and the flexible political structure the Meiji oligarchy adopted. The Meiji Restoration will be set from 1868 to 1912, under the Meiji emperor.
1.7 Significance of Research / Usefulness
Many have remarked the success of the Meiji Restoration but few have attributed to clear, defined factors. Few books and papers that aim to provide reasons categorise them under neat headings and the end result is ultimately a huge web of interlinking, factors that often overlap. In this paper, the different factors will be classified under headings to facilitate understanding of their importance. Few authors have devoted their paper or books to weighing the different factors. I ultimately aim to analyse the numerous factor systematically, coming to a conclusion that allows leaders to truly extract essential strategies to apply in the modern world.
For a topic as broad as the Meiji Restoration, it is impossible to come up with all the different factors before classifying them into more specific headings. Some books have been written in Japanese and translations may not encapsulate the true meaning and understanding of the original authors.. It is also key to note that some first-hand letters and personal documents may not be reliable because the authors have participated in the political modernization themselves, and have developed certain opinions on controversial issues and their views may be based on emotion and not an objective point of view. They may not be the most accurate factually, but offer different points of view and are thus still useful.
Chapter Two: Literature Review
With regards to Japan’s Meiji Restoration, many books, journals and articles have gone into great detail, typically from the perspective of historians, in analysing each individual factor’s impact on the modernization process. However, few have clearly and systematically compared and analysed the different factors. By comparing each factor based on a set of criteria determining the success of modernization, I will systematically analyse and conclude which factor played the most significant role in making Meiji Restoration a success.
2.2 Legacies left behind by Tokugawa Shogunate
Before delving how each individual legacy affects the success of the modernization process, numerous Western historians including Cohen (1974) and Mclaren (1965) have expressed doubts on the extent legacies as a whole affect the success of Meiji Restoration, citing that ‘modernization was a change in entirety as seen in their political and social reforms’. Japanese historians, on the other hand, rebut this thesis. Yozo (1966) and Tsuneo (1995) concur in their respective publications that ‘legacies have had a huge influence on the nation preceding modernization, especially Asian countries’. Cohen diminishes the importance of Japanese legacies. He cited different revolutions in European countries such as the French revolution and how the legacies did not play such an important role in modernization and industrialization. However, he failed to note that unlike European countries, Japan’s modernization comes with westernization, both politically and socially. He had missed out that Japan, in its 1000 years of mostly internal evolution had developed extremely different ideology such as Japanese Confucianism. To modernize, Japan had to carry out reforms Western style, often leading to clash of political and social cultures. Liao (2006) notes that
If we study the process of Western modernization in a nation we cannot neglect the legacies which have been handed down from pre-modern ages, providing a continuing influence on the inheritor-nation. In particular, such as nations as China and Japan have survived for several thousands of years and have created a great ‘ and according to some ‘ glorious Oriental Civilization in the Asian World.
This idea is further reinforced by the fact that Japan had almost no contact with the West after 1600 when the entire Western world was modernizing. As Tsuneo (1995) points out, in the period of modernization, it is not merely the surface that is touched, but deeply ingrained values and philosophy and hence the predominant legacies do indeed affect, whether positive or negatively, the way reforms are carried out and its outcome.
Western and Japanese historians have disagreed whether the military class from the Tokugawa Japan played a significant role in affecting the successful outcome of Meiji Restoration. Due to relative peace for the 200 years between 1600s and 1800s, Western skeptics have argued that ‘since there was no significant military campaign or political change except small scale riots by peasants or townsmen, the military gradually decayed’ (Lehmann, 1982). While this is factually true, it is a one-sided attempt to put down the military and is not an objective view of the strength and weaknesses of the Tokugawa military. His argument that the army is not strong militarily and hence could not play a role in the success of Meiji Restoration is flawed. Looking from a historical perspective, the military may have been weak in terms of the ability to fight a war but it does not prove that it did not play a part in ensuring that Meiji Reforms were successfully carried out. Japanese military historians Atsushi (2001), Kiichiro (1999) and Hushiko (1996) acknowledged that to the samurai ‘warfare had become a matter of theory, not practice’. However, unlike ability to fight, but more importantly their ingrained values and ideology:
The ‘traditional’ samurai values of bushido ”’ (Way of the Warrior) such as absolute loyalty to one’s master, strict fulfilment of one’s obligations, deadly defence of one’s status and honour, were emphasized and codified even after the shogunate secured stability of the regime.
Citing how many samurai passionately transferred their personal loyalty from the daimyo to the Emperor and vehemently resisted foreign invasion, it can be seen that while the samurai may have decayed in terms of fighting ability, their core values and determination to improve cannot be looked over. With their strong intent to resist Western invasion, many were willing to give up traditional samurai rights for their country. Given a strong sense of cultural identity in the Japanese, Western historians could have underestimated the will, values and pride Japanese samurai possessed which became key to implementing reforms in Meiji Japan and made it so successful. Factual accuracy is important but background knowledge and cultural context are also key to interpreting history. Therefore, a wide range of opinions is needed for an objective and accurate analysis.
2.3 Vision and capabilities of individual leaders
Both Western and Japanese historians concur that the Meiji oligarchy had strong leadership and vision. However, Western historians do not agree that the diplomatic missions to the West prove the far-sightedness of the Japanese. British historian Daniel (1978) argues that ‘diplomatic missions such as the Iwakura mission have failed in their mission of renegotiating unequal treaties’. While this is true, it should be noted that the Japanese gained irreplaceable knowledge in the process. While the ‘official’ motive of the Iwakura mission may not have been met, throughout the two years from 1871 to 1873, the 48 leaders would undoubtedly have a chance to closely look and analyse Western politics, economy, military and even way of thinking. Furthermore, this two year mission would have allowed leaders to immerse themselves in Western culture and ideology, a move that influences the policies and decisions made. These decisions made the modernization process proceed quickly and effectively and this was definitely key to the success of Meiji Restoration. This argument is further supported by the various letters written by Ito Hirobumi to Saigo Takamori, then the leader of Meiji Japan’s armed forces. In his letters, Ito conscientiously listed the various aspects of Western military that could be adapted to Japan’s needs. This led to various structural reforms within the army before the Iwakura Mission even returned. By examining both the Western view and first-hand accounts from the Japanese side, we are able to conclude that Japanese leaders were far-sighted to proceed on numerous missions to the West and had the vision to see Western style politics, economy and military in context of Japan. Based on facts, letters and parliamentary articles, these visionary leaders made key decisions that contributed to key essential reforms that led to the overall success of Meiji Restoration.
2.4 Flexible political structure
In the twenty-first century a new theory on the politics of Meiji Japan emerged. Contemporary historians have discovered what they call ‘flexible structure of politics’ (Banno & Ohno, 2010) in Meiji Japan. They have cited that ‘[In Meiji politics] no single group dominated; each had to form a coalition to pursue a policy’. In simpler terms, it means that every aspect was given due attention, and military goals were not single mindedly pursued. As cited by Rozman (1981) modernization encompasses a wide range of areas. Hence success in modernization meant that many aspects are covered, not just military. Given that both Banno and Ohno are respected historians in the field of Meiji Restoration, their analysis should be given due weight. Their analysis while supported by the same facts available to us 50 years ago, offer in immensely insightful and different view to the political structure.
This relatively new concept rebuts an old misconception that some historians have. When analysing Japan’s involvement in World War Two, British historians have come to a conclusion that Japan’s militaristic intentions have originated since the Meiji Era. Wilson (1957) and Gordon (2003) cited that Japanese militarism can be noticed as early as the Meiji Era, with rapid build-up of military power. However, this is at odds with facts. Just because Japan had rapidly built up its military in no way reveals that it is militaristic. These historians have rightfully pointed out an important fact. However, they have not looked at the context closely. As Reischauer (1981) notes, ‘[the] emphasis on military power had been forced on Meiji Japan by the predatory nature of Western imperialism in the nineteenth century’. Thus looking at the context, it is understandable that Japan wanted to avoid mistakes made by the Chinese in the same period of time, hence strengthening the army was a vital step. Furthermore, Wilson (1957) and Gordon (2003) analysis should not be given too much weight. As they were writing about Japan in World War Two, they may have been noting different plausible possibilities for other historians to analyse as to why Japan appeared so militaristic and were not particular specialists in the Meiji Era.
In the course of this literature review, some less predominant viewpoints are also considered to allow my analysis to be as objective as possible. Authors such as Takeo(1989) commented on how Saigo Takamori’s rebellion in 1877 and the political crisis of 1881 reveal major flaws in the political system. However, as rebutted by many historians both in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Mu’s argument does not offer a good insight on the political situation. While it is accepted that these incidents certainly proved that flaws exist in the system, Eiichi (2001) says that ‘the oligarchy’s ability to swiftly resolve both crises is yet another example to prove the strength and resolve of the Meiji government’. This strength made it possible for numerous policies that have suffered opposition to pass through for the greater good of the modernization process. Hence, it appears rather absurd for Mu(1968) to have commented on the issues, but not on the ability of the leaders to resolve them quickly, without hindering the progress of the revolution.
There has been extensive research done on the various factors of Meiji Restoration. The differing Western and Japanese allow for a better understanding of this complex and dynamic modernization process as a whole. At the same time, by taking into account factors like cultural and social differences of the different historians, one is able to come to a sound conclusion and analysis of each factor. It is regretful that there are few works analysing and comparing the different factors affecting the success of the Meiji Restoration. This research therefore aims to use existing work and analysis of individual factors as stepping stones to further discussion and comparison of various factors.’
Chapter Three: Analysis and Discussion
3.1 Modernization in Japanese context
I agree with Rozman (1981) that modernization is ‘the process by which societies have been and are being transformed under the impact of the scientific and technological revolution’. This can be broadly thought of as a process which entails independent sovereignty in international society, political stability, strong military, strong financial and economic system to support the industry, high life expectancy, equitable distribution of income, social welfare and high education level.
Throughout Japan’s path to modernization from 1868 to 1912 in the Meiji Era, these desirable outcomes of modernization have been met, one after another. I however believe that the key outcome that proved the success of the revolution was how Japan gained international recognition and became a respected nation in the eyes of Western powers after its decisive victory in the Russo-Japanese War. According to Gordon (2003), the Russo-Japanese War from 1905 to 1906 was the ‘first major [military] victory in the modern era of an Asian power over a European nation…Japan’s international prestige rose greatly’. In other words, the Russo-Japanese War can be seen as a turning point of Japan’s rise from a technologically backward nation to a world power recognised and to a certain extent feared by the West. This is supported by Yozo (1966) who cites that ‘by 1910, most unequal economic treaties were abolished’Japanese officials were treated much better than in the Iwakura Mission 30 years ago’. I would therefore like to focus on how Japan successfully achieved international recognition and respect, and this entails Japan’s military modernization and handling of diplomatic relations.
3.2 Japan’s path to international recognition and prestige
In 1858, the unequal treaties of ‘Treaty of Amity and Commerce’ and ‘Ansei Treaties’ were signed between Japan and Western nations, predominantly United States. This forcefully opened up ports of Kanagawa and Nagasaki to foreign trade with low taxes. Furthermore, it implemented a system of extraterritoriality that provided for the subjugation of foreign residents to the laws of their own consular courts instead of the Japanese law system. After overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate, samurai from domains such as Satsuma and Choshu began aggressive reforms, eventually culminating in defeat of China and Russia in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and Russo-Japanese War in 1905 respectively. It was eventually recognised and feared by the United Kingdom as a world power and potential threat to its interests in the Far East and all unequal treaties were abolished by 1910.
3.3 Reasons for the successful modernization of Meiji Restoration
Japanese values and way of thinking are largely based on Confucianism thoughts. It is worthy to note that from the 1635 to 1850s, Japan established a seclusion policy called the ‘Sakoku Edict of 1625’ which barred entry and exit into or out of Japan and placed strict restrictions on goods that can be traded. The main aim of this is to eliminate Western influences, ideology and philosophy. ‘While this prevented the importation of Western technology, resulting in a backward nation, it also preserved Japanese values and united the people under the Shogun with a national identity’ (Yoshida, 1985).
126.96.36.199 Japanese honour and pride
Throughout the Tokugawa regime, there was no significant military campaign or political change except small-scale riots by peasants or townsmen. This resulted in ‘warfare becoming a matter of theory, not practice’ (Fairbank et.al, 1989). The Shogunate also wanted to rule Japan in peace and re-trained samurai from the role of fighters to that of well-educated bureaucrats in the administrations system. Despite this, ‘Traditional samurai values such as strict fulfilment of obligations, deadly defence of one’s honour and status, were emphasized and codified after the shogun secured stability of the regime’ (Liao, 2006). This meant that while military and fighting capabilities of the samurai class may have decayed, they still upheld tradition values and honour, and would not tolerate any form of insult to the Emperor, the country and their name and honour. In the latter stages of the Tokugawa period some samurai passionately transferred their personal loyalty from their feudal lords or the Shogunate, to the emperor as the national symbol. Therefore,
‘Unequal treaties were seen as an insult to Japanese pride and the samurai, while unhappy with the government, realised the need to restore Japanese honour and gave their full support to the government, especially in military aspects.’ (Yozo, 1966)
This support and loyalty to the government were not something symbolic, but rather proven through actions. Given that they have always seen Westerners as ‘Gaijin’ or ‘barbarians’, it was impossible for them to accept that the Westerner were not on equal ground as them. Despite the fact that many samurai had to swallow their pride when they were banned from carrying their swords openly, which acted as a class symbol, few protested. Most understood the need for sacrifices to be made for the greater good. Despite some having to work tirelessly for relatively low wages, their inborn sense of pride to stand up for their honour was still burning strongly and they were willing give it their best for something they believed in.
188.8.131.52 Political stability during Tokugawa period
A key factor that made Japan a conducive environment for modernization was the peace and prosperity within the Tokugawa regime. According to Yoshida (1985), ‘the Tokugawa had established political stability and relative peace, with proper organisation and distribution of power’ relatively bloodless takeover by the Meiji Oligarchy.’ Unlike many other revolutions worldwide like the Russian revolution, Japan was not in a messy state or did have constant, internal conflicts. This meant that there was a relatively peaceful takeover by the Meiji Oligarchy. Japanese citizens were also generally well looked after and there were few urgent problems like famine to solve. Also as ‘there was no significant military campaign or political change except small-scale riots by peasants or townsmen’ (Liao, 2006), the people were peaceful and generally satisfied with their lives. With a high level of enthusiasm on the part of the people as well as stable political and economic systems, Japan was well on its way to become the first modernized Asian nation in the modern era.
3.3.2 Vision and capabilities of individual leaders
The very first batch of leaders such as Okubo Toshimichi, Kido Takayoshi, Ito Hirobumi and Yamagata Arimoto started off as ordinary low ranking samurai from outer domains, primarily Satsuma and Choshu. They lead normal lives of middle-upper class warriors and did not display particularly remarkable traits. Everything was changed as they staged revolutions, ultimately overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate and assumed power, ushering in a new era for Japan. It would be an understatement to say that they helped Japan modernize. Almost every successful military, economic and political policy came from these sharp and far-sighted leaders. Therefore, without the vision and capabilities of individual leaders, Japan would never have executed modernization so efficiently, almost flawlessly.
184.108.40.206 Establishment of diplomatic relationships and ties
When Western powers came to Japan in 1860s, not only did they force Japan to sign unequal economic treaties, they also it implemented a system of extraterritoriality that provided for the subjugation of foreign residents to the laws of their own consular courts instead of the Japanese law. They gave no respect to the Japanese court or its people. In this sense, Japanese were treated as second-class citizens right in their own country. On the global scale, Japan had no international standing and was seen a backward country, being an ‘economic playground for the rich Western powers’ (Yozo, 1966).
Fortunately for Japan, leaders such as Iwakura Tomoni realised earlier on that if Japan ever wanted to become a superpower, it needed allies around the world to support them militarily and economically. Furthermore, Iwakura and Hirobumi saw the need to import Western elements into Japan to speed up the slow and tedious process of modernization and more importantly prove to the West that it was a civilised nation deemed fit of the title of ‘superpower’. As Hamilton (1905) puts it, ‘the West was only willing to accept Japan as a world power if it proves itself as a cultured and civilised country that embodies democracy and fundamentals of Western way of thinking.’ A group of 48 Meiji leaders went on a diplomatic mission called the Iwakura Mission to the west for 2 years from 1871 to 1873 with the main aim of renegotiating unequal treaties. While the team may have failed in this aspect, the mission was still undeniably a success. According to Iwakura, ‘the two years have given us greater insight at the workings of Western politics, military and economic policies’ In this sense, it can be seen as a great success.’ In the following decade, Japan adopted and adapted many Western policies that achieved great success, some even greater that those implemented by the original state. These include the military reform of 1872 where Japan adopted a British-styled navy, French-styled army and Paris police system. Hoover, a British commander who visited Japan in 1876, commented
‘I have heard plenty about Japan but it is nothing like what I have just witnessed. Western military policies have been so carefully and successfully adapted to suit the needs of the Japanese’It is indeed remarkable that these people have established such a strong foundation and social order’ It will not be any surprise if they were to become a power in the Far-East.’
It is indeed impressive that Meiji leaders saw the need to build diplomatic relations right at the start of their modernization process and this shows how far-sighted these leaders were.
220.127.116.11 Overseas Students
By 1874, 466 Japanese students, mainly in their teens were sent to America, Britain and France to study. Japanese leaders did not only see about the current successes but also prepared the next generation of leaders for their vital role of continuing Japanese modernization. These visionary leaders realised that ‘importing Western knowledge and concepts were not enough, and leaders, especially Okubo clearly recognised the need for the future generation of leaders to pursue further education in the West.’ These investments were extremely costly, given that students were sent to the best schools and would not yield much return for the next 10, 20 years. Despite this, the leaders were able to recognise the long term investments and how they eventually need a good, reliable future generation of leaders who have a global perspective. Students such as Kaneko Kantaro eventually became a diplomat to America and his role in bringing America and Japan together was indisputable.
3.3.3 Flexible political structure
18.104.22.168 Curbing of aggression
With so many capable leaders keen on pursuing their own style and aspect of modernization, conflict was inevitable. As seen from the failed 1873 expedition to Korea and the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion lead by an ex Meiji leader, having so many talented and capable leaders could cause a potential political split in Japan, marking the end of the revolution. The lead course of this was Saigo Takamori’s keen intent on invading Korea merely 5 years after the Meiji Restoration began. ‘A 1873 invasion of Korea would have been disastrous for Japan for it would have been condemned by the West.’ (Yozo, 1966) This is due to the fact that Japan is still far behind Western nations in terms of military and technology, although in a much better state than Korea. Furthermore, the West treated Japan as second-class and would not tolerate Japanese imperialism. A war would have drawn criticism from the West, effectively undoing diplomatic efforts from the Iwakura Mission. In this flexible political structure, ‘no single leader dominated and each had to form coalitions to pursue policy.’ As Saigo only represented one of the four factions within the Meiji Oligarchy, he did not have sufficient support to pursue imperialistic policies in Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria. This was however the best case scenario for Japan as it effectively hid its imperialistic tendencies until it was generally accepted and respected by the West as a world power and invaded China. This flexible political structure therefore curbed aggression and gave Japan the window to tap on Western technology and expertise until it reached a high level of modernization and pursued its own nationalistic policies.
22.214.171.124 Constant evolution of policies
‘A passive revolution was as good as a dead one’ (Iwakura, 1875). On top of curbing aggression and having a balance of power between leaders to ensure that only the best policies were passed for Japan, Japan’s flexible political structure also promoted active revolution with constantly evolving policies and distribution of power. As Banno & Ohno (2010) puts it, ‘the focus of the Meiji Restoration evolved constantly amongst the factors of industrialization, foreign expedition, establishment of parliament and drafting of constitution, based on the demands and needs of the particular time period’. Understanding that true modernization, which Japan achieved, was not something limited to military modernization, but also other political, social and economic aspects, the constant shift in focus meant that all these areas were given due attention. This undoubtedly led to the success of Meiji Restoration and the West believed that Japan was a civilised and deserving nation of the title ‘world power’. The constant evolution of policies brought about by the flexible political structure also promoted competition between the factions as ‘no one group yielded sufficient political power to carry out desired policies and could only pursue them by forming a coalition.’ (Banno & Ohno, 2010) This meant that none of the leaders could rest on their laurels and have to constantly work hard and compete with one another to even get their policies past approval stage. This policy however hardly ‘resulted in permanent grudges or vengeance against each other’ (Banno & Ohno, 2010). This proves that the Meiji Restoration was an active revolution that is constantly adjusting and adapting and with its evolving policy, proved key in ensuring Japan’s success in mere 50 years.
After analysing the three factors of legacies, vision and capabilities of individual leaders and the flexible political structure, we identify that all three factors play a huge role in the success of the Meiji Restoration, with particular regard to Japan’s rise to international recognition and prestige. Following that, these factors shall be compared based on the following questions:
5. In what aspects did each factor contribute to success of Meiji Restoration?
6. Were the impacts of each factor sustained throughout the entire modernization process?
7. Could the Meiji Restoration have succeeded without a particular factor?
8. How would the Meiji Restoration have evolved differently if any factor was left out?
After giving a brief breakdown of each factor, we aim to classify what each factor directly represents and how it directly impacts the evolution of Meiji Restoration. Legacies of Japan include an ingrained sense of honour and pride to resist foreign invasion and political stability in Japan as a whole. These created a conducive environment for revolution and modernization to take place without bloodshed. The people also provided the active manpower needed to sustain the revolution. Legacies can thus we thought of as a solid foundation for Meiji leaders to develop. The second factor of vision and capabilities of individual leaders is an important one. This encompasses vision to develop diplomatic relations and ties with Western powers as well as sending students overseas to prepare the next generation of leaders. The numerous Meiji leaders also offer creative and innovative solutions to adopt and adapt Western policies to suit the unique needs of Japan. In a broad sense, this contributed to creative solutions and ideas. Finally, the flexible political structure brought in due caution when pushing out policies, especially those on an international scale. It also allowed for some form of competition within the structure to maximise the potential Japan has to modernize. This flexible political structure can thus be thought of as the factor that brought general direction and guidance for the revolution, as well as to allow leaders to work together efficiently, minimising conflict.
The legacies of Japan brought about a conducive environment for reforms. However, if we were to properly examine the impacts legacies have, we see that it was not sustained. Japanese values and pride made the people receptive and open to the idea of modernization, seeing that it was the only way to retain their status. As the Meiji Restoration moved on, the people have gradually established themselves in the national system, partially embracing Western values like capitalism and Japanese pride and honour no longer become the key motivating factor for the hard work of the people. Legacies like political stability give the leaders a distinct advantage to pursue a more fast-paced modernization without having to worry as much about internal conflicts. This, however merely acts as a stepping stone to provide a conducive environment to modernize and legacies are generally not sustained throughout the Meiji Restoration. The ingenuity and far-sightedness of individual Meiji leaders can be seen in the whole course of modernization. From 1868 to 1912, the focus has shifted many times between political, military and economic goals but the leaders have never failed to come up with creative solutions to the problems. The overall success of Meiji Restoration by 1906 when Japan was officially recognised by the West as a world power is a testament to the sustained impact the vision and capabilities of individual leaders had throughout the modernization process. The flexible political structure is undeniably a factor that was sustained from the beginning to the end of the Meiji Restoration. According to Banno & Ohno (2010),
‘The flexible political structure can be seen throughout the Meiji Era, although often manifesting itself in less obvious forms’it remained relevant throughout, saving Japan from various crises such as the potential Korean expedition of 1873 and Satsuma Rebellion of 1877.’
Comparing all three factors, we see that Legacies played a more backseat role in the Meiji Restoration. While it created a conducive environment for the success of Meiji Restoration, its impacts were not as sustained throughout the course of the revolution as compared to the vision and capabilities of individual leaders as well as the flexible political structure.
Recognising that legacies played a less sustained role in Meiji Restoration, the vision and capabilities of individual leaders as well as the flexible political structure will be given more emphasis in analysing which was the most important factor. It is undeniable that the legacies of Japan made modernization slightly easier, and with less bloodshed than there would have been. However, given that its impact was only great at the start of the Meiji Restoration, its absence would not have deviated the course of the Meiji Restoration by much. The absence of Japanese legacies would have forced the leaders to take a longer way to first achieve political stability and satisfaction from the people before embarking on reforms. However, with the vision of leaders as well as the leaders working efficiently in the flexible political structure, the Meiji Restoration would still have been a success.
Moving on to directly compare vision and capabilities of individual leaders as well as the flexible political structure, we have to take into account that they are not mutually exclusive and are to a small extent related. Vision and capabilities of leaders ensured that the modernization was an active one, with constant new ideas and solutions. This was key to ensuring that Japan never gets left behind in its path to become a world power. However, a major flaw of that there would be conflict of interests between leaders. Considering that the leaders have vastly conflicting interests, almost causing a political split in 1873, 1876 and 1881, we see that merely having creative ideas and solutions were not going to work. Furthermore, Japan’s modernization not only involves military modernization but also other aspects like political, economic and social. Hence solely having vision and capabilities would not get Japan anywhere. Only the flexible political structure is able to hold the leaders together to achieve the best outcome for Japan. Flexible political structure, on the other hand holds the leaders together. Any policy that wishes to be passed requires at least two other factions supporting it. This promotes competition, but also cooperation between different factions to pursue a balanced policy, one that emphasizes on all aspects of modernization. At the same time, having an efficient political structure that lacks far-sighted capable leaders amounts to nothing and thus both factors of vision and capability of individual leaders and flexible political structure are equally strong but mutually relying. I ultimately believe that flexible political structure is the most important factor as it held Japan together. Even if it did not have the best of leaders, such a political structure would have ensured that Japan progressed steadily, ‘without falling into chaos or national division’ (Banno & Ohno, 2010) as it would likely have if individual capable leaders were not united or cooperative in pushing out policies.
The comparison has given greater depth into the analysis of each factors. By understanding the links and relations between legacies of Japan, vision and capabilities of individual leaders, as well as flexible political structure, we realise that without any one of them, a successful modernization would have been hard, but not entirely impossible. Legacies provided Meiji leaders with a strong but unsustained foundation to build on, hence it cannot be seen as the singularly most important factor. Vision and capabilities of leaders work hand in hand with flexible political structure to achieve overall success of Meiji Restoration. Taking into account how flexible political structure held the leaders together and united and how the numerous capable leaders almost led to a civil war when could not cooperate, I believe that The most important factor that led to the success of the Meiji Restoration was the flexible political structure the Meiji Oligarchy adopted to fulfil multiple goals of modernization simultaneously.
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