The end of the Edo period is often described by Westerners in these terms: US Commodore Matthew Perry’s black ships forcibly opened Japan to the outside world, Japanese found themselves unprepared to compete technologically with Western powers, so they rushed to modernize, ultimately becoming one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries in only about 100 years. While true to a point, the major changes that happened in Japan from around 1850–1920 had their impetus from within the country as well as from with- out. The transformation from Edo to Meiji is a complex phenomenon, but is characterized by a shift in the following areas, which began during the Edo period:
- change in class relations from hereditary to merit-based
- from shogun to imperial rule
- from isolation to integration in the world economy
- increasing centralized political control
- enhanced systems for interchange of goods
- compilations of statistics about land, food production and population.
The national security issues brought in by Perry and his demands for treaties caused internal problems in Japan. The Shogunate and the imperial court were in disagreement on what to do, which created dissension among daimyo and courtiers, and among the daimyo themselves who had diverse allegiances. Two domains, Choshu and Satsuma, began to act as mediators between the court in Kyoto and the shogunate in Edo, both leaning their support towards the imperial court. Other samurai followed suit and proclaimed loyalty to the emperor and hostility to foreigners, rallying behind the slogan “Expel the Barbarians!”. A civil war in Choshu from 1864–1865 brought in shogunate troops and further fueled anti- shogun sentiment there. In 1866, Choshu defeated the government forces. Two years later, Choshu and Satsuma allied to defeat the Shogun’s army at Toba-Fushimi, causing the Shogun to pull out of western Japan, and surrender to imperial forces in 1868, marking the close of the Edo period.
1Hall, John Whitney, ed. The Cambridge History of Japan: Early Modern Japan. Vol. 4. Cam- bridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 367.