In 1968, Japanese society went through a rapid change, a change quite unlike anything any other country has ever been through. Before 1868 the Japanese people were forced to live by harsh class systems that ensured that they could never be anything more than what was determined even before they were born. Essentially, they had no freedom and could only live by the strict rules forced upon them. After 1868 Japan had opened up trade relations with the rest of the world, their economy flourished and the cruel class system was abolished. Some lost thier power, but many more gained power, and more importantly, control over their own lives. Japanese society mostly changed for the better after 1868.
During the 262 years of the Tokugawan rule, Japan was almost completely isolated. Tokugawa enforced this isolation for two reason, he thought it would help to keep Japan as a unified country, but it also helped to keep him in power. Most of what Tokugawa did was done with his best interests in mind, he wanted to stay in power for as long as possible. To achieve this Tokugawa employed many strategies, he kept the daimyo, the people most likely to threaten his power, under his watchful eye in Edo for six months out of every year, and he would always hold their families hostage there. This way for six months the daimyo would not be able to plot again ts Tokugawa, and for the other six months they would hopefully not dare to, because the shogun would have no problems executing their family if need be.
Any marra iges between two daimyo's families had to be approved by Tokugawa, strong allies could be formed otherwise. Spies gathered intelligence on anyone who could be a threat to Tokugawa and informed him on any dangers. The size of the daimyo armies were limited. Daimyo castles could not be built, upgraded or repaired without the shogun's permission, because Tokugawa obviously did not want any fortifications that were superior to his own. Tokugawa's guards would search all the traffic entering or leaving Edo, almost any plot against the shogun could be found out this way.
But Tokugawa did not stop at just these restrictions, laws and guidelines. During his rule a strict class systems and code of behavior was introduced by the shogun, de singed to keep the people below him in order and keep them from causing trouble for the shogun. At the top of this class sytem was the Emporer, who was really just the figurehead of Japan, he held no real power. On the second-highest rung of the ladder was the shogun, Tokugawa, the military leader of Japan, he had the real control over the country and he ruled with an iron fist, trying to manta in his power for as long as possible. Below the Shogun were the Daimyo, wealthy land owners, who had their own castles and armies. Next on the class system were the Samurai, these were fierce, skilled warriors employed by the Shogun and the Daimyo to fight their battles for them.
The samurai followed a strict warriors code, the bushido, and although the samurai held high social status and were revered, they had limited power over anyone except peasants. The farmers were on the rung below the Samurai, the farmers provided food (mostly rice and fish) for the Japanese society. After the farmers came the merchants, who provided crafts and tools such as weapons, furniture, saddles, pottery, etc. Lastly, there were the merchants, who bought and sold food and other items, the merchants were on the bottom of the class system because they were seen as unproductive. Tokugawa had split up everyone and placed them into these catagories so that he could effectively organise and control Japan, he made sure that everyone knew their place and role and that they wouldn't dare deviate from what was expected from them. Each class was expected to act in a certain way, for example, the samurai were expected to be well versed in poetry, to be humble and not to spoil himself with fine items.
Because Japanese customs are built on respect never questioned Tokugawa's motives, and continues to stay loyal to their leader. For 262 years, Japan stayed under the rule of one family, and the residents of Japan never really imagined life could be any other way. On July 8 th, 1853, the lives of the Japanese people were changed forever. On this date four ships, lead by Commodore Matthew Perry landed in a bay in Edo. Many officials tried to convince him to leave, but he would not comply. When he finally came ashore, Perry delivered a letter from the president of the United States of America.
It was a dressed to the emporer and requested, amongst other things, trading rights with Japan. Perry said he would return in the following spring, with a much larger force, for a reply. The shogun was given the letter, and he knew that only a miracle would be able to save Japan, for they lacked the technology and resources to fight a war again the USA, and this was a direct result of the isolation rules Tokugawa himself had introduced. Perry returned in 1854 and the treaty was signed. Two ports became available to the Americans and Japan once again became connected to the rest of the world. Now that there was no more isolation, Japan wanted to modernise, they felt that they had to in order to be able to fight off any invading countries.
At this time the shogun realised he needed to money in order to achieve the modernisation he wanted. Taxes were risen, and the daimyo did not like this for it meant that it would be even harder for them to buy and maintain their armies. In January 1968 three daimyo's combines forces to successfully overthrow the Tokugawan government, and restore power to the emporer. This became known as the 'Meiji restoration'. It was decided that if Japan was to ever become a powerful country it would have to accept the western technology the western methods of government. Electricity was introduced, so was an education system, a constitution and a defense force.
Unfortunely for the people of Japan, this meant that taxes would once again have to rise, and many people were upset by this. The class system which had restricted Japanese people for over 250 years was abolished, and while many celebrated this historic event, others were worried by it. They had known nothing but the class system and were left confused without it. Some were hit even harder by the ousting of the class system, the samurai lost all of their power and high social status, and were no longer relevent or required in this modern Japan. However, for the few that were adversely affect, the majority were empowered with this change. The woman population of Japan were no longer confined to just cooking and cleaning, they took new roles in this changed society, and were basically in control of their own destiny now.
Also merchants reveled, they were no longer looked down on, and their market had increased greatly, they could now trade with the rest of the world. Many merchants became very, very wealthy. The vast majority of people benefited from this change in Japanese society, and it was certainly good for Japan economically. So, while this change in Japanese society was not good for everyone, it did improve the lives of most of its citizens, even if the improvement was not immediate. It certainly did improve the lives of future generations of Japanese people. Who knows, if Perry had not landed in 1853, Japan might still have been living under Tokugawan rule, in isolation even today.
Arguably, the modernisation has also improved the rest of the world, with the technology they have made more effective, the food and religions that are increasing in popularity around the world. Through the events that occured in 1868 Japanese society certainly changed for the better.