Japanese Meiji Period
4.3 Harnessing the energies of the people • The self-help philosophy emerging in the 1870s was a potential problem. For the new regime, if individuals became too strong and independent, they could prove difficult to control. • Their endeavors could become disorganized and wasted. • The authority of the government might even be affected. • This would weaken the country and make it vulnerable to the foreign powers, should they start thinking after all about colonizing Japan.
Nationalism • Ideal cause • Built on earlier kokugaku • Kokugaku (Kyūjitai: 國學/Shinjitai: 国学; lit. National study) was a National revival, or, school of Japanesephilology and philosophy originating during the Tokugawa period. Kokugaku scholars worked to refocus Japanese scholarship away from the then-dominant study of Chinese, Confucian, and Buddhist texts in favor of research into the early Japanese classics. • Catchphrase method
The cry was not only oitsuke, oikose(‘catch up, overtake') but also fukokukyohei– ‘rich nation, strong army'.
Successism (risshishugi) was the order of the day. • Nationalism needed symbols as well as catchphrases. • Support for the emperor meant support for his champions. • Key tool: Indoctrination • Hampered by high rate of literacy and education – one of Japan’s real strengths
The answer was obvious • Education had to be controlled
By 1872, universal education was an aim • By as early as 1879 almost two-thirds of all boys and one-quarter of all girls were receiving education to at least elementary school level • Initially many school texts were translations of western texts, and students were therefore exposed to such ideas as egalitarianism and individual rights.
This adaptation of Western culture in the form of education was undesirable – and it was the emperor himself who did something about it. • During a tour of central Honshu in 1878 he came to the conclusion that the adoption of things western had gone too far, and at the expense of values such as filial piety. From this point, guided by the imperial tutor and ConfucianistMotodaEifu (1818–91), education was to give increasing importance to appropriate moral instruction, and especially to Confucianist and nationalist/Shinto values. The state was to exert increasing influence over the selection of texts, till by the end of Meiji it had total control.
Changes • Western heroes in school texts were replaced by figures of Confucian virtue, such as the industrious NinomiyaSontoku (1757–1856, also known as Kinjiro). • The flag of Japan started to appear at the head of each chapter of each text. • The singing of morally uplifting songs was introduced into school assemblies.
In some ways, Japan was having its own nationalistic expression that dominated other imperial nations like Great Britain. • However, it went a step further in indoctrination,, severely restricting the worldview of its students. A major move was the issuing in October 1890 of the Imperial Rescript on Education, which was in practice drafted largely by MotodaEifu and Yamagata Aritomo.39 It wasintended as a message for society at large, not just those in schools:
Rescript Know ye, Our subjects, Our Imperial Ancestors have founded Our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting, and have deeply and firmly implanted virtue; Our subjects ever united in loyalty and filial piety have from generation to generation illustrated the beauty thereof. This is the glory of the fundamental character of Our Empire, and herein also lies the source of Our education. Ye, Our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters; as husbands and wives be harmonious, as friends true; bear yourselves in modesty and moderation; extend your benevolence to all; pursue learning and cultivate arts, and thereby develop intellectual faculties and perfect moral powers; furthermore, advance public good and promote common interests; always respect the Constitution and observe the laws; should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the State; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth. So shall ye not only be Our good and faithful subjects, but render illustrious the best traditions of your forefathers. The Way here set forth is indeed the teaching bequeathed by Our Imperial Ancestors, to be observed alike by Their Descendants and the subjects, infallible for all ages and true in all places. It is Our wish to lay it to heart in all reverence, in common with you, Our subjects, that we may all attain to the same virtue.
4.4 Moves toward Democracy – of Sorts • The self-help movement was still a potential problem for the new government. • It encouraged ideas of human rights and democracy, which was unheard of in Japanese history. • On the other hand, the western powers clearly seemed to value such ideas. Politically, it would be helpful to Japan to play along at least. • The western nations would be more inclined to take seriously a nation that espoused their own political principles. This would help hasten revision of the unequal treaties, a goal which had become a symbol of Japan's success in modernization and acceptance by the world powers.
Christianity was a related, potentially troublesome issue. • However, fortunately for the new regime, the threat did not materialise. • More of a problem were the non-Christians who were involved in the ‘freedom and human rights movement' (jiyuminken undo) that was developing in the 1870s and early 1880s
By 1880 there were some 150 local popular rights societies. The following year the Liberal Party (Jiyuto) was founded – Japan's first major political party. And just a year later a second major party was formed, the Constitutional Reform Party (RikkenKaishinto), calling for a British-style constitution and parliament.
Nor did those in the movement forget the promise by the government in 1868 to work towards establishing a national assembly. By the end of the 1870s the League for Establishing a National Assembly claimed to represent around 130,000 members nationwide. There was a widespread interest in politics at the time, reflected not only in the popularity of novels with a political theme but also in numerous ‘home-grown' suggestions for a new and proper constitution.
The democratic movement was not a simple one. It undoubtedly contained a genuine element of desire for a more democratic form of government. • Some of this was driven by grand ideals and visions. • It also contained an element of frustration towards the government leaders, who kept power to themselves – in the emperor's name – and were blatantly an oligarchy (rule by a few).
“Authoritarian democracy” • Both the founders of the two major parties, Itagaki • Taisuke (1837–1919) and Okuma Shigenobu respectively, had been part of the government, but neither was from Satsuma or Choshu and both had personal ambitions and frustrations among their motives. • In 1875 the government introduced harsh laws to curb freedom of speech. Yet the same year the emperor again promised that a national assembly would be formed, and the government agreed to establish a senate for the discussion of legislative matters, to establish the forerunner of the Supreme Court, and to hold a conference of prefectural governors.
The governors' conference led within a few years to the introduction of the principle of election to office in prefectural assemblies. The right to vote in these elections was restricted, as was the power of the prefectural assemblies. Nevertheless these bodies, first convened in March 1879, were the first ‘popularly' elected political bodies to operate successfully outside the western world.
In 1880 another harsh, undemocratic law was passed. It restricted public meetings, and prevented the unauthorised involvement in politics of people in certain occupations, such as policemen, teachers, students, and soldiers. And yet, almost immediately afterwards the government allowed the formation of two major political parties. • And in 1881 Ito again promised there would be a national assembly and a new constitution. This time he gave a specific indication when this would happen – within ten years.
In a classic display of authoritarian democracy the constitution was not to be left to the public, despite their many constructive suggestions. Ito obtained imperial authority to draw the thing up by himself. • The general mood of the government leaders was pro-German, and not as pro-British as was commonly believed. • To this end Ito went to Europe the following year to study various constitutions, confirmed his preference for the Prussian model, and on his return to Japan worked on the draft constitution with a number of appropriate German advisers.
In 1884 he created a peerage to fill the seats in the anticipated House of Peers, most peers being former daimyo. He himself was eventually to attain the highest rank, prince. In 1885 the senate was replaced by a cabinet comprising ministry heads, who were largely the oligarchs themselves. Ito himself took the position of prime minister, the first person in Japan's history to occupy this western-style position.
Respect for the emperor was vital for this. • Although outwardly great reverence was displayed for the emperor, a closer reading shows his position was in fact ambivalent.
A bicameral Diet (parliament) was provided for, consisting of an upper and lower house. The House of Peers was to comprise higher-ranking nobles, elected lower-ranking nobles, and imperial appointees (typically scholars), while the House of Representatives was to comprise elected members only. • However, the right to vote was given only to adult males paying at least 15 yen per annum in taxes, which meant about 2 per cent of the adult population.
Ministers were not responsible to the Diet but totheemperor.
‘The government must always steadfastly transcend andstand apart from political parties, and thus follow the path of righteousness.‘ -Prime Minister Kuroda Kiyotaka
:‘The emperor stands above thepeople and apart from every party. Consequently, the government cannotfavor one party above the other.‘ -Ito
The Rescriptcertainly seemed to be needed. The election showed that the oligarchs had underestimated the party politicians, many of whom who had developed considerable electioneering skill through their experiences in prefectural assemblies. In the Diet itself there was open criticism of the high-handed nature of the oligarchy, and the elected members used every possible means to exert their influence. Over the next few years the oligarchs resorted to questionable or even downright illegal methods to force their policies through
In the notorious February 1892 election, which Matsukata tried to manipulate and which involved blatant and brutal government interference,60 25 people were killed. Matsukataresigned a few months later and Ito became prime minister for a second term (till 1896). Ito was becoming ever more pragmatic, and was now thinking that he should – in traditional Japanese style – not simply confront the foe but learn from it, and to an extent even align with it, blurring the divisions. He almost immediately started constructive and cooperative negotiations with the Diet, and even suggested the formation of a government party with the aim of winning seats in the Diet. However, Yamagata and other hard-line oligarchs were alarmed by this apparent softness, and Ito's party plans were held in check. An uneasy and tense atmosphere prevailed in the political arena.
Authoritarianism and democracy did not sleep easily in the same bed. As a conclusion..