Japan’s Meiji Restoration of 1868 opened up the country to Western influence and laid the foundation for its modernisation. Here is how Japan transformed, as explained by an essay on Columbia University’s website:
When the Meiji emperor was restored as head of Japan in 1868, the nation was a militarily weak country, was primarily agricultural, and had little technological development. It was controlled by hundreds of semi-independent feudal lords. The Western powers — Europe and the United States — had forced Japan to sign treaties that limited its control over its own foreign trade and required that crimes concerning foreigners in Japan be tried not in Japanese but in Western courts. When the Meiji period ended, with the death of the emperor in 1912, Japan had
- a highly centralized, bureaucratic government;
- a constitution establishing an elected parliament;
- a well-developed transport and communication system;
- a highly educated population free of feudal class restrictions;
- an established and rapidly growing industrial sector based on the latest technology; and
- a powerful army and navy.
Japan had regained complete control of its foreign trade and legal system, and, by fighting and winning two wars (one of them against a major European power, Russia), it had established full independence and equality in international affairs. In a little more than a generation, Japan had exceeded its goals, and in the process had changed its whole society.
What changed? Japan opened itself to the West. From Wikipedia:
The Japanese knew they were behind the great Western powers when US Commodore Matthew C. Perry came to Japan in 1853 in large warships with armaments and technology that far outclassed those of Japan with the intent to conclude a treaty that would open up Japanese ports to trade. Figures like Shimazu Nariakira concluded that “if we take the initiative, we can dominate; if we do not, we will be dominated”, leading Japan to “throw open its doors to foreign technology.”
The leaders of the Meiji Restoration, as this revolution came to be known, acted in the name of restoring imperial rule to strengthen Japan against the threat of being colonized represented by the colonial powers of the day, bringing to an end the era known as sakoku (the foreign relations policy, lasting about 250 years, prescribing the death penalty for foreigners entering or Japanese nationals leaving the country). The word “Meiji” means “enlightened rule” and the goal was to combine “modern advances” with traditional “eastern” values. The main leaders of this were Itō Hirobumi, Matsukata Masayoshi, Kido Takayoshi, Itagaki Taisuke, Yamagata Aritomo, Mori Arinori, Ōkubo Toshimichi, and Yamaguchi Naoyoshi.
Here is more from Britannica:
[A] growing popular rights movement, encouraged by the introduction of liberal Western ideas, called for the creation of a constitutional government and wider participation through deliberative assemblies. Responding to those pressures, the government issued a statement in 1881 promising a constitution by 1890. In 1885 a cabinet system was formed, and in 1886 work on the constitution began. Finally in 1889 the Meiji Constitution, presented as a gift from the emperor to the people, was officially promulgated. It established a bicameral parliament, called the Diet—in full Imperial Diet (Teikoku Gikai)—to be elected through a limited voting franchise. The first Diet was convened the following year, 1890.
Economic and social changes paralleled the political transformation of the Meiji period. Although the economy still depended on agriculture, industrialization was the primary goal of the government, which directed the development of strategic industries, transportation, and communications. The first railroad was built in 1872, and by 1890 the country had more than 1,400 miles (2,250 km) of rail. Telegraph lines linked all major cities by 1880. Private firms were also encouraged by government financial support and aided by the institution of a European-style banking system in 1882. Those efforts at modernization required Western science and technology, and under the banner of “Civilization and Enlightenment” (Bunmei kaika), Western culture, from current intellectual trends to clothing and architecture, was widely promoted.
Change does not happen automatically. The conditions have to be created. Japan’s leaders set aside their ego and past, and learnt from the West – adopting the best ideas to modernise their nation in just a couple generations.
Tomorrow: Part 7