Peasant Life During the Meiji Restoration Thesis

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Peasant Life During the Meiji Restoration

The Meiji Restoration brought political, social and economic changes in the life of Japan that needed a period of sacrifice, like most of the changings following a revolution or a change of system in the life of a country. The transition from the Tokugawa to the Meiji period is considered a period of abrupt passing from a feudal Japan into a capitalist society. During that period, the rural population represented more than two thirds of the total population. The peasants were the main working force and sources of income for the country's resources. The industrial era was in its early stages and still running a long way until being able to take over from the agricultural sector.

The political and administrative changes were changing the entire Japanese society and the way it was governed: "The Meiji rulers inherited a Tokugawa legacy of bureaucratic rule by civilianized samurai. They extended its reach by eliminating domains[...]They gave the state a greater legitimacy and power than it had ever held in the past" (Gordon, 64).

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The peasant life during the Meiji Restoration was considered differently, from various points-of-view, depending on the authors and the period they wrote in. Some labeled the village as the source of everything keeping Japan back from evolving into a modern society: "Farmers are the repository of all the "evil customs of the past" that Meiji Japan had renounced, an affront to the Meiji dream of Japan's economic, political and social transformation into a "first rate" country" (Nagatsuka, XVI). On the contrary, starting with the late 1970s, others' views on rural Japan were idealizing the village life during the Meiji Restoration: "the villagers lived in harmony with a bountiful nature; they ate safe uncontaminated food; old people were well cared for by the community, in contrast to rural Japan today, where the suicide rate among the elderly surpasses that of urban Japan" (Nagatsuka, pg XVII). The truth lies on neither side of such opinions since they are both at the opposite extremes.

Thesis on Peasant Life During the Meiji Restoration Assignment

The causes of change in the life of the peasantry, after the during the Meiji Restoration were first due the fact that the samurai lost all their lands and the privileges they had along, such as tax exemption. "By 1876, less than a decade after the restoration coup, the economic privileges of the samurai were wiped out entirely. The coup leaders expropriated an entire social class, the semi-aristocratic elite from which they came. They met some stiff, violent resistance, but they managed to overcome it. This remarkable change amounted to a social revolution" (Gordon, 64).

The second most important cause of change in the villagers' life came from the idea of building a strong army to protect the country from any external intrusion, especially under the circustances ofan increased international pressure. There was a military reform, following the European system: "By 1873 his[Yamagata Arimoto] arguments had prevailed. The government decreed a system of universal conscription. Beginning at the age of twenty, all males were obligated to give three years of active service and four years on reserve status" (idem, 66).

The third major change that will change the fate of the Japanese village forever came once the rulers turned their faces toward education. The Education reform was rapidly put in place: "the Meiji government instituted a new system of education with remarkable speed. With grand language, in 1872 it declared four years of elementary education to be compulsory for all children, boys and girls: "In a village there shall be no house without learning, and in a house, no individual without learning" (idem, 67). At the beginning, the new system was widely fought against since the financing of the schools meant a significant increase in taxes. People rioted and destroyed schools, but during the next thirty years, the situation will change dramatically, with the overwhelming majority of those of school age attending school as the laws required (Gordon, 68).

On the way to the modern era, Japan's new rulers started to change the sources for economic development and move them from the agricultural sector over to the industrial area. Capitalism was based on the achievements of technology and the modern means necessary to acquire the state wealth were supported primarily by the revenues still coming from the agricultural sector. The taxes collected so far from the villages were not based on a viable economic system of taxation. The tax system was also changed so that it could fit the new economic structure of a state that whose ruling class was decided to bring it into the modern world of capitalism. The new tax system "provided for a national land survey, conducted in the mid-1870s, that matched an owner to every piece of land and issued deeds. It also assessed the market value of all plots of land. Finally, it set the land tax at 3% of assessed value. The new tax system also brought the national government into a direct economic relationship with individual (male) household heads. It shifted the risk and the opportunity of commodity price changes onto the taxpaying farmer" (Gordon, 71).

The Tokugawa period was that of an essentially feudal state that was disseminating the rules of how to get the most out of the main labor force among the ruling class of the landowners. The peasants were only interesting because of the resources they represented for the wealth of those who were in control of the state of affairs of each feud. Among the peasantry, the ownership of the land at the beginning of the Meiji restoration was under the form of independent farmers. The results were remarkable considering that the productivity of the farms increased while the actual villages population decreased. The development of the industrial sector brought along improvements in the land work and animal breeding techniques, but these factors started to actually have a capital influence on the increase in farming productivity only after World War I (Bock, 50).

Compared to the contemporary Japan, the Japanese countryside changed tremendously since the Meiji era. but, the changes that took place between the 1868 and 1912 were slower in the lives of those working the land compared to those living in the cities. As previously shown, the huge resources needed for the construction of a viable industrial sector were coming mainly from the agricultural sector at first. The new schools, the railroad, the factories and the manufactory machines imported from abroad were financed with the money coming from the taxes paid by those who were owning a piece of land. "It took longer for the efforts to create a new Japan to impinge on the lives and opportunities of everyone in the country. For no group did it take as long as for the nation's farmers, not solely because there were so many of them, but also because most of the tax payments, foreign exchange earnings, and savings generated by the agricultural sector[...] were used by the state and by the Japanese entrepreneurs to promote the non-agricultural development of the country" (Nagatsuka, vii). The development of the rural life differed from region to region and from household to household. The villages that were in the vicinity of the new railroad were taking advantage of everything this revolutionary mean of transportation brought along. There were also some that were less fortunate and left behind, being bypassed by the railroad. Some other rural regions in Japan were even poorer due to the quality of the soil or natural calamities they were exposed to. The village described by Nagatsuka who was writing from his own experience was among those who were left behind by distance from the city that were difficult to overcome since the railroad was not passing by the village. The family of farmers his novel focuses on does not own land, but had to lend it and to add something to the family income from other activities as well in order to survive. Anne Waswo, the translator of the Soil, points out in the introduction of the book that the protagonists are not exceptions, but rather the exponents of the usual Japanese farmer family during the Meiji era (Nagatsuka,.xi). Those villages where most of those working the land were able to make just enough to help their families survive, like Kossho were still widely spread across Japan at the beginning tat the Meiji era. The wealthiest landowning family of the village was at the top of the village hierarchy and the poorer farmers were more or less dependable on the resources the family of the master and the mistress could provide as a supplement to their earnings. In those families that were not owning any land, the means for the family living beside the actual working of the land they were lending, came from the labor the man, the head of the house, did during the winter and the peddling of his wife: "It was her custom in her sparetime to go about from village to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Peasant Life During the Meiji Restoration.  (2008, November 4).  Retrieved June 15, 2021, from

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"Peasant Life During the Meiji Restoration."  November 4, 2008.  Accessed June 15, 2021.