How Did Japan Change Under the Meiji?

During the Meiji Restoration, Japan radically altered its political structure and embarked on a plan of industrialization to help it compete with Western nations. Though the reforms caused some violent opposition, the government had reached its objectives by the early 20th century.

The Meiji Restoration began in 1867, when the shogun, a military official who was the de facto ruler of Japan, resigned his position and restored effective political power to the emperor, a position that for centuries had been mostly ceremonial. Emperor Meiji and his advisors embarked on an ambitious course to remake Japan socially, politically and economically. Spurred on by humiliating encounters with technologically superior Western countries, the Emperor knew that he had to build up Japanese industry so that it could create advanced military equipment and create economic growth to finance new technology. To encourage firms to innovate, the government funded railroads and telegraphs, subsidized private companies, and established a modern financial system.

Inspired by Western governments, liberal reformers advocated for more say in their political system. To placate these reformers, the government produced a constitution in 1889 that created a bicameral parliament, the Diet. Elected through a limited voting franchise, members of the Diet first met in 1890. During the Meiji Restoration, the education system also reformed along Western lines. Conflicts such as the Boshin War and various peasant uprisings accompanied these reforms, but the government had remade Japan as a powerful industrial, military and financial powerhouse by the death of Meiji in 1912.