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The Role Of The Japanese Emperor In The Meiji Restoration
By Jody Kitcher
Japan is a society whose culture is steeped in the traditions and symbols of the
past: Mt. Fuji, the tea ceremony, and the sacred objects of nature revered in Shintoism.
Two of the most important traditions and symbols in Japan; the Emperor and
Confucianism have endured through Shogunates, restorations of imperial rule, and up to
present day. The leaders of the Meiji Restoration used these traditions to gain control
over Japan and further their goals of modernization. The Meiji leaders used the
symbolism of the Emperor to add legitimacy to their government, by claiming that they
were ruling under the "Imperial Will." They also used Confucianism to maintain order
and force the Japanese people to passively accept their rule.
Japanese rulers historically have used the symbolism of the Imperial Institution to
justify their rule. The symbolism of the Japanese Emperor is very powerful and is
wrapped up in a mix of religion (Shintoism) and myths. According to Shintoism the
current Emperor is the direct descendent of the Sun Goddess who formed the islands of
Japan out of the Ocean in ancient times. According to these myths the Japanese Emperor
unlike a King is a living descendent of the Gods and even today he is thought of as the
High Priest of Shinto. Despite the powerful myths surrounding Japan's imperial
institution the Emperor has enjoyed only figure head status from 1176 on. At some points
during this time the Emperor was reduced to selling calligraphy on the streets of Kyoto to
support the imperial household, but usually the Emperor received money based on the
kindness of the Shogunate. But despite this obvious power imbalance even the Tokugawa
Shogun was at least symbolically below the Emperor in status and he claimed to rule so
he could carry out the Imperial rule.
Within this historical context the Meiji leaders realized that they needed to
harness the con...
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