Joey Slavik Assignment 4
Prior to the Meiji Restoration, Japan had entered an era known as the Edo period. During this era Japan abstained from violence and conflict, especially from foreign powers. During this time the samurai class went under several changes. Originally, the samurai reigned as Japan’s militant nobility, considered the highest ranking warriors in the country. Throughout the Edo period, however, a samurai’s prowess in battle meant little, leaving them to fill other upper class, aristocratic positions in society such as bureaucrats.
Commodore Perry’s arrival and forced opening of Japan’s trade with the outside world quickly revitalized the need for samurai as an elite fighting class. Shortly after these events Japan modernized it’s military, incorporating a trained navy, often operated by samurai. Industrialization, especially in forms of military technology, seemed at first to favor and propagate the samurai’s place in society.
Shortly after however, Emperor Meiji restored the emperor’s practical abilities and restructured the Japanese political system with himself in the center of control. Meiji saw the extreme gap between Japanese and European technology, and felt as though Japan was only causing itself further detriment by not modernizing as the Western world had done. One of Emperor Meiji’s methods to do so was to form a large, conscripted army, rather than an army based on nobility and birthright. This destroyed the samurai class; while many were incorporated as high ranking officials within the new army, the place the samurai had held in society for so long was now taken away. Traditional weapons such as the katana had degenerated from proud instruments of war, to symbols of power and status, to mere decoration, impractical for the world of gunpowder. Samurai also lost the ability to execute common citizens who disrespected them and all power as a political force to shape the nation of Japan. In summation, the samurai felt the effect of industrialization’s ability to blur class division amidst the myriad of political and economic issues that come with it.