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Social Impact Of Westernisation In Meiji Japan

1398 words - 6 pages

The Meiji era (1868-1912) in Japan was an era of significant social, political and economic change. After the fall of the previously reigning Tokugawa shogunate (Bakufu), the new Meiji rulers sought to advance Japanese social structures and become more modernised in order to compete and been seen as equals with the Western powers. In response to Westernisation, the Meiji regime brought about several significant social changes in the society of Japan. These included the abolishment of the feudal classes, the introduction of compulsory education, and movement away from previously defined ideals and roles, such as the position of women in the home and in the workplace.
Prior to the beginning of the Meiji regime in 1868, Japan was under the feudal rule of the Tokugawa Bakufu. For over 200 years the Tokugawa rulers kept Japan under a strict ‘closed country’ policy, out of fear that opening the country would allow dissemination of the corrupt ideas of Christianity and the possibility for Western alliance with Japanese dissidents . This seclusion meant that Japan was significantly cut off from the rest Asia and the world, only trading exclusively with the Dutch. Japanese citizens were prevented from leaving the country “on pain of death” and any western material was thoroughly scrutinized and censored before being allowed to enter the country . Despite the restricted resources available from the West, there was a strong belief that Japan “must study what the West had to teach in a variety of fields” . Although there was an inclination towards learning Western teachings, there was still a strong resistance to remain a separate identity, with military expert Sakuma Shozan putting forward the slogan ‘Eastern ethics, Western science’ (‘Tōyō no dōtoku, Seiyō no gakugei’) . In 1854 , the policy of closed country was abolished following American intrusion into Japan led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry . Following Perry, Japan was forced to open its borders to foreign trade and, ultimately, Western influence.
Dwarfed by the advanced and industrialised West, the Meiji Era (1868-1912) was a time of significant change in Japan. Known as the Meiji restoration, the dramatic social, political and economic changes that revamped the country were seen as a “major step towards enlightenment, something that [could raise] Japan to the next highest rung on the social evolutionary ladder” the new Meiji rulers worked towards reforming the class structure of the country to reflect the modern, Western structures. The former Bakufu system that had been prevalent during the Edo period was “replaced with the centralised authority of the new government” . Alongside this, the new government abolished the feudal classes of Japanese society. This lifted many social restrictions from the common people, who “were now accorded complete equality with the upper class, particularly in the social realm” . The result of many of these changes resulted in a curious new life emerging in Japan....

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