During the period called the Maiji Restoration (or Meiji Revolution) a compulsory education system was instituted. The era began in 1868, when the Tokugawa shogunate ended in a coup on January 3, and the Emperor Meiji became head of state. Although the emperors of Japan had ceased to wield poltical power centuries before, they were head of the state religion of Shinto. Under the Restoration the central power of the country revolved around the emperor, who through his relatives and advisors modernized Japan in response to the increasing contact with Western powers, especially the US.
In 1890 the Imperial Rescript on Education provided for compulsory universal education, declaring the source of education and the "glory of the fundamental character" of the Empire to be "loyalty and filial piety." In addition to the standard subjects such as reading, writing and mathematics students were taught what was termed "moral training," which stressed duty to the state, the family and the Emperor. Popular education had spread during the latter years of the Tokugawa period, but with two systems of education which had been traditional in the country, ie one system for commoners and another for the children of samurai. With a national system of education established in 1872, almost all students attended at least six years of school by the end of the Meiji period. The end of the fuedal system meant that all children attended one type of school, and with tight governmental control the education of all Japanese was quite standardized. This, together with the military, industrial and political reforms of the same period forged the foundation of the modern Japanese state.
By 1870 Japan already had probably the highest literacy rate of any non-industrialized nation. But the rulers of the country realized that Japan would be weak if they continued to rely on the hiring of foreigners for the needs of industry and governmental reform. The reforms of universal education was part of an overall plan to strengthen the nation and modernize the society. This would also lead to higher standards of living for the people, and strong support for the modernized state.