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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials – The Meiji Restoration

The Meiji Restoration is one of the most consequential events of Japanese history. In a few short years Japan modernized and Westernized its government, military, and culture. The Meiji Restoration ended the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which had controlled Japan from 1603-1867. The momentous social and political changes wrought by the Meiji Restoration brought the nation closer to great power status and helped shape the Japan we know today.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on The Meiji Restoration


THE ARRIVAL OF MATTHEW PERRY In the 1850s the United States was deeply invested in establishing trade relations with Japan. Americans coveted Japan’s suspected stores of coal, as well as the opportunity to use Japanese ports for American ships to refuel while on long journeys. Engaging in a bit of gunboat diplomacy, US President Millard Fillmore dispatched Commodore Matthew Perry to end Japan’s self-imposed isolation by force if necessary. The arrival of Perry and his fearsome naval squadron, nicknamed “the Black Ships” by the Japanese, led to Japan’s grudging “opening” to the West. This opening was first formalized in the 1854 Treaty of Kanagawa.


BOSHIN WAR

Things began to change rapidly once Japan was opened. Many young, ambitious samurai realized that the current Tokugawa Shogun was simply not up to the task of leading Japan into the future. The last Shogun, Yoshinobu, peacefully abdicated the throne in favor of the Emperor Meiji in 1867. However, when his enemies—the lords of the Satsuma and Chōshū domains—encouraged the emperor to dissolve his family’s holdings, Yoshinobu violently resisted. The resulting civil war lasted only from 1868-1869. The pro-Shogun faction attempted to form a breakaway republic known as Ezo on Hokkaido. However, the better-equipped and better-trained imperial forces decisively defeated them in the 1869 Battle of Hakodate. The Boshin War officially ended the Tokugawa Shogunate’s power in Japan.


CHARTER OATH

The Charter Oath was a founding document of the Meiji Restoration. Composed in 1868, the Charter Oath described the aims of the new Meiji Government. The Oath consists of Five Articles. These Five Articles promulgated an end to “evil customs” and abolished feudal privileges, encouraging the mass exodus of rural peasants to urban centers to drive Japan’s urbanization. Some of the Oath’s points weren’t achieved until several years later. The first of the five points, for instance, which called for “deliberative assemblies”, eventually resulted in the creation of a Japanese Parliament, even though that was not the original intent of the nobles who wrote the Charter Oath.


REFORMS

Further changes were carried out after the creation of the Charter Oath. The first major change was the relocation of the Imperial Capital from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo). A common slogan the Meiji Government promulgated governing their policy was “Enrich the Country, strengthen the armed forces.” As part of this strengthening, Japan Westernized its army and other aspects of its culture. Cultural changes were encouraged by the slogan “Civilization and Enlightenment.” SATSUMA REBELLION

Although the Boshin War concluded in 1868, hostility against the modernizing Meiji government lingered. The source of these hostilities were governmental reforms that put samurais out of work and confiscated the land of feudal lords. In 1877 these hostilities boiled over in the Satsuma domain on the Island of Kyushu. Rebels led by Saigo Takamori attempted unsuccessfully to lay siege to Kumamoto Castle. Takamori and his followers, heavily outnumbered, were finally defeated at the Battle of Shiroyama.


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Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:


  • Saigo Takamori, the conflicted leader of the Satsuma Rebellion, is a fascinating character in his own right.

  • The Meiji Restoration led to many changes in Japan. Unfortunately, however, full political democratization was not one of them.

  • Visit this website to learn more about Matthew Perry and his momentous trip to Japan.

  • Watch this video to learn more about the circumstances leading to the Boshin War.


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