The Meiji restoration saw the fall of the Tokugawa Sh?gun in 1868, signalling the end of the Tokugawa Sh?gunate and the restoration of imperial rule with the new emperor, Emperor Meiji (formerly known as Prince Mutsuhito). The shift from a feudal system to an imperial model saw a number of important changes which helped shape Japan both politically and socially. The sakoku policy enforced by the Tokugawa Sh?gunate which banned imports and exports and the movement of people to and from Japan was abolished under Emperor Meiji’s reign, opening up Japan to the rest of the world – but more importantly, opening it up to the West.
The new exposure to western ideals and culture influenced many of the changes that took place during the Meiji era. In his first year as reigning emperor, Emperor Meiji published the Charter Oath – or Gokaj? no Goseimon (???????) which literally translates to the Oath of Five articles. The Charter Oath was considered to be the first Japanese constitution, although not really a constitution, and it’s five oaths contained strong democratic characteristics which would help with Japan’s social and economic transformation. The Charter Oath is written as:By this oath, we set up as our aim the establishment of the national wealth on a broad basis and the framing of a constitution and laws.1. Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion.2.
All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.3. The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.4. Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.
5. Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.Oaths 2 and 3 highlight the aims to reduce class inequality and in doing so, helped bring Japan closer to democracy.
Although inspired by western politics, the new constitution was enforced without any involvement from western forces; although one of the reasons for doing so was to catch up to dominating western powers – So it could be argued that the west was indirectly involved in planting the first seeds of democracy in Japan. Borrowing western political and economic models in an attempt to bridge the gap between itself and the dominating countries of the west, Japan began its first steps towards becoming a modernised country. The structural change brought about by new economic models led to an influx of working class citizens to Japan’s developing cities. Previously, the population had been separated into the castes Ry?min and Senmin; Ry?min being the upper class of Japan and Senmin being akin to slaves. The increased movement from rural areas to cities reduced separation between different classes and changed they way they interacted, as intended by the Charter Oath.
And in 1871 class distinctions were abolished and citizens were placed into new classes with the government announcing “equal opportunity for all”. The Meiji Constitution was enforced in 1889. Previously no proper constitution had existed, and Japan had followed the Charter oath and the law system Ritsury?, which was based on Chinese philosophy and Confucianism.
The decision to create a constitution was made in order to gain respect from western countries and avoid appearing weak with the potential threat of invasion. The new constitution was based on the Imperial Constitution of the German Empire, and introduced Japan to the Imperial Diet and its first prime minister, It? Hirobumi. It? Hirobumi was made the first prime minister of Japan,The Diet was bicameral, consisting of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the House of Peers. The House of Peers was the upper house, and consisted of royals, nobles and others appointed by the emperor, such as high tax payers.
The House of Representatives was the lower house and all members were elected by the people. Although the introduction of a bicameral legislature was a step towards democracy as it gave the people the power to elect, the House of Peers was still very problematic as it gave a select few governmental power due to their class and social status – how democratic can it be if the unelected members of the upper house are members because of their wealth and heritage? Along with this issue, female suffrage was denied under the 1889 constitution and full male suffrage was not realised under Meiji reign at all, with only male landowners who also paid a certain amount in taxes able to vote. Only a small fraction of the Japanese population being able to vote was not true democracy and contradicted Emperor Meiji’s “equal opportunity for all” as stated in the Charter Oath. Another criticism of the Imperial Diet was that it wasn’t entirely clear who held what power, so the constitution and Diet could be very flexible.
Although the Diet had been established and political parties were in place, laws that were passed by the House of Councillors and the unelected House of Peers could be overruled by the Emperor. Chapter 1 of the Meiji Constitution states:ARTICLE?III.? The ?Emperor is ?sacred ?and ?inviolable.
ARTICLE? IV.? The? Emperor? is? the? head? of? the? Empire,? combining? in? Himself? the? rights? of? sovereignty, ?and ?exercises? them, ?according ?to ?the ?provisions ?of ?the ?present ?Constitution. ARTICLE?V. The ?Emperor ?exercises ?the ?legislative ?power ?with ?the ?consent ?of ?the ?Imperial ?Diet. ARTICLE? VI. The? Emperor? gives? sanction? to?laws? and? orders? them? to? be? promulgated? and? executed.
ARTICLE? VII.? The? Emperor? convokes? the? Imperial? Diet,? opens,? closes? and? prorogues? it,? and? dissolves ?the ?House ?of ?Representatives.So although the Diet was created to govern Japan, Articles 3 to 7 contrast this and show that the Emperor still had ultimate power over the country. Because of this it could be argued that Japan’s new democracy was actually just a facade to keep up appearances with the West.Taish? period and ‘Taish? democracy’After the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912, Meiji’s son was made the new emperor: Emperor Taish?.
During Taish?’s reign there was a lot of change to Japan’s government. Political power shifted more towards the Diet rather than the emperor, becoming more democratic.