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Part II

Study and Discussion Questions

  1. What led Japan's new leaders to in essence expropriate the social group to which they belonged?  Does their willingness to take this step mean the new leaders were selfless patriots?

  2. What reactions did early Meiji leaders have when they first visited Western societies? What did they find most impressive about what they saw, and what features of American and European societies and cultures made them less enthusiastic? Were there institutions or practices they found threatening or subversive to their interests?

  3. What views did the early Meiji leaders have of the rest of Asia? How might these have been related to their views of the Western powers and Japan's position in relation to Western culture and power?

  4. How did the Meiji rulers go about the task of centralizing the rule and administration of the country? What issues were they concerned with in this drive?

  5. What measures did the architects of the Meiji state employ to create a loyal body of subjects? How long did it take for these changes to take root? What do the initial reactions of ordinary people tell us about their expectations of government?  Were the people of this time "naturally" loyal to the nation and/or subservient to authority?

  6. What kinds of groups launched uprisings against the Meiji government in the 1870s and 1880's, and why? What, if any, common causes can be found among these various uprisings?

  7. How did the new tax system instituted by the Meiji government in the 1870s change the relationship between the individual landowner and the state? What changes did the new system bring about in patterns of land ownership?

  8. What role did the spread of railways play on economic development during the 1870's and 1880's? What impact did railways have on people's daily lives and understandings of society?  Is there anything about this history in Japan that strikes you as particular to the Japanese case?

  9. Why was silk such an important commodity in the economy of the 1870s through the early 20th century? How did the rise of the silk industry in the 1870s impact rural society? Who were the "winners" and who were the "losers" in this development?

  10. How significant was the role of the state in industrial development? Why did the Meiji leaders invest in state industries, and why did they later sell these off? What are the arguments for and against seeing the state's role as important?

  11. What models or explanations have past historians applied to the transformations of the Meiji period in comparing it to other modern revolutionary epochs? What are the strengths and limitations of such comparative approaches for understanding what happened in Japan?

  12. How extensively did Meiji government officials and the people active in the "freedom and people''s rights" movement disagree about the need for a constitution and the proper content of such a document?

  13. What were some of the Meiji-era opinions on the question of women's participation in politics? Can you imagine a logic by which male intellectuals or political leaders might have endorsed women's political rights?  Why did the government seek to impose limits on women's role in political life?

  14. Why did the Meiji oligarchs unveil their plans for promulgating a constitution in 1881? To what extent was the system of government dictated by the Meiji constitution an authoritarian one, and to what extent did it provide avenues for popular participation in government?

  15. What were the reasons for the massive financial retrenchment policy of the early 1880s, known as the Matsukata Deflation? How did it affect the economy and society of rural Japan? In what ways did the tensions that resulted influence the politics of the period?

  16. How can one explain the rapid growth of the Japanese economy from the 1870s through the early years of the twentieth century? To what extent were the explanatory factors you note unique to Japan, and to what extent were they factors in the economic development of other nations? In what ways did Japan's economic development build upon Tokugawa precedents?

  17. How, if at all, did the ideology of capitalism espoused by Meiji-era entrepreneurs differ from that of their counterparts in the West at this time? What ideals did Meiji business leaders stress, and what ideals did they see as contemptible or dangerous? How did these leaders understand the purpose and justification of profit-seeking?

  18. How did the situation faced by female factory workers differ from that of their male counterparts in the Meiji period? By what logic did employers treat their female workers differently? What circumstances led each to join the industrial work force, and what benefits did they seek? What kinds of issues compelled male and female workers to strike?

  19. How did the character of higher education change from the 1880s onward? What was the function of elementary school education as the Meiji rulers came to see it? What unintended consequences might be attributed to education?

  20. In what ways did Western culture influence and reshape the culture of Japan during the Meiji period? Were Japanese uncritical recipients of all things Western; or were there critics of "modernization as Westernization"?

  21. How was the religion of Shinto transformed to support the state? In what ways did these changes aid in the invention of an officially-sanctioned Japanese identity? How much room was there for dissent against this state ideology, and what arguments were mobilized against dissenters?

  22. How did the Meiji state attempt to redefine women's roles in society? How did these differ from the roles played by most women in the Tokugawa period? In what ways was this new definition conservative? What was progressive about it? How did a women's social class effect the changes she experienced?

  23. When and where did Japanese colonialism start—with Korea, with Taiwan, with Hokkaido, with Okinawa? Any answer to this query depends largely on your definition of colonialism, so include that as part of the answer.

  24. To what extent were Japan's policies toward Korea during the late nineteenth century reactive or proactive? Who were Japanese reacting to or acting upon? Did Meiji leaders harbor the desire to take possession of the Korean Peninsula all along, from the 1870s through 1910?

  25. Support or dispute the following claim: "That Japan should embark on the road to imperial domination of its neighbors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was only natural, given the state of international relations and prevalence of gunboat diplomacy at the time."

  26. What impact did imperialist expansion abroad and nation-building policies at home have on the political consciousness of ordinary Japanese people, and what sorts of political ideologies or sentiments arose among the masses as a result? How did the government attempt to deal with these sentiments?

  27. What were the so-called "politics of compromise"? Why were the oligarchs and their allies in the military and bureaucracy obliged to seek the cooperation of political parties, whose leaders were popularly-elected representatives in the Diet? Given the way these political arrangements worked, to what degree was the Diet a force for liberalizing reforms during the Meiji and Taisho periods? How far were elected representatives willing to go in support of popular causes?

  28. What were the demands of the crowds that rioted in the early twentieth century? In what respects did these demands challenge the authority of the state? Would it be accurate to say that these riots opposed the state but supported the nation?

  29. Does it make sense to call the Japanese people of the early twentieth century "citizens" or should one call them "subjects?" Japanese equivalents of both words were used in political discourse at the time.

  30. What social and ideological trends worried government leaders most during the early twentieth century? What measures or policies did they implement to cope with these problems? How successful were these initiatives in creating a citizenry or body of subjects obedient to state authority?

These study and discussions questions were adapted by Craig Colbeck from the questions prepared for the website for the first edition (with some newly added).  The original questions for Parts I and II were prepared by Jeffrey Bayliss, now assistant professor at Trinity College, and those for Parts III and IV were prepared by Emer O'Dwyers, now assistant professor at Oberlin College.

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