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From WFC are five College Radio in Amherst Massachusetts. We present Japan 1868 through 1968. This year has been officially designated as the centennial of the beginning of the modernization of Japan and this is the third of a series of broadcasts titled Japan 1868 through 968 with John M. Markey professor of government and vice dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Massachusetts. The title of today's broadcast is the reign of the Emperor Meiji and Professor Markey. I suppose that a very colorless way of describing the course of Japan's history over the past century is simply to say that modern Japanese society has been one which is undergone a series of extensive and dramatic changes during the past century.
What I would like to do in the course of the next three lectures is simply to survey the highlights of the history of this past century and what I am going to do to provide a kind of a unifying theme to these discussions is to build them around the reigns of the three emperors that have occupied the throne sense eight hundred sixty eight. It is a remarkable though not very significant fact that only three men have occupied the imperial throne in this period of 100 years sense. Eight hundred sixty eight. Now there is no family name for the imperial family of Japan. It is simply the imperial family. And according to Japanese history and to Japanese legend or mythology there has been only one imperial family
in all the long history of Japan. There is some doubt as to the accuracy of this statement particularly in the period prior to roughly about the year 700 A.D. when the first written history of Japan was produced. Now since the beginning of this modern period emperors have had two names. One name is the personal name and the other name is what is referred to as the ring name. In other words when the reign of an emperor comes to an end. From that time onward he is known by the name of the period during which he reigned rather than by his personal name. No. The first of Japan's modern emperors was the Emperor Meiji. His personal name was. Now the
Emperor Meiji who was born on November 3rd 1852 he became emperor on February 3rd 1867 when his predecessor his father died and he was formally throned on August 26 1868. And as I've already indicated it was this internal moment 100 years ago that is used to mark this centennial year of one thousand sixty eight. He died on July 30 1912 or forty five years after becoming Emperor. Now one of the interesting things about the emperors of Japan particularly the emperors of the past century is the fact that in the very real sense there is very little known about them. They have been very
much in the public eye. Naturally the Japanese public eye and one way or another they have occupied a rather prominent spot in their national affairs or perhaps a little better international news. And yet because of the process of what is usually described as deification which began approximately at the time of the beginning of the rule of the emperor made cheap. The successive emperors of modern Japan have been pretty well removed from the center of the public eye in the sense that although they have appeared they have not been closely associated with their peoples and indeed it has been extremely difficult for even Japanese to get to know them and certainly those relatively few Japanese who have become on well fairly
close terms of association with Emperor's health felt constrained not to talk and not to write directly about their knowledge of the emperors of Japan. I should add at this point and I have a great deal to say about this a little later on that this process of deification this removal of the Emperor from contact with his people was seriously modified at the end of the Second World War. Now as I said we know very little about the details of the personality of the Emperor Meiji. There are a fair number of photographs of the Emperor. More of official almost ceremonial photographs. He had a rather heavy must stay and a beard that seems to have varied from a rather full beard to a goatee the goatee in the earlier
years and the fuller beard later on. Even a casual glance at these photographs indicates that he must have been a man of considerable dignity. And there is an air also of what could be described almost of controlled fierceness. Fierceness might be a little bit too strong but certainly the impression that one gets goes somewhere a little beyond this air of dignity that I indicated. Now there is fairly substantial evidence coming from the guarded comments of the Statesman and leaders who were associated with him that he seems to have taken a direct interest in ruling this country as well as simply reigning as well as simply sitting on the imperial throne. It would have been I suppose rather a very peculiar individual indeed
who would not have been caught up with the exciting series of events that developed in Japan during the almost half century of his rule. But at any rate there have been statements apparently verified that for one example the Emperor took a very direct interest in the drafting of Japan's first modern constitution. And there are other instances of the role that he played in other significant both events and developments during his reign. One thing that attracted a great deal of attention inside Japan and some notice outside of the country particularly in the closing decades of the 19th century was the fact that for the first time in Japanese history as far as we've been able to ascertain at least an emperor travelled widely throughout the country.
Now the evidence is that he certainly did not mingle with his people. But on the other hand he became well acquainted with most of the general regions of his country if not every city town and village and his presence at least which recognized was observed by many Japanese. Now on the other hand as I indicated a little earlier the process of so-called deification began during the reign of the Emperor Meiji and in spite again of this greater familiarity with his country and at least in direct contact with these people he became more and more I suppose by the end of his death a rather shadowy figure and certainly this is was true of his successors as I shall be pointing out later on. I know the reign of the Emperor Meiji is as I indicated earlier is referred to the standardly
as the me period. And as I indicated it covered the forty five years from 1867 until one thousand twelve. Now he in many respects this was one of the most important periods in all of Japan's long history. As a matter of fact until the momentous events of the 1940s it was considered beyond challenge to have been one of the most significant of all periods in Japanese history that it has been well superseded in a sense during the reign of his grandson of the Emperor Meiji grandson is almost I suppose ironic but not quite. Now what were the broad developments of the Meiji period. Well as indicated in the first lecture of this series
this was the period in Japanese history when the foundations for this process of modernization were well established. And that fact alone would have made this period one of very great significance. What happened to Japan from roughly eight hundred seventy two thousand nine hundred was simply that. Here was Japan a non-Western society assuming more and more of the characteristics associated with modern Western societies. Or again in a very brief phrase a society becoming modernized. And of course one of the phenomena of this process was the obvious corollary fact that Japan was shifting more and more away from its traditional bases. It was if I may use the earlier phrase a pre-modern society becoming a modern society.
And at the same time it was this society which retained many of its own basic and individual carry terrorist acts. I might pause here for a second just to speak very briefly about one of the essential individual carry terrorist acts of Japan that was retained and as a matter of fact it was this highly important issue of the Emperor himself or perhaps a little more broadly the imperial throne itself. One of the more significant features of this of the whole current of Japan's modernization particularly in political terms was the retention of the Emperor or indeed the restoration of the Emperor to a position of political power and of at least in direct political influence in Japanese society as a whole. And what I have referred to already as the process of
deification was a part of this essential operation of building a very strong position for the imperial throne in the newly emerging Japanese society. So the first broad and significant feature of this major period was again the creation of the foundation of modernization. No it is perfectly clear from what I've just said that this was also a period of great acceleration of the process of change in Japanese society. This shifting away from the exclusively Japanese shall we call it from the traditional basis to a new well current of society obviously involved not only change but very rapid change indeed. No a third the characteristic feature of this period was what many
historians refer to as the building of national power. The creation inside Japan itself of internal strength and unity which of course in as is true of any society internal strength and unity is the foundation for national power. No matter how will define it. In the second place this building of national power involved the creation inside Japan and the exercise beyond Japan of external strength external strength that was applied successfully in the closing years of the reign of the Emperor Meiji Japan's neighbors. And this external strength was obviously military in part but going right along with this external strength this external power was diplomatic power the ability to influence other nations by means short of war and
economic power as well. Now it is perfectly clear from these very general remarks that this period was an extremely important one in all of the long development of Japan. Now what I would like to do for the remainder of this discussion is just to carry to very briefly each decade of the last half of the 19th century in the development of modern Japan. As I mentioned in the last broadcast in this series the decade of the 1850s was one of very great significance because in a phrase it marked the coming of the West to Japan and indeed the dragging of an unwilling Japan into
world affairs dragging the country into world affairs to a degree that Japan had never before experienced. Because as significant as the first coming of the westerners to Japan actually was back in around 15 50 and in the half century between fifteen fifty and sixteen hundred. Japan was still very much on the edge of world affairs. Now also and as I mentioned earlier the decade of the 1850s witnessed the beginning of the acceleration of the process of internal political change. And then the decade of the 1860s which of course marked the beginning of the reign of the Emperor Meiji. This was marred by the highly important event of the fall of the Tokugawa family and the beginning of the end of the feudal system which had
carried through Japanese society for many centuries. Going well back well beyond the year of 6500 when the Tokugawa family came to power. Now also the signing of the treaty with Commodore Perry and the subsequent signing of a whole series of treaties with the European powers had become a highly controversial political issue inside the country and indeed the fact that the Tokugawa government had had to sign these treaties even though unwillingly exerted a tremendous influence on the course of the political events that brought about again the downfall of the Tokugawa family. And of course with the fall of the Tokugawa as they accession of the Emperor Meiji to the throne in 1867 his coronation in 1868. These events marked the true beginning of this
intensely complicated problem of modernization inside Japan. The decade of the 1870s was truly the beginning of the operation of modernization. You might say that between eight hundred sixty seven and eight hundred seventy the major decisions were made relating to the initiation of this process of modernization. But certainly it was the decade of the 1870s beyond question that saw the beginning of this operation. I would like to interject here just a few remarks about the general manner in which the Japanese went about initiating inside their own society. The process of modernization. One extremely significant development
I have touched on already. Namely the fact that almost all of Japan's leaders at in this critical period of the late 1860s in the decade of the 1870s went abroad. They visited the United States. They visited Western Europe and with their own eyes they saw all one what the modern world modern of that period modern world was like externally. And knowing what that modern world was like they had a clear view of both the nature and the extent of the problem confronting Japan itself. Now a second thing that the government of Japan the leaders of Japan did it was a matter of great significance particularly in this decade of the 1870s was to send many young Japanese abroad where the familiar process familiar to all of us today that is the
familiar process of gaining an education in the western world of absorbing the knowledge and the techniques the Japanese had to possess in the event that they they themselves were to build a modernization into their own society and to carry out this process. These were men and a very small number of young women as well who did not become leaders in the on the top levels did not become the great men and women of Japan but were the welsher we called them the highly important secondary level of leadership in Japan. People who by their qualities and by their knowledge were able to do the things that the leaders of Japan had decided had to be done for their country. Now another thing that the Japanese did as a matter of policy was to bring into the
country a large number some hundreds of individuals from the west. Teachers technicians of one sort or another scientists managers and so forth and so on. Now the Japanese came to the obvious conclusion that if Japan were to well initiate certain modern institutions or to carry out certain modern operations somebody had to do them and it was perfectly clear that in the initial stages very few Japanese were able for one example to run a steam locomotive to operate a to manipulate a telegraph key and so forth and so on. So the obvious solution to this problem was to get into the country. Those people who could do these things. Now the important thing however is that the Japanese saw beyond this problem of the mere operation or manipulation of these modern gadgets
and recognized and accepted. Well indeed they utilized the fact of the presence of these individuals to teach the Japanese to take over these functions. And so it was as teachers in the informal sense that many of these men from the Western world contributed greatly to this process of modernization. Now finally there was the most obvious aspect of this process of modernization namely. Or rather in a word simple importation and by importation I mean the importation of things again the steam locomotive steam ship modern artillery telegraph systems the High Speed Press high speed as of the 1870s and so forth and so on. The Japanese had never developed these these things these trappings of modernization and so obviously they had to turn outward.
The Japanese also imported institutions a system again of modern decentralized government a system of education. Political parties and so forth and so on. Right down the line. To a far lesser extent the Japanese imported certain ideas from the Western world as well. Certain ideas of democracy as that was known in the lot of part of the 19th century and certainly by the end of the century socialism as that was known Christianity came into the country. The prohibition was lifted in the early part of this period of modernization primarily as a result of pressures imposed by western governments. But nevertheless Christianity was another idea that was brought in. Now on the other hand ideas were developed far less were permitted to flourish far less by the Japanese
themselves the Japanese government and its leaders than were these material things and these individuals that I have been stressing. This period then of the decade of the 1870s was significant because again of the beginning of this period and the process of intense material change. Now also whatever resistance and fortunately again for Japan there was very little whatever resistance there was to the new government and the new leaders the successors of the Tokugawa regime and the family was eliminated. In this decade of the 1870s of the 1880s witnessed as you might expect a continuation and indeed a great acceleration of the process of internal change not only the bringing of more and more things from the modern western world into the country but the fuller and
fuller integration of these things into the course of the operations of Japanese society. Now the outstanding political event of this decade of the 1880s and indeed it covered almost the complete decade was the drafting and the establishment of Japan's first written constitution. This constitution was promulgated was issued by the Emperor in the year eight thousand eighty nine. Now the whole movement for a constitution let alone the drafting of a constitution was central to the development of Japan in this decade. You know going right along with this constitutional movement was the development or rather I should say the firm establishment of a new form of government. And again a modern centralized
form of government. The interplay between the constitutional movement and the creation of a new form of government. It was very close indeed. And also again in parallel with these two developments the Constitution and development and the establishment of a new government was the emergence of a new system of Japanese politics again. This was partly as a result of internal pressures and partly as a result again the injection into Japan of new political institutions and of new political ideas as well. Now the decade of the 1890s the last of the one thousandth century obviously was carried to arise by the beginning of what to use the usual cliche could be described as Japan's drive to world power. Very briefly what had happened was that by
roughly the beginning of this decade the Japanese had progress to far enough along towards the development of a new government a new economy and a new society. So with that it was able to begin more and more to project its power externally. No the highlight in these terms of the 1890s was Japan's first modern war in 1894 95 a war against imperial China. A war in which Japan was victorious. This was very significant in respect to Japan's drive to power in respect to Japan's development but equally significant in respect to the beginning of the downfall and a period of intense chaos inside China itself. Now the decade of the 1890s was marked by a further drive towards a position as a world power. Japan's second war was fought this one against imperial
Russia and again Japan won. And again victory in war was a demonstration not only of power but even more importantly than that acceptance by other nations. As an emerging world power. Now by the end of the rule of the Emperor Meiji again in 1912 it was perfectly clear that Japan was a effectively modernized society although still not a world power. Still not on a level with the Great Western powers but on the other hand it was perfectly clear that Japan had been fully accepted into the general community of nations. You have just heard a broadcast on the topic. The reign of the Emperor Meiji the third of a series titled Japan 1868 through 968 with John M. Maki professor of government
Japan: 1868-1968
The Reign of the Emperor Meiji
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WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Four College Radio
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Producing Organization: WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Producing Organization: Four College Radio
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-35-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:29:37
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Chicago: “Japan: 1868-1968; The Reign of the Emperor Meiji,” 1968-09-23, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 20, 2022,
MLA: “Japan: 1868-1968; The Reign of the Emperor Meiji.” 1968-09-23. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 20, 2022. <>.
APA: Japan: 1868-1968; The Reign of the Emperor Meiji. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from