How the World Votes: The Story of Democratic Development in Elections - Vol. 2

By Charles Seymour; Donald Paige Frary | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXIV
ELECTIONS IN JAPAN

THE story of the miraculous transformation of Japan since the political revolution or "restoration" of 1867 forms one of the most startling chapters in recent world history. It is less than seventy years ago that Commodore Perry found the island empire completely isolated from the rest of the world: foreigners were forbidden to enter the country under pain of death; the Japanese were not allowed to leave it. One single trading station, conceded to the Dutch on the peninsula of Deshina, formed Japan's only link with the rest of the world.

Political and social life was equally removed from the conditions of the West. The Emperor, or Mikado, was, in theory, absolute ruler; in fact, he lived apart from political affairs, a sort of sacred ecclesiastical figure. Real power lay in the hands of the Shogun, who occupied somewhat the position of a Frankish Mayor of the Palace in Merovingian days, and who transmitted supreme authority to his heirs. Government and society were essentially feudal in character, the Shogun depending upon the great titled landlords, the Daimos, who were possessed of vast landed estates; they, like the feudal barons of medieval France, held the allegiance of a noble fighting class, who in Japan were called the Samurai. Other classes, townsfolk and countrypeople, merchants and peasant farmers, did not count, either politically or socially.

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