Japan Looks Back

Japan Looks Back - JAPAN LOOKS BACK By Marius B Jansen ^ is tbe date on wbicb Japan will mark tbe Centennial of its modern transformation On tbat

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JAPAN LOOKS BACK By Marius B. Jansen ^CTOBER 23, 1968, is tbe date on wbicb Japan will mark tbe Centennial of its modern transformation. On tbat day one bundred years ago it was announced tbat tbe era designation would bencefortb be "Meiji," enligbtened rule. Tbe regime of tbe Tokugawa sbogun bad fallen, but tbe new forces grouped around tbe boy emperor were still struggling to assert control; tbey bad to promise and persuade, for tbey could not force. Yet it was soon clear tbat tbe Meiji Restoration was a po- litical overturn wbose consequences for Japanese bistory were in- calculable. By tbe end of tbe century it was apparent tbat its sig- nificance for world bistory was scarcely less great. Despite tbis, tbe Meiji Centennial is receiving little commiem- orative attention in tbe West—certainly notbing comparable to tbat wbicb was accorded tbe fiftietb anniversary of tbe Russian Revolution. More striking still Is tbe way its commemoration is surrounded by controversy witbin Japan. Tbe mass media bave not let it be forgotton, and publisbers have seized tbe opportunity to unloose a torrent of publications for tbe occasion. But impor- tant groups of historians bave organized to oppose tbe manner and content of tbe commemoration. A recent writer goes so far as to bracket tbe Centennial witb Okinawa as two major political issues for 1968. Tbe Restoration seems as political and contro- versial in 1968 as it was in 1868. Its events and tbe recollection of tbose events can tell us a good deal about the bistorical present in which Japanese live. In 1868 Japan was disunited, poor and weak, its people com- partmentalized in an outworn social structure topped by an hered- itary military caste. The country was divided into some 250 do- mains ruled by daimyo, feudal lords who enjoyed degrees of autonomy that varied with the definition of their vassalage to the shogun. The samurai had experienced little challenge during the two and one-half centuries of peace, and their preference for swords over more modern means of destruction gave the military advantage to the few areas that had profited from trade with Western arms dealers after the ports were opened in 1859. It was especially Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa, the great baronies of tbe southwest, wbicb provided the core of tbe "imperial troops" ad-
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JAPAN LOOKS BACK 37 vancing against the Tokugawa vassals that still resisted in 1868. Recent scholarship makes it clear that developments in the To- kugawa period had done much to prepare for Japan's late nine- teenth-century modernization through education, bureaucratic rationalization, urbanization, the development of a central econ- omy, and literary and philosophic preparation for nationalist and scientific thought. But in 1868 there were few signs of the achieve- ments ahead. The old was collapsing, but the new was far from clear. The future did not inspire very much trust. To many the war-
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This note was uploaded on 04/20/2008 for the course UGC 112 taught by Professor Barry during the Spring '08 term at SUNY Buffalo.

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Japan Looks Back - JAPAN LOOKS BACK By Marius B Jansen ^ is tbe date on wbicb Japan will mark tbe Centennial of its modern transformation On tbat

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