Meiji Era

Chichibu incident
Rice planting in 1890s. This scene remained virtually unchanged until the 1970s in some parts of Japan ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1884 Nov 1

Chichibu incident

Chichibu, Saitama, Japan

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.

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