meiji restoration

Dubois, Mary Elizabeth

The industrial revolution, as a totality, encompasses more than just its pioneers and the consequences that resulted internally. The Meiji Restoration in Japan is a clear example of the industrial revolution impacting the world at large; without the modernization of European world powers and the United States, Japan’s realization that they were behind technologically may not have occurred so quickly, and the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s subsequent status as a technological power in the contemporary world may not have occurred at all.

When American Commodore Matthew C. Perry came to Japan accompanied by large warships, the Japanese were quick to realize their lack of sophistication in “western advances.” The goal of the Meiji Restoration was a way to combine Japan’s traditional values with an industrial age that would help them catch up with other world powers. After the Meiji emperor ascended the throne following Emperor Komei’s death, industrialization began.

In 1871, following the onset of the Japanese industrial revolution in 1870, a group of Japanese politicians (the Iwakura Mission) toured Europa and the US to observe Western advances in technology and modernization. The result was a state-led industrialization plan to urbanize Japan, beginning with the Bank Of Japan (founded in 1877). The Bank used taxes to fund steel and textile factories, expand education by sending Japanese students to study in the west, and create model factories for more rural areas. During and following this time, Japan built industries including shipyards, iron smelters, spinning mills, and a national railway system.

One of the major social changes resulting from the Meiji Restoration and the consequential industrialization of Japan was the new Westernized education system. By sending thousands of students to study in the West, Japan began to use resources to expand its knowledge and, ultimately, begin learning the fundamentals that would eventually help them grow into a leading technological power in the contemporary world. Japan hired more than 3,000 Westerners to teach science, math, technology, and foreign languages to promising students. This, obviously, led to a major social change. Japan is now a world leader in technological computer and software advancements and engineering, modern science, and developing mathematics.