To Stand with the Nations of the World: Japan's Meiji Restoration in World History by Mark J. Ravina

Summary and takeaways from the book.

Iwakura Mission was a diplomatic mission sent by Japan's Meiji government. One of it's objectives was to study and incorporate social, industrial, political, military and educational success of the West.

The book is about 1868 revolution/restoration in Japan which replaced 200+ years old rule of the Shoguns(powerful local military commander, land owner, and administrator).

The new Meiji(enlightened rule) government rebuilt/restore Japan by adopting best practices from around the world, while incorporating relevant Japenese traditions.

ISBN: 978-0195327717
Published: October 13, 2017
Pages: 328
Available on: amazon

Mark J. Ravina is Professor of History at Emory University. He received his B.A. from Columbia University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University.

He has been a visiting professor at Kyoto University’s Institute for Research in Humanities and a research fellow at Keio University and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies.

A former director of the East Asian Studies Program at Emory University, Professor Ravina has also served as president of the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. In addition, he is on the editorial board of The Journal of Asian Studies. Professor Ravina’s books include 'The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori' and 'Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan'.

The book "To Stand with the Nations of the World: Japan's Meiji Restoration in World History" by Prof. Mark J. Ravina is about 1868 revolution/restoration in Japan which replaced 200+ years old rule of the Shoguns(powerful local military commander, land owner, and administrator).

Meiji Restoration was a Revolution, Regeneration, Reform, or Renewal in Japan in 1868.

The new Meiji(enlightened rule) government rebuilt/restore Japan as a Nation-State by adopting best practices from around the world, while incorporating relevant Japenese traditions.

The trigger for this was spread of Western imperialism to Northeast Asia which brought "a squadron of state-of-the-art [American]warships to the shogun’s capital and forced the regime to sign unpopular treaties. That humiliation was the beginning of the end of Tokugawa[Shogun] rule, which collapsed fifteen years later."

"if we take the initiative, we can dominate; if we do not, we will be dominated".

Shogunate: Pre-revolution Japan

Shogun was name given to powerful local military commander, land owner, and administrator. Shoguns were hereditary rulers who recognized the authority of the Emperor of Japan but were effectively rulers of their land. Shogunate(Pre-revolution Japan) was the era of the shogun.

"Beginning in the 1600s, the Tokugawa[a Shogun dynasty] took a different approach. Having made peace with China and Korea, they chose stability over conflict, claiming only enough power to maintain the status quo.

Domestically, they were content with indirect rule. Rather than crush regional warlords, they sought instead to guarantee their submission and compliance. In foreign policy, the Tokugawa sought to avoid open conflict.

This strategy was ideally suited to its contemporaneous international environment: neither China nor Korea were eager to refight the disastrous wars of the 1590s. Instead, Japan and the major powers of Northeast Asia engaged in a highly attenuated but peaceful web of relations.

Rise of Nation States

In pre-1868 Japan, "The Tokugawa regime's carefully considered policies began to appear feckless and outdated.

The regime was not so much weak as endangered by a changed ecosystem."

"Older empires were commonly stitched together by dynastic alliances, often the intermarriage of elite households. But nineteenth-century empires were increasingly based on a hierarchical vision of civilization.

In other parts of Eurasia, fierce interstate rivalries drove rulers to seek ever-expanding control over their people. From Western Europe to Southeast Asia, monarchs demanded more power in order to defeat rival kingdoms.

Warfare was expensive, and as kings sought more income from their subjects they became increasingly concerned with quotidian aspects of their subjects’ lives: where did commoners live, what did they do, how much did they produce, and how much tax could they pay?

In preparation for war, rulers counted, taxed, drafted, trained, and indoctrinated their people with increasing intensity. War-making was thus central to state-building, or, in the words of sociologist Charles Tilly, 'war made the state and the state made war.'

The spread of Western imperialism to Northeast Asia meant that war-making was again essential to statecraft. The Tokugawa regime’s carefully considered policies began to appear feckless and outdated. The regime was not so much weak as endangered by a changed ecosystem.

Some superior national cultures, primarily in Europe, were deemed capable of forming nation-states. Much of the rest of the world, however, was seen as temporarily or permanently incapable of self-governance.

India and China, for example, were commonly described as the atrophied or somnolent remnants of great ancient civilizations. Perhaps these cultures could be “awakened,” but in the interim, neither was civilized or advanced enough to form a nation-state and thus could be legitimately subjugated.

Like minor children, flawed civilizations required guidance from Europe. Even the venerable humanitarian Albert Schweitzer described Africans as eternal children needing adult supervision.

Clearly, if Japan failed to establish itself as a “civilized” sovereign power it might fall under foreign control".
"A Japanese nation-state was thus essential as a defense against foreign predation".

In pre-1868 Japan, "shogunate had so successfully adapted to peace that it could no longer mobilize for war."

"high-born dummies"

Dutch reports of threat to Japan in 1852 from American warships "could not break the logjam in Edo"[capital of the time, present day Tokyo].

"Ernest Satow, translator for the British legation... described Japan’s daimyo[feudal lords] as “high-born dummies” whose intellect “was nearly always far below par".

Japanese had contact with Europeans at least in 1800's - 53 years before the American warships arrived and forced Japan to open for trade.

"In 1852, however, the Nagasaki magsitrate received an alarming report from the Dutch: the United States was sending a large squadron to Edo[capital of the time, present day Tokyo] to demand a treaty.

The Dutch warning was explicit: “The United States of North America can stand with the mightiest nations of Europe. This means the fleet consists of exceptional steam and sailing ships!” The United States would not go away quietly: “If the question [of opening ports] must be decided with weapons, a long and bloody conflict is a foregone conclusion.”

Even this report could not break the logjam in Edo[capital of the time, present day Tokyo].

Abe relayed the warning to select daimyo[feudal lords], but to little effect. Skeptics argued that the Dutch were merely spreading wild rumors in the hope of improving their own position.

The regime of the time took measures to respond to changing world. One such example was sankin kōtai which was to compel feudal lords to have permanent residence in Edo. Feudal Lords would have permanent residence in the capital and would have to station their wives and children there. They could only leave when on official business. The real purpose was "to reduce the risk of rebellion".

"sankin kōtai were designed to weaken the daimyo rather than enlist them as powerful allies in national defense."

"Forced residence in Kyoto bound the daimyo to Hideyoshi but degraded their military abilities."

"men were becoming unreliable as soldiers: they seemed interested primarily in borrowing money to pay for the temptations of urban life. He feared that they were losing their fighting spirit and wondered if the Shimazu would long survive as a major daimyo house."

Instead of strenghtening their elite warriors and administrators at this time of external crisis, the regime took steps to weaken them to prevent internal rebellion.

"Ernest Satow, translator for the British legation, was more blunt. He described Japan’s daimyo[feudal lords] as “high-born dummies” whose intellect “was nearly always far below par"."

Meiji Restoration

Here is a summary of changes brought about by Meiji restoration:

Created a new centralized state

Redefined feudal lords: "new government removed an entire ruling elite without provoking a protracted civil war", "the new government peacefully dissolved the entire daimyo class", and "a handful received positions in the new Meiji government, but most simply accepted lavish pensions and disappeared from political life."

Social changes: "new hairstyles, new regulations on cattle slaughter, and the elimination of distinctions between commoners and lower castes".

Changes in work week to align it with Western work week

Changes in educational system: "government announced compulsory primary education in 1872", and "education would henceforth focus on law, politics, science, medicine, and practical matters in farming, public administration, business, and engineering rather than the memorization of the classical texts."

Changes in legal system: "The Japanese people, he reasoned, were ready to explode with entrepreneurial energy and could propel Japan to unprecedented wealth and power. But this popular energy was stifled by the Tokugawa legal system. Because Japan lacked a public legal code, rights and duties were unclear, and it was impossible for its people to avoid protracted litigation. Under a Western legal code, the people would know, clearly and definitively, how to do business. What were their rights to buy and sell property? To lease and to rent land? To issue and receive loans? Liberated from legal confusion, Japan’s farmers and merchants could drive the nation forward."

Legal civil code: "Lenders and debtors, renters and tenants, minor children and propertied adults, would each have different rights and duties based on their social roles rather than on their birth status. Legally clarifying the rights of all Japanese subjects would thus lead to order rather than disorder." Previously, legal rights were based on hereditary status.

Itō Hirobumi was the First Prime Minister of modern Japan. He also was "leading member of the genrō, a group of senior statesmen that dictated Japanese policy during the Meiji era".

"In 1861, Itō himself was so outraged by these humiliations[of unequal trade concessions] that he helped set fire to the British legation in Edo[present day Tokyo].

The following year, however, he was persuaded to study in England, where he became convinced that Japan had much to learn from the West.

When he returned to his homeland in 1864, he sought to convince his friends that xenophobic violence was not in Japan’s best interests.

The common adjectives of “Westernizing” and “modernizing” capture one face of the Restoration. Meiji-era reformers remade Japanese institutions based largely on Western models, transforming everything from haircuts to criminal law. The goal was to legitimize Japan in a new and challenging international order.

Iwakura Mission and post-restoration Political Crisis of 1873

Iwakura Mission was a Japanese Diplomatic mission(1871-73) to tour the world specially Europe and USA. One of its objective was "to make a comprehensive study of modern industrial, political, military and educational systems and structures in the United States and Europe".

"Iwakura Mission were struck by Japan’s economic inferiority compared to what they were seeing" in the West.

However, "The caretaker government[in Japan], by contrast, experienced no such shock. Accordingly, men like Etō imagined that economic parity with the West was close at hand. Japanese entrepreneurial energy merely needed to be unleashed by a new legal code."

"The political crisis of 1873 was thus a clash between two different visions of how to build a powerful Japanese nation-state. "

"That intellectual struggle produced a syncretic but compelling body of thought drawing on the Confucian classics, samurai ethics, and European political thought."

"Even before the return of the Iwakura Mission, dissenting members of the caretaker government criticized this focus on liberty and equality.

Inoue Kaoru, for example, rejected the notion that Japan’s future lay in the emancipation of its people. He argued instead that there were two elements to national progress: the government and the people. The great nations of Europe relied on the resourcefulness of their people, and the caretaker government was trying to emulate that approach.

But the Japanese people were simply not that sophisticated. Japanese merchants haggled over petty profits instead of engaging in world trade. Japanese craftsmen were ignorant of modern machinery, and Japanese farmers relied on the local gentry for their knowledge of agriculture.

"The samurai were supposedly the “parents of the people,” but they were, in fact, ignorant of both warfare and public administration. It would take years to raise the Japanese people to Western standards.

In the interim, the rashness of the caretaker government’s reforms was toxic, like a too-potent medicine that kills rather than cures the patient. The government needed to move cautiously and to emphasize state power over popular support.

Argument against adopting western systems was that "the government needed first to build state power. True liberty was possible only under the aegis of a strong state that “collects taxes fairly and equitably, runs impartial courts, and governs everyone fairly and equitably so as to calm the hearts of the people.”"

The result: "In several locations, anger over conscription, new schools, and cultural changes coalesced to produce massive protests. In the summer of 1873, over 60,000 people were arrested in massive protests in western Japan."

"For the caretaker government, this was the normal tumult of a great revolution. From the perspective of the Iwakura Mission, however, Japan was careening toward national ruin."

"The 1873 crisis was thus a clash of worldviews."

"Ōkubo was convinced that the Japanese people were ignorant and of “weak disposition.” Since the people lacked “diligence and perseverance,” it was the responsibility of the state to “press and induce” them to undertake new enterprises. While laissez-faire policies might work in advanced Western economies, Japan would need to protect, promote, and nurture key industries until its people were more economically mature.

That attitude was strikingly unlike Etō’s conviction that Japan needed to liberate rather than protect its entrepreneurs. For Etō, Japan’s merchants were fully capable of leading the economy so long as the state provided them with the proper framework, an efficient and transparent legal system.
This clash was resolved when one of the leaders resigned, "Demoralized and exhausted by the long struggle".
Ideology of strong government with bureaucratic deliberations; and careful, long-term planning... won.

Laissez-faire free-market policies lost.


Realpolitik: a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.
"Successful governance required careful, long-range planning. Popular support was helpful but secondary. The Ōkubo administration aspired to transform Japan, but that transformation would be driven by bureaucratic deliberations, not by popular zeal. Further, in contrast to the caretaker government’s sense of urgency, the new government emphasized patience. Establishing Japan as a world power would take years or decades rather than months, and the government would need to focus on sustainable long-term change."

"The new government fully believed that it could raise Japan to great power status, but it knew that such a transformation would require mastering the Industrial Revolution, not stoking revolutionary passions."

* * *

Meiji Restoration made Japan into a modern Nation-State and part of the international order and with alliances with great powers of the time - British Empire and USA.

Japan entered into war with Russia in 1904. Japan was aided by British Empire who provided financing, intelligence and help in stopping Russian reinforcements. USA helped financially as well. They were likely driven by geopolitical need to weaken Russia as part of the Great Game.

Japan defeated Russia - a major European imperial power. This encouraged freedom movements in Asia, who could now see possiiblity of Independence from colonial powers.

"Nehru’s Autobiography mentions the tremendous impact the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 had on him. The Japanese victories, he wrote, “stirred up my enthusiasm and I waited eagerly for the papers for fresh news daily”. This is easily understood because for the first time in modern history an Asian country had defeated an imperialist European power. Japan, in 1905, demonstrated what an Asian country free of foreign domination could achieve" - Source.

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