The Meiji Constitution was a Blend of Many Conflicting Ideas
It has been said that “the Meiji Constitution of 1889 was a blend of
many conflicting ideas.” This statement is true to a great extent as
the Constitution contained a number of inconsistency and ambiguities.
As a matter of fact, it was proclaimed with the intention of solving
certain existing problems rather than giving Japan a liberal and
democratic institution. It served as a symbol of progress: appeasement
of those discontented and politically conscious; consolidation of
power of Meiji oligarchs; a cover of democracy; stimulus of Japan’s
nationalism as well as a typical example of imitation of the West, all
of which were conflicting in meaning to each other. The Meiji leaders
adopted a utilitarian approach in drafting the Constitution and they
tried to balance and reconcile these conflicting forces. In short, the
Meiji Constitution was made with the aim of killing several birds with
The first blend of conflicting ideas was appeasement versus
symbolization, which led to the birth of the Constitution in 1889. As
early as Meiji Restoration, there was a clamor for parliamentary
government from the aggrieved and the politically conscious. The
discontented included the idle ex-samurai and indebted peasants. The
politically-conscious were merchants and educated class. The clamor
came to head the ‘People’s Right Movement’ in the 1870s. Consequently,
the Meiji Government decided to promulgate a constitution to calm down
However, this idea of appeasement was opposed to the idea of
necessity. Democratic institutions were considered the inevitable
course of progress. Strong and advanced countries like Britain,
France, and the United States all had a Constitution and this
convinced the Meiji leaders that Japan with a constitution would be
recognized eventually as an advanced country. It was with this blend
of these conflicting ideas that the Constitution was made.
The second blend of conflicting ideas was democracy versus oligarchy.
On the surface, there were many democratic features like the diet, the
cabinet and a prime minister. However, oligarchy formed a greater
proportion in the blend as it was the underlying idea of the
constitution. For the diet, though the House of Representatives were
to be elected, the election was restricted to adults who paid national
taxes of 15 yen or more, thus limiting to 1% of the population.
Furthermore, the House of Peers and conservative check over the Lower
House. The House of Peers was actually dominated by a few men and the
idea of oligarchy was obvious.
Again the cabinet was devised by Ito to replace...