Modern Japan: A History in Documents

By James L. Huffman | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
Turning
Outward:
1890–1912

The modernizing policies of the early Meiji years bore fruit in the two decades that sandwiched 1900, often in unpredictable ways. If leaders during the 1870s and 1880s threw their energy into making Japan up-to-date and holding off the imperialists, after 1890, they began to ponder Japan's world role and debated how to control and channel the social and intellectual forces that modernity had set off. Before the Meiji emperor breathed his last in 1912, Japan had become a fully modern society, less a victim than an imperialist colonizer.

One sign of just how much Japan had changed appeared in the celebrations and tumults that hailed the promulgation of the new constitution on February 11, 1889. Many scholars have called nationalism the most important force of the 1890s, and that day showed how right they are. Not only did farmers and city-dwellers alike celebrate Asia's first constitution, a nationalist zealot assassinated the education minister the same day for not respecting the emperor enough. And the young journalist Kuga Katsunan launched the newspaper Nihon to proclaim support for a new philosophy called Nihonshugi, [Japanism.] Sometimes the patriotic spirit took the form of resentment, particularly of the unequal treatment Japan had so long received in its treaties with the Westerners. Sometimes it showed up in pride over the Meiji era's accomplishments. But for the great majority of leaders, the time had come, as the journal Taiyō, [Sun,] argued in July 1900, for [proclamation of the unique spirit of the Japanese people, handed down across the generations.]

At the policy level, this resurgence of nationalism turned people's eyes outward. One intellectual wrote that the British were great

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