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10-08-2015, 16:23

The Transformation of Japanese Politics

Once in power, the new leaders launched a comprehensive reform of Japanese political, social, economic, and cultural institutions and values. They moved first to abolish the remnants of the old order and strengthen executive power in their hands. To undercut the power of the daimyo, hereditary privileges were abolished in 1871, and the great lords lost title to their lands. As compensation, they were named governors of the territories formerly under their control. The samurai received a lump-sum payment to replace their traditional stipends but were forbidden to wear the sword, the symbol of their hereditary status. The abolition of the legal underpinnings of the Tokugawa system permitted the Meiji modernizers to embark on the creation of a modern political system based on the Western model. In the Charter Oath of 1868, the new leaders promised to create a new deliberative assembly within the framework of continued imperial rule. Although senior positions in the new government were given to the daimyo, the key posts were dominated by modernizing samurai, known as the genro, from the Sat- Cho clique. During the next two decades, the Meiji government undertook a systematic study of Western political systems. A constitutional commission under Prince Ito Hirobumi traveled to several Western countries, including Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and the United States, to study their political systems. As the process evolved, a number of factions appeared, each representing different political ideas. The most prominent were the Liberals, who favored political reform on the Western liberal democratic model, and the Progressives, who called for a distribution of power between the legislative and executive branches, with a slight nod to the latter. There was also an imperial party that advocated the retention of supreme authority exclusively in the hands of the emperor. During the 1870s and 1880s, these factions competed for preeminence. In the end, the Progressives emerged victorious. The Meiji constitution, adopted in 1890, was based on the Bismarckian model, with authority vested in the executive branch, although the imperialist faction was pacified by the statement that the constitution was the gift of the emperor. Members of the cabinet were to be handpicked by the Meiji oligarchs. The upper house of parliament was to be appointed and have equal legislative powers with the lower house, called the Diet, whose members would be elected. The core ideology of the state was called the kokutai (national polity), which embodied (although in very imprecise form) the concept of the uniqueness of the Japanese system based on the supreme authority of the emperor. The result was a system that was democratic in form but despotic in practice, modern in external appearance but still recognizably traditional in that power remained in the hands of a ruling oligarchy. The system permitted the traditional ruling class to retain its influence and eco- nomic power while acquiescing in the emergence of a new set of institutions and values.