The Meiji Industrialization, its Impacts and Japan’s Commemoration
The Meiji restoration period is the period that lasted from the mid-19th century through the early 20th Century in Japan. This period was characterized by great changes in political, social and economic systems, they key results of which are related through the Meiji industrialization narrations. The period formed the starting point of industrial revolution in Japan and initiated changes that drove the country towards even greater economic diversity. The start of the Meiji restoration period came about during the 1850s when the 15th Shogun of the Tokogawa abandoned his prerogatives in the hands of Emperor Meiji. This resulted in the consolidation of political power covering the entire South Western period of the country. Further consolidations resulted from the inclusion of the lower levels of the Samurai and conviction of other regions that greater power came through consolidation. Through the entire periods of the Meiji industrialization, great changes were realized in Japan that made the country stand out in comparison to its Asian neighbors. The Meiji industrialization formed the starting point of industrialization in Japan, a process which went on through the war and post war period. The impacts of the Meiji industrialization period being immense are still commemorated in present day Japan through the existence of 23 major sites dedicated to this crucial time in history. This essay explores the changes that occurred during the Meiji industrialization, with the aim of understanding whether the present-day commemorations actually fit the impacts of the industrialization on the country.
Meiji Industrialization: Mid-19th Century to Early 20th Century
The Meiji industrialization was triggered by the visit of the American troupes during the European war. This visit saw the Japanese realize that they had been left behind in terms of war ships, armament and technology development in war. The result was a decision to industrialize and be comparable to other countries. According to a study by Teasley (3), the realization that they had been left behind led to the need to promote enlightenment and civilization in Japan. The most essential process in this would be the transfer of technology from the West to Japan, which is a non-West Country. The industrialization process in Japan during the Meiji restoration period took place in three key phases. The first phase which occurred between the 1850s and the early 1860s was described as the preparation phase. During this period, the Japanese had just realized how advanced the American and others were in terms of war fare. As such, the period was characterized by experimentation in ship building as well as in iron making (UNESCO par. 8). Further changes involved improvements in sea-going to enhance naval defense. The developments were conducted by the locals through acquisition and application of text book knowledge (UNESCO par. 9). While this was an important point in the Meiji industrialization, no significant progress was made during this period. The most probable reason would be the lack of expertise in the areas in which the Japanese sought to advance. Experimentation based on textbook knowledge only resulted in failure and the need to find other viable methods.
The second phase of the industrialization came with the importation of expertise and technology from the West (Yamamura 68). The Japanese most probably realized that there could be no significant progress without expertise and that technologies were needed even in iron making and in ship building. Based on the finding that the Japanese did not have sufficient effective technologies during the experimentation stage, it is probable that they also realized that some of the procedures they intended to carry out could not be achieved without proper technology. The third and final phase of the Meiji industrialization, which lasted from the 1890s to 1910, was characterized by full blown efforts at industrialization. The process entailed the adaptation of imported technology and expertise to areas on need in the local environment (Yamamura 77). The industrialization that occurred between the years of 1890 and 1910 formed the initial point of advanced industrialization in Japan. It is after these years that Japan came to grow steadily in technology to its current position, both in the military and in other forms of technology.
The Meiji industrialization resulted in several great changes in the country. The first essential change was the rise of Japan as a military power by the end of 1905. The main purpose of the efforts to strengthen the military was to enrich the country through military strengthening. This came with power consolidation against the Edo period which had previously been rampant as the Japanese military gained greater strength. A central government was created in Japan and it operated bureaucratically so that most of the Samurai who had been in the traditional systems were employed in various roles in the government. The results that came included improved national identity in comparison to the neighbors and social structural changes (Yamamura 79). This consolidation of power was crucial to Japan and the Meiji era due to various reasons. It can be deduced that the social changes resulted in improved government strength, reduced discrimination among the Samurai ranks and increased need for advancements in technology. These factors could have contributed to greater unity in terms of labor provision and other aspects of the actual industrial advancements.
Various changes in the industrial sector also came with the changes in the social structure and political system of the country. For instance, Yamamura asserts that rapid changes were actualized in the industrial sector, particularly in production and infrastructure due to demand for the same in areas such as the construction of ships, iron smelting and spinning meals (139). As is said, necessity comes with inventions. It can therefore be concluded that the key objective of the Meiji regime was to advance in warfare. However, the importation of technology and expertise led to the realization that the desired advancements could only be achieved in the presence of the production means hence the growth in production. Similarly, the increment of infrastructure and production necessity led to the increment of industrial zones in the country. Since iron making occurred in different parts of the country, the production zones also had to vary in location hence the presence of multiple production zones. With this, there was also increased migration from the countryside to the industrial zones that rose due to increased industrialization.
Increased production and infrastructure can also be cited as part of the drivers of the development of the railroads and structuring of modern communication channels in the country. Infrastructure, although present, needed to have the necessary locomotives for it to be effective hence the driving force behind the development of the railroads. From this perspective, it can also be argued that the increased production and transportation yielded increasing demand for coal across the country. As reported by Yamamura (116), the production of coal increased from 0.6 metric tons in 1875 to 21.3 metric tons in 1913. This increment can only be due to increasing demands for fuel to be used in production, for steamships as well as fuel for use in the railroads. From the descriptions given on the nature of industrialization during the Meiji restoration period, it can be argued that the sole driver of such industrialization was the consolidation of power. Without this, it would have been impossible even for the entire country to note the differences in war technology between Japan and the West. In addition to this, lack of consolidation could also have to poor labor distribution and reduced concentration on the work at hand. In addition to this, the industrialization process can also be described to have been self-sustaining as the development of every sector yielded new challenges and needs to be pursued hence the continued growth. For instance, electrification occurred between 1904 and 1911 following the development of electrical railroads between cities which increased economies of scale.
War and Post War Industrialization in Japan
Electrification led to the consolidation of the largest hydroelectric power grids during the 1920s with one serving Tokyo / Yokohama while another served Osaka and Kobe. This process further enhanced production in various sectors, advancement of agricultural practices to involve modern technologies and road pavements. As in the Meiji industrialization period, each of these developments came about due to the arising necessity at the time. For instance, the need for transportation of bulky goods and services as well as people through the use of trucks and buses respectively, led to the need to develop wider and paved roads. At the same time, there was increased formation of cliques in the financial industry, most of which engaged in enterprises such as insurance, banking and trading companies. The financial sector can only be linked to the development in the industrial sector as it is during this period that most business people opted to joining mining, textile and iron making industries. The increased circulation of funds due to company privatization led to the need to have secure financial systems that would protect societal and individual property. The impacts of such changes include drastic reduction in expenditures incurred in information gathering.
The late 1920s came with development of new electrical machinery such as steam engines, which were used across the electrical production in industry. Both small and large companies continued to mechanize (Mosk par. 3). It can be argued that availability of iron and coal for the production of machinery enabled this mechanization to occur across the country. Through the 1920s and 1930s, the country continued to grow, expanding various sectors such as the financial, agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In each of these areas, the main objective was to enhance mechanization and thus improve operational efficiencies. The military sector in Japan also enhanced further through increased technological advancements. From the end of the Meiji driven regime in about 1913, Japan continued to grow in various economic aspects. The 1930s were also characterized with heavy growth in various manufacturing sectors such as in chemicals, steel and machinery (Mosk par. 5). These advancements came with incremental need for skilled labor which initiated the increase in schools and education levels in the country. It can thus be deduced that like in the Meiji industrialization period, the war and post war industrialization was also aided by increasing needs as advancements also increased.
Commemoration of the Meiji Industrialization
There are many changes that occurred in Japan during the Meiji industrialization period. These changes have become of crucial importance in the globe as they led to the development of sites that are recognized as heritage sites across the world. It is through these heritage sites that Japan commemorates the Meiji industrialization to the present days. Despite some of the sites being in destitute situations, it is believed that the Meiji industrialization forms the point of reference for the transfer of technology from the West to Japan. There is a total of 23 components in ii varied heritage sites that have been dedicated to the commemoration of the Meiji regime. These sites are located within eight distinct areas recognized as the most crucial industrial zones in the Meiji restoration period. According to UNICEF (par. 5), six of the areas are in South Western Japan while one is in Central Japan and the other in Northern Japan. The sites are a representation of the movement of Japan from a clan based political system to an advanced industrial society which practiced innovation in the adaptation of Western technologies to the local needs of the country. After the regime in 1910, the sites became fully operational industrial complexes. Some of those complexes are operational to the present day or may be part of larger operational sites (UNICEF par. 6). Based on the role that the various industrial zones played during the Meiji industrialization, it was only prudent that such zones be preserved for reference in the future as an indication of the national progress experienced by the country.
The collection of sites, in the world perspective represents the fast-paced interchange of ideas, equipment and expertise, which resulted in the emergence of industrial independence in the country (Teasley 5). This had an impact not only within Japan but also among its Asian neighbors. As such, the sites hold significance not only in the industrial development of Japan as a country but also in regional development. The presence and commemoration of these sites and the period they represent is thus expected to permeate the national boundaries of the country and to fall into the larger regional boundaries. At the same time, many developing countries that consider Japan to be a model of fast paced industrialization can also take reference in these sites as inspiration for greater achievements and for pursuing bigger and more advanced dreams.
Apart from representing ideas and expertise transfer, technological ensembles associated with these sites are also testimonies to the rapid development associated with Japan in the industrial sector. The diversity of the technological ensembles represents the iron making, steel, coal mining and ship building industries and their impacts on the industrialization rate of Japan. These features classify Japan historically as the first country away from the West that successfully engaged in industrialization, driven by the strong desire for change. The ensemble represents rapid industrialization on the basis of local innovation and application of western technology. From this, it can be argued that the country has done a great deal in commemorating this crucial period in the national industrial growth. The national governments of Japan have therefore done a lot in ensuring that the sites adequately entail all the key attributes that possess exceptional universal value with respect to the Meiji industrialization. Through maintenance of the intactness of these sites, and the consideration of the locations, ensembles and technologies of each site as uniquely representative of the Meiji period, an authentic and enviable remembrance was produced.
From the perspective presented by UNICEF (par. 8) some of the sites are vulnerable and present challenges to conservation. Sites such as the Hashima mine are in poor physical state and there have been measures to conduct repairs and thus maintain the integrity of those areas. Other sites such as the Shokasonjuku Academy have greater visual impacts due to their development as public historical sites. Such developments, although result in certain modifications, do not adversely affect the integrity of those areas and their impacts on the society in general. Other areas have been adversely affected through small scale urban developments which result in the need for relocation of certain components of the sites when need for renovation arises (UNICEF par. 10). Such changes in location impact the integrity of those sites negatively. Due to this, it is recommended that the Japanese government should put in place legislations that will not only help in doing away with developments that already exist in preserved sites but also controlling future developments in those sites.
Although some of the facilities in some sites have become archeological remains, they can still be considered as authentic evidences to the existence of the Meiji industrialization. Such sites possess high amounts of primary information, which when combined with documented evidence, convey the manner in which Japan achieved technological transfer from the West and how that technology was adapted to fit the local needs of the country. The efforts of the Japanese governments to maintain these sites also goes a long way in ensuring that the Meiji industrialization is commemorated effectively in present day Japan.
Although a lot has been done by the various Japanese governments with regards to such commemoration, it is undeniable that some of the areas are vulnerable to destruction, especially through encroachment by the locals. It is therefore recommended that in addition to making efforts to maintain the key heritage sites and to renovate the most vulnerable sites, protective legislations should be formulated to protect these sites even more. This is especially required for sites such as coal mines which have been under encroachment by construction and development in small and medium scale sectors.
The Meiji industrialization formed a great revolutionary period in the economic status of Japan as a country. Not only did the period come with social adjustments, it also came with many changes in industrial inclination, resulting in some of the most important changes in Japanese history and the recognition of Japan as the first non- western country to industrialize. With growth in the key sectors of coal mining, iron making and various production industries, the Meiji industrialization formed the basis of other industrial growth achievements that were realized during the war and post war periods. The Japanese government has thus done a lot to ensure that this period is not forgotten throughout history through its efforts to maintain key industrial zones in the country. However, challenges still persist due to the vulnerability of some of those areas to destruction. It is therefore recommended that new legislations be made for the protection of those heritage sites and control of development around the areas.
Mosk, Carl. Japanese Industrialization and Economic Growth. Economic History Encyclopedia, 2004.
Teasley, Dana Kenneth. The Japanese Revolutionaries: The Architects of the Meiji Restoration, 1860- 1868. Student papers, History Paper 1, 2009.
UNESCO. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Ship Building and Coal Mining. UNESCO, World Heritage Center, 2015.
Yamamura, Toko. Success Ill-gotten? The Role of Meiji Militarinism in Japan’s Technological Progress. The Journal of Economic History 37, 1(1977).