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Economic growth in Japan since the Meiji era

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The fifty years that elapsed between the beginnings of the Meiji era and the end of the First World War, were marked by the emergence of Japan as an industrial, military and colonial power. In the mid-nineteenth century, Japan was cut off from the world. It had approximately 30 million inhabitants and resembled France at the end of the Ancient Regime in terms of development. Social organization was still feudal.

The emperor, who had moved to Kyoto in the late twelfth century, only had religious authority, leaving the real power in the hands of a military ruler, the shogun, who was installed in Edo, which was later renamed Tokyo (this function was inherited by the Tokugawa family in the seventeenth century, which is why the years 1603-1868 are called the Tokugawa or Edo period).

The Shogun exercised power through 300 local lords; the daimyo; a class of professional warriors; knights and samurai, constituting more than 5% of the total population. Artisans and traders were active in towns, and some families such as Mitsui, were already established as a rich and enterprising bourgeoisie. About 90% of the people were small farmers.

Japan learnt from the West, borrowing what it deemed best. From England, it borrowed the method of organizing the Navy; from Germany, its military technology and its medical facilities; from France, its administrative system and from the United States, their business methods. In recent years all sectors have been touched by the reform and Japan has become a global economic powerhouse.

Closed on itself for centuries, Japan after 1850 was confronted with the pressure of foreign powers, which threatened its independence. Japan could not resist this pressure. An American squadron commanded by Admiral Perry forced the Japanese ports of entry (EdoBay) and forced Japan to open in 1854, two American ships to ports of call (Shimoda near Tokyo and Hakodate in Hokkaido), and trade agreements.

In 1858 the most comprehensive trade agreements were signed with these states to enable them to stay in the major ports and cities (over extraterritoriality for foreign nationals), treaties that were called "unequal treaties". But these concessions were not welcomed in the country and Japan plunged into a period of disorder and civil war, which was then ended by the abdication of the Shogun and the restoration of imperial power.

The feudal system of social stratification was abolished, the equality of all before the law was proclaimed. The daimyo were expropriated, the samurai lost their privileges, and compulsory military service was established. The country was divided into prefectures. A constitution provided the foundations a future representative government in 1889.
- The government had the means of economic modernization.

It launched a policy of radical transformation of education in the country to provide skilled workers, technicians and managers. The state in the Western economic institutions, constituted the foundation of a modern infrastructure: new monetary system in 1871 with the yen, the creation of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 1878, founded the Bank of Japan in 1882.

Tags: Meiji era, unequal treaties, representative government, Tokyo Stock Exchange, American squadron, global economic powerhouse

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