Samurai of the Shimazu clan


1866 Jan 1
, Japan

The late Tokugawa shogunate (Bakumatsu) was the period between 1853 and 1867, during which Japan ended its isolationist foreign policy called sakoku and modernized from a feudal shogunate to the Meiji government. It is at the end of the Edo period and preceded the Meiji era. The major ideological and political factions during this period were divided into the pro-imperialist Ishin Shishi (nationalist patriots) and the shogunate forces, including the elite shinsengumi ("newly selected corps") swordsmen.

Although these two groups were the most visible powers, many other factions attempted to use the chaos of the Bakumatsu era to seize personal power. Furthermore, there were two other main driving forces for dissent; first, growing resentment of tozama daimyōs, and second, growing anti-Western sentiment following the arrival of a United States Navy fleet under the command of Matthew C. Perry (which led to the forced opening of Japan). The first related to those lords who had fought against Tokugawa forces at Sekigahara (in 1600) and had from that point on been exiled permanently from all powerful positions within the shogunate. The second was to be expressed in the phrase sonnō jōi ("revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians"). The end for the Bakumatsu was the Boshin War, notably the Battle of Toba–Fushimi, when pro-shogunate forces were defeated.

Japanese attempts to establish relations with Korea

Japanese attempts to establish relations with Korea

1867 Jan 1
, Korea

During the Edo period Japan's relationship and trade with Korea were conducted through intermediaries with the Sō family in Tsushima, A Japanese outpost, called the waegwan, was allowed to be maintained in Tongnae near Pusan. The traders were confined to the outpost and no Japanese were allowed to travel to the Korean capital at Seoul. The bureau of foreign affairs wanted to change these arrangements to one based on modern state-to-state relations. In late 1868, a member of the Sō daimyō informed the Korean authorities that a new government had been established and an envoy would be sent from Japan.

In 1869 the envoy from the Meiji government arrived in Korea carrying a letter requesting to establish a goodwill mission between the two countries; the letter contained the seal of the Meiji government rather than the seals authorized by the Korean Court for the Sō family to use. It also used the character ko (皇) rather than taikun (大君) to refer to the Japanese emperor. The Koreans only used this character to refer to the Chinese emperor and to the Koreans it implied ceremonial superiority to the Korean monarch which would make the Korean monarch a vassal or subject of the Japanese ruler. The Japanese were however just reacting to their domestic political situation where the Shōgun had been replaced by the emperor. The Koreans remained in the sinocentric world where China was at the centre of interstate relations and as a result refused to receive the envoy.

Unable to force the Koreans into accepting a new set of diplomatic symbols and practices, the Japanese began to change them unilaterally. To an extent, this was a consequence from the abolition of the domains in August 1871, whereby it meant that was simply no longer possible for the Sō family of Tsushima to act as intermediaries with the Koreans. Another, equally important factor was the appointment of Soejima Taneomi as the new minister of foreign affairs, who had briefly studied law at Nagasaki with Guido Verbeck. Soejima was familiar with international law and pursued a strong forward policy in East Asia, where he used the new international rules in his dealings with the Chinese and the Koreans and with the Westerners. During his tenure, the Japanese slowly began to transform the traditional framework of relations managed by the Tsushima domain into the foundation for the opening of trade and the establishment of "normal" interstate, diplomatic relations with Korea.

Emperor Meiji wearing the sokutai, 1872


1867 Feb 3
, Kyoto

On February 3, 1867, the 14-year-old Prince Mutsuhito succeeded his father, Emperor Kōmei, to the Chrysanthemum Throne as the 122nd emperor. Mutsuhito, who was to reign until 1912, selected a new reign title—Meiji, or Enlightened Rule—to mark the beginning of a new era in Japanese history.

"Ee ja nai ka" dancing scene, 1868

Ee ja nai ka

1867 Jun 1 - 1868 May
, Japan

Ee ja nai ka (ええじゃないか) was a complex of carnivalesque religious celebrations and communal activities, often understood as social or political protests, which occurred in many parts of Japan from June 1867 to May 1868, at the end of the Edo period and the start of the Meiji Restoration. Particularly intense during the Boshin War and Bakumatsu, the movement originated in the Kansai region, near Kyoto.

Abolition of the han system

Abolition of the han system

1868 Jan 1 - 1871
, Japan

After the defeat of forces loyal to the Tokugawa shogunate during the Boshin War in 1868, the new Meiji government confiscated all lands formerly under direct control of the Shogunate (tenryō) and lands controlled by daimyos who remained loyal to the Tokugawa cause. These lands accounted for approximately a quarter of the land area of Japan and were reorganized into prefectures with governors appointed directly by the central government.

The second phase in the abolition of the han came in 1869. The movement was spearheaded by Kido Takayoshi of the Chōshū Domain, with the backing of court nobles Iwakura Tomomi and Sanjō Sanetomi. Kido persuaded the lords of Chōshū and of Satsuma, the two leading domains in the overthrow of the Tokugawa, to voluntarily surrender their domains to the Emperor. Between July 25, 1869, and August 2, 1869, fearing that their loyalty would be questioned, the daimyos of 260 other domains followed suit. Only 14 domains failed to initially comply voluntarily with the return of the domains, and were then ordered to do so by the Court, under the threat of military action.

In return for surrendering their hereditary authority to the central government, the daimyos were re-appointed as non-hereditary governors of their former domains (which were renamed as prefectures), and were allowed to keep ten percent of the tax revenues, based on actual rice production (which was greater than the nominal rice production upon which their feudal obligations under the Shogunate were formerly based).

The term daimyō was abolished in July 1869 as well, with the formation of the kazoku peerage system. In August 1871, Okubo, assisted by Saigō Takamori, Kido Takayoshi, Iwakura Tomomi and Yamagata Aritomo forced through an Imperial Edict which reorganized the 261 surviving ex-feudal domains into three urban prefectures (fu) and 302 prefectures (ken). The number was then reduced through consolidation the following year to three urban prefectures and 72 prefectures, and later to the present three urban prefectures and 44 prefectures by 1888.

Imperial Japanese Army Academy, Tokyo 1907

Imperial Japanese Army Academy established

1868 Jan 1
, Tokyo

Established as the Heigakkō in 1868 in Kyoto, the officer training school was renamed the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1874 and relocated to Ichigaya, Tokyo. After 1898, the Academy came under the supervision of the Army Education Administration. The Imperial Japanese Army Academy was the principal officer's training school for the Imperial Japanese Army. The programme consisted of a junior course for graduates of local army cadet schools and for those who had completed four years of middle school, and a senior course for officer candidates.

On the far left is Ito Hirobumi of Choshu Domain, and on the far right is Okubo Toshimichi of Satsuma Domain. The two young men in the middle are the sons of the Satsuma clan daimyo. These young samurai contributed to the resignation of the Tokugawa shogunate to restore imperial rule.

Meiji Restoration

1868 Jan 3
, Japan

The Meiji Restoration was a political event that restored practical imperial rule to Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji. Although there were ruling emperors before the Meiji Restoration, the events restored practical abilities and consolidated the political system under the Emperor of Japan. The goals of the restored government were expressed by the new emperor in the Charter Oath. The Restoration led to enormous changes in Japan's political and social structure and spanned both the late Edo period (often called the Bakumatsu) and the beginning of the Meiji era, during which time Japan rapidly industrialized and adopted Western ideas and production methods.

Boshin War

Boshin War

1868 Jan 27 - 1869 Jun 27
, Satsuma

The Boshin War, sometimes known as the Japanese Revolution or Japanese Civil War, was a civil war in Japan fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and a clique seeking to seize political power in the name of the Imperial Court.

The war stemmed from dissatisfaction among many nobles and young samurai with the shogunate's handling of foreigners following the opening of Japan during the prior decade. Increasing Western influence in the economy led to a decline similar to that of other Asian countries at the time. An alliance of western samurai, particularly the domains of Chōshū, Satsuma, and Tosa, and court officials secured control of the Imperial Court and influenced the young Emperor Meiji. Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the sitting shōgun, realizing the futility of his situation, abdicated and handed over political power to the emperor. Yoshinobu had hoped that by doing this the House of Tokugawa could be preserved and participate in the future government.

However, military movements by imperial forces, partisan violence in Edo, and an imperial decree promoted by Satsuma and Chōshū abolishing the House of Tokugawa led Yoshinobu to launch a military campaign to seize the emperor's court in Kyoto. The military tide rapidly turned in favour of the smaller but relatively modernized Imperial faction, and, after a series of battles culminating in the surrender of Edo, Yoshinobu personally surrendered. Those loyal to the Tokugawa shōgun retreated to northern Honshū and later to Hokkaidō, where they founded the Republic of Ezo. Defeat at the Battle of Hakodate broke this last holdout and left the Emperor as defacto supreme ruler throughout the whole of Japan, completing the military phase of the Meiji Restoration.

Around 69,000 men were mobilized during the conflict, and of these about 8,200 were killed. In the end, the victorious Imperial faction abandoned its objective of expelling foreigners from Japan and instead adopted a policy of continued modernization with an eye to eventual renegotiation of the unequal treaties with the Western powers. Due to the persistence of Saigō Takamori, a prominent leader of the Imperial faction, the Tokugawa loyalists were shown clemency, and many former shogunate leaders and samurai were later given positions of responsibility under the new government.

When the Boshin War began, Japan was already modernizing, following the same course of advancement as that of the industrialized Western nations. Since Western nations, especially the United Kingdom and France, were deeply involved in the country's politics, the installation of Imperial power added more turbulence to the conflict. Over time, the war was romanticized as a "bloodless revolution", as the number of casualties was small relative to the size of Japan's population. However, conflicts soon emerged between the western samurai and the modernists in the Imperial faction, which led to the bloodier Satsuma Rebellion.

Surrender of Edo Castle, painted by Yūki Somei, 1935, Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, Tokyo, Japan.

Fall of Edo

1868 Jul 1
, Tokyo

The Fall of Edo took place in May and July 1868, when the Japanese capital of Edo (modern Tokyo), controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate, fell to forces favorable to the restoration of Emperor Meiji during the Boshin War. Saigō Takamori, leading the victorious imperial forces north and east through Japan, had won the Battle of Kōshū-Katsunuma in the approaches to the capital. He was eventually able to surround Edo in May 1868. Katsu Kaishū, the shōgun's Army Minister, negotiated the surrender, which was unconditional.

The 16-year-old Meiji Emperor, moving from Kyoto to Tokyo, end of 1868, after the Fall of Edo

Emperor moves to Tokyo

1868 Sep 3
, Imperial Palace

On 3 September 1868, Edo was renamed Tokyo ("Eastern capital"), and the Meiji Emperor moved his capital to Tokyo, electing residence in Edo Castle, today's Imperial Palace.

Foreign Advisors

Foreign Advisors

1869 Jan 1 - 1901
, Japan

The foreign employees in Meiji Japan, known in Japanese as O-yatoi Gaikokujin, were hired by the Japanese government and municipalities for their specialized knowledge and skill to assist in the modernization of the Meiji period. The term came from Yatoi (a person hired temporarily, a day laborer), was politely applied for hired foreigner as O-yatoi gaikokujin.

The total number is over 2,000, probably reaches 3,000 (with thousands more in the private sector). Until 1899, more than 800 hired foreign experts continued to be employed by the government, and many others were employed privately. Their occupation varied, ranging from high salaried government advisors, college professors and instructor, to ordinary salaried technicians.

Along the process of the opening of the country, the Tokugawa Shogunate government first hired, German diplomat Philipp Franz von Siebold as diplomatic advisor, Dutch naval engineer Hendrik Hardes for Nagasaki Arsenal and Willem Johan Cornelis, Ridder Huijssen van Kattendijke for Nagasaki Naval Training Center, French naval engineer François Léonce Verny for Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, and British civil engineer Richard Henry Brunton. Most of the O-yatoi was appointed through government approval with two or three years contract, and took their responsibility properly in Japan, except some cases.

As the Public Works hired almost 40% of the total number of the O-yatois, the main goal in hiring the O-yatois was to obtain transfers of technology and advice on systems and cultural ways. Therefore, young Japanese officers gradually took over the post of the O-yatoi after they completed training and education at the Imperial College, Tokyo, the Imperial College of Engineering or studying abroad.

The O-yatois were highly paid; in 1874, they numbered 520 men, at which time their salaries came to ¥2.272 million, or 33.7 percent of the national annual budget. The salary system was equivalent to the British India, for instance, the chief engineer of the British India's Public Works was paid 2,500 Rs/month which was almost same as 1,000 Yen, salary of Thomas William Kinder, superintendent of the Osaka Mint in 1870.

Despite the value they provided in the modernization of Japan, the Japanese government did not consider it prudent for them to settle in Japan permanently. After the contract terminated, most of them returned to their country except some, like Josiah Conder and William Kinninmond Burton.

The system was officially terminated in 1899 when extraterritoriality came to an end in Japan. Nevertheless, similar employment of foreigners persists in Japan, particularly within the national education system and professional sports.

Marunouchi Headquarters for the Mitsubishi zaibatsu, 1920

Big four

1870 Jan 1
, Japan

When Japan emerged from the self-imposed, pre-Meiji era sakoku in 1867, Western countries already had very dominant and internationally significant companies. Japanese companies realized that in order to remain sovereign, they needed to develop the same methodology and mindset of North American and European companies, and the zaibatsu emerged.

The zaibatsu were at the heart of economic and industrial activity within the Empire of Japan since Japanese industrialization accelerated during the Meiji era. They held great influence over Japanese national and foreign policies which only increased following the Japanese victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 and Japan's victories over Germany during World War I.

The "big four" zaibatsu, Sumitomo, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and Yasuda were the most significant zaibatsu groups. Two of them, Sumitomo and Mitsui, had roots in the Edo period while Mitsubishi and Yasuda traced their origins to the Meiji Restoration.

1907 Tokyo Industrial Exhibition


1870 Jan 1
, Japan

There were at least two reasons for the speed of Japan's modernization: the employment of more than 3,000 foreign experts (called o-yatoi gaikokujin or 'hired foreigners') in a variety of specialist fields such as teaching English, science, engineering, the army and navy, among others; and the dispatch of many Japanese students overseas to Europe and America, based on the fifth and last article of the Charter Oath of 1868: 'Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundations of Imperial rule.' This process of modernization was closely monitored and heavily subsidized by the Meiji government, enhancing the power of the great zaibatsu firms such as Mitsui and Mitsubishi.

Hand in hand, the zaibatsu and government guided the nation, borrowing technology from the West. Japan gradually took control of much of Asia's market for manufactured goods, beginning with textiles. The economic structure became very mercantilistic, importing raw materials and exporting finished products—a reflection of Japan's relative poverty in raw materials.

Japan emerged from the Keiō–Meiji transition in 1868 as the first Asian industrialized nation. Domestic commercial activities and limited foreign trade had met the demands for material culture until the Keiō era, but the modernized Meiji era had radically different requirements. From the onset, the Meiji rulers embraced the concept of a market economy and adopted British and North American forms of free enterprise capitalism. The private sector—in a nation with an abundance of aggressive entrepreneurs—welcomed such change.

Industrialization in Meiji Era

Government-Business Partnership

1870 Jan 1
, Japan

To promote industrialization, the government decided that, while it should help private business to allocate resources and to plan, the private sector was best equipped to stimulate economic growth. The greatest role of government was to help provide the economic conditions in which business could flourish. In short, government was to be the guide, and business the producer. In the early Meiji period, the government built factories and shipyards that were sold to entrepreneurs at a fraction of their value. Many of these businesses grew rapidly into the larger conglomerates. Government emerged as chief promoter of private enterprise, enacting a series of pro-business policies.


Abolition of class system

1871 Jan 1
, Japan

The old Tokugawa class system of samurai, farmer, artisan, and merchant was abolished by 1871, and, even though old prejudices and status consciousness continued, all were theoretically equal before the law. Actually helping to perpetuate social distinctions, the government named new social divisions: the former daimyō became peerage nobility, the samurai became gentry, and all others became commoners. Daimyō and samurai pensions were paid off in lump sums, and the samurai later lost their exclusive claim to military positions. Former samurai found new pursuits as bureaucrats, teachers, army officers, police officials, journalists, scholars, colonists in the northern parts of Japan, bankers, and businessmen. These occupations helped stem some of the discontent this large group felt; some profited immensely, but many were not successful and provided significant opposition in the ensuing years.

Emperor Meiji of Japan inspecting a mine.

Mines Nationalized and Privatized

1871 Jan 1
, Ashio Copper Mine

During the Meiji period, mine development was promoted under the policy of the Fengoku Robe , and coal mining, Ashio Copper Mine, and Kamaishi Mine with iron ore in Hokkaido and northern Kyushu were developed. The production of high-value gold and silver, even in small quantities, was at the top of the world. An important mine was the Ashio Copper Mine which existed since at least the 1600s. It was owned by the Tokugawa shogunate. At that time it produced about 1,500 tons annually. The mine was closed in 1800. In 1871 it became privately owned and reopened when Japan industrialized following the Meiji Restoration. By 1885 it produced 4,090 tons of copper (39% of Japan's copper production).

Mori Arinori, founder of Japan's modern educational system.

Education policy

1871 Jan 1
, Japan

By the late 1860s, the Meiji leaders had established a system that declared equality in education for all in the process of modernizing the country. After 1868 new leadership set Japan on a rapid course of modernization. The Meiji leaders established a public education system to modernize the country. Missions like the Iwakura mission were sent abroad to study the education systems of leading Western countries. They returned with the ideas of decentralization, local school boards, and teacher autonomy. Such ideas and ambitious initial plans, however, proved very difficult to carry out. After some trial and error, a new national education system emerged. As an indication of its success, elementary school enrollments climbed from about 30% percent of the school-age population in the 1870s to more than 90 percent by 1900, despite strong public protest, especially against school fees.

In 1871, the Ministry of Education was established. Elementary school was made compulsory from 1872, and was intended to create loyal subjects of the Emperor. Middle Schools were preparatory schools for students destined to enter one of the Imperial Universities, and the Imperial Universities were intended to create westernized leaders who would be able to direct the modernization of Japan. In December, 1885, the cabinet system of government was established, and Mori Arinori became the first Minister of Education of Japan. Mori, together with Inoue Kowashi created the foundation of the Empire of Japan's educational system by issuing a series of orders from 1886. These laws established an elementary school system, middle school system, normal school system and an imperial university system. With the aid of foreign advisors, such as American educators David Murray and Marion McCarrell Scott, normal schools for teacher education were also created in each prefecture. Other advisors, such as George Adams Leland, were recruited to create specific types of curriculum. With the increasing industrialization of Japan, demand increased for higher education and vocational training. Inoue Kowashi, who followed Mori as Minister of Education established a state vocational school system, and also promoted women's education through a separate girls' school system.

Compulsory education was extended to six years in 1907. According to the new laws, textbooks could only be issued upon the approval of the Ministry of Education. The curriculum was centered on moral education (mostly aimed at instilling patriotism), mathematics, design, reading and writing, composition, Japanese calligraphy, Japanese history, geography, science, drawing, singing, and physical education. All children of the same age learned each subject from the same series of textbook.

Establishment of the Monetary Conversion System | ©Matsuoka Hisashi (Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery)

Japanese Yen

1871 Jun 27
, Japan

On June 27, 1871, the Meiji government officially adopted the "yen" as Japan's modern unit of currency under the New Currency Act of 1871. While initially defined at par with the Spanish and Mexican dollars then circulating in the 19th century at 0.78 troy ounce (24.26 g) of fine silver, the yen was also defined as 1.5 grams of fine gold, considering recommendations to put the currency on the bimetallic standard. The Act also stipulated the adoption of the decimal accounting system of yen, sen, and rin, with the coins being round and manufactured using Western machinery acquired from Hong Kong. The new currency was gradually introduced beginning from July of that year.

The yen replaced the complex monetary system of the Edo period in the form of Tokugawa coinage as well as the various hansatsu paper currencies issued by Japan's feudal fiefs in an array of incompatible denominations. The former han (fiefs) became prefectures and their mints private chartered banks, which initially retained the right to print money. To bring an end to this situation, the Bank of Japan was founded in 1882 and given a monopoly on controlling the money supply.

Sino-Japanese Friendship and Trade Treaty

Sino-Japanese Friendship and Trade Treaty

1871 Sep 13
, China

The Sino-Japanese Friendship and Trade Treaty was the first treaty between Japan and Qing China. It was signed on 13 September 1871 in Tientsin by Date Munenari and Plenipotentiary Li Hongzhang.

The treaty guaranteed the judiciary rights of Consuls, and fixed trade tariffs between the two countries.The treaty was ratified in the spring of 1873 and was applied until the First Sino-Japanese War, which led to a renegotiation with the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

Women students of the Iwakura Mission, from the left, Nagai Shigeko (10), Ueda Teiko (16), Yoshimasu Ryōko (16), Tsuda Ume (9) and Yamakawa Sutematsu (12)

Iwakura Mission

1871 Dec 23 - 1873 Sep 13
, San Francisco

The Iwakura Mission or Iwakura Embassy was a Japanese diplomatic voyage to the United States and Europe conducted between 1871 and 1873 by leading statesmen and scholars of the Meiji period. It was not the only such mission, but it is the most well-known and possibly most significant in terms of its impact on the modernization of Japan after a long period of isolation from the West. The mission was first proposed by the influential Dutch missionary and engineer Guido Verbeck, based to some degree on the model of the Grand Embassy of Peter I.

The aim of the mission was threefold; to gain recognition for the newly reinstated imperial dynasty under the Emperor Meiji; to begin preliminary renegotiation of the unequal treaties with the dominant world powers; and to make a comprehensive study of modern industrial, political, military and educational systems and structures in the United States and Europe.

The mission was named after and headed by Iwakura Tomomi in the role of extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador, assisted by four vice-ambassadors, three of whom (Ōkubo Toshimichi, Kido Takayoshi, and Itō Hirobumi) were also ministers in the Japanese government. The historian Kume Kunitake as private secretary to Iwakura Tomomi, was the official diarist of the journey. The log of the expedition provided a detailed account of Japanese observations on the United States and rapidly industrializing Western Europe.

Also included in the mission were a number of administrators and scholars, totaling 48 people. In addition to the mission staff, about 53 students and attendants also joined the outward voyage from Yokohama. Several of the students were left behind to complete their education in the foreign countries, including five young women who stayed in the United States to study, including the then 6-year old Tsuda Umeko, who after returning to Japan, founded the Joshi Eigaku Juku (present day Tsuda University) in 1900, Nagai Shigeko, later Baroness Uryū Shigeko, as well as Yamakawa Sutematsu, later Princess Ōyama Sutematsu.

Of the initial goals of the mission the aim of revision of the unequal treaties was not achieved, prolonging the mission by almost four months, but also impressing the importance of the second goal on its members. The attempts to negotiate new treaties under better conditions with the foreign governments led to criticism of the mission that members were attempting to go beyond the mandate set by the Japanese government. Members of the mission were nonetheless favorably impressed by industrial modernization seen in America and Europe and the experience of the tour provided them a strong impetus to lead similar modernization initiatives on their return.

Reception by the Meiji Emperor of the Second French Military Mission to Japan, 1872

French military mission

1872 Jan 1 - 1880
, France

The task of the mission was to help reorganize the Imperial Japanese Army, and establish the first draft law, enacted in January 1873. The law established military service for all males, for a duration of three years, with an additional four years in the reserve.

The French mission was essentially active at the Ueno Military School for non-commissioned officers. Between 1872 and 1880, various schools and military establishments were set up under the direction of the mission, including:

  • Establishment of the Toyama Gakko, the first school to train and educate officers and noncommissioned officers.
  • A shooting school, using French rifles.
  • An arsenal for gun and munition manufacture, equipped with French machinery, which employed 2500 workers.
  • Artillery batteries in the suburbs of Tokyo.
  • A gunpowder factory.
  • A Military Academy for Army officers in Ichigaya, inaugurated in 1875, on the ground of today's Ministry of Defense.

Between 1874 and the end of their term, the mission was in charge of building Japan's coastal defenses. The mission occurred at the time of a tense internal situation in Japan, with the revolt of Saigō Takamori in the Satsuma rebellion, and contributed significantly to the modernization of Imperial forces before the conflict.

The Japanese gunboat Un'yō

Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity

1872 Jan 1
, Korea

The Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity was made between representatives of the Empire of Japan and the Korean Kingdom of Joseon in 1876. Negotiations were concluded on February 26, 1876.

In Korea, Heungseon Daewongun, who instituted a policy of increased isolationism against the European powers, was forced into retirement by his son King Gojong and Gojong's wife, Empress Myeongseong. France and the United States had already made several unsuccessful attempts to begin commerce with the Joseon dynasty during the Daewongun's era. However, after he was removed from power, many new officials who supported the idea of opening commerce with foreigners took power. While there was political instability, Japan used gunboat diplomacy to open and exert influence on Korea before a European power could. In 1875, their plan was put into action: the Un'yō, a small Japanese warship, was dispatched to present a show of force and survey coastal waters without Korean permission.

Kumamoto Castle

Castles destroyed

1872 Jan 1
, Japan

All castles, along with the feudal domains themselves, were turned over to the Meiji government in the 1871 abolition of the han system. During the Meiji Restoration, these castles were viewed as symbols of the previous ruling elite, and nearly 2,000 castles were dismantled or destroyed. Others were simply abandoned and eventually fell into disrepair.

Railway Construction

Railway Construction

1872 Jan 1
, Yokohama

On September 12, 1872, the first railway, between Shimbashi (later Shiodome) and Yokohama (present Sakuragichō) opened. (The date is in Tenpō calendar, October 14 in present Gregorian calendar). A one-way trip took 53 minutes in comparison to 40 minutes for a modern electric train. Service started with nine round trips daily.

British engineer Edmund Morel (1841-1871) supervised construction of the first railway on Honshu during the last year of his life, American engineer Joseph U. Crowford (1842-1942) supervised construction of a coal mine railway on Hokkaidō in 1880, and German engineer Herrmann Rumschottel (1844-1918) supervised railway construction on Kyushu beginning in 1887. All three trained Japanese engineers to undertake railway projects.

Land Tax Reform

Land Tax Reform

1873 Jan 1
, Japan

The Japanese Land Tax Reform of 1873, or chisokaisei was started by the Meiji Government in 1873, or the 6th year of the Meiji period. It was a major restructuring of the previous land taxation system, and established the right of private land ownership in Japan for the first time.

Conscription Law

Conscription Law

1873 Jan 10
, Japan

Japan was dedicated to creating a unified, modern nation by the late nineteenth–century. Among their goals were to instill respect for the emperor, the requiring of universal education throughout the Japanese nation, and lastly the privilege and importance of military service. The Conscription Law established on January 10, 1873. This law required every able-bodied male Japanese citizen, regardless of class, to serve a mandatory term of three years with the first reserves and two additional years with the second reserves. This monumental law, signifying the beginning of the end for the samurai class, initially met resistance from both the peasant and warrior alike. The peasant class interpreted the term for military service, ketsu-eki (blood tax) literally, and attempted to avoid service by any means necessary.

The samurai were generally resentful of the new, western-style military and at first, refused to stand in formation with the peasant class. Some of the samurai, more disgruntled than the others, formed pockets of resistance to circumvent the mandatory military service. Many committed self-mutilation or openly rebelled (Satsuma Rebellion). They expressed their displeasure, because rejecting Western culture "became a way of demonstrating one's commitment" to the ways of the earlier Tokugawa era.

An ukiyo-e of the Saga Rebellion (16 February 1874 – 9 April 1874). | ©Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Saga Rebellion

1874 Feb 16 - Apr 9
, Saga Prefecture

Following the 1868 Meiji Restoration, many members of the former samurai class were disgruntled with the direction the nation had taken. The abolition of their former privileged social status under the feudal order had also eliminated their income, and the establishment of universal military conscription had eliminated much of their reason for existence. The very rapid modernization (Westernization) of the country was resulting in massive changes to Japanese culture, language, dress and society, and appeared to many samurai to be a betrayal of the jōi (“Expel the Barbarian”) portion of the Sonnō jōi justification used to overthrow the former Tokugawa shogunate.

Hizen Province, with a large samurai population, was a center of unrest against the new government. Older samurai formed political groups rejecting both overseas expansionism and westernization, and calling for a return to the old feudal order. Younger samurai organized the group Seikantō political party, advocating militarism and the invasion of Korea.

Etō Shinpei, former Justice Minister and Councilor in the early Meiji government resigned his posts in 1873 to protest the government's refusal to launch a military expedition against Korea. Etō decided to take action on the 16th of February 1874, by raiding a bank and occupying government offices within the grounds of the old Saga castle. Etō had expected that similarly disaffected samurai in Satsuma and Tosa would stage insurrections when they received word of his actions, but he had miscalculated badly, and both domains remained calm. Government troops marched into Saga the following day. After losing a battle on the border of Saga and Fukuoka on February 22, Eto decided that further resistance would only result in needless deaths, and disbanded his army.

The Ryūjō was the flagship of the Taiwan expedition.

Japanese invasion of Taiwan

1874 May 6 - Dec 3
, Taiwan

The Japanese punitive expedition to Taiwan in 1874 was a punitive expedition launched by the Japanese in retaliation for the murder of 54 Ryukyuan sailors by Paiwan aborigines near the southwestern tip of Taiwan in December 1871. The success of the expedition, which marked the first overseas deployment of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy, revealed the fragility of the Qing dynasty's hold on Taiwan and encouraged further Japanese adventurism. Diplomatically, Japan's embroilment with Qing China in 1874 was eventually resolved by a British arbitration under which Qing China agreed to compensate Japan for property damage. Some ambiguous wording in the agreed terms were later argued by Japan to be confirmation of Chinese renunciation of suzerainty over the Ryukyu Islands, paving the way for de facto Japanese incorporation of the Ryukyu in 1879.

Akizuki rebellion

Akizuki rebellion

1876 Oct 27 - Nov 24
, Akizuki

The Akizuki rebellion was an uprising against the Meiji government of Japan that occurred in Akizuki from 27 October 1876 to 24 November 1876. Former samurai of the Akizuki Domain, opposed to the Westernization of Japan and loss of their class privileges after the Meiji Restoration, launched an uprising inspired by the failed Shinpūren rebellion three days earlier. The Akizuki rebels attacked local police before being suppressed by the Imperial Japanese Army, and the leaders of the rebellion committed suicide or were executed. The Akizuki rebellion was one of a number of "shizoku uprisings" which took place in Kyūshū and western Honshu during the early Meiji period.

Saigō Takamori (seated, in French uniform), surrounded by his officers, in traditional attire. News article in Le Monde illustré, 1877

Satsuma Rebellion

1877 Jan 29 - Sep 24
, Kyushu

The Satsuma Rebellion was a revolt of disaffected samurai against the new imperial government, nine years into the Meiji Era. Its name comes from the Satsuma Domain, which had been influential in the Restoration and became home to unemployed samurai after military reforms rendered their status obsolete. The rebellion lasted from January 29, 1877, until September of that year, when it was decisively crushed, and its leader, Saigō Takamori, was shot and mortally wounded.

Saigō's rebellion was the last and most serious of a series of armed uprisings against the new government of the Empire of Japan, the predecessor state to modern Japan. The rebellion was very expensive for the government, which forced it to make numerous monetary reforms including leaving the gold standard. The conflict effectively ended the samurai class and ushered in modern warfare fought by conscript soldiers instead of military nobles.

Japanese government forces in front of Kankaimon gate in Shuri Castle at the time of Ryūkyū shobun

Ryūkyū Disposition

1879 Jan 1
, Okinawa

Ryūkyū Disposition or Annexation of Okinawa, was the political process during the early years of the Meiji period that saw the incorporation of the former Ryukyu Kingdom into the Empire of Japan as Okinawa Prefecture (i.e., one of Japan's "home" prefectures) and its decoupling from the Chinese tributary system. These processes began with the creation of Ryukyu Domain in 1872 and culminated in the kingdom's annexation and final dissolution in 1879; immediate diplomatic fallout and consequent negotiations with Qing China, brokered by Ulysses S. Grant, effectively came to an end late the following year. The term is also sometimes used more narrowly in relation to the events and changes of 1879 alone. The Ryūkyū Disposition has been "alternatively characterized as aggression, annexation, national unification, or internal reform".

Itagaki Taisuke

Freedom and People's Rights Movement

1880 Jan 1
, Japan

The Freedom and People's Rights Movement, Liberty and Civil Right Movement, Free Civil Right Movement (Jiyū Minken Undō) was a Japanese political and social movement for democracy in the 1880s. It pursued the formation of an elected legislature, revision of the Unequal Treaties with the United States and European countries, the institution of civil rights, and the reduction of centralized taxation.

The Movement prompted the Meiji government to establish a constitution in 1889 and a diet in 1890; on the other hand, it failed to loosen the control of the central government and its demand for true democracy remained unfulfilled, with ultimate power continuing to reside in the Meiji (Chōshū–Satsuma) oligarchy because, among other limitations, under the Meiji Constitution, the first election law enfranchised only men who paid a substantial amount in property taxes, as a result of the Land Tax Reform in 1873.

Nippon Ginko (Bank of Japan) & Mitsui Bank, Nihonbashi, c. 1910.

Bank of Japan founded

1882 Oct 10
, Japan

Like most modern Japanese institutions, the Bank of Japan was founded after the Meiji Restoration. Prior to the Restoration, Japan's feudal fiefs all issued their own money, hansatsu, in an array of incompatible denominations, but the New Currency Act of Meiji 4 (1871) did away with these and established the yen as the new decimal currency, which had parity with the Mexican silver dollar. The former han (fiefs) became prefectures and their mints became private chartered banks which, however, initially retained the right to print money. For a time both the central government and these so-called "national" banks issued money. A period of unanticipated consequences was ended when the Bank of Japan was founded in Meiji 15 (10 October 1882), under the Bank of Japan Act 1882 (27 June 1882), after a Belgian model. That period ended when central bank—the Bank of Japan—was founded in 1882, after the Belgian model. It has since been partly privately owned. The national Bank was given a monopoly on controlling the money supply in 1884, and by 1904 the previously issued notes were all retired. The Bank started out on the silver standard, but adopted the gold standard in 1897.

In 1871, a group of Japanese politicians known as the Iwakura Mission toured Europe and the US to learn western ways. The result was a deliberate state led industrialization policy to enable Japan to quickly catch up. The Bank of Japan used taxes to fund model steel and textile factories.

Rice planting in 1890s. This scene remained virtually unchanged until the 1970s in some parts of Japan

Chichibu incident

1884 Nov 1
, Chichibu

The Chichibu incident was a large-scale peasant revolt in November 1884 in Chichibu, Saitama, a short distance from Japan's capital. It lasted about two weeks. It was one of many similar uprisings in Japan around that time, occurring in reaction to the dramatic changes to society which came about in the wake of the 1868 Meiji Restoration. What set Chichibu apart was the scope of the uprising, and the severity of the government's response.

The Meiji government based its industrialization program on tax revenues from private land ownership, and the Land Tax Reform of 1873 increased the process of landlordism, with many farmers having their land confiscated due to inability to pay the new taxes.

The rising discontent of the farmers led to a number of peasant revolts in various impoverished rural areas around the country. The year 1884 saw roughly sixty riots; the total debt of the time of Japan's farmers is estimated to two hundred million yen, which corresponds to roughly two trillion yen in 1985 currency.

A number of these uprisings were organized and led through the "Freedom and People's Rights Movement", a catch-all term for a number of disconnected meeting groups and societies throughout the country, consisting of citizens who sought more representation in government and basic rights. The national constitutions and other writings on freedom in the west were largely unknown among the Japanese masses at this time, but there were those in the movement who had studied the west and were able to conceive of democratic political ideology. Some societies within the movement wrote their own draft constitutions, and many saw their work as a form of yonaoshi ("straightening the world"). Songs and rumors among the rebels often indicated their belief that the Liberal Party would alleviate their problems.

The Bertin-designed French-built Matsushima, flagship of the Japanese Navy up to the Sino-Japanese conflict.

Modern Navy

1885 Jan 1
, Japan

In 1885, the Japanese government persuaded the French Génie Maritime to send Bertin as a special foreign advisor to the Imperial Japanese Navy for a period of four years from 1886 to 1890. Bertin was tasked with training Japanese engineers and naval architects, designing and constructing modern warships, and naval facilities. For Bertin, then aged 45, it was an extraordinary opportunity to design an entire navy. For the French government, it represented a major coup in their fight against Great Britain and Germany for influence over the newly-industrializing Empire of Japan.

While in Japan, Bertin designed and constructed seven major warships and 22 torpedo boats, which formed the nucleus of the budding Imperial Japanese Navy. These included the three Matsushima-class protected cruisers, which featured a single but immensely powerful 12.6-inch (320 mm) Canet main gun, which formed the core of the Japanese fleet during the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.

Silk Factory Girls

Japanese Textile Industry

1890 Jan 1
, Japan

The industrial revolution first appeared in textiles, including cotton and especially silk, which was based in home workshops in rural areas. By the 1890s, Japanese textiles dominated the home markets and competed successfully with British products in China and India, as well. Japanese shippers were competing with European traders to carry these goods across Asia and even to Europe. As in the West, the textile mills employed mainly women, half of them under age twenty. They were sent there by their fathers, and they turned over their wages to their fathers.[45] Japan largely skipped water power and moved straight to steam powered mills, which were more productive, and which created a demand for coal.

Conference on Drafting a Constitution by Goseda Hōryū [ja], showing Itō Hirobumi explaining the draft to the Emperor and the Privy Council in June 1888

Meiji Constitution

1890 Nov 29 - 1947 May 2
, Japan

The Constitution of the Empire of Japan was the constitution of the Empire of Japan which was proclaimed on February 11, 1889, and remained in force between November 29, 1890 and May 2, 1947. Enacted after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it provided for a form of mixed constitutional and absolute monarchy, based jointly on the German and British models. In theory, the Emperor of Japan was the supreme leader, and the Cabinet, whose Prime Minister would be elected by a Privy Council, were his followers; in practice, the Emperor was head of state but the Prime Minister was the actual head of government. Under the Meiji Constitution, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet were not necessarily chosen from the elected members of parliament.

During the American Occupation of Japan the Meiji Constitution was replaced with the "Postwar Constitution" on November 3, 1946; the latter document has been in force since May 3, 1947. In order to maintain legal continuity, the Postwar Constitution was enacted as an amendment to the Meiji Constitution.

The Battle of the Yalu River

First Sino-Japanese War

1894 Jul 25 - 1895 Apr 17
, China

The First Sino-Japanese War (25 July 1894 – 17 April 1895) was a conflict between China and Japan primarily over influence in Korea. After more than six months of unbroken successes by Japanese land and naval forces and the loss of the port of Weihaiwei, the Qing government sued for peace in February 1895. The war demonstrated the failure of the Qing dynasty's attempts to modernize its military and fend off threats to its sovereignty, especially when compared with Japan's successful Meiji Restoration. For the first time, regional dominance in East Asia shifted from China to Japan; the prestige of the Qing dynasty, along with the classical tradition in China, suffered a major blow. The humiliating loss of Korea as a tributary state sparked an unprecedented public outcry. Within China, the defeat was a catalyst for a series of political upheavals led by Sun Yat-sen and Kang Youwei, culminating in the 1911 Xinhai Revolution.

Painting of Japanese soldiers entering the city of Taipeh (Taipei) in 1895 after the Treaty of Shimonoseki

Taiwan under Japanese rule

1895 Jan 1
, Taiwan

The island of Taiwan, together with the Penghu Islands, became a dependency of Japan in 1895, when the Qing dynasty ceded Fujian-Taiwan Province in the Treaty of Shimonoseki after the Japanese victory in the First Sino-Japanese War. The short-lived Republic of Formosa resistance movement was suppressed by Japanese troops and quickly defeated in the Capitulation of Tainan, ending organized resistance to Japanese occupation and inaugurating five decades of Japanese rule over Taiwan. Its administrative capital was in Taihoku (Taipei) led by the Governor-General of Taiwan.

Taiwan was Japan's first colony and can be viewed as the first step in implementing their "Southern Expansion Doctrine" of the late 19th century. Japanese intentions were to turn Taiwan into a showpiece "model colony" with much effort made to improve the island's economy, public works, industry, cultural Japanization, and to support the necessities of Japanese military aggression in the Asia-Pacific.

Triple Intervention

Triple Intervention

1895 Apr 23
, Russia

The Tripartite Intervention or Triple Intervention was a diplomatic intervention by Russia, Germany, and France on 23 April 1895 over the harsh terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki imposed by Japan on the Qing dynasty of China that ended the First Sino-Japanese War. The goal was to stop Japanese expansion in China. The Japanese reaction against the Triple Intervention was one of the causes of the subsequent Russo-Japanese War.

British and Japanese forces engage Boxers in battle.

Boxer Rebellion

1899 Oct 18 - 1901 Sep 7
, Tianjin

The Boxer Rebellion was an anti-foreign, anti-colonial, and anti-Christian uprising in China between 1899 and 1901, towards the end of the Qing dynasty, by the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists (Yìhéquán). The rebels were known as the "Boxers" in English because many of its members had practiced Chinese martial arts, which at the time were referred to as "Chinese boxing".

After the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, villagers in North China feared the expansion of foreign spheres of influence and resented the extension of privileges to Christian missionaries, who used them to shield their followers. In 1898 Northern China experienced several natural disasters, including the Yellow River flooding and droughts, which Boxers blamed on foreign and Christian influence. Beginning in 1899, Boxers spread violence across Shandong and the North China Plain, destroying foreign property such as railroads and attacking or murdering Christian missionaries and Chinese Christians.

Diplomats, missionaries, soldiers and some Chinese Christians took refuge in the diplomatic Legation Quarter. An Eight Nation Alliance of American, Austro-Hungarian, British, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Russian troops moved into China to lift the siege and on June 17 stormed the Dagu Fort, at Tianjin.

The Eight-Nation Alliance, after initially being turned back by the Imperial Chinese military and Boxer militia, brought 20,000 armed troops to China. They defeated the Imperial Army in Tianjin and arrived in Beijing on August 14, relieving the fifty-five day siege of the Legations.

Tadasu Hayashi, Japanese signatory of the alliance

Anglo-Japanese Alliance

1902 Jan 30
, London

The first Anglo-Japanese Alliance was an alliance between Britain and Japan, signed in January 1902. The alliance was signed in London at Lansdowne House on 30 January 1902 by Lord Lansdowne, British Foreign Secretary, and Hayashi Tadasu, Japanese diplomat. A diplomatic milestone that saw an end to Britain's "Splendid isolation" (a policy of avoiding permanent alliances), the Anglo-Japanese alliance was renewed and expanded in scope twice, in 1905 and 1911, playing a major role in World War I before the alliance's demise in 1921 and termination in 1923.The main threat for both sides was from Russia. France was concerned about war with Britain and, in cooperation with Britain, abandoned its ally, Russia, to avoid the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. However, Britain siding with Japan angered the United States and some British dominions, whose opinion of the Empire of Japan worsened and gradually became hostile.

Russo-Japanese War | ©Anonymous

Russo-Japanese War

1904 Feb 8 - 1905 Sep 5
, Liaoning

The Russo-Japanese War was fought between the Empire of Japan and the Russian Empire during 1904 and 1905 over rival imperial ambitions in Manchuria and the Korean Empire. The major theatres of military operations were located in Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden in Southern Manchuria, and the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. Russia sought a warm-water port on the Pacific Ocean both for its navy and for maritime trade. Vladivostok remained ice-free and operational only during the summer; Port Arthur, a naval base in Liaodong Province leased to Russia by the Qing dynasty of China from 1897, was operational year round. Russia had pursued an expansionist policy east of the Urals, in Siberia and the Far East, since the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. Since the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Japan had feared Russian encroachment would interfere with its plans to establish a sphere of influence in Korea and Manchuria.

Seeing Russia as a rival, Japan offered to recognize Russian dominance in Manchuria in exchange for recognition of the Korean Empire as being within the Japanese sphere of influence. Russia refused and demanded the establishment of a neutral buffer zone between Russia and Japan in Korea, north of the 39th parallel. The Imperial Japanese Government perceived this as obstructing their plans for expansion into mainland Asia and chose to go to war. After negotiations broke down in 1904, the Imperial Japanese Navy opened hostilities in a surprise attack on the Russian Eastern Fleet at Port Arthur, China on 9 February 1904.

Although Russia suffered a number of defeats, Emperor Nicholas II remained convinced that Russia could still win if it fought on; he chose to remain engaged in the war and await the outcomes of key naval battles. As hope of victory dissipated, he continued the war to preserve the dignity of Russia by averting a "humiliating peace." Russia ignored Japan's willingness early on to agree to an armistice and rejected the idea of bringing the dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague. The war was eventually concluded with the Treaty of Portsmouth (5 September 1905), mediated by United States. The complete victory of the Japanese military surprised international observers and transformed the balance of power in both East Asia and Europe, resulting in Japan's emergence as a great power and a decline in the Russian Empire's prestige and influence in Europe. Russia's incurrence of substantial casualties and losses for a cause that resulted in humiliating defeat contributed to a growing domestic unrest which culminated in the 1905 Russian Revolution, and severely damaged the prestige of the Russian autocracy.

Socialists of Japan in 1901.

High Treason Incident

1910 Jan 1
, Japan

The High Treason Incident was a socialist-anarchist plot to assassinate the Japanese Emperor Meiji in 1910, leading to a mass arrest of leftists, and the execution of 12 alleged conspirators in 1911.

The High Treason Incident created a shift in the intellectual environment of the late Meiji period towards more control and heightened repression for ideologies deemed potentially subversive. It is often cited as one of the factors leading to the promulgation of the Peace Preservation Laws.

Japanese infantry marching through Seoul during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 | ©James Hare

Japan annexes Korea

1910 Aug 22
, Korea

The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910 was made by representatives of the Empire of Japan and the Korean Empire on 22 August 1910. In this treaty, Japan formally annexed Korea following the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905 (by which Korea became a protectorate of Japan) and the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1907 (by which Korea was deprived of the administration of internal affairs).

Funeral of Emperor Meiji, 1912

Emperor Meiji dies

1912 Jul 29
, Tokyo

Emperor Meiji, suffering from diabetes, nephritis, and gastroenteritis, died of uremia. Although the official announcement said he died at 00:42 on 30 July 1912, the actual death was at 22:40 on 29 July. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Emperor Taishō.

By 1912, Japan had gone through a political, economic, and social revolution and emerged as one of the great powers in the world. The New York Times summed up this transformation at the Emperor's funeral in 1912 as: "the contrast between that which preceded the funeral car and that which followed it was striking indeed. Before it went old Japan; after it came new Japan."


1913 Jan 1
, Japan

The end of the Meiji period was marked by huge government domestic and overseas investments and defense programs, nearly exhausted credit, and a lack of foreign reserves to pay debts. The influence of Western culture experienced in the Meiji period also continued. Notable artists, such as Kobayashi Kiyochika, adopted Western painting styles while continuing to work in ukiyo-e; others, such as Okakura Kakuzō, kept an interest in traditional Japanese painting. Authors such as Mori Ōgai studied in the West, bringing back with them to Japan different insights on human life influenced by developments in the West.


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