Lesson 10: Japanese History 3

(Citation from Kenneth G. Henshall ”A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower” Macmillan Press 1999)



  The warlord(戦国大名) Tokugawa Ieyasu and his immediate successors were able to consolidate(確かなものにする) the unification process started during the latter half of the sixteenth century. Building on the success and in many cases the actual policies of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, they were able to revitalize the shogunate. It was occupied by the Tokugawa family for two and a half centuries. The main thrust(推進) of Tokugawa policy was to Japan as far as possible in a stable state of controlled orthodoxy(正統性). This included removing the western threat, symbolized by the political threat to shogunal authority presented by Christianity, and effectively closing Japan off from the rest of the world. Other mechanisms of control included the enforced alternate attendance of daimyo at the shogunate’s base in Edo, strategic redistribution(再配分) of domains, hierarchical separation of the classes, restrictions on travel and transport, curfews(夜間外出禁止), monitoring, collective responsibility, and minute(細かな) prescriptions(規則) even for everyday living. Breach(違反) of regulation usually meant harsh punishment.

  However, over time significant internal changes took place despite ideal of maintaining the status(現状) quo(維持). In particular there were changes to the actual social order brought about by socio-economic developments. These saw the emergence of a powerful merchant class, and the general weakening of the now redundant(余分な) samurai, who became bureaucrats in() practice(質的に) but also ironically became idealised(理想化する). A new, vibrant(活気に満ちた), bourgeois culture emerged, centred on these merchants. Furthermore, the promotion of Confucianism(儒教主義), intended(意図する) to support orthodoxy and order, also ironically improved educational levels and critical thinking. Through its emphasis on the emperor as supreme(最高) ruler(支配者) it also raised questions as to the legitimacy(正統性) of the shogunate. Partly as a reaction against what was seen as too much Chinese influence, a nationalist spirit also emerged, one that looked to the past and centred on Shinto and the emperor. These developments were by() no() means(て〜ない) helpful to the shogunate, which was also plagued(侵される) by corruption(腐敗) and incompetence(無能).

  The shogunate may have fallen anyway through these domestic factors, but as it happened its end was hastened by the return of western powers in the mid-nineteenth century. They demanded trade and other rights, and forced treaties that were humiliating(不面目な) to Japan. The shogunate’s inability to defend the nation against this foreign threat, despite the shogun’s supposed role as military protector, opened the way for an effective coup(クーデタ) by those “outer() domains()” long opposed to it, especially Satsuma and Choshu. Their action was a mixture of opportunism(日和見主義) and genuine nationalism. The last shogun was forced to resign early in 1868. A teenage emperor was “restored(復帰させる)” to power by samurai from these domains, heralding(先駆けとなる) a new period in Japan’s history.   



  Japan entered the Meiji period in a state of considerable uncertainty. It was not clear whether the imperial(王政) restoration(復古) would succeed, or even whether foreigners would try to take over the country. Fortunately the foreigners did not seem interested in invading, at least for the moment, and the boy-emperor was not troublesome. The young samurai who led the coup in his name were able to consolidate their control of the government and bring certain stability to the country beneath all the changes.

  Their aim was to build up a strong nation that could match and even perhaps eventually outdo(まさる) the west. To start with it was important to make the western powers take Japan seriously, at least seriously enough for them to be deterred(思いとどまらせる) from any possible later thoughts of colonization and for them to undo(解除する) the humiliating treaties of the late Tokugawa period. This meant modernization, which in() turn(様に) meant a great deal of westernizationa process which would not only help win recognition from the west but, if done judiciously(賢明に), would enable Japan to adopt the strengths of the Western powers in order to make itself stronger and more competitive.

 It was not just a question of learning from the west, however, for in some cases these modern nation-builders appear to have been mindful(心に留める) of useful policies from Japan’s own past.

  Early reforms undertaken by the new government included the relocation(移転) of the imperial capital with a view to centralising power, and to same end the nationalization of feudal domains to replace them with prefectures. The restrictive(拘束的な) feudal(封建的な) class system was abolished; including the samurai class from which the government leaders themselves came. This was not done without creating some dissatisfaction, which came to a head in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. At the same time, removal of Samurai traditionalists as a result of the rebellion made it easier to modernize along western lines(方針).

  To win recognition by the western powers it was particularly important to follow a number of potentially risky paths. These included being receptive(受容する) to Christianity, adopting western economic and political institutions and demonstrating military might. Opening the nation to Christianity proved less of a risk than had been feared, because it simply did not appeal to most Japanese even when they were exposed to it. In the economy, with the help of western advisers and technology, and a good measure of Japanese-style government guidance and support, Japan able to capitalize(資本主義化する) on its existing strengths and become a significant economic power in a very short space of time. By the end of the period it was established as a processing(加工を行う) nation with a developing heavy industrial sector.

  Political westernization proved more difficult, and had to be pursued with great caution. Reforms were made with an impressive(強い印象を与える) outward(外面) show(上の) of democracy, especially the establishing of a new constitution and parliament(議会), but these were invariably(変わることなく) counterbalanced(平衡させる) by curbs(抑制) and checks. The cabinet of oligarchs(寡頭政治の支配者) remained “transcendental(超越する)a law unto itselfand freedoms were very much within limits. Individuals excited by western ideas of self()-help() and survival() of() the() fittest() were encouraged to achieve not only in their own right, but at the same time in the greater cause of national prosperity. Through indoctrination(教化) centred on the emperor and state, embodied in the Imperial() Rescript() on() Education() and school texts, self-help became nationalistic successism(成功主義), as the energies of the newly liberated and rather disoriented(行く先を見失いがちな) population were harnessed(役立てる) and directed to national ends.

  Militarily, Japan learned fast how to fight western-style with modern weapons and a conscript(徴集する) army. After a fortunate opportunity to practice against its own discontented(不満のある) samurai in the Satsuma Rebellion, it was able to defeat a weakened China and then an inconvenienced(不自由な) Russia. Territories gained directly or indirectly by these victories, especially Korea, were milestones(重要な出来事) on the road to empire building.

  Japan's modernization had not always been smooth. There had been more unplanned developments, more trial(試練) and error, and a greater role for chance than the nation’s leaders would have liked. They borrowed, improvised(まにあわせの), studied and planned as best they could, and were helped by good fortune and sheer(本当の) determination to succeed. Not all the nation’s people were happy or proud, but most were, and if succeeding was to be measured in terms of being recognized as a strong western-style power with a colony or two, then Japan had succeeded.