The end of the shogunate marks the beginning of a new age. Henceforth the official policy of the nation was reform on Western lines. The leaders who engineered the emperor's restoration had come to recognize that the foreigner must be accepted. At their advice the monarch announced his intention to abide by the treaties made by the shogun and to supervise directly the relations with the powers. Only eight months before the resignation of the last shogun had come the death of the emperor Komei. Although only a young man, he had been loyal to the old order, and in so far as his own personal opinions went was rabidly anti-foreign. Ms successor, Meiji, was a lad of only fourteen when he ascended the throne, and was naturally under the influence of his advisers. As he came to manhood's estate he heartily accepted the ideals of the new age. Although the progress of his reign was due primarily to his councillors, he did not hinder them by reactionary tendencies. He was hardworking, tactful, and sanely progressive. He had the good judgment so to accept advice and so to act in conjunction with his ministers that it is hard at times to determine just how much positive influence he had on the policies of his reign. Had he been more self-assertive and less tactful and well poised, he might have been a serious hindrance instead of a help, and his reign would have had a different history. By injudicious acts he might have come to grief as had Go-Daigo in an earlier attempt at the restoration of imperial power.

The Western fiefs that had been so instrumental in bringing about the downfall of the shogun had at first been actuated by hatred of the foreigner. As time passed, however, they became convinced that the Westerner could not be expelled. Satsuma and Choshu, two of the leading forces in the coalition, had experienced a change of heart after their rough handling by the foreign fleets. They realized that the "barbarian" was in Japan to stay, however much they might dislike him, and that he could be met only with his own weapons. They became hearty champions of Western methods and provided modern equipment for their troops. Each may possibly have hoped to substitute itself for the Tokugawa in a kind of revised shogunate, but as time passed they saw that the old order could not be revived and that the control of the government must be exercised through other channels. Their adherents, together with those of two other Southern fiefs, Hizen (in Kiushiu) and Tosa (in Shikoku), dominated the new government, to be sure, although not quite so completely as the Tokugawa had the old, and were to maintain that mastery for many years. The army and navy are still under their control and their voice is strong in national councils. But the shogunate was dead and national affairs were henceforth to be conducted through the instruments of the new age, a bureaucracy, the cabinet, and the Elder Statesmen.


To the support of the young emperor came all the radicals, a growing number, who desired a complete reorganization of the nation, and who saw in the restored imperial authority the opportunity to develop a monarchy and a government of the European type. The revolution of 1867 had been the work of these men, most of them samurai of the lower ranks, not nobles, and they were to be the real architects of the new Japan. The old order was not to die without a struggle; all the nation had not yet heartily accepted the foreigner. From now on, however, the history of the country was to be one of steady development and transformation. The "year period" that nearly spanned the emperor's reign was rightly and prophetically called Meiji, "enlightened government."

From 1868 to 1894, when foreign affairs began to be dominant in the national mind, the chief interest of the nation was to be in domestic reorganization. The main features of this period of internal transformation may be conveniently classified under political and constitutional development, foreign relations, economic progress, intellectual, educational, and literary innovations, and religious and ethical changes. The constitutional and political changes can best be treated first.

The end of the shogunate was of course only the first step toward the reorganization of the government. The first need of the state was centralization. The nation must act as a unit if it was to succeed in competing with Occidental powers. It must have nicely articulated political machinery that would operate on every individual in the land, and that could be directed by a united executive. The first step toward centralization had been taken when the shogunate was abolished, but it was only the first step. There was no adequate machinery for carrying on the government under the new régime. For nearly eight hundred years the emperor had delegated his authority to the bakufu and precedents for the organization of the state under his direct supervision had to be sought for in the reforms of the seventh and eighth centuries. At first (1868) a kind of ministry or council was formed, intended to be somewhat like the one copied from the China of the T'ang dynasty. It was made up of members of the Western fiefs and of the court nobility. It could be but little more than a makeshift, pending the time when something better could be found. It was not, however, an exact copy of its ancient prototype, since provision was made for a deliberative gathering of the samurai and court nobility. This assembly, which actually met in 1869, was an abortive attempt to adapt to Japanese use the representative institutions of the Occident.

In 1868 the capital was moved from Kyoto to Yedo, which was now renamed Tokyo, "Eastern Capital," and the emperor took up his residence in the castle-palace of the shogun. The change emphasized the break with the seclusion and impotence of the past and the assumption by the emperor of the functions formerly intrusted to the shogun. No longer was the monarch kept in veiled seclusion, but rode out openly to show his face to his subjects and to receive their homage. The transfer of the capital also brought the emperor nearer to the geographic center of his domains, and by establishing the seat of his government on the coast it gave an unmistakable demonstration of his frank and cordial acceptance of intercourse with foreigners and facilitated his relations with them. This attitude toward the Westerners was reënforced by an edict denouncing all violence against them, and by an imperial audience to the representatives of the treaty powers.

Shortly after the restoration the emperor's advisers put in his mouth a "charter oath" to indicate the lines on which future changes were to be made. This remarkable document has been somewhat freely translated as follows:

"The practice of argument and debate shall be universally adopted and all measures shall be decided by impartial discussion.

"High and low shall be of one mind, and social order shall thereby be perfectly maintained. It is necessary that the civil and military powers be concentrated in a single whole, that the rights of all classes be assured and the national mind be completely satisfied.

"The uncivilized customs of former times shall be broken through, and the impartiality and justice displayed in the working of nature shall be adopted as a basis of action.

"Intellect and learning shall be sought for throughout the world, in order to establish the foundations of the Empire."

Here was a combination of the old and the new, a mixture of Chinese and Japanese philosophy and phraseology with Western ideas. The Confucian cosmogony, the foreshadowing of parliamentary government, the centralization of the state, the determination to learn from the entire world, were all in it.

With the oath came another adjustment of the machinery of government, including principally a council of state which was to have the control of the government for some years.

With the passing of the shogunate and the coming of the new age, feudalism was evidently an anachronism. Already under the peace imposed by the Tokugawa it had begun to lose its strength. Its armies, in which the individual prowess of the warrior and the glory of each fief were valued more than discipline and group strategy, would be of but little use in defense against a European power. Its decentralization was a handicap in the struggle for national solidity and reorgarization. With the loss of its head, the shogun, and the reassertion of the authority of the civil arm, represented by the emperor, its continuation would be an anomaly. The reform leaders, as a rule drawn from the ranks of the samurai of the more progressive fiefs, were the first to recognize the wisdom of abandoning the old system, and a public agitation for abolishing feudalism began. Civil officials were appointed to represent the central government in each of the fiefs, and a bureaucracy controlled by Tokyo was thus begun. In 1869 the four great daimyo of the southwest offered to the emperor the registers of their lands and people as a symbol of the transfer to him of the local administration. Then followed a remarkable spectacle, a splendid example of the old loyalty and the newly aroused patriotism of the empire; the vast majority of the nearly three hundred remaining feudal lords voluntarily surrendered their fiefs. No longer was the allegiance of the samurai to be first of all for the daimyo; no longer was Japan to be a loose collection of fiefs. The love of country for which the centuries of union under the Tokugawa and the loyalty inculcated by bushido were a preparation had, within a few years, been aroused by contact with Western peoples and had made possible a unified administration under the emperor. The daimyo must not, however, be regarded as moved purely by an impulse to voluntary, heroic self-abnegation. Strong pressure was brought to bear on them by the reformers. Numbers of them had long exercised only a nominal authority: in the decay of feudalism the real power in many fiefs had fallen into the hands of ministers and retainers, and the daimyo were not averse to giving up a power of which they had only the shadow. Moreover, the central government guaranteed the feudatories incomes of one-tenth of their former revenues, and the expenses of local administration need no longer be met by them. The surrender of the fiefs was followed (1871) by an imperial edict which finally abolished feudalism.

The pensions which were promised the ex-daimyo and samurai proved to be so heavy a drain on the national exchequer that before many months the emperor's advisers were endeavoring to find some means of reducing them. In 1873 a plan was announced for commuting the pensions for cash and government bonds. Although the established proportion for commutation provided the samurai with sums the return from which would be much less than their pensions, many of them willingly acceded, partly out of patriotism, partly out of ignorance of business methods, and partly because the code of the samurai had insisted that it was beneath his dignity to be seriously concerned about money. Before long (1876) commutation was made compulsory and the special support by the state of an hereditary warrior caste came to an end.

The end of feudalism was followed in the course of the next few years by acts which perfected as thoroughly a centralized government as the most highly organized states of the Occident. In the first place, for the old feudal army made up of contingents furnished by individual fiefs and recruited exclusively from the samurai, there was substituted a national army, drawn from all ranks of society. To no class was there now reserved the privilege of defending the state; the opportunity for doing so was not only offered, but forced upon all by a system of compulsory military training and service which applied to men of suitable age regardless of station or birth. The new army was first patterned after French models, and then, subsequent to the Franco-Prussian war, after the German system.

An act essentially related to this nationalizing of military service was the removal many of the old social distinctions. The difference between the civil or court nobility and the military was abolished. The new aristocracy that was later created neither civil nor military, but national. The former distinctions between the warriors and the commoners wet cancelled. Within the commoner class itself the ancient gradations which had condemned certain groups to hereditary dishonor and had imposed on one of them the opprobrious title of "not human" (hi-nin) were annulled. Many of the samurai voluntarily laid aside their swords, the badge of their rank: in 1876 the rest were compelled to do so. All subjects of the emperor were now on an equal footing in the eyes of the law. From the ranks of the ex-samurai however, came most of the leaders of the new Japan, and while the class ceased to have a legal existence, individual members of it, by force of character and tradition, were to dominate and guide the nation for years to come.

In place of the local administration by feudal lords, an elaborate bureaucracy was organized. Its members were appointed by and were responsible to the authorities in Tokyo, and to it was intrusted the entire administration of the country, local as well as national. Through it the humblest subject of the emperor was protected and supervised by the direct representatives of the monarch himself. At its inception the bureaucracy was naturally recruited largely from members of the samurai class, for these were the only ones who were trained in governmental administration. No one was allowed to hold office in the fief of which he had been a member, however, and as time went on the ranks of the civil service were recruited from the successful candidates at competitive examinations. These last were open to all classes, regardless of birth, and have helped to bring into official life large numbers of men who are not of the military class. The model and precedent for this bureaucracy were found partly in the reforms of the seventh and eighth centuries. The Japanese of the Meiji era, however, were influenced as well by Occidental models, the example of Germany being especially potent later.

The leaders in the reform movement early planned a national code of laws. The feudal customs of the old days, varying from fief to fief, could not meet the conditions of the new age. Moreover, exterritoriality, which seemed to reflect on the character of existing courts and laws by exempting foreigners from their jurisdiction, was gall and wormwood to the sensitive Japanese. Impelled by the hope of ending it by removing the cause for its existence, the new government pushed as rapidly as possible the formation of codes along Occidental lines. By 1871 two volumes of the criminal code were ready and some offenses against foreigners were tried by it. The use of torture and of punishments which, judged by Western standards, are excessive or barbarous, was abolished. Trial by jury was not adopted, but a collegiate judiciary was instituted and every effort was made to render it efficient and above reproach.

The currency system was thoroughly reorganized and nationalized. Under the old régime many kinds of money had been in circulation, both coin and paper. Paper money, suggested by Chinese precedent, had been in use, and each fief had felt itself free to issue it. The result was confusion and instability. The newly centralized government was under the necessity of instituting a uniform national currency. The support of the mercantile classes would thus be assured, and every new coin and bill would be evidence to the public of the power of the emperor and the Tokyo administration. National prosperity would also be promoted. A commissioner (Ito) was sent to the United States to study its finances. On his return the decimal system was introduced, a new coinage was issued, and a plan of national banks and paper currency was adopted which resembled the one in use in America. At the advent of Perry the ratio of gold to silver in Japan had been about four to one. Foreigners had quickly taken advantage of the situation and had bought up all of the more precious metal that they could lay hands on, exporting it under the protection of the treaties. As a result the distressed officials altered the ratio to the fifteen and then the sixteen to one current in the West. But in the meantime gold had disappeared and the cheaper silver had taken its place. The process was helped by an unfavorable balance of trade. The nominal bimetallism of the nation was destroyed by these agencies and the currency was reduced practically to a silver basis; the nation was not to go on a gold basis until after the Chino-Japanese war. Before many years a financial crisis made necessary a reorganization of the banking system and the American plan was modified by the foundation of a central national bank along the lines so common in Europe. This strengthened the control exercised by the central government over the banking organization of the nation, and aided as well in the marketing of the government bonds and in the financing of its other undertakings.

An official revival of Shinto was encouraged to increase the respect paid to the emperor. Under the early Tokugawa Buddhism had had more official favor shown it than had Shinto, possibly because of the aid it afforded in exterminating and guarding against Roman Catholic Christianity. During the last years of the Tokugawa a Shinto revival, it will be remembered, had helped to pave the way for the restoration of the emperor's power. After 1869 Buddhism, while still recognized, was virtually disestablished and in places discouraged, and Shinto became the official cult of the nation. Shinto was made to emphasize more than ever the memory and achievements of the emperor's ancestors, and became closely identified with the growing spirit of patriotism. Through Shinto a religious tinge was given to the love of country. Patriotic and religious enthusiasm combined to emphasize national consciousness and unity.

A national postal service was begun even before the end of feudalism, and, supplemented by a telegraph system introduced and managed by the government, it became an efficient instrument for promoting national consciousness. The new national school system, of which more will be said later, was directed from Tokyo and also helped to strengthen the unity of the country.

The agents of this transformation and centralization were a group of young, able men, drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the samurai. For the most part they were those who had early seen the necessity of admitting the foreigner and adjusting the nation to his ways, and who had made themselves familiar, often at grave personal risk, with Western civilization either by residence abroad or by diligent study and travel. Prominent among them were Iwakura and Sanjo, court nobles, Kido, Yamagata, Ito, and Inouye, all four of them samurai of Choshu, Okubo and Saigo, both samurai of Satsuma, and two other samurai, Itagaki and Okuma, the one of Tosa the other of Hizen. Others equally famous in their time might be mentioned, but these names at least should be remembered by all who seek to be familiar with the new Japan. Most of them were from the South and Southwest, from those fiefs which had been prominent in bringing about the restoration. Under them the control exercised by the southern feudatories over the government was to be maintained for many years. These ex-feudatories had the ear of the emperor and dominated the civil bureaucracy and the army and navy. Okuma and Itagaki were later to break with the others and to head liberal movements.


This centralization of the government, although relatively and strikingly rapid, was not the work of one year or of two, and was not finished until the middle of the eighteen eighties. But it was not completed without a struggle with the forces of the old régime. The mass of the nation, it is true, was increasingly in sympathy with the reform leaders, but nearly every step in advance met with violent opposition. It was some years before Westemers were entirely safe from the swords of anti-foreign rowdies and fanatics, even though the emperor had placed the strangers under his special protection. Irreconcilables haunted the unlighted streets and alleys of Tokyo at night and assailed unwary foreigners. Two samurai attacked the foreign escort of the British minister when the latter was on his way to his first audience with the emperor. The emperor's ministers were often in personal peril of violence from conservative agitators, and at least one, Okubo, actually lost his life at their hands. Not all the nation could see that the changes were wise. Many bitterly resented the abandonment of time-honored Japanese customs and methods for the foreign ways. Incipient insurrections broke out from time to time, only to be put down. Finally, in 1877, the opposition culminated in a well organized rebellion in the South, the suppression of which taxed the powers of the new government. The leader of the rebellion was Saigo, a samurai of Satsuma. He had been among the reformers in the earlier stages of the reorganization movement. However, he had broken with the majority of the group who were at the head in Tokyo. He had wished to preserve military service as the exclusive privilege of the samurai, and had opposed the creation of the national army recruited by conscription from all ranks. He had, moreover, favored a war with Korea. That country had haughtily broken off relations with Japan when the latter admitted the foreigner, and Saigo would have avenged the insult with an armed expedition. Since war would check internal reorganization, the more radical reformers opposed him and Saigo retired from the cabinet. Leaving Tokyo, he went south to Satsuma and here there began gathering around him all the forces of discontent. Imposing in person, able, apparently the embodiment of all the virtues of the samurai of the old school, he soon found himself surrounded by a formidable army. All those opposed to the iconoclasm of the ministry to the seeming abandonment of the nation's individuality, flocked to him. He was cordially supported by the ex-daimyo of Satsuma, who was himself of the moderate conservatives. In 1877, the Satsuma discontents raised the standard of revolt against the government. Saigo, probably reluctantly, allowed himself to be dragged into the rebellion as its head. Against these recalcitrant samurai were brought the forces of the new national army in which commoners and ex-sumurai fought side by side. The Tokyo government called out more troops than were actually needed, partly to demonstrate to the nation the efficiency of the new system and partly to insure victory. The fighting was fierce, but the outcome was not long, if ever, in doubt. The Satsuma rebels were defeated and those of their leaders who escaped death in battle committed suicide. The new order had met the old on the field of battle and had conclusively demonstrated its superiority. The new national army, drawn from all classes, had overwhelmed the forces of unreconciled feudalism and serious armed opposition to the new age was at an end.


The triumph of centralization was but one phase of the political transformation of Japan. A little later in its inception, but of no less importance and absorbing interest, was a movement toward constitutional government, the result of contact with the democracy of the Occident. AR thoroughgoing reformers were united in demanding the end of feudalism and the restoration of the emperor. One group of them, however, was in favor of an autocracy supported by a bureaucracy, and another believed that the elected representatives of the nation should have an important share in the government. The one found in Germany and the Prussian system a model which more nearly than any other in the Occident represented its ideal. It was supported by the conservative ex-samurai, a majority of that body, and retained control of the government. The other represented different shades of opinion, but in the main saw its ideal in England and the limited monarchies of the West. It advocated placing the administration in the hands of a ministry responsible to a parliament elected by the nation.

Constitutional government was seemingly foreshadowed in the imperial oath of 1869 when the advisers of the young monarch put into his mouth the promise that "argument and debate shall be adopted and all measures shall be decided by impartial discussion." The exact meaning of this promise was and is a matter of some dispute. Its language was ambiguous and it might be also translated, "An assembly widely convoked shall be established, and all affairs of state decided by impartial discussion." Its import was even more a matter of dispute. Some held it to be a definite promise of parliamentary government; others maintained that it did not have any Occidental institution in mind. The latter position is probably more nearly correct. The framers of the oath seem to have intended nothing more than an assembly of the feudatories and the court nobility, for with the exception of the loss of the shogun, its head, feudalism was still largely intact at the time the oath was taken. The samurai and nobles would meet by virtue of their hereditary positions, not as elected spokesmen of the nation. Such an assembly did convene in 1869. Its functions were purely consultative. It was to be a means of ascertaining the opinion of the warrior and noble classes, the only groups which had in the past been concerned with the active government. The gathering proved a fiasco. Membership in it was not highly esteemed, and it accomplished nothing of note. The government was carried on through other agencies. In 1870 the gathering was prorogued and in 1873 dissolved.

Although the institution which seems to have been contemplated by the charter oath had failed, the oath itself was to be taken up by the liberals and to be interpreted as a promise of a truly national assembly with extensive powers. By 1873 the statesmen of the nation knew more of Western institutions than they had in 1869. An official mission had visited America and Europe and had been much impressed by what it had seen. On its return to Japan one of its leaders presented to his colleagues in the government a memorandum advocating a constitutional monarchy, but did not suggest any very definite institutions through which this should be carried on. This was the true beginning of the struggle for representative government. The history of subsequent developments is an interesting one, but only its main features can here be presented. The movement drew its support principally from two groups of people. The first was made up of the radical wing of those who favored the adoption of Occidental ways. They advocated an enthusiastic and wholesale Westernization of Japan and were in favor of discarding all the customs and institutions which from the foreigners' standpoint marked the nation as peculiar and barbarous. They wished Japan to take its place at once with Western powers by copying all the trappings of Occidental civilization. The younger students, both those who were returning from America and Europe, and those who were the product of the new schools in Japan, some of the editors of recently established newspapers, and some of those who were in intimate contact with foreign books or foreigners in the treaty ports, formed the bulk of this group. The more extreme among them had imbibed or were to imbibe many of the most radical political theories of the West. They were to read the books that had preceded the French Revolution, such as Rousseau Social Contract. No one ever talked of abolishing the monarchy: the imperial institution had too firm a hold on the imagination of the nation for that. Many did, however, believe in a ministry responsible for all its acts to a national assembly elected on the basis of a liberal franchise. The second group was made up of some of those of the governing class who had broken with the men in power, and who desired to make political capital out of the agitation. They apparently hoped that by championing the constitutional movement they would either oust the mini try or force it to make terms with them.

Early in 1874 a group of officials who had differed from the government on its Korean policy and had resigned, presented a memorial protesting against the arbitrary acts of the heads of the bureaucracy and advocating an elective assembly. Of these protestants Itagaki should be remembered for his part in the later struggle for a constitution. The government was inclined to make concessions to these former officials, apparently in the hope that it could win their support and forestall more demands later. Accordingly a compromise was arranged by which the two factions were reconciled and important constitutional changes were agreed upon which were a step, although a very short one, toward representative government. A senate was established as a legislative chamber. It was to have deliberative powers but not those of initiating measures, and it was to be made up exclusively of appointed members of the noble and official classes. There was to be a reorganization of the departments, including the establishment of a high court of justice, to obtain a separation between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of the government. This was obviously done under the influence of the theory of the division of functions that so greatly influenced the constitutions of the West. In addition, an assembly of the prefectural governors was to be convened to bring the Tokyo authorities in touch with the needs of the people. None of these changes provided for popular election or for representation of any but the official classes, but they were meant to qualify the absolute power of the group that surrounded the emperor. The nation was probably not ready safely to take advantage of further concessions.

The changes promised in 1874 could not, however, be expected permanently to satisfy the liberals. Neither the senate nor the assembly of governors proved very effective, and of course, since they were representative only of officialdom, both were easily controlled by the ministry. By 1877 the agitation for a constitution was again in evidence. It was more insistent than before and was no longer confined to liberal or dissatisfied members of the ruling class. Radical ideas were spreading under continued contact with the democracy of the West, and political bodies sprang up which advocated representative institutions and sent out lecturers and agitators to instruct and arouse the people. The movement grew in intensity, and in 1878, moved by the assassination of one of the prominent ministers (Okubo), the government partially gave way and announced the organization of local assemblies. These were elective bodies, chosen by a limited franchise. There was to be one in each prefecture and they were to be merely advisory to the governors. They were to meet for one month each year and were to have a voice principally in the levying and spending of local taxes and in the supervision of accounts. They could also petition the central government. On the whole these assemblies worked well. Later (1880) similar ones were organized in the cities, towns, and villages. Occasionally they came into collision with the representatives of the central government, but they served to give the people a voice in local finances and were training schools for the national parliament.

The grant of these local assemblies did not, however, silence the liberals. Their demands were only intensified, as no national assembly was yet provided for, and revolutionary ideas from the Occident were spreading with each month that intercourse with Westerners continued. Memorials asking for a national assembly were presented to the government by various bodies. A convention of the liberal clubs met, and by a demonstration emphasized their desires. Many of the newly founded newspapers championed the movement. Finally, in October, 1881, the government yielded and in the name of the emperor promised that a national assembly would be convened in 1890 and that a constitution would be granted. The next year Ito was sent abroad to study the form of constitutions in use in the West, and became on his return the head of the commission that was to frame a similar document for Japan.

Of Ito it ought to be added that he was the most prominent statesman of Japan in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. He had begun life as a samurai of Choshu and was originally, like his master, anti-foreign. He early became convinced of the necessity of reform after Western models, however, and together with Inouye and three others, in 1863, braving the edicts which still made it a capital offense to go abroad, secretly went to Shanghai. From there he and his companions sailed to London, Ito and Inouye working their passage before the mast. In London the latter two spent a year, studying. When Choshu became embroiled with the powers, Ito hurried back to Japan in an attempt to prevent his fief from persisting in its truculent attitude towards foreigners. He did not succeed, and for a time was in imminent peril of his life. After the restoration, however, and the frank recognition by the country of the new age, he quickly rose in office, and was for years to be the dominant figure at Tokyo.


Following the promise of 1881, three parties arose to prepare the way for government under a constitution, and to mold by their action the terms of that document. The first of these, called the Liberal Party, had as its leader Itagaki, who had earlier been a member of the group that had helped guide the nation through the Restoration. He was a zealous advocate of giving the people a voice in the government and his party represented the extreme wing of the radicals. He has sometimes been called the Rousseau of Japan, and while the parallel is not an accurate one, he and his party stood for what they deemed the rights of man. Occasionally the more rabid members of his party employed violent measures to further their cause, and they often used virulent language.

The next party was the Liberal Conservatives. Its leader was Okuma, another ex-samurai. He had early acquired a knowledge of English and Dutch and with them a conviction of the need of reforming Japan. He had been a member of the government and had remained in it longer than had Itagaki. Having chafed under the strong control exercised over the administration by the ex-samurai of Satsuma and Choshu, he finally broke away and organized a party, apparently in the hope of weakening the Sat-Cho (Satsuma-Choshu) combination by bringing into the government the element of popular representation. The Liberal Conservatives were the more moderate wing of the advocates of representative government. They favored a gradual extension of the franchise, the development of local self-government, and a policy of internal reorganization as opposed to imperialism. They stood also for a sound currency. The party would naturally attract to itself many elements in the nation which, while opposed to the Sat-Cho oligarchy, were not willing to go to the lengths proposed by Itagaki and his followers.

A third party was the Constitutional Imperialists. It was made up of the conservatives, and while in favor of a constitution, was opposed to any action that would weaken the sovereignty of the emperor. It favored a restricted electorate, an absolute imperial veto over all legislation, and a bicameral legislature as opposed to the more democratic one-chamber plan. It was, however, in favor of an independent judiciary, of keeping military and naval officers out of politics, and of a rather wide freedom of speech and assembly. The party itself was transient and numerically small, but men in the government and their supporters held similar opinions, and the principles it advocated proved more influential than did those of its opponents. Many of the ideas championed by it were to be found in the finished constitution.

Following the formation of these parties there came some months of popular agitation. Each went to the nation with its views. Public mass meetings were held, and many of the radical newspapers became violent in their advocacy of their pet theories. So disturbing were the discussions that the government felt called upon to adopt repressive measures, and by muzzling the press and public meetings it produced for a time a semblance of calm. The Japanese were as yet too unaccustomed to the institutions of the West to exercise the self-restraint in public speech that is necessary to a well-conducted popular government. They were obviously still unprepared for the party system involved in such a constitution as that of England.


Ito returned from his tour of the West in 1883 and almost at once changes were begun preparatory to the reorganization of the government involved in the adoption of a constitution. Of all the forms of limited monarchies he had seen, Ito was most impressed with that of Germany. He had been greatly influenced by Bismarck and by the rejuvenation of the Fatherland that was taking place under the empire. He felt that the spirit of the German government, with its traditions of autocratic monarchy and its bureaucracy, was more nearly that of the new Japan than was that of any other important Occidental power. His modifications of Japanese institutions clearly show how deeply he had been stirred by these convictions. He began (1884) by rehabilitating the nobility. That of past ages had officially disappeared with the Restoration. It now seemed to Ito wise to create a new one as the preliminary to an upper house of a national legislature, and as a means of strengthening the government with the support of the more powerful, conservative classes. The orders of the new nobility, five in number, were modeled on those of Europe and were conferred on former court nobles and feudatories of the old regime, and upon those who had been prominent in the restoration movement.

The next step was the remodeling of the cabinet to a form corresponding somewhat to that of Germany. The prime minister, like the German chancellor, was now to have the guidance of all the other ministers, and was to be responsible for the entire conduct of the administration. The bureaucracy was modified by the introduction of examinations. Official appointments to the civil service were henceforth to be made on the basis of success in examinations which were open to all subjects of the emperor. This change was eventually to make the civil bureaucracy a truly national body and was to remove it from the monopoly of the ex-samurai.


The framing of the constitution was meanwhile under way. That task was not intrusted to a popular representative assembly. The document was to be granted by the emperor out of his own kindness, and in constructing it the nation was to have no direct voice. The work was placed in the hands of a group of men, chief of whom was Ito, who carried it on in secret, where each step in the process would not be subject to the criticism of a violently partisan press. Ample time was taken, and finally, in 1889, the completed constitution was sanctioned by the emperor and was officially promulgated by him amid great pomp and ceremony.


The chief provisions of the document are as follows: First, the institution of the emperor is emphasized. He is declared to be of a line that has been "unbroken from ages eternal." He is the source of all authority and combines in himself all sovereignty. He sanctions all laws and orders them to be promulgated and executed. He convokes and prorogues the diet and dissolves the lower house. While the diet is not sitting, he can issue ordinances which have the force of law. He is the head of the executive branch of the government, appoints and dismisses all officers, and determines their salaries. He is supreme commander of the army and navy and declares war, makes peace, and concludes treaties. He confers titles of nobility and has the power of pardoning and of granting amnesty. He is, in other words, virtually supreme. While all these functions are in practice exercised by his ministers, the latter are responsible to him, not to the diet, and he may interfere at any time with their actions. Still the emperor does not openly interfere in or guide the administration as in Germany. In many respects he reigns but does not govern. He has never under the new régime openly exercised any direct power. Ms official acts of importance are as a rule taken only after consultation with his privy council or his ministers. Neither is his position exactly parallel to that of the English sovereign, for constitutionally he could act directly if he wished, and his crown is not founded upon the will of the legislature. As in feudal days all government was through the shogun, so now it is through the cabinet and the privy council. The emperor is, however, consulted as he was not in the days of the Tokugawa, and has a much larger share in the government than then.

Many rights are conceded to the subjects of the emperor. All Japanese are to be liable for taxes and military service, but, subject to the restrictions placed by law, they have equal rights to appointment to office, they can change their abode, their houses are free from search, and they have freedom of speech, public assembly, writing, association, and religion. They can be arrested only according to law and must be tried by legally appointed judges. Their property is inviolate, and they have the right of petition. While the recognition of these rights marked a great advance over feudal days, it must be remembered that they are not as unlimited as would at first appear. The fact that most of them are "subject to the restrictions placed by law" makes it possible for the government to curtail them if necessary.

The Imperial Diet consists of two chambers, the House of Peers and the House of Representatives. The first as later modified is made up of members of the imperial family and of the two higher ranks of the nobility, of representatives elected by their peers from the three lower ranks of the nobility, of distinguished men nominated by the emperor, and of some of the highest taxpayers, elected by their fellows. It is, evidently, a conservative body, and can be counted upon to check any ultra-liberal tendencies in the lower house. The House of Representatives is made up wholly of elected members. These represent districts which theoretically are as nearly equal in population as possible. The franchise is limited by property qualifications. The diet must meet yearly, and the duration of the session, although it may be altered by the emperor, is fixed at three months. Members have freedom of debate and are not subject to arrest. No law can be passed without the consent of the diet, and it may initiate legislation. The government may also initiate legislation. No new tax can be imposed without the consent of the diet, and the annual budget must be approved by it. The diet does not, however, have the complete power of the purse, for certain matters, the control of salaries and the expenditures of the imperial house, are outside its jurisdiction, and if it refuses to pass a budget, that of the preceding year will be kept in force as the standard. The emperor has an absolute veto over legislation. The diet has the important privilege of interpellation, or of putting questions to the different members of the cabinet. Both houses may address the crown, and by this means may present grievances and virtually impeach a minister. The diet does not have the power that is wielded by the English Parliament. It resembles rather the German diet. The cabinet is not responsible to it, and were it not for public opinion an obdurate emperor might almost dispense with it. Moreover, the upper house has in many matters an effective check over the lower one, and since the former is conservative, it can prevent any radical measures from being enacted by the latter.

A Privy Council is provided for, which, unlike that of England, is not an honored but now powerless relic of the past out of which the cabinet has emerged. It is a distinct body, appointed by the emperor, and exists for purposes of personal consultation with him. It is made up of the distinguished statesmen of the land. Cabinet ministers are members ex-officio.

There is an institution, the Elder Statesmen, which is not provided for by the written constitution, but which is so prominent a feature of the unwritten constitution that it must be spoken of in connection with the former. The Elder Statesmen, or Genro, are an unofficial body made up of members of the group of samurai who led in the reorganization of the government. They have the ear of the emperor and by virtue of that and of their achievements occupy a commanding position in the nation. Their function is purely advisory, but in times of great national crisis they have often had more weight than privy council, cabinet, or diet. Very influential during the nineties and the first years of the twentieth century, the Elder Statesmen as an institution, unless recruited from younger men, must soon become extinct with the death of the original members. At the present (1918) only four of them remain active, and that in spite of the fact that two have been officially added from the older men not heretofore classed with the group.

The Cabinet has charge of the executive side of the government and is responsible to the emperor, not to the diet. At its head is the premier, who, like his German prototype, as has been said, is its dominant figure.

A judiciary is provided for, to be filled by appointment, and to hold office during good behavior. As in some European countries, however, a separate set of courts exists for administrative cases, or those involving government officers, and over these the ordinary courts are not given jurisdiction.

The constitution was the first to be granted by a monarch of East Asia. With all its conservatism it marked the entrance of the liberal democratic theories of the West into the autocratic Far East. Then too, although conservative, it is so elastic that its real working may change with the political education of the people, and still retain its form. Especially is this true as regards the responsibility of the cabinet. Ito was sagacious. It was a far cry from the feudalism of 1860 to the constitutional monarchy of 1890.

The constitution so adopted had now to be put into force. It has, on the whole, worked well. Its chief weakness, and a very real one, has been the conflicts that it renders almost inevitable between the two houses of the diet, and especially between the lower house and the executive. With the exception of war times, when factional differences have been forgotten in the face of the common enemy, few years since 1890 have passed without a struggle between the political parties and the cabinet. The former have been striving to make the latter responsible to the House of Representatives, as in England, Italy, or France. At times they have seemed to gain a measure of success, but more frequently they have failed. Too often the government has obtained peace and support by questionable concessions to individual members of the house.


The struggle began with the preliminaries to the first diet. The parties of the early eighties had for a time been quiescent, but with the adoption of the constitution at least two were revived, the Liberals (Jiyuto) under the leadership of Itagaki, and the Liberal Conservatives (Kaishinto) directed by Okuma. Both Liberals and Liberal Conservatives demanded that the ministry be made responsible to the lower house, and formed a temporary union as an opposition party. The elections went off quietly. There was a general interest in them; in most districts three or four candidates appeared for each seat and the large majority of the half million or so to which the franchise was confined appeared at the polls. The opposition parties won a decided majority of the seats of the lower house. This, by the way, was quite representative of the various groups of the nation; the ex-samurai, while numerous, were in the minority; the leading occupations of the country were represented in about their just proportion: the lower house was not, as is the American congress, largely a body of lawyers. The upper house was, as might be expected, a dignified and conservative body.

The diet had no sooner met than the opposition began to make trouble for the government. The budget, which by the constitution must be presented to the diet, seemed the most promising point of attack, and on it the struggle raged furiously. Both Liberals and Liberal Conservatives saw in the partial control of the diet over the purse their opportunity to force the ministry to its knees. The government was compelled to compromise and granted two-thirds of the demands of the opposition. The ministry, however, while compelled to recognize the power of the parties, did not concede the main point at issue, that of responsibility to the lower house. The struggle between the legislature and the cabinet therefore did not abate, and finally in disgust the government exercised its constitutional right and in the name of the emperor dissolved the diet.

In the elections to the second diet the government made a determined effort to obtain control of the lower house, an act that in itself was a partial concession to the contention of the party politicians. It used every possible legal and some illegal means to insure the return of a majority of its candidates. Bribery, intimidation, and repressive laws were an employed, and the contest was marked by scenes of violence. In spite of these drastic measures, when the diet assembled the ministry found its supporters in the House of Representatives still in the minority. In addition the government had seriously damaged its prestige by its election methods. The struggle between legislature and executive was inevitably renewed, the chief points of attack still being financial. Upper and lower houses were at variance, for the upper house rather consistently sided with the government. So difficult did the ministry find its task that its reorganization became necessary, and Ito, the framer of the constitution, felt called upon to accept the premiership. This cabinet change, while caused by party opposition, was by no means made in consultation with the politicians of the lower house, and they were no more disposed to be conciliatory toward the new cabinet than they had been toward the old. Ito had finally to meet their demands for a curtailment of expenditures by resorting to a direct message from the emperor which announced a voluntary contribution of a tenth of the expenses of the imperial household to the defense fund of the nation, called upon all officials to make a similar sacrifice, and asked that the diet coöperate by striving for harmony with the government. Ito further instituted extensive retrenchments in government expenses, and even made arrangements with Itagaki and the Liberals to obtain their support in the lower house. The result of these strenuous efforts was simply to shift the attack of the opposition groups from the budget, from which respect for the sovereign's expressed wish restrained them, to other points in the policy of the government. They were bent on hindering and irritating the oligarchy in every possible way until the principles for which they contended should be granted. Again the government was forced to confess failure, and the second diet, like the first, was dissolved.

The third House of Representatives, elected in 1894, was, like its predecessors, in the control of the enemies of the government. Ito's agreement with the Liberals won their support, but his former adherents were angered by his apparent concession to the principle of party government and went over to the camp of the opposition. Ito found that he had simply exchanged the aid of one group for that of another. The third House of Representatives, then, like its predecessors, had a nearly continuous record of disagreement with the ministry. After a bitter attack on the foreign policy of the government, and a decision to present in an address to the emperor its lack of confidence in the cabinet, the lower house, and with it the diet, were again dissolved.


Before the new elections war had broken out with China and in that spirit of patriotism which in Japan seems always stronger than factional interests, the diet united solidly in a cordial support of the government. Partisanship was abandoned in the enthusiasm of the attack on the common enemy, and was not again to be displayed until after peace had been declared. The first period of struggle for a responsible ministry had come to an end. It was evident, however, that the strife would be resumed when the external danger was past. The only hope of lasting peace under the existing constitution was the unconditional surrender either of the liberals or of the executive. The ministry must not be thought to have been moved entirely or even primarily by selfish motives. Its leaders seem sincerely to have believed, and probably with justice, that the nation was not yet ready for a government by a cabinet responsible to a representative parliament. The further history of the struggle must, however, be deferred to a subsequent chapter.

For further reading see: Griffis, The Mikado's Empire; Brinkley, Japan, Its History, Arts, and Literature; Brinkley, A History of the Japanese People; McLaren, A Political History of Japan during the Meiji Era; Okuma, Fifty Years of New Japan.