Meiji (māˈjē) [key], 1852–1912, reign name of the emperor of Japan from 1867 to 1912; his given name was Mutsuhito. He ascended the throne when he was 15. A year later the shogun fell, and the power that had been held by the Tokugawa military house was returned to the emperor. This was the Meiji restoration, a pivotal event in the modern history of Japan, for it meant the downfall of Japanese feudalism and the forging of a new and modern state. Emperor Meiji himself had little political power, but he was a paramount symbol of the unity of Japan. A constitution adopted in 1889 provided for a diet with an upper house selected mainly from the peerage, and an elected lower house to advise the government. The cabinet was not directly responsible to the diet but was regarded as above politics and responsible only to the emperor. In practice, the emperor delegated selection of premiers to a group of close advisers known as the genro, or elder statesmen. Under the direction of these oligarchs (among them Hirobumi Ito, Aritomo Yamagata, and Kaoru Inouye), Japan was transformed into a modern industrial state, and its military power was demonstrated in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5). When the Meiji period ended in 1912, Japan was a world power.
See D. B. Sladen, Queer Things about Japan (4th ed. 1913, repr. 1968); W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration (1972); P. Akamatsu, Meiji, 1868 (tr. 1972); D. Keene, Emperor of Japan (2002).
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