CHAPTER XII. THE MEIJI ERA

1868-1912

The two names, Mutsuhito and Meiji, are practically synonymous. Mutsuhito is the personal name of the late Emperor, who succeeded to the throne upon the death of the Emperor Kōmei in 1867, but was not formally crowned until 1868. Meiji is the name of the year-period, or era, which began with 1868 and ended with the death of Mutsuhito in 1912. Although, therefore, it may not be absolutely accurate from the mathematical point of view to write "Mutsuhito = Meiji," yet the two terms are practically equivalent and synchronous. The reign of Mutsuhito was the Enlightened Rule of Meiji. And it is the longest reign in all the authentic history of Japan. As the incredibly long lives and reigns of the earliest emperors (before 400 A.D.) cannot be accepted on account of the unreliable chronology, the forty-five years' reign of Mutsuhito holds the record.

It is possible to dismiss in one paragraph the important points of the purely individual biography of the late Emperor as follows:

Mutsuhito was born, the only son of the Emperor Kōmei, on November 3, 1852; was proclaimed Crown Prince on July 10, 1860; succeeded to the throne on the death of his father in January, 1867, but was not formally crowned till October 31, 1868; was married in Kyōto, early in 1869, to Haru-Ko, daughter of Prince Ichijō; became the father of three sons and nine daughters, of whom one son (the present Emperor) and three daughters survive; in 1894 publicly celebrated his silver wedding anniversary; and died July 30, 1912, at the age of sixty-one by Japanese count and of almost sixty by Occidental reckoning.And now, if the important public events of the reign of the late Emperor are treated in connection with the Meiji Era, it seems proper to subdivide that epoch into five periods:

1. Reconstruction (1868-1878).
2. Internal Development (1879-1889).
3. Constitutionalism (1889-1899).
4. Cosmopolitanism (1899-1910).
5. Continentalism (1910 - ).

It should, however, be clearly understood that these distinctions are not absolute, but rather relative. And yet it is possible, by the names of these periods, to trace the general progress that marked the Meiji Era.

1. Reconstruction (1868-1878). - It was on January 1, 1868, that Hyōgo (Kōbe) and Osaka were opened to foreign trade; and in the following year, when Yedo and Niigata were opened, the obligations of the treaty in that respect were completely fulfilled.

On February 3, 1868, the Emperor issued to the foreign representatives the following manifesto:

The Emperor of Japan announces to the sovereigns of all foreign nations and to their subjects, that permission has been granted to the Shōgun Yoshinobu to return the governing power in accordance with his own request. Henceforward we shall exercise supreme authority both in the internal and external affairs of the country. Consequently the title of Emperor should be substituted for that of Tycoon [Taikun], which has been hitherto employed in the treaties. Officers are being appointed by us to conduct foreign affairs. It is desirable that the representatives of all the treaty powers should recognize this announcement.
Of this manifesto one writer says: "Appended were the seal of Dai Nippon, and the signature, Mutsuhito, this being the first occasion in Japanese history on which the name of an Emperor had appeared during his lifetime."

The Emperor also invited the foreign representatives to an audience before him in Kyōto on March 23. "The significance of this event can scarcely now be conceived. Never before in the history of the Empire had its divine head deigned to admit to his presence the despised foreigner, or put himself on an equality with the sovereign of the foreigner." The audiences of the French and Dutch Ministers proceeded without any serious incident; but, when the British Minister, Parkes, was on his way, his escort was suddenly attacked by two samurai, who wounded nine of them before one of the samurai was killed and the other wounded and captured. The party had to return to their lodgings; but the interrupted audience was held on the 26th. The captured assailant was afterward condemned to death by harakiri.

In 1868 the name of Yedo was altered to Tōkyō, which means "Eastern Capital," and Kyōto was renamed Saikyō, or "Western Capital"; but the new name of the latter has not supplanted the old name, as has happened in the case of Tōkyō. This transfer of title has been accompanied by an actual transfer of influence; so that it is most appropriate for Aston to call the Meiji Era in Japanese literature the "Tōkyō Period." It may also be called the "Period of Western Influence," not merely in literature but in almost all phases of civilization.In 1869 the young Emperor returned to Kyōto for a short visit, during which he was married to Princess Haru of the Ichijō family.In the spring of that year the Emperor took his' famous "Charter Oath" to the following effect, as summarized by Iyenaga:

1. A deliberative assembly should be formed, and all measures be decided by public opinion.
2. The principles of social and political economics should be diligently studied by both the superior and [the] inferior classes of our people.
3. Everyone in the community shall be assisted to persevere in carrying out his will for good purposes.
4. All the old absurd usages of former times should be disregarded, and the impartiality and justice displayed in the workings of nature be adopted as a basis of action.
5. Wisdom and ability should be sought after in all quarters of the world for the purpose of firmly establishing the foundations of the Empire.

Meantime, a memorial signed first by the most wealthy and influential, and afterward by almost all of the daimyō, had been presented to the Emperor, to whom at the same time were offered all their fiefs. We quote a part, as follows:

The place where we live is the Emperor's land, and the food which we eat is grown by the Emperor's men. How can we make it our own? We now reverently offer up the list of our possessions and men, with the prayer that the Emperor will take good measures for rewarding those to whom reward is due, and for taking from those to whom punishment is due. Let the Imperial orders be issued for altering and remodeling the territories of the various clans.
This "revolution" was not completely carried out till 1871, when feudalism was abolished by the following laconic decree: "The clans [han] are abolished, and prefectures [ken] are established in their places."

The financial problem in connection with the abolition of the fiefs was a most difficult and troublesome one. It was finally decided that a dispossessed prince should receive one-tenth of the amount of his former income, and that the samurai (retainers) should receive varying lump sums according to circumstances. To accomplish this, the government borrowed $165,000,000, which had to be added to the public debt.

It was also in 1869 that the first single lady missionary arrived in the person of Miss Mary Kidder, of the Dutch Reformed Mission; and it was in 1871 that Nicolai, who had first come to Japan ten years previous as chaplain to the Russian consulate in Hakodate, came to Tōkyō and began mission work for the Greek, or Russian, Church.

This was naturally the great period of "firsts," of beginnings, along new lines. When Perry came to Japan he brought with him a great many presents, which were object-lessons of the accomplishments of Western civilization. These gifts to the "Emperor" included the electric telegraph, the steam locomotive and train, the telescope, life-boats, stoves, clocks, sewing-machines, agricultural implements and machinery, standard scales, weights, measures, maps and charts, etc.

One of the first purposes of the reorganized government was the improvement of means of communication. Along this line the process of reconstruction called for something more rapid than the old-style kago and norimono, or even the new-style jinrikisha and carriage drawn by horsepower. As a result, in 1870 the first line of telegraph was set up between Yokohama and Tōkyō; and in 1872 the first line of railway (narrow-gauge of 3 feet 6 inches) was opened to cover the 18 miles between those two cities. Lighthouses had also been erected in 1870 to render safer and more easily accessible the coast of the country which had for so long a period excluded foreign shipping. In the following year the government established a modern postal system, to which was added, in 1872, a foreign postal service. And from time to time were added all the modern conveniences to accommodate the people; so that the Japanese enjoyed universal free delivery, postal savings banks, and a parcels post long before the United States.

It was likewise in 1872 that Black's Nisshin Shinjishi, which Chamberlain calls "the first newspaper worthy of the name" in Japan, was started in Yokohama. It is, however, only fair to "Joseph Heco," a naturalized American citizen, to state that he claims that honor for his Kaigai Shimbun of 1864 to 1865. He was a Japanese who, having been rescued from shipwreck, was carried to America in 1850, but returned to Japan in 1859.

Among other interesting "firsts" of this sub-period, the first audience given by the young Empress in 1873 to foreign ladies should by no means fail to be mentioned.

The first mint and the first dock (1871) should also appear in this list.

In 1872 an Educational Law was enacted in which was laid the foundation of compulsory education. Normal schools and the Kaisei Gakkō, which was the forerunner of the present Imperial University at Tōkyō, were established.

The first Christian church in Modern Japan was established in Yokohama in 1872.

The abolition of feudalism in 1871 had been accompanied by another great social reform in the admission of eta and hinin, or "the outcasts," to the rank of humanity and citizenship. They had been counted as "animals," but now they were named in the registers and enrolled among the population of Japan.

In the treaties with the great powers it was provided that the treaties might be revised at any time after July 1, 1872. It was with the purpose of inducing the powers to begin negotiations for the revision of the treaties on terms less galling to the Japanese that the Iwakura embassy was dispatched in 1871 to America and Europe. The chief ambassador was Prince Iwakura, who was Junior Prime Minister. The four associate ambassadors were Ōkubo, Minister of Finance; Kido, a Privy Councillor; Itō, Acting Minister of Public Works; and Yamaguchi, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs. All afterward became very prominent in the reconstruction work. They were attended by a large number of secretaries, commissioners, and officers. Their visit abroad opened their eyes to the fact that their country had not reached that degree of civilization which would warrant the powers of Christendom in admitting Japan to full standing in the comity of nations. But, though they failed in the prime purpose of the embassy, they both taught and learned most valuable lessons. Two immediate results of the embassy were seen in the removal of the anti-Christian edicts from the public bulletin-boards and the adoption of the Gregorian, or Christian, calendar, to take effect January 1, 1873.

With that embassy, five Japanese girls, the first to go abroad, went to America for study and training. Two of them had to return soon on account of ill-health, but the other three spent several years in the United States. They are now Miss Ume Tsuda, one of the leading female educators; Baroness Uriu, whose husband attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis; and Princess Oyama, wife of the famous Field Marshal. The last was a regular graduate of Vassar with honors. They are all influential "new women" in New Japan.

The members of the Iwakura embassy also came back filled with the idea that Japan needed peace, in order properly to carry on the necessary reforms. They were able to defeat the party which was urging war with Korea. This, however, led to internal disturbances, aroused by disgruntled samurai and conservative leaders. In 1874 a rebellion broke out in Saga Province under the leadership of Eto. This was soon quelled. Then the government determined to utilize the "fighting spirit" of the discontented by an expedition to Formosa against the savages, who had murdered some Japanese merchants. This was successful, both from a military and a financial standpoint; in the latter case, it brought an indemnity of £50,000 to Japan.

In 1877 a more serious rebellion broke out in Satsuma under the leadership of the great hero Saigō. It took the government several months to overcome this outbreak at great cost of men and money. But it was the first, and a successful, test of the new national army, organized under the conscription system, which had been adopted in 1873.

The peaceful policy was strengthened by the exchange with Russia of Sakhalin for the Kurile Islands in 1875, and a treaty, instead of war, with Korea in 1876. These same two years were marked by the establishment of the Hakuaisha, which later became the Japan Red Cross Society, and by the recognition of Sunday as an official day of rest. The next two years (1877 and 1878) saw the organization of the Japan Evangelical Alliance, and of various Christian schools, as well as the ordination of Sawayama, the first case of the rite being performed in Japan. The first Japanese, however, to be ordained to the Christian ministry had been Neeshima, whose ordination took place in 1874 in Massachusetts.

The First National Exhibition of Japan was held in Tōkyō in 1877.

In this prolific period of "firsts," one can find, in political affairs, the first assembly of provincial governors to confer together upon general policy, and the first Senate, which later became the House of Peers. And this subperiod, the first decade of the Meiji Era, closes in 1878, when bimetallism was adopted and a promise was made to establish prefectural assemblies or training-schools in political science through practice in local self-government.