The Meiji Restoration, also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868. The Restoration led to enormous changes in Japan's political and social structure, and spanned both the late Edo period (often called Late Tokugawa shogunate) and the beginning of the Edo period.
Ultranationalism was characteristic of right-wing politicians and conservative military men since the inception of the Meiji Restoration, contributing greatly to the prowar politics of the 1870s. Disenchanted former samurai had established patriotic societies and intelligence-gathering organizations, such as the Gen'yosha (Black Ocean Society, founded in 1881) and its later offshoot, the Kokuryukai (Black Dragon Society, or Amur River Society, founded in 1901). These groups became active in domestic and foreign politics, helped foment prowar sentiments, and supported ultranationalist causes through the end of World War II.
The samurai would dominate Japanese government and society until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 led to the abolition of the feudal system. Despite being deprived of their traditional privileges, many of the samurai would enter the elite ranks of politics and industry in modern Japan. More importantly, the traditional samurai code of honor, discipline and morality known as bushido--or "the way of the warrior"--was revived and made the basic code of conduct for much of Japanese society.
The Meiji Constitution , modelled after Germany's, created a weak parliament (the Diet), the lower house of which less than twenty percent of the population were entitled to vote for. In effect the oligarchy, and in particular the military, was still in charge, a situation enforced with the Imperial Rescript on Education in 1890, which enshrined almost as law loyalty to the emperor, family and state. Shinto, which emphasized emperor-worship became the state religion, while Buddhism, associated too closely with the previous order, was disestablished.
In preparation, the government leadership created a strong executive branch run by professional bureaucrats dedicated to the national good rather than sectional or partisan interests. During the 1880s the government made several steps in this direction. It created a new nobility of five ranks from the former court aristocracy and daimyo, established a cabinet system modeled on that of imperial Germany, created a new privy council of imperial advisers, and instituted a civil service examination system for recruiting high officials.
After the Satsuma Rebellion, disgruntled former samurai started a popular rights movement demanding a national legislature. Meiji leaders were not opposed to constitutional government; indeed, their contacts with the West had convinced them that it would unify and strengthen Japan as well as improve its international standing by conforming to Western ideas of “civilized” government. Thus, in 1881 the emperor declared his intention to grant the country a constitution.
After the government had abolished the samurai class in order to save the huge cost of paying annual stipends to every member of the class, a civil rebellion broke out in the southwest—headed by [General] Saigo...Word that Saigo was leading the rebellion sent shudders through the country. Former samurai everywhere questioned the government’s policy of using a commoner army to fight the rebels. And the cost was staggering: eight months of bloody fighting, millions of yen, 10,000 men injured, more than 6,000 deaths, and a powerful sense of national loss.
Edo was renamed Tokyo in 1868. Kido Koin and young leaders from the provinces and the imperial court persuaded the daimyos to surrender their titles to the Emperor. They agreed to settle political issues by public discussion, and a modern government was formed. Feudalism was abolished, and the sale of girls as prostitutes or geishas was banned. In 1873 twenty-year-old males were conscripted for military service with some exceptions. A new banking system was based on the United States Federal Reserve with the yen as a decimal currency. The central government had most of the power and taxed land directly. The social classes were dissolved into commoners except for the daimyos and courtiers (kwazoku).
On the afternoon of Keio 4 (1868)/2/1, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the former shogun, ordered an army of some 15,000 soldiers to advance on Kyoto...As his forces outnumbered the enemy by more than three to one, Yoshinobu may well have believed that a show of force would be sufficient to return Kyoto to his control. His calculations were quickly proved wrong...the Satsuma-Choshu troops were superior in weaponry, training, military strategy, and esprit de corps. In three days the Tokugawa forces were in retreat.
An alliance of samurai from the Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa clans and others started a series of events with the aim of restoring Imperial rule and rejecting foreign influence. Tosa persuaded [Tokugawa] Yoshinobu to step down as Shogun in 1867, the intention being that he would then lead a governing council of daimyo. However Satsuma and Choshu rejected Tosa's plan and there followed what was called the Boshin War and eventually the Meiji Restoration and the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Japan's ruling Shogunate was a weak, feudal order, unable to control all its own domains, much less defend the nation against a threat from the Western powers. This threat materialized in 1853 with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and a squadron of the U.S. Navy demanding that Japan open commerce with the West. The result was a series of "unequal" treaties in which Japan was forced to concede special economic and legal privileges to the Western powers.