Andrew D. Nicholls, Ph.D., Professor of History
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History and Social Studies Education Department
Michael C. Lazich, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History and Social Studies
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York A. Norman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History and Social Studies
During the nineteenth century, several Western powers began to establish a presence in East Asia through the use of gunboat diplomacy. In 1853, United States Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived on Japanese shores intent on forcing the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate to end its policy of sakoku (seclusion) and interact with the West through trade. Angered over the policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the han (domains) of Chōshū and Satsuma decided to launch the Boshin Civil War by instigating rebellion against the shogun. The military forces of Chōshū and Satsuma eventually captured the imperial capital of Kyoto and the young Prince Mutsuhito in 1867. The following year, Prince Mutsuhito ascended to the imperial throne and took the posthumous title of Emperor Meiji, and announced that imperial rule had returned to the country. The leadership of Chōshū and Satsuma decided to learn from the West and adopted several components of Western civilization in order to strengthen the country by fundamentally transforming its economics, politics, and society. During the 1880s, that leadership was crippled in a debate over constitutionalism, and the role with which the Emperor was to have in the new political order. Those leaders who favored imperial over popular sovereignty eventually prevailed in the debate resulting in the creation of a political structure that preserved imperial sovereignty. In 1890, the Empire of Japan was officially recognized throughout the West when it adopted its own constitution. While great progress had been achieved during the reign of Emperor Meiji, the high-water mark for the development of party politics occurred during the reign of Emperor Taishō. Unlike his predecessor’s, the early reign of Emperor Shōwa was marked with acts of political terrorism and international upheavals which threatened to uproot the Meiji political structure. As a result of this, mainstream politicians turned to the Imperial Japanese military and radical bureaucrats to enact reforms that would preserve the political system in the face of such turbulence.
Vrabel, Shane, "Preserving Imperial Sovereignty in the Changing Political Order of Prewar Japan" (2013). History Theses. 22.