Research Paper 7 - The Flexible Structure of Politics in Meiji Japan

Research Paper 7

Junji Banno & Kenichi Ohno, April 2010

A period of profound transformation followed Japan’s encounter with the powerful West in the mid-1800s. In the space of two decades, the political regime was revised and new national goals and strategies were agreed.

This was unique to Meiji Japan and is rarely seen in other countries or at other times in Japanese history. It was also different from authoritarian developmental states of East Asia in the post WW2 period. This paper analyses the process, tracking it chronologically and examining how political leaders emerged and contested among themselves .

Key points:

The process began with the signing of commercial treaties with the West in 1858 and ended with the settlement on the basic directions of political and economic reforms in 1881. 

In the intervening years, two goals of establishing a public deliberation mechanism (kogi yoron) and raising economic and military capability (fukoku kyohei) were set, which later split into four policy groups of a constitution, a national assembly, industrialization, and foreign expedition. 

This process was initiated by the former warrior (samurai) class and supported by the flexible structure of Japanese politics. Goals, alliances, leaders and leading groups evolved dynamically without solidifying into a simple hard structure or falling into uncontrollable crisis.


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