The superior military power characterized the development of prosperous western countries. Japan took advantage of it and tried to respond to the challenges of the West in a proper manner. Reform-minded officials promoted significant changes that the Tokugawa government took with particular emphasis on political and economic aspects. The authorities launched reforms aimed at bringing the emperor back to power and overthrowing the military leader from the throne. In 1868, restoration under the Meiji ruling started. After the end of the World War II, the Allied powers sought to prevent Japan’s return to the battlefield. The current paper seeks to explore the Meiji Restoration, key changes of this period, the chief factors that limited them, as well as the importance of American occupation in reshaping an island nation, and discuss policies with the focus on economic and political aspects that were imposed between 1945 and 1952.
The period of Japanese modernization was characterized by the deliberate borrowing, the depth examination of current trends and adaptation of Western patterns of socio-economic, technological, military and political policies. Significant changes that occurred under the Tokugawa dictatorship had laid the basis for the radical transformation. Japan became the modern industrial country that drafted the constitution, established the educational system, parliament, strong navy, army, and critical infrastructure in less than five decades. Although, the ruler’s power did not change, reformers often used imperial symbols to gain considerable public support and achieve rapid modernization.
Japan gradually transformed into the military power. The current level of development, technological advancements, and high standard of living proved that successful transformation. Moreover, the radical attempts and joint efforts to abolish feudalism promoted enormous political and social changes. The Japanese were allowed to engage in any type of activity, succeed in their undertakings, and move without any restrictions. Transformation provided the nation with the financial and political security. The government also invested in advanced technologies and new industries. Japan demonstrated rapid growth although the Tokugawa dictatorship isolated the nation from the international political life. However, in the 1800s, Japanese entered the system dominated by imperialistic ideology. The crucial diplomatic goal set by Meiji was to remove inequalities in the agreements signed with the Western world as most of the treaties lacked the determination of tariff rights and the way the foreign felons should be judged. Officials recognized the necessity to regain the national pride and become the first-class country. The authorities regarded westernization of the Japanese society as crucial to succeed and prosper. Japan rapidly became a key player in the international system. Officials continued to promote imperialistic privileges with Korea and Chinese. By 1910, Japanese had started to control the modernization efforts of Korea due to its annexation.
The significant feature of the Meiji tenure was the continuous struggle for equality with the Western world and recognition of the country’s success and achievements. Japan established the influential, powerful, and capitalist state following the prosperous Western model. However, when the Japanese government started applying the European imperialistic pattern, the West expressed its dissatisfaction. The later entry into the dominated system was the main obstacle for Japan. The racist ideology, colonialism, and biased attitude toward the newcomers and upstarts prevailed at that time. Therefore, not all countries agreed to welcome the non-white nation to use the scarce natural resources and participate in the market on an equal footing. Japanese alienation from the West and different approaches to resolving the pressing issues generated numerous misunderstandings. Although the Japanese democratic system continued evolving under the Meiji ruling, the chief factor that limited transformation was the inability to address challenges of the political power of military leaders in the 1920-1930s and economic depression in a proper manner. It was also difficult to mobilize public support for transformation to meet the challenges of the Western world.
The U.S. officials highlighted the importance of radical changes in all spheres of life as they could establish democracy in Japan. One can judge the successful American occupation by the fact that the Japanese became a close ally of the federal republic, and were required to implement important reforms. The most significant policies imposed were focused on the resolution of political and economic issues.
Political changes were of high priority at that time. Americans’ role in drafting the new supreme law of Japan was crucial. According to Berkofsky, the constitution differed from one developed during the Meiji tenure. The greatest change reached was the declaration of sovereignty intended to supporting ordinary citizens, not the ruler. The emperor promoted unity, political will, democracy, and culture nationwide. The parliament was the major political institution consisted of the freely elected representatives of the nation. The new supreme law provided women with equal rights, including the right to vote. The main task of the local authorities was to encourage political participation among all social classes. The constitution also safeguarded the right of free speech. The power of law enforcement agencies was significantly weakened, and officials carefully regulated their activity. The new supreme law forbade the Japanese to maintain and sponsor the army, as well as take part in hostilities.
Economic changes were also crucial as they were intended to stimulate the political transformation in Japan. Therefore, the American officials promoted economic reforms with the focus on democratic ideals. Before the war, two-thirds of agricultural land was leased in Japan. They did not belong to farmers, who made up 75 percent of the labor force and worked on it. In fact, the land belonged to the landlords, who lived in the urban area and got income from the half of the grown crops. Most of the farm families were poor. The successful reform took land away from landlords and gave it to the farmers thus making them real owners. They became financially independent, and started promoting the democracy.
The American officials changed the legislation that significantly eased the functioning of trade unions. They also sought to provide individuals working in the industrial sector with more freedom. Only a few unions existed before the World War II. However, by 1949, almost half of all workers had joined them. In order to ensure competition and democratize economic power, the occupation ceased the existence of large corporations. Unfortunately, the reform failed because it could complicate Japan’s recovery and further progress. Besides transforming institutions, the American officials wanted Japanese to recognize and promote the democratic ideals through the control of mass media. However, the postwar devastation and failure of military leaders shocked and disappointed millions of Japanese, and, therefore, they sought to cooperate and establish a close relationship with their North American partners. Unfortunately, not all reforms found the strong support within the Japanese system. The weakening of the anti-monopoly laws led to the emergence of the new businesses. The government started to control the educational institutions. As the public expressed their support for most of the changes, the improved system continued functioning to the present day.
The paper has deeply explored the Meiji Restoration, key changes of this period, and the chief factors that limited transformation. Particular attention has been paid to the importance of the American occupation aimed at reshaping Japan, and discussion of policies focused on the economic and political issues facing the country after the World War II. The policy demilitarization was of the high priority to the occupation authorities. In addition, they dismantled Japanese military industry, abolished armed forces, and also sought to eliminate patriotic sentiment from educational institutions. However, Americans believed that only democratic and peace-loving Japan could thrive.