The Meiji Restoration
The End of the Edo Era
The turning point for the city of Edo, actually for all of Japan, was the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry’s Black Ships at Edo-wan (now known as Tokyo Bay) in 1853. Perry’s US Navy expedition demanded that Japan open itself to foreign trade. This was done under pressure of modern weaponry that the Japanese didn’t yet possess at the time. When the Americans came back a few years later, the Japanese accepted trading with them grumbling, under the condition they stayed in the harbor of Yokohama, far away enough from Edo to make the shogunate feel comfortable.
This was the beginning of the opening up of Japan, and social movements of the time saw their chance to fully go for the revolution now. In 1867-1868, faced with widespread anti-government sentiments and accusations that the regime had failed to prepare Japan for the threat of the West, the last Tokugawa shogun resigned and power was reverted to Emperor Meiji.
The Meiji Restoration
The handover of power didn’t go completely without violence though, as a few thousand loyalists to the shogunate put up one last resistance in the Battle of Ueno that they ended up losing. The emperor moved the Imperial seat from Kyoto to Edo in 1868, hereafter naming the city Tokyo which literally means ‘Imperial capital in the East’.
The Meiji period is often called a restoration as this was the time when the Emperor was finally restored back to power, but it was not so much a restoration as it was a revolution. Japan had a lot of catching up to do, as when the rest of the (Western) world moved ahead full steam in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries with the age of Enlightenment, expansion, and the Industrial Revolution, Japan still lived as though it was the 1600s. But if there is one thing the Japanese people are good at, it is closely observing how things are done by other people, copying that, and making it better in the process.
In order to get a good idea of what was new in the rest of the world, the Japanese undertook the Iwakura Mission, on which politicians toured European and the US cities with a ship to learn how things were done there. This led to a very smooth and quick industrialization of Japan in the years after. It was not only the industry that was modernized and Westernized, but also fashion, architecture, the political and judicial systems, and even food was touched by the revolution. The military was also modernized, and in Western fashion, Japan also started building a larger empire. They quickly annexed several new territories, which finished with the end of WW2.
The Meiji period ended with the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912 and was followed by the Taisho period.