A Short Economic History of Modern Japan, 1867-1937

By G. C. Allen | Go to book overview

Chapter II
Reconstruction, 1868-81

THE Restoration Government, though composed of many men who had bitterly opposed the Shogun's policy of coming to terms with the foreigners, advanced farther in the same direction once the new régime had been established. It recognized that Japan's military weakness and her economic backwardness might make her the easy spoil of Western Powers, and it judged that the rapid adoption of Western methods in war and industry could alone enable her to retain her independence. In a sense Japan was fortunate in that the breaking down of her seclusion was not delayed. In the fifties and sixties the liberal international outlook of the most powerful European countries was not conducive to colonizing adventures by ambitious statesmen, while the United States was distracted by internal feuds. Had the opening up of the country been deferred until the new era of imperialist expansion, Japan might well have succumbed to attack from abroad. Even as it was, Japan formed a field in which French and British rivalries displayed themselves, for France in the years preceding the Restoration lent her support to the Shogunate, and England to the revolting clans. What had been an especially potent influence in awakening Japan to her danger was the "Opium War" of 1839-42, which demonstrated both the superiority of Western armaments to those of the East, and also the possible fatal consequences of that superiority to the territorial integrity of Oriental nations.1 Defence, therefore, became the main task of the new Government, while those numerous Japanese whose fear of the Western nations was mingled with admiration of their prowess overseas considered that the adoption of Western material equipment might enable Japan to find a place among the aggressors instead of among the victims of aggression.2

After the Restoration the control of the central Government rested, under the Emperor, in the hands of those vigorous leaders of the Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa and Hizen clans who had led the revolt against Tokugawa.

____________________
1
Cf. G. F. Hudson, The Far East in World Politics, pp. 24-26.
2
Some interesting reflections on this point are to be found in T. Kada, Social and Political Factors in Japan's External Economic Policy, pp. 3-6 ( Japanese Society of International Studies, Tokyo). Cf., also, I. F. Ayusawa statement: "The slogan of the Meiji era which permeated all thinking minds and inspired the New Japan was 'Fu-koku Kyo-hei,' or 'Rich Nation, Strong Army'" (in H. A. Marquand Organized Labour in Four Continents, p. 483).

-26-

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