Japan – 4. Meiji Makeover
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Japan – 4. Meiji Makeover

October 15, 2019

Ah. Meiji time. Time to talk about the 1868 Meiji restoration And we have to talk about it in some detail because it is the most crucial and critical time for Japanese history which sets it apart from the rest of Asia and the undeveloped world at the time. It’s the reason why Japan is now the number two economy. This significant period, you’ve got to know it. You can’t understand Japan now and not today without knowing the Meiji. So let’s get to it and do it. The Meji restoration was launched in 1868. It was a period of rejuvenation, renewal, and redoing the entire Japanese society. It was named for the Emperor Meiji, The Enlightened One, huh very Buddhist, who came up with this idea him and his counselors. So what do they want to redo? What was going on? Well remember where we left off. The Tokugawa Shogunate after two hundred fifty years of global isolationism suddenly found themselves faced with Commodore Perry forcibly opening up trade with Japan. Japan’s gates are now open and they can’t do anything about it because they are militarily and technologically and industrially inferior to the folks that are knocking on their door. On top of that, they see what’s happening in the wider world too 1798, Napoleon had invaded Egypt and that had opened the floodgates for Europeans to take over. The Europeans had already started to take over all of Africa. By 1800 the Brits were taking over India, major Asian power. The Dutch with the Brits and the French took over all of southeast Asia shortly thereafter. 1839, The Brits declare war on China. Forever a world power, they declare war on China over opium. The 1839 Opium Wars which are a wash. The British just clean the Chinese clock because the Europeans are so advanced militarily and sailing technologies over the rest of the Asian world. And so the Tokugawa shogunate and all Japanese people and the emperor and the leadership are like holy crap. What are we going to do? We can’t possibly fight this European tsunami that’s coming over us right now. Everybody else has already fallen. The Chinese have already fallen, and thus they come to a crucial decision. Instead of fighting the Europeans which the Chinese did, and the Indonesians did, and the Indians did, instead of fighting against them, The Japanese decided to embrace them. Whoa. That’s a crazy idea. They said we can’t beat them. So let’s join them. Let’s figure out all these technologies that they have superiority over us for and we’ll become their equal. Maybe we can beat them. It was a genius idea and it revolutionized the society from the inside out. And again, this is important to understanding Japan today. No other Asian state, or hell, world state for that matter, really successfully pulled off a renewal like Japan did. It’s the reason why Japan is counted as the riches,t among the most developed parts of the world today. It started back then. Because since 1868, Japan Starts going up the same time China starts going down. China typically the world power in this part of the world. So what is this Restoration of which I speak? 1868 Meiji Restoration is insanity, my friends. It’s totally incredible It’s not been repeated in history since and not before it either. It’s a complete redo of the entire society in an effort to catch up with the West in all facets of technology and industry. The Japanese organize themselves to do it as a singular unit, the entire country. They pick up on the kind of pro nationalistic “go, yay, rah” Japanese Society that the Tokugawans had already established and they push it to the next level. And this is where the emperor Meiji comes in because him and probably his advisers, probably wasn’t just him. They say okay. Here’s the deal. We have to redo our society to be more aligned with the rich important powerful guys the West. So first things first. Ban the shogun. Nobody does this futile junk anymore. The Europeans stopped doing that five hundred years ago, the Americans never did it. So ban the feudal system which means banning the shogun. Basically their entire history and tradition “flush”. It’s got to go. We can’t have a samurai class of warriors running around with swords. They can’t beat the Europeans and so we got to get rid of them. We have to retrain our military in a modern light. We have to copy the Europeans and the Americans. So samurai you’re out. Cut off your top-knot, your ponytail. We officially disband the class of military warriors that had been in charge for basically a thousand years. And by the way, this did not come without a fight. You’ve probably seen lots of shogun military movies. Particularly you might have had to suffer through the Tom Cruise, The Last Samurai. And there’s some historical precedent there that actually did happen. There were lots of folks who said no, I don’t want to change society. I’m a samurai. [slashing noise] I don’t want to give this up, the rights, and privilege, and the history, and tradition. And so lots of shogun and Samurai banded together and fought against this renewal this Meiji restoration. And a very famous pitched battle, the Battle of Shiroyama The government had to go in with its western trained troops and just cut down the last of the samurai. So this was a very turbulent time of society. But it was really exciting too because the other things that I really want you to know are that the redo involved technology and industry and culture too, it’s incredible. And so the Japanese leadership said okay, we got rid of the shogun. We got rid of feudal system. How do we catch up? What do we do? What do we do first? And they said ok we’ll take all the smartest people, empty out the colleges and the smartest people in the aristocracy and send them out into the rest of the world. Send half of them to Europe, send some of the Middle East, send a bunch of them to America, and get them in universities and figure out the knowledge and buy books and technologies and go into factories and get jobs in factories and figure out what they’re doing. And learn everything you can and copy everything you can and bring it back to Japan, and they did. And they also shipped up the technologies themselves. They would buy ships from America or steam engines from Scotland And they’d box them up and ship them back to Japan. And they get them back to Japan and there’d be teams of scientists who pull open up the crate like Christmas day and everybody’s all excited and you take the whole steam engine apart, a railroad engine, you take the whole thing apart, lay it all out in front of you on a white sheet, and measure every gear, fit your calipers, and figure out how to not only un-build this, how to make each individual piece. How do we crack these steel gears? I know, we need to build a steel industry.Okay. Go build a steel mill. Now we can build these parts and gears. And then we’ll figure out how to put it all back together, and then we’ll build a factory to build steam engines. And they did. And they did it with steam engines, and and railroad cars, and automobiles, and guns and cannons and naval ships and trading ships and everything. They embraced all the western technology. Not just bought, it brought it back and duplicated it, made it themselves. That is significant to note. They made it themselves. They didn’t have to rely on continuing to buy their arms or their ships from foreign powers. They made it themselves. And it wasn’t just in technologies, military technologies, that they embraced all things west. They said we got to redo our society. We got rid of shogun. We need a new government style. Ah, let’s copy the Europeans. We’ll do some sort of constitutional monarchy. We need banking systems. We’ll adopt those from the us and the West. We need new industries. Let’s model our industries and our economy on free-market capitalism of the West. And they embraced all things Western culture too. They started dressing like Europeans. Their military fatigues and uniforms were adopted from western standards. And even pop cultural items became the rave in Japan. Things like toothpaste, which had never been used before, they embrace from the United States. Of course Europeans never picked up on that. But you get the sense that Japan becomes very westernized in all facets of not just military, not just technology, but even culture. And they adopted western educational systems as well. And again, you can still see that in Japanese society today. They’re still doing this kind of thing. But in this particular period, and we’re only talking about 30 or 40 years, that’s what’s incredible about this. These guys catch up. They catch up in a ginormous way. They’re producing their own stuff, and they’re starting now bump around and say we’re growing. We will renegotiate those horrifically embarrassing trade treaties that you guys made a sign back in 1853. We’re a power now. We will renegotiate that. We are like you. We’re making our own stuff. And because Japan of course does not have any resources, you know about this already, this is going to cause–and they kind of start looking elsewhere. They got to start buying stuff from abroad. And you can’t just buy indefinitely, so you might need to go get some resources. Maybe take them. Ah, now we’re coming full circle where I want to end. This is now starting to set by 1900. And again, we’re only talking about 30-40 years these guys catch up. By 1900 Japan is not a world power. But a power that the West cannot roll over. A power that the West cannot control, a power that the west cannot manipulate. Japan is growing. Their economy’s growing, their military is caught up to western standards, their industry is caught up to western standards. And they’re looking for more. They’re getting hungry. And this sets them apart, dig this, this sets them quite apart from the rest of Asia, maybe even the world, the underdeveloped world. But this sets them quite apart from AsIa where China is floundering by 1900. Southeast Asia, and South Asia, and Africa are taken over and are controlled by the Europeans. And here sits Japan at a point of strength right when all of its Asian neighbors are at their lowest point of weakness. That sets the stage for perhaps some friction and aggression which is going to unroll and unravel in the 20th century. And we’ll get to that next.

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  1. Thanks for telling the truth about Africa at this time… Around that time the King of Belgium was killing 10 million Congolese folks, Cecil Rhodes was doing the same in freaking self named Rhodesia in Africa, but the way the Asians way about things is a good lessons for African to study.

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