How did the Meiji Restoration affect the central socioeconomic aspects of Japanese life ? Did the Restoration change very many Japanese ideas, as opposed to procedures?
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I would argue that it's most fundamental effect was to usher in the development of industry. The rise of industrial capitalism in Japan, centered on state development, was a fundamental change. The collapse of the old feudal order, I think, was part of this process, as was the rise of a new class of wealthy merchants and investors.
As #2 points out the main contribution it had was to introduce social mobility into Japanese society. By ending the feudal system and the privileged position that samurai occupied, it opened the way for other sectors in society to gain prestige, wealth and importance. This had massive changes on Japanese society as a whole.
My understanding has always been that the Meiji Restoration not only led to the industrialization of Japan but also to a great deal of westernization of culture, as well. Some traditionalists, as I understand it, resented this process. I remember long ago reading the four novels of Yukio Mishima's Sea of Ferility series and being very impressed by them. As I recall, the Meiji restoration is much discussed in the first novel. In any case, I can highly recommend these books, and the final sentences of the fourth novel are very striking.
The most important thing to remember is that this movement returned imperial rule to Japan. This led to major changes to Japan's social and economic structure, because there was no central power controlling things. It led to the industrialization of Japan.
The main thing that it did was to abolish the old feudal system. Most notably, it ended the system in which there was a samurai elite that had all sorts of privileges. This allowed people like merchants to have social and political status that was commensurate with their wealth.
During the Meiji era, Japan managed to attain rapid industrialisation through the adoption and adaptation of Western learning. The Meiji regime also implemented an education system based on the American model, which promoted an inherent national curriculum and a centralised school system. Extra-curricular activities were used to instil loyalty amongst students towards the emperor, who served as the figurehead of the regime. The compulsory six-year elementary education system aimed to create loyal subjects. Western constitutions and codes of law were also brought in to fully complete the modernisation process. Many Japanese citizens also began to embrace Western culture, abandoning traditional Japanese clothing in favour of Western fashion styles.
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