The Rise, Embracing, and Effects of Modernization in Japan

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In the mid-nineteenth century, the Tokugawa system that had successfully reigned over Japan for over two hundred years was beginning to feel the internal and external pressures of a modern world; ultimately calling for a renewal of the world order (Yonaoshi) (Wilson, 59). That calling came when a series of black ships led by Commodore Perry landed off the port of Uraga on July 8, 1853. After over two centuries of seclusion, Japan was being pried open by Western forces, who though were in search of setting up trading posts in Japan, indirectly served as the catalyst that set off the series of events that helped Japan transcend its fixed and permanent system, into the modern era that was characterized by rapid political, economic, social and cultural change (Wilson, 52-53).

Though it seems that it was the Western influence that set off this revolutionary change, a more scrutinizing look into Japanese society at the time reveals that Japan was in fact on the brink of supplanting the fixed, hierarchical Tokugawa order for one that was better suited for its fast evolving, capitalistic society. As historian David Lu states, “Our people began to discover [modern civilization’s] utility and gradually and yet actively moved towards its acceptance. However, there was an old fashioned and bloated government that stood in the way of progress.” (Lu, 351). Therefore in a way we can view the intrusion of Western powers in Japan on that infamous July day in 1853 as an event that occurred during a time when Japan was ready for a world renewal, and not a direct and complete cause of modernization of Japan; in fact it was Japan’s revaluation of modernization and what it meant to be Japanese amidst strong western influences that eventually ...

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...ty for one that better suited its capitalistic tendency. That opportunity came in1868 when the Meiji imperial rule was able to overthrow the Tokugawa regime, setting off a political, economic, social and cultural change that transformed Japan. As Japan embraced modernity with full force, some began to realize the negative impact of modernization on the rural life, social structure and most importantly on its culture, blaming it on the western influence on its modernization. Thus as Japan neared World War II, it embraced a new sense of modernization, one that was separate from westernization, creating a nationalistic and fascist government policy. Japanese society is characteristic of plurality and opposing value systems coexisting. As new ideals and institutions arise, Japan sees itself transforming and changing at the hands of internal and external forces.
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