Industrialization of Japan

May 3, 2012 | | Comments Off on Industrialization of Japan

Japan: Transformation without Revolution. Japan’s response to outside pressure was more direct and successful than that of Russia. The Japanese adapted to the challenge of industrial change and internal market reform. Many institutions had to be altered and much societal change resulted.

The Final Decades of the Shogunate. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the shogunate continued to combine a central bureaucracy with semi-feudal alliances between regional daimyos and samurai. The government encountered financial problems because taxation was based on agriculture, while the economy was becoming more commercialized. Reform spurts met revenue gaps until the 1840s, when an unsuccessful effort weakened the government and hampered responses to Western pressure. Japanese intellectual and cultural life continued to expand under the Tokugawa. Neo-Confucianism kept its hold among the elite at the expense of Buddhism. The upper classes became more secular, with variety among Confucian schools preventing the intellectual sterility common in China. Education expanded beyond the upper classes and led to the highest literacy rate outside of the West. Even though Confucianism was dominant, there were many intellectual rivals. A national studies group venerated Japanese traditions, including the position of the emperor and Shinto religion. Another group pursued Dutch studies or an interest in Western scientific progress. The Japanese economy continued to develop as internal commerce expanded and manufacturing spread into the countryside. By the 1850s, economic growth was slowing as technological limitations hindered agricultural growth and population increase. Rural riots reflected peasant distress and helped to weaken the shogunate.

The Challenge to Isolation. In 1853, an American naval squadron commanded by Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japan to the West. Later negotiations won the right to station a consul and open ports for commerce. European nations quickly secured equal rights. The shogunate bureaucrats had yielded to Western naval superiority; other Japanese favored the ending of isolation. They were opposed by conservative daimyos. All sides appealed to the emperor. The shogunate had depended on the policy of isolation and proved unable to withstand the stresses caused by foreign intervention. Internal disorder resulted in the 1860s and ended in 1868 with the defeat of the shogunate and the proclamation of rule by Emperor Mutsuhito, called Meiji.

In Depth: The Separate Paths of Japan and China. Japan and China, despite both being part of the same civilization orbit, responded very differently to Western pressures. Both nations had chosen isolation from outside influences from about 1600 to the middle of the nineteenth century, and thus fell behind the West. China had the capability to react to the challenge, but did not act. Japan, with knowledge of the benefits of imitation, acted differently. Japan’s limited population pressure, in contrast to Chinese population growth, also assisted its response. In political affairs China, by the middle of the nineteenth century, was suffering a dynastic crisis; Japan maintained political and economic vigor. In the late nineteenth century, the east Asian world split apart. Japan became the stronger of the two nations.

Industrial and Political Change in the Meiji State. The Meiji government abolished feudalism; the daimyos were replaced by nationally appointed prefects in 1871. The new centralized administration expanded state power to carry out economic and social change. Samurai officials were sent to Europe and the United States to study their economies, technologies, and political systems. Between 1873 and 1876, the government abolished the samurai class and its state stipends. Most samurai became impoverished, and revolt resulted in 1877. The reformed army, based on national conscription, quickly triumphed. Samurai continued to exist; many sought opportunities in commerce and politics. By 1889, the political reconstruction was complete. Political parties had formed on regional levels. The Meiji created a new conservative nobility from former nobles and Meiji leaders; they sat in a British-style House of Peers. The bureaucracy was reorganized, expanded, and opened to those taking civil service examinations. The constitution of 1889 gave major authority to the emperor and lesser power to the lower house of the Diet. High property qualifications limited the right to vote to about 5% of the male population. The system gave power to an oligarchy of wealthy businessmen and former nobles that controlled political currents into the twentieth century. Japan had imitated the West but had retained its own identity.

Japan’s Industrial Revolution. Japan’s reorganization went beyond political life. A Western-style army and navy were created. New banks were established to fund trade and provide investment capital. Railways and steam vessels improved national communications. Many old restrictions on commerce, such as guilds and internal tariffs, were removed. Land reform cleared the way for individual ownership and stimulated production. Government initiative dominated manufacturing because of lack of capital and unfamiliar technology. A ministry of industry was created in 1870 to establish overall economic policy and operate certain industries. Model factories were created to provide industrial experience, and an expanded education system offered technical training. Private enterprise was involved in the growing economy, especially in textiles. Entrepreneurs came from all social ranks. By the 1890s, huge industrial combines (zaibatsu) had been formed. Thus, by 1900, Japan was fully engaged in an industrial revolution. Its success in managing foreign influences was a major accomplishment, but Japan before World War I was still behind the West. It depended on Western imports—of equipment and coal –and on world economic conditions. Successful exports required inexpensive labor and poorly paid women. Labor organization efforts were repressed.

Social and Cultural Effects of Industrialization. Industrialization and other changes went along with a massive population increase that supplied cheap labor but strained resources and stability. In the cultural sphere, the government introduced a universal education system stressing science, technology, and loyalty to the nation. The scientific approach enhanced the earlier secular bent of elite culture. Western fashions in dress and personal care were adopted, along with the calendar and metric system. Christianity, however, gained few converts. In family life, the birthrate dropped as population growth forced movement from the land and factory labor made children less useful. Family instability showed in a high divorce rate. The traditional view of the inferiority of women in the household continued; formality of manners and diet were maintained. Shintoism found new believers. The changes in Japan’s economic power influenced foreign policy. By the 1890s, they joined the imperialist nations. The change gave displaced samurai a role and provided nationalist stimulation for the populace. Japan’s need for raw materials helped pressure expansion. China and Japan fought over Korea in 1894-1895; Japan’s quick victory demonstrated the presence of a new Asian power. A 1902 alliance with Britain made it an equal partner in the great power diplomatic system. Rivalry with Russia brought war in 1904 and another Japanese victory. Korea was annexed in 1910.

The Strain of Modernization. Japanese success had its costs, among them poor living standards in crowded cities and arguments between generations over Westernization. The emergence of political parties caused disputes with the emperor and his ministers, leading to frequent elections and political assassinations. Many intellectuals worried about the loss of identity in a changing world; others were concerned at lack of economic opportunities for the enlarged educated class. To counter the malaise, officials urged loyalty to the emperor as a center of national identity. Japanese nationalism built on traditions of superiority and cohesion, deference to rulers, and the tensions from change. Its strength was a main factor in preventing the revolutions occurring in other industrializing nations. No other nation outside the West matched Japan’s achievements.

Global Connections: Russia and Japan in the World. The rise of Japan and Russia changed the world diplomatic picture by the early twentieth century. Japan was not yet a major world power, but Westerners thought about a “Yellow Peril” as they watched its new strength.

Walter McMichael


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