English Subtitles for The Meiji Restoration: Modern East Asia #4

Subtitles / Closed Captions - English

Hi, and welcome to Modern East Asia 101.

I'm your host, Sean Kim, a.k.a. The Dragon Historian, and today I'll be teaching you about Japan, and how they quickly modernized and stood shoulder to shoulder with the West in the late 19th century. This miracle was achieved through a process known as the Meiji Restoration. Let's get started! For the last three episodes we’ve been talking about the Qing dynasty and how they were getting

beat up by Westerners. Today we’re going to take a little break from that narrative and travel eastwards across the sea, to the island nation of Japan. So before the mid-19th century, Japan did not look like a potential world power at all. Japan at that time was ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate, which was founded by the Tokugawa clan in 1600.

The time during which the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled over Japan is often known as the Edo Period, because the Shoguns ruled from Edo, or modern-day Tokyo. Now, you may be asking yourself, what in the world is a Shogunate? I actually had to make a separate video for that because trying to explain all that in this one would have make this video too long. You can click on this link to get to the video, learn the basics of the shogunate system,

and come back to watch the rest of this video. You done? Okay, let’s continue. So Japan at this time was pretty much a feudal country that you would expect from perhaps medieval Europe. At this point, you could be thinking that Japan at this time was far behind China or

Korea. But there was one huge factor that differentiated Japan from those two countries: Rangaku. So Japan was extremely isolationist, as was Korea or China at that time. But unlike Korea, which had nearly no connection with the Western world, China and Japan did allow minimal trade. China allowed foreign trade through our old friend the Canton System, and Japan through

the trading post of Dejima in Nagasaki. But Dejima only allowed the Dutch to trade; the only other countries Japan maintained commercial relations with were China, Korea, and the Ryukyu Kingdom, the last of which was mostly only used as a gateway to China’s eastern coast. So how did Japan, whose only Western trading partner was the Netherlands, modernize faster than China, who traded with the British, the French, the Americans, the Dutch, the Swedish

and the Danish? The answer: The Japanese were less xenophobic. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that Japan embraced the West with open arms. They were not completely open to Westerners, as clearly seen in their persecution and suppression of Christians. But, in comparison to China, they were much more willing to learn from the West.

Japan maintained relations with the Dutch from 1641 after banning the Portuguese from the islands. From then on they developed the system of Rangaku, or “Dutch Learning,” through which they imported Western ideas from the Netherlands. The Rangaku greatly helped Japan keep in touch and up to date with the Western world, and often boosted Japanese sciences.

Kaitai Shinsho, for example, was a Rangaku-influenced book which revolutionized Japanese medicine and anatomy. Outside of those two subjects, Rangaku helped Japan keep up with Western physics, chemistry, optics, mechanics, geography and biology. In comparison, the Chinese saw Westerners as below them, and believed that the West was a threat to their own traditional values.

Although they traded with the West they did not like to associate themselves with Western technology or ideas. Though Japan was more open minded, it’s not as though Japan’s technological capacities were equal to that of the West. The truth was far from that, in fact. This was easily demonstrated in a famous event in 1853 — the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry.

On July 8th, 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy showed up in a steamship at Edo Bay. He, on orders from President Millard Fillmore, demanded that the Japanese open their ports to the United States. The great cannons and guns of the ship as well as the steam engine terrified the Japanese, and the government was in turmoil because these Americans were so close to the capital,

Edo. On July 17th Perry left for China and promised to return to Japan for an answer. The shogun had just died and been replaced with his young and ill son, and therefore the true administrative power was in the hands of the Roju. The Roju council tried, for the first time in Japanese history, to get public opinion to help them with the decision, but the daimyo to whom the questions were directed did not

give helpful responses. The only advice the Roju managed to receive was that Japan should strengthen defenses around Edo to protect the capital from future American attacks. When Perry returned with a much more massive fleet in February of 1854, the shogunate government had decided to accept all of President Fillmore’s demands. The two parties decided to sign a treaty at Yokohama.

Here the Convention of Kanagawa was signed, the first of the Unequal Treaties emposed on Japan. Japan was forced to end its isolationist policy and open up two ports, Shimoda and Hakodate, to trade with the United States. The post of American consul at the Japanese government was also established and the return of American castaways was ensured.

After the treaty was signed, Perry introduced to the Japanese several American technologies, such as the locomotive and the telegraph. A string of Unequal Treaties were presented to Japan after this. Later that same year, the British presented to Japan the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty, in which the ports of Nagasaki and Hakodate was opened to the British. The British also gained the Most Favoured Nation Status, receiving the same treatment

as China and the Netherlands. In 1858, Japan was forced to sign an entire set of treaties known as the Ansei Treaties. These treaties were signed with the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, the Netherlands, and France. All of these countries gained the right to exchange diplomats with Japan, and gained the right to the ports of Edo, Kobe, Nagasaki, Niigata, and Yokohama.

Citizens of these five countries could live in those five ports and trade whatever they wanted except for opium, and extraterritoriality was applied to them. Tariffs were also to be controlled by these five countries rather than by Japan, which nearly destroyed Japan’s local industry. Needless to say, these actions by the West infuriated the Japanese. The most angered were the domains of Satsuma and Choshu.

The powerlessness shown by the leaders of the shogunate were also perceived as incompetence. When in March of 1863 Emperor Komei declared an “order to expel barbarians,” a surge of nationalism flowed among the Japanese. In the summer of 1863 and autumn of 1864, the Choshu Domain fought a war with the British, Dutch, French, and Americans, in which they were defeated by the superior Western technology. In the summer of 1863, the Satsuma Domain too fought a war with the British, with mixed

results. As the British demanded high reparations, anti-Western sentiments increased. As the shogunate failed to strike back, anti-government sentiments arose as well. These two sentiments were summed up in a popular philosophy from Japan at that time: Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians. The Satsuma and Choshu Domains soon formed an alliance in 1866, and they also allied

themselves with the Imperial Court in Kyoto. In 1868, they rebelled against the Shogunate, starting the Boshin War. The Western powers that were prominent in Japanese affairs agreed to stay neutral in this conflict. In a bit more than a year, the Alliance destroyed pro-Shogunate daimyo and had driven the shogun out of Edo.

Several pro-Shogunate domains defected and joined the Alliance throughout the war. The Emperor was restored as the head of state and the imperial court moved to Edo in 1869, which was now renamed Tokyo. The teenage Emperor Meiji had been sworn in the year before, along with the Five Charter Oath, which expressed Japanese will for modernization. Unlike China, the Japanese had already realized the need to catch up to the West.

The Charter Oath went as follows: #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. Although the Emperor was supposedly the head of state, however, once again the true power was in the hands of someone else: the Meiji oligarchy. The Meiji oligarchy consisted of only about twenty people, made up of the leaders of the Boshin War.

The government was made up of a Council of Advisors and several executive Ministries. This new government set out to modernize Japan. They hired hundreds of Western advisors to the government who helped Japan adopt Western ideals, culture and technology until 1899. The Meiji oligarchy first worked to destroy the class system in Japan. The new government seized lands that were either directly controlled by the shogun or

by loyal daimyo, and reorganized those territories into prefectures. This comprised of about a quarter of Japan’s territory. In 1869, the rest of the domains were turned into prefectures. The daimyo became governors of their former domains and still enjoyed extra rights such as keeping an amount of the tax revenues for themselves, but in 1871 the government took this privilege away from them and instead gave them government bonds.

The prefectures were redrawn as well. In 1873 the Japanese government initiated a sweeping land reform. Private land ownership was implemented in Japan for the first time, and land taxes were to be paid in cash, unlike the rice that daimyo had to pay to the shogun. The land tax rate was around 3%. Although the Japanese government was able to collect a good amount of tax revenue, this

tax rate was very burdensome for farmers. By the year 1900, about 40% of Japan’s farmers had been forced to become tenants for wealthy landlords. They also took on the samurai. Now that the daimyo were gone and the samurai had nobody to serve, they were rewarded with stipends in 1873, replaced by bonds in 1876. But the government took more deliberate steps to completely get rid of the samurai class;

for example, all men received the right to bear arms, therefore removing the primary difference between samurai and commoners. However, the samurai were still able to join the government as military leaders, and these people became the leaders of Japanese military reform. Throughout the 1860s and 70s, the Japanese military changed drastically, adopting Western weapons and technology.

Through the Tokyo and Osaka Arsenals, the quality of Japanese weaponry improved dramatically. In 1873, conscription for Japanese men above the age of 21 became required, making 4 years of military service compulsory. The new Japanese Imperial Army was put to test in 1877, when a sect of angry unemployed samurai revolted in Satsuma. They were crushed by the Japanese army, proving their new strength.

Every rebel was either killed or captured. This put a complete end to the samurai class. While Japan self-strengthened, they also focused on foreign affairs. Although Japan had decided that they could not beat the West and thus had to join them, they wanted to join them as equals. From 1871 to 1873, a team of Japanese diplomats, including future Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi,

traveled around the world in the Iwakura Mission, hoping to renegotiate the terms of their previous Unequal Treaties. They traveled to the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany, and other European countries, but no useful diplomatic results were made. However, the members of the Iwakura Mission did bring back various Western technologies and ideas, which the Japanese quickly adopted.

A national, compulsory education system was introduced, built after the German model. Japanese companies began to import Western technology and begin their own businesses. Japan’s industrial sector grew surprisingly rapidly, contributing to the fast growth of cities. From 1873 to 1886, Tokyo’s population increased from 595,000 to 1,212,000. Capitalism grew in the country as Japanese entrepreneurs began to invest, an effort which

the Japanese government often supported financially in order to encourage economic growth. Ships, tea, silk, and weapons among others were produced. Coal production also became significant. By 1875 Japan was producing 0.6 metric tons of coal, and that number was doubled ten years later. The coal was put to use by building steamships and railroads. By 1883, Japan had laid 240 miles of railroad tracks.

The Japanese government built a network of roads and telegraphs, which, by 1880, connected all major Japanese cities. Japan also underwent currency reform. During the Shogunate era, each domain had their own currency. In 1871, the Japanese government tried to unify the currency into the Japanese yen. However, the prefectures kept printing their own money in private banks, causing confusion.

In 1881, the Bank of Japan was founded, which was granted monopoly on providing money supply by the government in 1884, solving the issue with currency confusion. But in its modernization efforts, there was still something that Japan was missing: democracy. By the 1880s, the Japanese people were calling out for democracy and the removal of the Meiji Oligarchy. The Freedom and People’s Rights Movement led the effort, demanding the creation of an elected legislature, the revision of Unequal Treaties, the institution of civil rights,

and the reduction in taxes. And they succeeded in 1889. Sort of. The Meiji Constitution of 1889 made the Empire of Japan a constitutional monarchy that was based on the German model, which still kept the Emperor as the head of state with actual power, though separation of power was implemented.

The Emperor had supreme command of the military and could appoint the members of the cabinet, the head of which was the Prime Minister. The Emperor could also appoint judges in courts. A Parliament was created as a bicameral legislature; the upper house, the House of Peers, was made up of members of the Imperial family, and they were appointed and dismissed by the Emperor. The lower house, the House of Representatives, which the Emperor could dissolve, was elected

by limited male suffrage. Essentially, the Emperor had control over all three branches of government. Theoretically, the Emperor could only act upon cabinet approval, but the Emperor was the one who appointed members of the cabinet in the first place. The new Constitution also gave citizens new responsibilities and rights. They were required to uphold the Constitution, pay taxes, and serve in the military if needed.

Their rights included freedom of movement, protection from the searching of their residence, privacy of correspondence, right to private property, freedom of speech, assembly, petition, and association, right to be appointed to public offices, due process, a judge trial, and freedom of religion. However, the right to vote was limited to male landowners, therefore alienating the 30% of tenants in the country as well as about half of the entire population — women.

Although Japanese citizens had now gained many of the rights that can be seen in the U.S. Bill of Rights, the political process was still far from democratic and the government was still controlled by an oligarchy. Nonetheless, in the short time between 1868 and 1890, Japan rapidly modernized, their population increasing by roughly ten million people. Japan managed to become economically independent, exporting textiles all around the world and

competing with Europe for shipping. With a booming industry and economy, Japan successfully transformed itself from a rural, feudal nation to an industrialized, modern one in just two decades. But other countries were not so lucky. Just across the sea from Japan, a nation was struggling to keep up with the West — that less fortunate neighbor was Korea.

We’ll talk about the unrest in 19th century Korea next time. Thank you for watching and I’ll see you guys then.

Video Description

In which we learn about the Meiji Restoration, a period of Japanese history in the late 1800s when Japan quickly modernized and stood shoulder to shoulder with the West.

"Constancy Part One", "Ishikari Lore", "Mystic Force", "Nerves", "Vadodora Chill Mix", "Wallpaper"
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0