Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Explore / Articles
Japan: Meiji era (AD 1868-1912)
Direct imperial rule was restored in the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The name of the new era, Meiji ('Enlightened rule'), was chosen by the 16-year-old Emperor Mutsuhito (reigned 1867-1912). He moved his capital from Kyoto to Edo, renaming it Tokyo ('Eastern capital') to emphasize the abolition of the shogunate.
During the Meiji period, Japan made the transition to a modern industrial state and world power. Mutsuhito made a 'Charter Oath' promising that evil customs of the past would be abandoned. Reform and innovation were encouraged in every sphere. The country was reorganized into prefectures and the samurai class was abandoned. The Iwakura Mission which visited Europe and the USA between 1871 and 1873 was impressed by western ideas and institutions, and many foreign teachers and advisers were brought in. Taxation, education and defence were modernized and telegraph, postal and railway systems were introduced. New industries were established which by 1900 were competing with agriculture.
The Constitution of 1889 confirmed the full sovereignty of the emperor, but also established a parliament called the Diet with an elected Lower House. On the world stage, Japan defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). An Anglo-Japanese Alliance was formed in 1902, partly to protect Britain's interests against Russia, and with British-built warships Japan was victorious in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), which established it firmly as a world power.
Meanwhile, the country's arts, literature and science were strongly influenced by the West. Novelists, such as Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916), experimented with romanticism and naturalism using a new, colloquial style. Many painters went to study in Paris. Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924), who returned to Japan in 1893, was particularly influential. The changing trends were reflected in the Tokyo Art College. Western teachers inaugurated science departments in Universities.