In 1868 the Tokugawa shôgun ("great general"), who ruled Japan in the feudal period, lost his power and the emperor was restored to the supreme position. The emperor took the name Meiji ("enlightened rule") as his reign name; this event was known as the Meiji Restoration.
The Reign of the Meiji Emperor
When the Meiji emperor was restored as head of Japan in 1868, the nation was a militarily weak country, was primarily agricultural, and had little technological development. It was controlled by hundreds of semi-independent feudal lords. The Western powers — Europe and the United States — had forced Japan to sign treaties that limited its control over its own foreign trade and required that crimes concerning foreigners in Japan be tried not in Japanese but in Western courts. When the Meiji period ended, with the death of the emperor in 1912, Japan had
· a highly centralized, bureaucratic government;
· a constitution establishing an elected parliament;
· a well-developed transport and communication system;
· a highly educated population free of feudal class restrictions;
· an established and rapidly growing industrial sector based on the latest technology; and
· a powerful army and navy.
Japan had regained complete control of its foreign trade and legal system, and, by fighting and winning two wars (one of them against a major European power, Russia), it had established full independence and equality in international affairs. In a little more than a generation, Japan had exceeded its goals, and in the process had changed its whole society. Japan's success in modernization has created great interest in why and how it was able to adopt Western political, social, and economic institutions in so short a time.