Education About Asia: Online Archives

Democratic Trends in Meiji Japan

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By Daniel A. Métraux

When the victorious United States and its allies occupied Japan between 1945 and 1952, they imposed a new democratic constitution on the Japanese that placed popular sovereignty in the hands of the Japanese people. This was not the first time, however, that the Japanese had encountered such concepts as democracy, representative government, or the fundamental equality of all citizens. During the Meiji era (1868–1912), Japan was exposed to many Western ideas concerning democracy and popular sovereignty and experienced an open debate over whether the nation should adopt a constitution that made the cabinet responsible to the national assembly or to the emperor. Among those debating these issues was a group of influential Japanese, who were deeply enamored with such Western notions as freedom and the dignity of the individual and who exercised significant influence among many educators. Their earlier experiences laid the foundation for the transition to a stronger democratic system in postwar Japan.