The Emperor was restored to nominal supreme power, and in 1869, the imperial family moved to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo (“eastern capital”). However, the most powerful men in the government were former samurai from Chōshū and Satsuma rather than the Emperor, who was fifteen in 1868. These men, known as the Meiji oligarchs, oversaw the dramatic changes Japan would experience during this period. The leaders of the Meiji government, who are regarded as some of the most successful statesmen in human history, desired Japan to become a modern nation-state that could stand equal to the Western imperialist powers. Among them were Ōkubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori from Satsuma, as well as Kido Takayoshi, Ito Hirobumi, and Yamagata Aritomo from Chōshū.
Political and social changesEdit
The Meiji government abolished the Neo-Confucian class structure and replaced the feudal domains of the daimyōs with prefectures. It instituted comprehensive tax reformand lifted the ban on Christianity. Major government priorities included the introduction of railways, telegraph lines, and a universal education system.
The Meiji government promoted widespread Westernization and hired hundreds of advisers from Western nations with expertise in such fields as education, mining, banking, law, military affairs, and transportation to remodel Japan’s institutions. The Japanese adopted the Gregorian calendar, Western clothing, and Western hairstyles. One leading advocate of Westernization was the popular writer Fukuzawa Yukichi. As part of its Westernization drive, the Meiji government enthusiastically sponsored the importation of Western science, above all medical science. In 1893, Kitasato Shibasaburō established the Institute for Infectious Diseases, which would soon become world-famous,and in 1913, Hideyo Noguchi proved the link between syphilis and paresis.Furthermore, the introduction of European literary styles to Japan sparked a boom in new works of prose fiction. Characteristic authors of the period included Futabatei Shimei and Mori Ōgai, although the most famous of the Meiji era writers was Natsume Sōseki, who wrote satirical, autobiographical, and psychological novels combining both the older and newer styles. Ichiyō Higuchi, a leading female author, took inspiration from earlier literary models of the Edo period.
Government institutions developed rapidly in response to the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, a grassroots campaign demanding greater popular participation in politics. The leaders of this movement included Itagaki Taisukeand Ōkuma Shigenobu. Itō Hirobumi, the first Prime Minister of Japan, responded by writing the Meiji Constitution, which was promulgated in 1889. The new constitution established an elected lower house, the House of Representatives, but its powers were restricted. Only two percent of the population were eligible to vote, and legislation proposed in the House required the support of the unelected upper house, the House of Peers. Both the cabinet of Japan and the Japanese military were directly responsible not to the elected legislature but to the Emperor. Concurrently, the Japanese government also developed a form of Japanese nationalism under which Shinto became the state religion and the Emperor was declared a living god.Schools nationwide instilled patriotic values and loyalty to the Emp