Japan has gone through a lot of different eras and each of the eras that have started and ended here contributed something important to the development of Japan as a country. Some eras focused on the different kinds of art in the Japanese culture while other eras focused on warfare and the never-ending fight for honor and glory. These are all very interesting periods in time but the era that really pushed Japan to be the advanced and technological country it is today, however, is due to the era which the Meiji Industrial Revolution occurred in.
The Period before the Meiji Restoration’s Industrial Revolution
The period before the Meiji Era was the Edo Period and it was essentially a great one as compared to the other eras Japan went through. It had a very bloody start because of the power struggles between the Tokugawa shogunate and all opposing clans and forces. A perfect example of such bloodshed would be the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. The victory that the Tokugawa clan achieved in this battle ensured his power and wealth that realized all the more when he was appointed to be the Shogun by the emperor in the year of 1603. This marked the start of the Edo Period as the Tokugawa government started to establish themselves in Edo, which is now known as Tokyo.
The bloodshed was not meaningless though because the moment that the Tokugawa clan got rid of all their rivals, peace certainly did prosper throughout Japan. This was the point in time when the samurais started to educate themselves with other things like literature, arts, and philosophy. Because of this focus towards creative development, the tea ceremony also bloomed during this era.
After some time, the government thought that it would be better to close the doors of Japan off to foreign influences. They did this by forbidding any travels abroad as well as reducing the general contact anybody had with the outside world. This limited their trading with countries like China and the Netherlands tremendously but this move also increased domestic trade and agricultural production greatly as an effect of the isolation.
This era lasted for about 265 years and with their doors closed to the world for the majority of it, Japan started to have growing issues regarding finances. Without the money and resources that the international trading brought the country, the government looked to taxes to obtain the funds needed to support their programs. This obviously didn’t sit well with the farmers and those who had just enough to survive so riots started to happen more frequently.
These internal pressures started to build up and with other countries constantly knocking on Japan’s door to open up for trade, things weren’t getting any easier for the Tokugawa government. The coming of Commodore Perry in the years of 1853 and 1854 somewhat sealed the demise of the Tokugawa reign because the Americans were able to strong-arm him into accepting their terms for international trade by scaring the Tokugawa shogunate with their squadron of warships. A decade after this strong-arming, another power struggle erupted and both internal and external pressures brought down the Tokugawa shogunate and returned the power of the Emperor. This ushered in the Meiji Era.
The History of the Japan’s Meiji Restoration’s Industrial Revolution
The incident with Commodore Perry showed Japan just how lacking they were in terms of technology and firepower because if these Americans instantly engaged a war with them at that time, they would have no way to fend for themselves because none of their weapons or military forces can match up with the metal warships the Americans had showcased to them. With this being the case, it became clear that what Japan had to focus on was to modernize the armed forces of the country as well as the manufacturing industry which involved things like iron and steel production, shipbuilding, coal mining, and cannon forging to be able to show the western powers that they were still as strong as any other independent nation in the world.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do considering that the industrial revolution they wanted required resources as well as funds to accomplish and at that time, Japan didn’t have much of either. Despite these obstacles, the people of Japan showed their character as they put their country ahead of themselves by giving their full cooperation to their leaders and their plan to make the revolution happen.
With the participation of the people, the first part of the industrial revolution was put into action and it focused in on experimentations that revolved around iron making and shipbuilding. Before any advancements were to be made in other aspects of the country, their leaders knew that they needed to be able to defend themselves first. The Japanese read up on how the western civilization did it through the books that they themselves banned from their land for centuries but this second-hand knowledge was insufficient.
Since they couldn’t recreate the success of the western culture with regards to the improvements they wanted to do for their industry, they decided to make their second move and this was to import the western technologies as well as the experts on these technologies instead. This hastened their progress tremendously. With the help of these professionals, by the 1870’s, Japan was suddenly establishing major factories left and right. Aside from the mines that they were able to develop, some of the things they were also able to build were a machine tool factory, a glass factory, a brick factory, and a cement plant.
With the foundation of the different industries established, the Japanese had an easy time adapting to Western technology while also continuously progressing in their local industrialization. By the time the late Meiji period dawned upon Japan, they had their own licensed Japanese experts leading and organizing groups to adopt the new technologies using local materials and to meet the local needs of their own people. In a way, they successfully created an environment wherein they had the best of both worlds because they took the knowledge and technology of Western countries and adapted it to what most benefited their own people, on their terms.
To advance that much in a span of half a century is no small feat and it is for that exact reason why some of the establishments and locations that were vital to the Meiji Restoration’s Industrial Revolution were deemed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These sites exemplified or showcased Japan’s amazing success in industrializing itself in their own way which is without compromising their integrity or the state’s sovereignty.
The Meiji Industrial Revolution Sites That Have Been Deemed As UNESCO World Heritage Sites
These world heritage sites different from one place to another. Some of them are massive areas that house a lot of other attractions while some of them can be as small as a historic factory. They are grouped into 9 areas. 6 of them can be found on Kyushu while the 3 areas remaining are spread out between the prefectures of Yamaguchi, Iwate, and Shizuoka.
In the Yamaguchi Prefecture, you can see the world heritage site known as Hagi. This city is a site of the early local efforts made towards the local industrialization Japan wanted. In the outer areas of the city, you will find some furnaces used in the Japanese’s attempt to manufacture iron to construct their very own version of a Western-style naval shop using their own traditional techniques. This city is also where you can find the Shokason Juku School which is where multiple pioneers that contributed to Japan’s modernization studied.
The Nirayama Reverberatory Furnace found in the Shizuoka Prefecture has common structures to what Hagi has. The difference lies in the iron manufactured on this site was used, not for ships, but for the cannons that were to be used for purposes of coastal defenses. Since it is made from local Iza stones, despite its age, it remains to be one of the few standing reverberatory furnace made in its time with almost all its parts intact.
Moving to the Iwate Prefecture, it is here that you can find the first Western-style blast furnace ever made in Japan. This place is called the Kamaishi and it is worth the trip to go here because you will have to go through gorgeous forested mountains to reach this place. Unfortunately, the main furnace structures themselves are now remnants of what it used to be but there is also the Iron and Steel Museum here. This museum is where you can learn all about the furnace that used to operate here.
The other 6 sites like Nagasaki and Miike are all on the Kyushu Islands and if you wish you learn more about them, you can try searching their information through websites like kyuyama. All these sites are open to the public as well as practically all year round so whether it’s the month of February that you feel like making a trip or visit to any of these locations or the month of June, you can rest assured knowing that these attractions will be open for you to see. All you really need now is to make your own list of which sites interest you the most after researching more about them so you can prioritize the sites that make you the most curious.