Modernity in Japan

1 January 2017

After 1868, feudal classes were abolished and every one was equal before the law. All men were also required to render their services to the military. Education was made compulsory, and women were allowed to work outside their homes. This research paper highlights how Japan embraced modernity, what it meant to embrace modernity, relationships of Japan with Asia, and the place of culture within modernity. Just like their Asian counterparts, modernisation in Japan has been confused with westernisation.

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This is because modernisation was characterised by the acceptance of western cultures, and this meant great changes in the peoples way of life. Westernisation in Japan involved the adoption of western fashions of clothing, food, architecture and hair styles. The introduction of computers, phones and mass communication was considered modernisation as they transformed the patterns of behaviour and world views, and this entailed remolding a cultural form to a new identity (Lu n. d). While it took the majority of European countries more than 50 years to industrialise, it only took Japan 40 years.

After the pacific war, The 1947 civil code enabled Japan to establish a constitutional democracy which paved way for political modernizations to occur. The Meiji leaders were from the lower middle rank of the Samurai class. They had experienced the pressures of western imperialism and the corrupt Tokugawa feudal role, and they knew modernisation was the only way to save Japan. Japan modernised to remain an independent, sovereign state and to avoid the aggressive western imperialism at the time. If Japan had prevented the entry of western civilisation, they would have lost their independence.

The rest of the world’s civilized nations were not ready to allow an Eastern island nation of Asia slumber in isolation ( Fridell 1970). So what is modernity? It is a set of related attributes resulting from industrial, social and economic revolutions. Industrial revolution was as a result of technological advances. In modernity, we value rational and scientific thoughts and economic efficiencies are always promoted. Since modernity is tied to Christianity, the early Japanese modernizers were also encouraged to embrace Christianity by their American supporters.

Under modernity, tradition has always been rejected to favour progress. Most of the basic terms of modernity do not apply to Japanese culture though the country embraced western architecture to advance its modernisation programs. They used western engineers to build the country’s infrastructure. We can say Japan is fully modernised, but have failed in its attempts to westernise(Yukichi 2009). As the Meiji leaders started modernising some aspects of Japan, they realised other aspects such as the military needed reforms. Long term educational modernisation was developed to ensure the reforms were accepted by people.

Relying on the dignity of the imperial household, some dedicated men toppled the old government and established a new one that embraced modern civilisation. The new government cast Japan’s old conventions and created an a new axle towards progress in Asia ( Fridell 1970). We can truly describe the birth of a Japanese nation in 1868 as an embrace of modernity. The modern civilization that occurred in Japan was mutually exclusive to the country’s old conventions. The Charter Oath Japan signed in 1868 stated that the country would seek knowledge throughout the world.

Japanese employed experts from all over the globe. They chose the best examples in education, military and political systems and adopted them for the country’s use. Though Japan is located in the Eastern extremities of Asia, the spirit of the country’s people had moved away from old conventions of Asia towards western civilisation(Yukichi 2009). Japan is quite different from their neighbours Korea and China who turned a blind eye to western civilisation and continued with their ancient traditions. Embracing modernity for Japan meant discarding their customs and embracing ideologies of western civilisation.

In examining how Japan embraced modernity, we cannot forget the role played by Japan’s distinctive, spiritual and cultural traditions in the process of modern nation building. Even today, modernising countries of Africa and Asia are faced with the same problem of how to relate traditions to modernisation. The Meiji restoration combined both old and new conventions to modernise. The new conventions were represented by modern industrialisation, western armies and political institutions. The old included traditional socio-ideological patterns and values as foundations of the new Japan (Mizuno 2004).

Tradition in Japan was not used as a barrier for change, but it was used as a means of implementing change. However, against the broad socio-political backgrounds, i will describe some dimensions in Japanese tradition that were utilised by the Meiji leaders, to form loyal united people who withstood the dislocations of periods of unprecedented social change. Meiji government used the school system as a key method to discard traditional values and loyalties for national purposes. They also used restoration Shinto a new religion to promote modernisation.

After the Shinto movements and buddhists had failed in promoting modernisation ideologies in 1873, the government used shrine support to promote national, ideological programs(Yukichi 2009). Confucian ethics were used as a means of counter balancing the extremes of westernisation and this unified the nation behind the new regime. The key elements the Meiji government used to modernise were; the shrines, the school ethics instruction programs and the social ideological enterprises. These elements were used to undergird the national unity and state authority through appeals to traditional values.

Shinto shrines were established under government protection as a patriotic cult to strengthen patriotism. These elements extended effective government controls down to grass root levels of the Japanese society. The use of family ideologies and state concept were to unite all Japanese classes to one harmonious nation, to prevent intellectual fragmentation and social discords ( Fridell 1970). The late Meiji phase of ethics education program set a pattern for modern propagative ideologies in Japan which progressed until 1945.

After 1868, Japan started modernising itself by learning from the west, and it changed it’s attitudes towards its neighbouring countries in Asia. It is believed they abandoned the reverence and traditional friendship they had with their Asian counterparts as they had adopted contemptuous and aggressive attitudes. Japan did not adopt the western style diplomacy towards its neighbours instead, it abandoned the traditional culture which it owed much from other East Asian civilisations since antiquity (Chung 2007).

However, this change does not really explain the Japanese policy towards other Asian countries from the early seventeenth century to late nineteenth century. We cannot ignore Chinese and Korean influences when we discuss the development of Japan to modernisation. China, Korea and Japan have influenced each other culturally, politically and economically for thousands of years, and they still continue up to date. With its triumph of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, the country acquired Taiwan as its first overseas colony including surrounding islands. Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule until the end of the Pacific War.

Its victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905 elevated the country’s status and in 1910, they annexed Korea under their colonial rule until the end of the Pacific war in 1941 (Mizuno 2004). After the First World War, Japan gained access to mainland China by ousting Germans, and they succeeded in forcing China to surrender to their demands. Most Asian countries still have bitter memories of Japanese militarism and imperialism. Though its many years since the collapse of the Japanese empire, this bitter past has continued to overshadow relationships between Japan and Asia, especially its former colonies.

China and Korea still harbour anti- Japanese sentiments. History has continued to hinder Asian countries in their pursuit of mutual fidelity and amity. Following the imperialist path, Japan victimised its neighbours. The Meiji restoration established an imperial government that laid aggressive and coercive attitudes towards their neighbours especially China and Korea. In Japan and other parts of Asia, modernity did not replace tradition (Mizuno 2004). It is evident there were indeginous roots in Japanese modernisation, and during the Meiji restoration, not every modernisation occurred without reflective westernisation.

As Japan emulated the west, only certain parts of the western culture ware adopted. New social orders came into being as Japan used western ideologies to modernise. This influenced their traditions, values and cultures in society. The only part of Japanese culture that was left untouched was their language as they still use Japanese up to date. Their religion was also not affected as up to date majority of Japanese still go to Shinto shrines and are Buddists. A new social order existed in the form of big social institutions such as industries, schools, businesses etc.

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