The Meiji Period: A Fascinating Era of Japan’s History You Need to Know About
When you think of Japanese history, you probably think of samurai, ninja, and the Edo period. But there’s so much more to learn!
The Meiji period (明治時代, Meiji jidai) is a critical time in Japanese history. It began on January 25, 1868, following the end of the Edo period and marked the beginning of the modern era of Japan. The era extended until July 30, 1912, ending with the reign of Emperor Meiji.
Let’s look at the Meiji period in more detail and discuss the critical events that changed Japan from a feudal state to a modern nation.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 The Meiji Period: A Critical Time in Japanese History
- 2 Japan’s Foreign Relations during the Meiji Period
- 3 Food Evolution: The Birth of Japanese-Western Fusion Cuisine During the Meiji Period
- 4 Conclusion
The Meiji Period: A Critical Time in Japanese History
The Meiji period began on January 25, 1868, following the end of the Edo period. It marked a new era in Japanese history, as the country underwent a significant transformation from a feudal state to a modern nation. The Meiji era extended until July 30, 1912, with the end of Emperor Meiji’s reign.
The Meiji Restoration
The Meiji Restoration was a critical event that marked the beginning of the Meiji period. It was a time of change, as Japan decided to follow a path of modernization and Westernization. The Restoration was a direct response to the decline of the Tokugawa shogunate, which had ruled Japan for over 250 years. The samurai class, who had been the ruling class during the Edo period, played a prominent role in the Restoration.
The Role of Emperor Meiji
Emperor Meiji was the ruler of Japan during the Meiji period. He was a dedicated leader who had the heart of the people at the forefront of his efforts. He played a critical role in providing a guide for Japan’s modernization efforts, and his reign saw the country take significant steps towards becoming a world power.
Shinto and Buddhism
Shinto and Buddhism were the two main religions in Japan during the Meiji period. Shinto was widely associated with the emperor and the imperial family, while Buddhism was more popular among the common people. The Meiji period saw a renewed interest in Shinto, and efforts were made to connect it with the state.
Japan’s Foreign Relations during the Meiji Period
- Japan’s foreign relations during the Meiji period were largely focused on opening up to the Western powers.
- The Meiji government’s goals were to gain national independence, establish a genuine national integrity, and reverse the unequal treaties that had been imposed on Japan during the Sakoku period.
- The Meiji government realized that to achieve these goals, it was necessary to emerge from feudalism and establish a modern, Western-style government and economy.
Unequal Treaties and Revisions
- The Meiji government revised the unequal treaties that had been granted to the Western powers, which had given them judicial and extraterritorial privileges.
- Japan’s defeat of China in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 gained Japan respect as a leading nation in Asia.
- Japan’s victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 further enhanced Japan’s status as a major power.
Alliances and Expansion
- Japan signed an alliance with Britain in 1902 and joined the Allies in World War I, seizing German territory in the Pacific.
- Japan’s military expansion weakened the remaining European powers’ influence in Asia and profited Japan as a supplier to international markets.
- Japan faced competition from previously colonized Asian nations, such as China and India, who were making inroads into international markets.
Defense and Avoiding Fate
- Japan’s navy was modernized and strengthened to avoid the fate of being defenseless against foreign pressures.
- Japan’s foreign relations during the Meiji period were largely focused on avoiding the fate of being colonized like other Asian nations.
- Japan’s foreign relations during the Meiji period were necessary for Japan to emerge as a leading nation in Asia and gain equality with the Western powers.
Food Evolution: The Birth of Japanese-Western Fusion Cuisine During the Meiji Period
The Meiji period marked the restoration of the emperor’s power and the coming of a new era in Japan. The opening of borders and modernization efforts resulted in the modification of Japanese diet and the popularization of new cuisine. The Meiji period saw the evolution of Japanese cuisine, with the birth of fusion cuisine that combined Japanese and Western elements.
The Birth of Wasei Youshoku: The Fusion of Japanese and Western Cuisine
During the Meiji period, the Japanese upper classes began to adopt Western-style dining habits, and the fusion of Japanese and Western cuisine began. One of the most popular examples of this fusion cuisine is wasei youshoku, which refers to Western-style dishes that have been modified to suit Japanese tastes. Some examples of wasei youshoku dishes that originated during the Meiji period include:
- Curry: Introduced to Japan during the Edo era, curry became popular during the Meiji period when it was modified to suit Japanese tastes. Japanese curry is sweeter and milder than Indian curry and is often served with rice.
- Croquette: A French dish that was modified to suit Japanese tastes, croquette is a deep-fried dish made with mashed potatoes and minced meat or seafood.
- Beef and Pork Dishes: During the Meiji period, beef and pork dishes became more popular in Japan, and Japanese chefs began to incorporate these meats into their cuisine. Some popular dishes that originated during this time include tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) and gyudon (beef bowl).
The Meiji period was a critical time in Japanese history when the country underwent significant transformation from a feudal state to a modern nation. The Meiji era extended from January 25, 1868 to July 30, 1912, during the reign of Emperor Meiji, who was dedicated to the heart of the people as the forefront of efforts to modernize Japan. It was a time of great change, and it saw the birth of a new fusion cuisine, wasei youshoku, a Japanese western fusion cuisine, which combined Japanese and western elements.
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.