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The Role of the Emperor in Meiji Japan

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 06:29 AM
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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.Footnote1 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.Footnote2 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...

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