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Economic Development of Japan The Flexible Structure of Meiji Politics 1858-1881 Okubo Toshimichi (Satsuma Han) Saigo Takamori (Satsuma Han) Kido Takayoshi (Choshu Han) Itagaki Taisuke (Tosa Han) State-led Industrialization Foreign Campaign Western Style Constitution

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economic development of japan
Economic Development of Japan

The Flexible Structure of Meiji Politics1858-1881

Okubo Toshimichi(Satsuma Han)

Saigo Takamori(Satsuma Han)

Kido Takayoshi (Choshu Han)

Itagaki Taisuke(Tosa Han)

State-led Industrialization

Foreign Campaign

Western Style Constitution

Western Style Parliament


Hans that produced many leaders

(Alternative place names in parentheses)

meiji restoration was a samurai led revolution
Meiji Restoration was a Samurai-led Revolution
  • A revolution because of power change (end of bakufu, 1867-68) and systemic change (end of class/feudal system, 1871); both achieved by military power of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa (and Hizen).
  • The samurai class consistently supplied leaders.
  • Distinction between leaders and supporting elites was unclear. The same people often migrated between these categories.
  • Non-samurais had very limited political roles in late Edo to early Meiji : rich farmers (1877-early 1880s only); academics such as Fukuzawa; bakufu elites and scholars.
  • No mass participation in politics (poor farmers, workers).
political leaders and elites end edo to early meiji
Political leaders and Elites (End Edo to Early Meiji)
  • Leaders and elites mentioned in Banno & Ohno (2009) – the list to be expanded.
  • Samurai class dominates (over 90%)
  •  han lord (daimyo, 4)  han samurai (25)  bakufu samurai (2) noblemen (2) merchant (1)
han as the critical unit and incubator for producing meiji leaders and policy coalitions
Han as the Critical Unit and Incubator for Producing Meiji Leaders and Policy Coalitions
  • In successful hans, daimyo (han lord) and samurai worked closely for reform and influence (especially Satsuma).
  • Under daimyo’s direction, han samurais worked to:
    • Absorb new knowledge, contact foreigners, and acquire negotiation skills
    • Cooperate with other hans & bakufu officials for political reform
    • Engage in foreign trade to strengthen han’s budget and purchase Western weapons

 Vision, knowledge, experience, networking

why could meiji japan cope with globalization effectively and industrialize quickly
Why Could Meiji Japan Cope with Globalization Effectively and Industrialize Quickly?
  • Historical background—Umesao Theory: long evolutionary development (lecture 1)
  • Society and economy—Edo period conditions (lecture 2)

Political unity & stability, agricultural development, transportation & unified market, commerce & finance, manufacturing, industrial promotion, education

  • Politics—“Flexible Structure” for attaining multiple development goals (this lecture)


Banno, Junji (2006), Political History of Modern Japan, Iwanami (Japanese).

Banno, Junji (2007), Unfinished Meiji Restoration, Chikuma Shinsho (Japanese).

Banno, Junji (2008), History of Japanese Constitutional Politics, Univ. of Tokyo Press (Japanese).

Banno, Junji & Kenichi Ohno (2010), “The Flexible Structure of Politics in Meiji Japan,” prepared for the Leadership Program by Adrian Leftwich (York University) and Steve Hogg (AusAid).

Banno, Junji & Kenichi Ohno (2010), Meiji Restoration 1858-1881, Kodansha Gendai Shinsho (Japanese)

late edo early meiji socio political conditions
Late Edo & Early Meiji Socio-political Conditions

Cumulative socio-economic evolution

under political stability (Umesao Theory)

Bakufu: loss of

political legitimacy

Military, diplomatic & economic failure against West

National unity

& nationalism


of civil war &


Rise of rich &


Demand for

knowledge &



vs. old system

Contradiction &

need for new

policy regime



Possibility of

new leader

and social order

Balance between fierce political competition (dynamism) and ultimate national unity (stability)

initial shock transition implementation
Initial Shock, Transition, Implementation

1853 to 1858 Initial shock and panic

1858 to 1881 Transition Period

  • From Edo to Meiji (1968): little change in players or political pattern (only Bakufu drops out)
  • National goals and roadmaps are debated and contested.

1880s to 1890s Implementation Period

  • Constitution under strong emperor (1889), first election and parliament (1890).
  • Repeated “company booms” (creation of joint stock companies, late 1880s-); industrial revolution (1890s)
  • Japan overtakes UK in cotton textile industry (early 20c)
  • Japan wins over China (1894-95) and Russia (1904-05)
transition period from 1858 to 1881
Transition Period: from 1858 to 1881

Period for restructuring the political regime, redefining national goals, and agreeing on their concrete contents, priorities, roadmaps, and implementers.

1858 (Late Edo – 5 years after Black Ship arrival)

  • Signing of commercial treaties with the West (effective from the following year, international trade begins)
  • Emergence of political and economic strategies to cope with the West: kogi yoron (government by public deliberation) & fukoku kyohei (rich country, strong military)

1881 (14th year of Meiji)

  • Emperor promises drafting the constitution within 9 years.
  • Policy shift from SOEs to privatization.
  • Stopping inflation and establishment of BOJ (early 1880s)
flexible structure of meiji politics banno ohno theory
“Flexible Structure of Meiji Politics” (Banno & Ohno Theory)

(1) Evolution of goals

  • End Edo: 2 goals of Fukoku Kyohei (rich & strong han) & Kogi Yoron (feudal assembly)
  • Early Meiji: 4 goals of Fukoku (industrialization), Kyohei (foreign campaign), Constitution, and Parliament

(2) Flexibility in coalition building

  • Groups continued to form and re-form coalitions as situations changed. No group monopolized power for long.

(3) Flexibility of leaders and leader groups

  • Policy priority of each leader evolved and solidified over time.
  • Leading group was able to embrace multiple goals and adjust policy
flexibility of goals
Flexibility of Goals

Kogi Yoron(公議輿論 – government by public deliberation)

British style multiple party democracy


German style constitutional monarchy

Western style Constitution


Western style Parliament

Upper House by daimyos & Lower House by lower samurais

Feudal assembly by 303 hans and bakufu

Deliberation among 4 or 5 wise daimyos



Fukoku Kyohei(富国強兵 - enrich country, strengthen military)

Each han:

Trading house(export traditional products for profit)

Import weaponsBuy cannons, guns, battleships from West

State-led industrializationwith Western machines and technology (Okubo)


Military expedition to rest of Asia (unhappy samurai)

  • Developmentalism
  • Budget conflict between 2 goals

- Mercantilism- Bargaining power against other hans and bakufu




Flexibility in Coalition Building


Fukoku Kyohei(rich country, strong military)

Naichi Yusen(internal reforms first)



Okubo (Satsuma)1830-1878


Kido (Choshu)1833-1877

Saigo (Satsuma)1827-1877

Kogi Yoron(democratization)

Seikanron (Korean expedition plan)

Itagaki (Tosa)1837-1919

Source: Banno (2007), edited by presenter.

No single group dominated; each had to form coalition with 1 or 2 other groups to pursue policy.
  • As situations changed, coalitions were re-formed every few years. No coalition lasted for very long.
  • Trust and goodwill existed among leaders up to final confrontation (Saigo’s rebellion, ousting of Okuma, Itagaki’s attack on government).

 Despite rivalry and friction, political flexibility permitted attainment of multiple goals in the long run without extreme swings.


Chronology of Transition Politics

1858-68 Influential hans: trading house, planning for feudal assembly; inter-han agreements

1871-73 Iwakura Mission to US/Europe; Meanwhile, rusu (home) gov’t insists on fiscal austerity

1873-75 Industrialization (Okubo) vs. Military expedition (Saigo backed by discontented army)

1875 Osaka Conference: coalition against Military:{(Constitution + Parliament) +Industrialization}

1876-80 Breakup of C+P coalition; I dominates but gradually faces fiscal constraint

1880-81 Re-emergence of C&M; ousting of Okuma; Decisions on SOE privatization and C&P by 1890


Iwakura Mission 1871-73

Osaka Conference 1875

Saigo Rebellion 1877

Ousting of Okuma 1881

Rise of Industrializer 1876

Budget crisis 1880

Meiji 1868

Seikanron 1873









Ito, Inoue






Outside Gov’t








Okubo assassinated









C: constitution P: parliament I: industrialization M: military

comparison of influential hans
Comparison of Influential Hans
  • Saga (Hizen) leaders (Okuma, Eto, Oki, Soejima)—they lacked han-based training for coalition building; could not participate in the flexible politics of early Meiji.
  • Fukui (Echizen) leaders—split sharply between fukoku kyohei (Nakane, Yuri) vs. austerity (Shungaku); could not build military capability and left out in Meiji Revolution.

Source: Banno & Ohno (2009).

Note: “Stability and flexibility of leaders” means the ability of the same leader group to manage internal disputes and embrace new policies as circumstances changed, rather than creating extreme policy swings between two split groups.

winning han and losing han
Winning Han and Losing Han
  • All han experienced internal disputes between sonno joi(respect emperor, expel foreigners) and kaikoku (open country and trade).
  • The keys for success were (i) how quickly to adopt kaikoku policy; and (ii) strong teamwork of han leader and samurai for promoting fukoku kyohei (enrich country, strengthen military).

Commercial treaties signed

(Colors show dominant policy of each han)

End of Bakufu





Perfect teamwork after 1862

Alliance 1866

Alliance 1867




Policy shift embraced




New leaders emerged


Problem: no cooperation with other han




Too late

sakamoto ryoma 1835 1867 independent thinker mover and match maker
Sakamoto Ryoma(1835-1867)Independent Thinker, Mover, and Match Maker
  • Low-ranking samurai from Tosa.
  • Leave Tosa without han lord’s permission to join political movement as an individual; travel expensively in Japan.
  • Learn Western navigation; establish Japan’s first trading company (Kameyama Shachu) in Nagasaki.
  • The principal matchmaker for Satsuma-Choshu coalition (1866) and Satsuma-Tosa coalition (1867) to set up a new government.
  • Propose a new political regime (public deliberation) through Goto Shojiro and Lord Yamanouchi Yodo of Tosa.
  • Assassinated in Kyoto in Nov. 1867, just before Meiji Restoration.
additional remarks
Additional Remarks
  • Why frequent re-groupings did not cause chaos, extreme swings, and foreign intervention?
    • Previous experience of han-based networking
    • Rise of intellectuals & rich class as stabilizer
    • Private-sector nationalism and “Respect for Emperor”
  • Impact of Okubo’s industrial policy?
    • SOEs not commercially viable: later had to be privatized
    • But other measures were effective in preparing private dynamism in 1880s and 90s: infrastructure, foreign advisers, technology contracts, engineering education, research institutes, trade fairs, monetary and financial reform, etc.

The Rise and Fall of Post WW2 East Asian Authoritarian Developmentalism

Government-capitalist coalition(undemocratic)



Demand for democracy

20-30 years of

sustained growth


Workers, urban dwellers

Middle Mass

Workers, urban dwellers,

professionals, students



  • Features:
  • Crisis as a catalyst
  • Strong leader
  • Elite technocrat group
  • Developmental ideology (delay in democratization)
  • Legitimacy through economic results (not election)
  • Social change after 2-3 decades of success
meiji revolution not like post ww2 authoritarian developmentalism ad
Meiji Revolution: Not Like Post WW2 Authoritarian Developmentalism (AD)

Common Feature with AD

  • Crisis (Western impact) as a catalyst.


  • No single leader who stayed in power for a long time.
  • No technocrat group to support the supreme leader (no separation of supreme leader & supporting elites).
  • Simultaneous pursuit of industrialization and political reform (no sacrifice of democratization for economic growth).
  • Multiple legitimacy: establishment of constitutional politics, industrialization, and external expansion

 The popular view of Meiji as developmental dictatorship (first AD in East Asia) is wrong.

a hypothesis on politics of coping with integration and modernization
A Hypothesis on politics of coping with integration and modernization
  • Soft structure of politics
    • Flexible structure of Meiji politics
    • Two-party rule with policy overlaps
  • Hard structure of politics
    • East Asian AD (government-capitalist coalition vs. suppressed mass for a few decades)
    • Entrenched confrontation and large policy swings (the syndrome of developing country politics; revenge politics; politicization of election)
  • Hypothesis: soft structure performs better in securing long-term stability & resilience and the simultaneous pursuit of multiple goals.