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The Role of the Emperor in Meiji Japan

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 06:29 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 39.1 
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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


Shogun was at least symbolically below the Emperor in status and he claimed to rule so he could carry...


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