alistair swale -the meiji restoration. monarchism, mass communication and conservative revolution

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The Meiji Restoration of 1868 is one of the most astonishing political events of the modern era, yet it doesnt fit easily with Western precedents of mass mobilization and social transformation. This book challenges some of the preconceptions that have hindered the Restoration being understood on its own terms.


  • The Meiji Restoration

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  • Also by Alistair D. Swale

    THE POLITICAL THOUGHT OF MORI ARINORI: A Study in Meiji Conservatism

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  • The Meiji RestorationMonarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution

    Alistair D. SwaleSenior Lecturer, University of Waikato, New Zealand

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  • Alistair D. Swale 2009

    All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission.

    No portion of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS.

    Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

    The author has asserted his right to be identifiedas the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designsand Patents Act 1988.

    First published 2009 byPALGRAVE MACMILLAN

    Palgrave Macmillan in the UK is an imprint of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS.

    Palgrave Macmillan in the US is a division of St Martins Press LLC,175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

    Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world.

    Palgrave and Macmillan are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries.

    ISBN-13: 978-0-230-59386-2 hardback

    This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully managed and sustained forest sources. Logging, pulping and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

    A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

    A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 118 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 09

    Printed and bound in Great Britain byCPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham and Eastbourne

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  • vFor Yurika, Alexander and Sascha

    And With Deepest Gratitude to my Parents

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  • vii

    Foreword and Acknowledgments viii

    1 Introduction 1

    2 Japan Within the World System: Urbanization, Political Stasis and Western Economic Expansion 20

    3 The Meiji Coup dtat 57

    4 Mass Media and the Development of Civil Culture 87

    5 The More Thorough Fulfilment of the Restoration 127

    6 The Imperial Household, the Popular Press and the Contestation of Public Space 154

    7 Conclusion: Conservatism, Traditionalism and Restoration 176

    Notes 182

    Select Bibliography 197

    Index 201


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  • viii

    Foreword and Acknowledgments

    One concern that has informed the framing of this work relates to the matter of introducing the scholarship of some of the leading commenta-tors on Meiji history in Japanese academia. It goes without saying that non- Japanese scholars already working with primary sources in Japanese will not be greatly surprised at some of the academics quoted here. But for those whose acquaintance with Japanese history has come primarily from English sources, it would be appropriate to highlight some of the leading figures of the contemporary scene, especially since in the last 20 years Japanese historical scholarship on the Meiji period has been prolific.

    Some scholars, such as Maruyama Masao and Banno Junji, are justifi-ably to the fore in the field of English language studies of Japanese his-tory. Yet there are others who have made an exceptional contribution to our understanding of the era but are surprisingly little known outside Japan. Without intending to present an exhaustively representative list, I would highlight the work of Asukai Masamichi, Yamamuro Shinichi, Nakanome Toru, Yamashita Shigekazu and Ito- Yukio as having made scholarly contributions that are indispensable to a thorough apprecia-tion of the complexity of the Meiji period; yet most of these scholars remain untranslated and are rarely referenced by non- Japanese read-ers. This book has in part, therefore, the indirect objective of making the important contribution of such scholars known to a wider, non- Japanese-reading, public.

    The aforementioned prolific output of Japanese historiography on the Meiji period over the last 20 years has stemmed from a variety of factors. Perhaps one of the most important ones is that from the late 1980s, Japanese scholarship gradually emerged from a polarized arrange-ment of establishment against anti- establishment (predominantly left-wing) intellectuals, each with fundamentally divergent ideological agendas, to become more genuinely diverse in terms of methodology and intellectual preoccupations. This has also engendered a liberation of sorts from Western academic preoccupations and the development of perspectives that are at once rich and resonant.

    This recent trend is particularly significant in relation to the Meiji Restoration. While the Restoration can be regarded as a historical event of significance to world history on a par with other major social trans-formations such as the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution,

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  • Foreword and Acknowledgments ix

    it has always required a different set of conceptual tools to make sense of it. Some Japanese scholars have been prepared to set to one side preoccupations with the spread of Western Enlightenment thought and universal progress to engage with their own history on more specific terms. This is not a project born out of indifference to Western schol-arship indeed it is always rather inspiring to see how far Japanese scholars routinely develop an extremely thorough acquaintance with the Western canon in almost any given discipline. Nevertheless their response to Western scholarship has often been ambivalent, and not without good academic reason in certain cases.

    In an epoch where a notion of democratizing the Middle East has emerged as a twenty- first century correlate to the nineteenth- century notion of bringing civilization to the despotic Orient, this recent turn in Japanese intellectual outlook perhaps has a broader significance. Given that historically Japan has already exhibited a dynamic of engage-ment with the West that has entailed an ambivalent attitude of partial acceptance and partial rejection, it should not surprise us that this is the position that Japan has ultimately returned to once a level of (economic) superpower status was gained and overt external interference terminated. I have argued that the intellectual developments following on from the Meiji Restoration were, in certain regards, fundamentally questioning the premises of the Enlightenment, and I believe that we are again at a point of renegotiation; we can no longer take it as a given that Japan has embraced Western political values without qualification.

    Consequently, the issues that emerged in the wake of the Restoration remain relevant today. The onus is on the West to make good on any assertions of moral authority; and if we care about retrieving the potency of the legacy of the Western Enlightenment in the twenty- first century, we need to be clear about the genuine scope of its appeal, as well as the degree to which it continues to require clarification and a fundamental justification beyond terms that are largely couched in the notion that they are self-evident.

    Moreover, it is also clear that assumptions of a liberal or democratic impetus behind popular political upheavals need to be questioned. The modern social transformations that we broadly describe as revolutions do come in various shapes and forms after all, and some of them occur without the consent of the masses. Idealized characterizations of the popular movements underlying the French Revolution or the American Revolution seem to persist; however, it is also needful to countenance the possibility that they were in fact exceptions, and problematic in terms of their popular representativeness in any case. The totalitarian

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  • x Foreword and Acknowledgments

    revolutions of the twentieth century, in Russia and in China, as well as those of the Fascist regimes in both Germany and Italy in the 1930s, exemplify scenarios that are no less possible in the present even with knowledge of the past.

    Overall, then, it is hoped that this work provides a more nuanced understanding of the Meiji Restoration in particular, as well as mass political transformations in general. Our need to understand political change in the era of mass communication remains as important as ever,