Within this historical context the Meiji leaders realized that they needed to harness the concept of the Imperial Will in order to govern effectively. During the Age of Imperialism, members of the Satsuma and Choshu, two of the very powerful clans in Japan, were parts of the opposition to foreign imperialism. This opposition believed that the only way that Japan could survive the encroachment of the foreigners was to rally around the Emperor. The supporters of the imperial government, known as imperialists, claimed that the Tokugawa Shogunate had lost its imperial mandate to carry out the Imperial Will because it had capitulated to Western powers by allowing them to open up Japan to trade. During this time the ideas of the imperialists gained increasing support among Japanese citizens and intellectuals who taught at newly established schools and wrote revisionist history books that claimed that historically the Emperor had been the ruler of Japan. The fact that the Tokugawa's policy of opening up Japan to the western world ran counter to beliefs of the Emperor and was unpopular with the public made the Tokugawa vulnerable to attack from the imperialists.
The imperialists pressed their attack both militarily and from within the Court of Kyoto. The Japanese public and the Shogun's supporters soon felt that they had lost the Imperial Will. The end of the Tokugawa regime shows the power of the symbolism and myths surrounding the imperial institution. The head of the Tokugawa clan died in 1867 and was replaced by the son of a lord who was a champion of Japanese historical studies and who agreed with the imperialists' claims about restoring the Emperor. In 1867, the new shogun handed over all his power to Emperor Komeo in Kyoto. Shortly after handing over power to Emperor Komeo, the Emperor died and was replaced by his son who became the Meiji Emperor, which officially started the Meiji period (1868-1911).
The Meiji Emperor was only 15, and so all the power of the new restored Emperor fell not in the Emperor's hands but in the hands of his close advisors. Once in control of the government, the Meiji leaders and advisors to the Emperor reversed their policy of hostility to Foreigners. The reason for doing this was because after Emperor Komeo, who strongly opposed contact with the west, died in 1867 the Meiji Emperor's advisors were no longer bound by his Imperial Will. They realized that opposing western powers was impossible, and being anti-western also no longer served the purposes of the Meiji advisors.
Originally it was a tool of the imperialist movement that was used to show that the Shogun was not acting out the Imperial Will. Now that the Shogun and Komeo Emperor were dead there was no longer a reason to take on anti-foreign policies. The choice of the imperial thrown by the imperialists as a point for Japan to rally around could not have been wiser. Although the imperial institution had no real power it had universal appeal to the Japanese public. It was both a mythic and religious idea in their minds.
In this time of chaos after coming in contact with foreigners, the imperial thrown provided the Japanese with a belief of stability (according to Japanese myth the imperial line is a unbroken lineage handed down since time immortal), and the natural superiority of Japanese culture. The symbolism of the Emperor helped ensure the success of the Meiji leaders, because it undercut the legitimacy of the Shogunate's rule, and it strengthened the Meiji rulers who claimed to act for the Emperor. What is a great paradox about the imperialist's claims to restore the power of the Emperor is that the Meiji rulers only restored the Emperor to power symbolically, because he was both too young and his advisors too power hungry. By 1869, relationship between the Emperor and his Meiji bureaucracy were very similar to the Emperor and the Tokugawa Shogun before the restoration.
Both the Meiji Bureaucrats and the Shogun ruled under the authority of the Emperor but did not let the Emperor make any decisions. In other words, the Meiji Emperor reigned but did not rule. This was useful for the new Meiji bureaucrats, because it kept the Emperor a mythic and powerful symbol. The teachings and symbols of Confucian beliefs and the Imperial Institution were already deeply carved into the minds of the Japanese, but the new Meiji rulers, through both an education system and the structure of the Japanese government, were able to effectively inculcate these traditions into a new generation of Japanese. Japan, as a nation close to China, was greatly influenced by the teachings of Confucius, the greatest teacher in China.
Japanese people believe in integrity, uprightness, respect for superiors, filial loyalty, and they also believe that a virtuous man must have culture and manners, which is being humble and benevolent. These exactly resemble the teachings of Confucianism to act as an individual. The education system the Meiji rulers founded transformed itself into a system that indoctrinated students in the ideas of Confucianism and reverence for the Emperor. After the death of O kubo, a very important figure in Meiji government, in 1878, Ito, Okuma, and Iwakura emerged as the three most powerful figures among the young bureaucrats that were running the government in the name of the Meiji Emperor.
Iwakura, one of the only figures in the ancient nobility to gain prominence among the Meiji oligarchy allied with Ito who feared that Okuma's progressive ideas would destroy Japan's culture. Iwakura's thought was able to manipulate the young Emperor to grow concerned about the need to strengthen traditional morals. Thus in 1882, the Emperor issued theYogaku Koyo, the forerunner of the Imperial Rescript on Education. This document put the emphasis of the Japanese education system on a moral education from 1882 onward.
Previous to 1880 the Japanese education system was modeled on that of the French education system. After 1880 the Japanese briefly modeled their education system on the American system. However, starting with theYogaku Koyo in 1882 and ending with the 1885 reorganization of the department of Education along Prussian lines, the American model was abolished. The new education minister Mori Arinori, after returning from Europe in 1885 with Ito, was convinced that the Japanese education system had to have a spiritual foundation to it. In Prussia, Arinori saw that foundation to be Christianity, and he decreed that in Japan the Education system was to be based on reverence for the Imperial Institution. A picture of the Emperor was placed in every classroom, children read about the myths surrounding the Emperor in school, and they learned that the Emperor was the head of the giant family of Japan.
By the time the Imperial Rescript on Education was decreed by the Emperor in 1889 the Japanese education system had already begun to transform itself into a system that taught what to think instead of how to think. The Imperial Rescript on Education in 1889 was according to Japanese scholars such as Hugh Bort on, 'the nerve axis of the new order.' Burton believes that the Imperial Rescript on Education signaled the rise of nationalistic elements in Japan. The Imperial Rescript on Education was the culmination of this whole movement to the right. The Rescript emphasized aspects from Confucianism, especially loyalty and filial piety or respect for the constitution and readiness to serve the government. It also exalted the Emperor as the coeval between heaven and earth. The Constitution of 1889, like the changes in the education system, helped strengthen reverence for the Imperial Institution.
The 1889 Constitution was really the second document of its kind passed in Japan, the first being the Imperial Oath of 1868 in which the Emperor laid out the structure and who was to head the new Meiji government. This Imperial Oath was referred to as a constitution at the time but it only vaguely laid out the structure of government. The constitution promulgated by the Emperor in 1889 did much more than lay out the structure of Japanese government. It also affirmed that the Emperor was the supreme sovereign over Japan. The signing ceremony itself was an auspicious event on the way to it. MoriArinori, one of the moderate leaders of the Meiji government, was attacked and killed by a crazed rightist.
The ceremony itself evoked both the past and present and was symbolic of the Meiji government's shift toward the right and the government's use of the Emperor as supreme ruler. Emperor Meiji signed the constitution, which affirmed the sanctity of the Emperor's title (Tenno Taken), and his right to make or abrogate any law. The constitution also set up a bicameral legislature. The constitution codified the power of the Emperor and helped the Meiji rulers justify their rule, because they could point to the constitution and say that they were carrying out the will of the Emperor.
Even after the Constitution of 1889, the Meiji Emperor enjoyed little real power. The Meiji Emperor did not even come to cabinet meetings because his advisors told him if the cabinet made a decision that was different then the one he wanted, then that would create dissension and would destroy the idea of the Imperial Institution. Therefore, even after the Meiji Constitution, the Emperor was still predominantly a symbol. The Constitution ingrained in Japanese society the idea that the government was being run by higher forces that knew better than the Japanese people did. It also broadened the base of support of the Meiji Rulers who now had a document to prove they were acting on Imperial Will and their decisions were imperial decisions instead of those of normal mortals. The symbolism of the Emperor and use of Confucianism allowed the Meiji rulers to achieve their goals.
One of their goals was the abolishment of the system of feudalism (taxes paid by peasants to landowners) and return of all land to the Emperor. At first the new Meiji Rulers allied themselves with the Daimyo clans, which are the strongest samurais just below the shogun and own a great deal of lands, in opposition to the Tokugawa Shogun. However, once the Meiji leaders had gained control, they saw that they would need to abolish the feudal system and concentrate power in the hands of a central government. The Meiji rulers achieved their goals by having the Choshu, Satsuma, Tosa, and Hi zen clans give up their lands, granting the Daimyo large pensions if they gave up their clans, and by having the Emperor issue two decrees in July 1869, and August 1871. The role and symbolism of the Emperor, although not the sole factor in influencing the Daimyo to give up their land, was vital.
The Meiji rulers said that not turning in the fiefs to the Emperor would be disloyal and pointed to the historical records, which Meiji sc.