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Meiji Emperor

Mutsuhito, the Meiji Emperor (明治天皇) (1852-1912) was born the Crown Prince Mutsuhito of Japan. From his birth in 1852, he was destined to be the 122nd emperor of Japan. Mutsuhito would have been seen as a divine figure in the eyes of the Japanese peasantry, but the emperor had been powerless in Japan for centuries. The Tokugawa Shogunate ruled the nation, which was still a feudal state controlled by Daimyo, the nobility.

Mutsuhito ascended to the throne on February 3, 1867 at the age of fifteen, taking the title of Meiji, or “enlightened ruler”. He was the symbolic leader of the Meiji Restoration, in which the Tokugawas were deposed by Imperial forces. The Charter Oath, a five-point statement of the nature of the new government abolished feudalism and proclaimed a modern democratic government for Japan. Although a parliament was formed, it had no real power, and neither did Meiji. Power had passed from the Tokugawa into the hands of the Daimyo who had led the Restoration. Japan was thus controlled by an oligarchy, which comprised the most powerful men of the military, political, and economic spheres.

The Meiji Restoration is a source of pride for the Japanese, as it and the accompanying industrialization allowed Japan to become the preeminent power in the Pacific and a major player in the world within a generation. On the other hand, it is a source of shame, as it was the beginning of Japan's imperialism in the Pacific and prepared the nation to join the Berlin-Rome Axis in the thirties.

Meiji's role in the Restoration is debatable. He certainly did not control Japan, but how much influence he wielded is unknown. It is unlikely it will ever be clear whether he supported the wars against China (1894-1895) and Russia (1904-1905). One of the few windows we have into Meiji's own feelings is his poetry, which seem to indicate a pacifist streak, or at least a man that wished war could be avoided.

Preceded by:
List of Japanese Emperors Succeeded by:
Yoshihito, the Taisho Emperor

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