1890 Meiji Constitution

Our first moment will be 1890, the year of the new Meiji Constitution and the first meeting of the National Diet. Historians often characterized this as the end of the period that saw the collapse of Tokugawa samurai rule and the establishment of Japan as a modern nation-state. Like our other moments later in the semester we will pay attention to the issues, accidents, struggles, and debates that precede and come out of 1890.

We will look at Western imperialism with US Commodore Perry’s “Black Ships” (kurofune, 黒船) in 1853, the intense and often violent struggle over what form a post-Tokugawa government should take–especially the debate in the 1870-80s over “Popular Rights and Liberty”, (jiyuminken, 自由民権), Social Darwinism, and conservative nationalism that fed into 1890.

After 1890 we will look at the establishment of the modern nation-state form in Japan, looking at control of borders, the establishment of a military, as well as the production of a  new, Japanese identity. We will conclude this section with Natsume Soseki’s masterpiece, Kokoro (こころ, 1916), reading it against all of this history.

Key Timeline (memorize)

  • 1853 Arrival of Perry’s Black Ships
  • 1858 Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Japan and the US
  • 1868 The Charter Oath and the fall of the Tokugawas (Boshin War)
  • 1874-84 The Popular Rights and Liberty Movement
  • 1880-2 Matsukata defure
  • 1882 Establishment of the Bank of Japan
  • 1890 The Meiji Constitution and national Diet
  • 1894-5 The Sino-Japanese War
  • 1899 Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido: The Samurai Ethic and the Soul of Japan
  • 1904-5 The Russo-Japanese War
  • 1905 Establishment of Protectorate over Korea
  • 1910 Korea Annexed
  • 1912 Death of Meiji Emperor
  • 1916 Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro