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10-08-2015, 16:24

Building a Modern Social Structure

The Meiji reformers also transformed several other feudal institutions. A key focus of their attention was the army. The Sat-Cho reformers had been struck by the weakness of the Japanese armed forces in clashes with the Western powers and embarked on a major program to create a modern military force that could compete in a Darwinist world governed by the survival of the fittest. The old feudal army based on the traditional warrior class was abolished, and an imperial army based on universal conscription was formed in 1871. The army also played an important role in Japanese society, becoming a route of upward mobility for many rural males. Education also underwent major changes. The Meiji leaders recognized the need for universal education, including instruction in modern technology. After a few years of experimenting, they adopted the American model of a three-tiered system culminating in a series of universities and specialized institutes. In the meantime, they sent bright students to study abroad and brought foreign specialists to Japan to teach in their new schools. Much of the content of the new system was Western in inspiration. Yet its ethical foundations had a distinctly Confucian orientation, emphasizing such values as filial piety and loyalty to the emperor. The Meiji reforms also had an impact on the role of women in Japan. In the traditional era, women were constrained by the “three obediences” imposed on their sex: child to father, wife to husband, and widow to son. Husbands could easily obtain a divorce, but wives could not (one regulation allegedly decreed that a husband could divorce his spouse if she drank too much tea or talked too much). Marriages were arranged, and the average age of marriage for females was sixteen years. Females did not share inheritance rights with males, and few received any education outside the family. By the end of the nineteenth century, women were beginning to play a crucial role in their nation’s effort to modernize. Urged by their parents to augment the family income, as well as by the government to fulfill their patriotic duty, young girls were sent en masse to work in textile mills. From 1894 to 1912, women represented 60 percent of the Japanese labor force. Thanks to them, by 1914, Japan was the world’s leading exporter of silk and dominated cotton manufacturing. If it had not been for the export revenues earned from textile exports, Japan might not have been able to develop its heavy industry and military prowess without an infusion of foreign capital. Japanese women received few rewards, however, for their contribution to the nation. In 1900, new regulations prohibited women from joining political organizations or attending public meetings. Beginning in 1905, a group of independent-minded women petitioned the Japanese parliament to rescind this restriction, but it was not repealed until 1922.