Feature History – Meiji Restoration


[Dramatic Japanese oriental music] BEAUTY AND HARMONY… GOVERNED BY ONE ETERNAL LAW… ALL THAT BEGINS… MUST END… THE REIGN OF THE SHOGUNATE IS OVER! Sorry, I always wanted to do that. [Intro music] Hello, and welcome to Feature History, featuring the Meiji Restoration… or, more accurately, Meiji’s Cabinet’s Restoration. The boy was still trying to figure out why he got weird feelings about girls. But let’s not digress. Let’s talk about the revolution, the reformation, the restoration, the other cool words that start with “Re–”… that completely changed the history of Japan… the boy Emperor that removed even the concept of the Shogunate. But what is a “shogunate”? Let’s go back to Japan’s early history when it was ruled by an emperor. Like any feudal society, under him were the nobility– the landowners– and some of these landowners liked to fight wars… the samurai. Near the end of the first millennium, the samurai were in high demand, and so became organized. They got into a spat with the imperial court in the Genpei War [1180 – 1185] and defeated the Emperor, establishing the first ever shogunate. The Emperor became a figurehead. True power went to the shogun, or military leader, and now also those noble warriors of samurai were far more prestigious than the aristocrats. So, on top in this new hierarchy, we have the shogun, the greatest of the Warlords: Daimyos. These daimyos held lands, and under them were the samurai that served them. Then under the samurai, we have farmers and artisans, and then merchants. The daimyo would tear apart the
shogunate in the most infamous era of Japanese history: The Sengoku Jidai. For over a century, from 1467 to 1603, every daimyo sought to seize position of shogun. And so, many wars were waged and many battles fought, and here the samurai were in their element. During this very era, Japan made contact with the Europeans… or, as they labeled them, “Nanban”. The merchants and missionaries of the Nanban spread Christianity and more importantly, early age matchlock firearms, but began to change the way Japan thought of war. The age of the warring states came to an end when Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to restore peace in 1603, and established– with the Emperor’s permission– the Tokugawa Shogunate. If you want to learn more about this little old fellow, you can check out Jack Rackam’s channel for the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu… or look at another video of his. You know, it’s a free world? You can do whatever? Ieyasu chose to distance the country from Europeans, fearing them as a destabilizing force. When his elders came to power, Tokugawa Iemitsu, in 1623, reigned with an iron fist. Christian converts were persecuted. Every person was trapped into the class structure, and he had no tolerance for foreigners. In 1637, Christians and Farmers revolted and Ietmitsu forced the Dutch to crush the revolt. For the Dutch’s service, they were allowed special privileges to trade as now Ietmitsu having the excuse to expel all foreign vessels from his shores. The Tokugawa Dynasty’s methods of isolation and class restriction worked to achieve peace and stability across the country… but at a cost. The strict rules of life meant the samurai were limited to being warriors– warriors without a war. The bottom of society, the merchants, found prosperity in peacetime, soon out-earning the samurai meant to be above them. And this prosperity? Well, it was mainly found only in the city of Edo: The Tokugawa’s pet project. Outside the city, the peasantry still felt the hard life, exacerbated by the strict taxes and restrictions from their class. Tensions still sat between the Shogun and the Daimyo beneath him, too. This period, known as the Edo Period, saw 200 years of peace… and 200 years of tension build-up to a country ready to explode. In the early 18th century, the restriction on Dutch books were lifted, and soon enough, this gave way to Rangaku– Dutch studies. The books fascinated Japanese intellectuals who became obsessed with the west’s exploration of medicine, chemistry, astronomy, and more. The shogun attempted to fight the research of these “barbarian” studies. In 1825, the edict to repel foreign vessels would be implemented, and led to many incidents of foreign vessels being repelled. Who would have thought? In 1837, they fired upon an unarmed US merchant ship. The backlash from this and the news of China’s humbling before the west led to the Shogun repealing this edict in 1842. Western influence into Japan could no longer be ignored. The only question now was, “Could it be fought?” The US had reaped rewards from the Opium War with China, yet they still required more to fuel their mass industrialization at home. The rich coal deposits and whales of Japan caught their attention In 1853, the port of Edo, forbidden to any foreigner, would be encouraged upon by four giant steam ships armed with many cannons and even more crewmen. Under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry, he dismissed the demands that he leave and was very adamant that he speak with the shogun, Tokugawa Iemochi. He gave the shogun his ultimatum to open the country or the ships would no longer be for show. He’d come back next year to hear their answer – with some more ships of course. The Japanese could not defeat the U.S. The isolation had left them frozen in time. No rifles, no seafaring navy, and certainly no industry. And so, Iemochi had two choices: to open the country or to repel the barbarians— to shame himself or to die. He would decide to open the country, signing several unequal treaties with not only the U.S., but the U.K., Russia, France. The Daimyo were very displeased. Those that had been skeptical of the Tokugawa before now saw weakness in Iemochi. Iemochi opened institute’s to study barbarian technology, and western cultures became trendy in Edo, but those in the south became restless. The Shishi, samurai of the Satsuma and Choshu domains, saw Japan as sacred, and these treaties as infringing on that. They loathed Iemochi for permitting this without the emperor’s consent and began the movement of Sonno Joi: “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians.” Emperor Koumei agreed with the sentiment and broke imperial tradition by taking an active part in politics. In 1863, he ordered to expel the barbarians. The shogun would not enforce this, however. The Shishi began a series of assassinations on important westerners in the country and also fired on foreign vessels from the coast. The West responded with bombardment on the Shishi’s homes, and in 1864, when Shishi attempted to seize Kyoto (the seat of the imperial court) to secure the emperor’s allegiance, they were repelled by the shogun’s newly formed police force. Iemochi, without a single battle, took control of Choshu from its renegade Daimyo to attempt to quell the Shishi. The instability had become clear though, and other Daimyo began to ignore the shogun’s command. The Shishi learned from their mistakes and deemed they must learn the ways of the Westerners. The phrase, “Japanese spirit, Western technology,” became widely taught amongst their ranks. Sir Harry Parks, Ambassador to the U.K., was in contact with Saigo Takamori of Satsuma on how British arms and tactics could be used in the rebellion against the shogun. They retook Choshu and used their newfound methods to drive the shogun away in 1866 Also in that year Iemochi died, and Yoshinobu took over, and the next year the young emperor Meiji succeeded his father The shaken leadership spelled doom for any de-escalation. Satsuma and Choshu formed a secret alliance, the Satcho Alliance. When Yoshinobu learned of this, he hired French advisors to begin modernizing his forces. The Satcho Alliance deemed that in Meiji’s name they must slaughter the traitorous subject, Yoshinobu. Yoshinobu decided he could compromise, resigning as shogun and serving under the emperor as head of a council. The Satsuma and Choshu remained unsatisfied, and so the elements in the imperial court pressured the 15-year old Meiji to declare a full restoration of imperial powers in 1868. Yoshinobu was outraged and called upon his loyal daimyos to retake Kyoto. The confusion was now clear: it was war. The Satcho Alliance, representing the imperial court and with the support of the U.K., would have to topple the Centuries-old Tokugawa Shogunate, who still held the support of many loyal Daimyo and the French. They first clashed outside Kyoto in January 1868 and the Imperial Forces Despite being outnumbered were fully modernized Unlike the shogun they push back the shogun and Force his retreat to arrow as they set about securing all lands West of Kyoto Parks made sure no Europeans intervened, as he knew the imperial forces could win this. Saigo Takamori by May had already forced the surrender of both Edo and the shogun. Most Daimyo is now submitted to the emperor But those in the North were flexible they formed the Northern alliance and said about equipping themselves They weren’t able to finish this before being defeated in October By the close of 1868 the imperial Court transferred to Edo or by its new name, Tokyo The Empire of Japan was born. Any remnants of resistance now organized themselves in the very north of Japan on the island of Hokkaido They called themselves the Republic of Ezo. They were defeated in 1869 With the war over, Tokugawa lands were seized and all Daimyos convinced to return their lands to the emperor Creating for the first time in history a centralized Japan. Considering the emperor was a boy, true power rested in the hands of Meiji’s cabinet. A group of young samurai Bureaucrats who sought to modernize, unify and strengthen the country. The country was in hysteria as the world menu was gone. From top-down ideas like public education, Social mobility and a conscript army were thrust upon them and vastly unpopular. These men were attempting to achieve in decades what took the west centuries. The conscript Army also made the Samurai obsolete and Suddenly their privileges were stripped for them as a cabinet attempted to create a country based on Nationalistic pride Not a feeble hierarchy. There was much upset about this. Saigo Takamori proposed that the samurai could be reassigned- their skills employed in an invasion of Korea When overruled and the samurai class threatened with utter destruction he left the government Many of those that had fought for the emperor felt betrayed. This was no longer Japanese Spirit, Western Technology This was a western Spirit, Western technology Saigo’s message to save the samurai became very popular in his home of Satsuma Assassins sent by the Meiji government were discovered and rebellion was deemed necessary to protect Saigo Saigo himself prepared an army to March to Tokyo and demand answers from the government in February 1877. They met the obstacle of the resistant Kumamoto castle and were made to lay siege Eventually they would be pushed back by the new pride of the Meiji government, the conscript Army He’d make his last stand against the government at the battle of Shiroyama on September 24th outnumbered sixty to one Saigo attempted to fight back the full frontal assault of the imperial army when only 40 of his men remained And he badly wounded, he committed Honorable seppuku as his samurai made their final charge against the enemy. Saigo had been defeated in every battle of the war But his last stand for the samurai spoke volumes to the imperial court He was recognized as a tragic hero and posthumously pardoned by Meiji in 1889 Japan in this Era had modernized and stood triumphant against western intrusion unlike their counterpart in China However this required much sacrifice from them the society was completely changed and was unrecognizable To honor those that could not make the transition, they brought in elements of Bushido- the Samurais code, into their new life The powerful and forward-thinking empire created in the restoration would continue to achieve great feats Humbling European powers such as Russia and Germany and conquering lands such as Korea, Manchuria and many parts of China It would however meet its bloody end in the second world war and the role of the emperor would retreat to that of a figurehead Meiji himself had died in 1912. And frankly much of the credit for the reformation layed with his cabinet acting in his name But poopoo for them, Meiji’s Cabinet’s restoration is a shit name. Japan’s position in the modern day of the leader in tech Industry and pacific politics was all made possible in the restoration and industrialized and reformed the nation But it also paved the way for anime, so clearly a grave mistake has been made This is the part where I thank the patrons that enable me to do this like a poor parent enables their child to become an alcoholic and

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