Transformation of Japan

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Transformation of Japan During the time period between the 1850s and 1950s, Japan underwent massive changes politically, economically, and socially. Acknowledging the failure of isolation, Japan imitated the West in an attempt to modernize, however, still retaining its own identity. A reorganized and more centralized government allowed Japan to industrialize in half the time it took the nations of Western Europe. Industrialization provided Japan with the tools needed to transform itself from a half civilized and “backwards” society during isolation, to a dominating superpower during WWII. In 1853 during the Tokugawa shogunate, Matthew Perry, an American commodore, arrived with an army at Edo Bay to coerce the Japanese government to allow the Americans to trade. In 1856, Japan signed a treaty opening two ports to the United States trade. Soon, other nations such as Britain, Russia, and Holland won similar rights. The opening of Japan to the West created opposition among its people and in the 1860s political crisis came into the open. In 1866, civil war broke out. The samurai armed with the surplus of weapons from the American Civil War defeated the shogunate force. The civil war ended, when the victorious reform group proclaimed Mutsuhito, often called the “Meiji” meaning enlightened one, emperor. The new Meiji government promptly went about making reforms to the political structure. Feudalism was abolished and replaced with a system, similar to that of the French, of nationally appointing prefects, or district administrators. In the 1870s, the samurai class was abolished and a draft was created to produce a new army. Meiji leaders traveled abroad to study economic organization, political institutions, and technological advances. The bureaucracy was reorganized and opened to men of talent through the civil service exams. In 1889, a new constitution was issued based on German prototype. It recognized the supremacy of the emperor, but limited the powers for the lower house of Diet. Under the constitution, the emperor commanded the military and chose his own ministers. The Diet had power to pass law and budget if both sides agreed. Voting rights were determined by the amount of property owned; leaving the majority of the population the inability to vote. Japan’s government was centralized and authoritarian, but incorporated busines... ... middle of paper ... ...shment of the samurai and their fixed salaries that were replaced by worthless government bonds, many became poor. However, during industrialization individual samurai, as well as, several peasants were able to find opportunities and thus could gain social mobility. Many Japanese copied Western clothing and hairstyles as an attempt to modernize. Japan adopted the Western calendar and metric system. Education incorporated Western teaching in science and mathematics. Several Japanese converted to Christianity. Despite adopting Western trends, the Japanese managed to preserve their traditional values. In conclusion, Japan became a world giant equal to their Western counterparts. Isolation ended with forced entry by the West. The Japanese government effectively centralized and laid the foundations for industrialization. Industrialization led to economic growth. Economic growth led to a shift in foreign policy to imperialism. In the stages of imperialism, the military took control of government, thus their entry into WWII. After WWII, Japan was slightly devastated but still was able to recover and situate themselves as a dominant superpower for years to follow.

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