MEIJI JAPAN 1868 - 1912
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Fascinating Meiji era view of Japan’s representative assembly, the Imperial Diet. At left, a legislator stands on a small balcony as he addresses the group, flanked by men in military uniforms. On the lower level, representatives sit at desks in curved rows, with other men watching from an arcade along the side of the room, and a gallery above. A few spectators wave clothes above their head. A text panel runs across the top of the triptych.
Wonderful detail in the interior setting, with burnishing in the black suits.

Politically, the most significant event in Japan during the late 1880s was the establishment of the long awaited Teikoku Gikai, or Imperial Diet, the legislative branch of the government established on the basis of the Meiji Constitution. In the first year of his reign, the Emperor had promised to organise a government that would take public opinion into consideration and allow for popular deliberation. Little progress was made at first, so popular rights advocates led by Okuma Shigenobu challenged the government to fulfil the emperor’s promise. In October 1881 the government responded by declaring that a fundamental principle of the constitution should give the “sacred and inviolable” emperor supreme power. The Emperor could then issue a decree to establish a constitutional form of government with a bicameral form of parliament in 1890.
Groups of liberal intellectuals, several of whom were sympathetic to the popular rights movement, were also ambitious men who supported the government’s efforts to modernize and hoped that Japan would become a “first-class country” equal to Western powers. Nevertheless, many of them were impatient for the establishment of a constitutional government that would function in harmony with ordinary citizens. Fighting freedom of speech, they also preferred a constitution that allowed for different political parties.
There were also other, more radical political factions. The most serious threat to the Meiji government came from a group of young traditionalists opposing progressive policies. They called for a return to old customs and regulations, and resentful of how Western ways were being embraced, they advocated the expulsion of all foreigners and a stop to discussions of treaty revisions. The sacred emperor was to be venerated, but the traitors who surrounded him were to be removed.
Aware of the potential political unrest and anxious to enlist the greatest minds of the nation, the government established a hierarchical peerage system on 7 July 1884. The five ranks of the system were (in descending order of importance): Kōshaku (Duke), Kōshaku (Marquis, with a different first character, Hakushaku (Count), Shishaku (Vscount) and Danshaku (Baron). The peerage system rewarded meritorious service to the emperor and the nation by giving the traditional prestige of the old aristocracy (titled rank and property) to key political and military leaders demonstrating the ability and loyalty to serve as bureaucratic officials.
Prints depicting such officials often identify each person by name or title. Even more importantly, the Sumitsuin, or Privy Council, the highest advisory body of the state, was inaugurated in May 1888. The council’s first task was to ratify the constitution prepared by the emperor’s trusted advisor, Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi.
Extract from: 2001 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts publication “Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age”. Page 58.

References: The 2001 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts publication “Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age”, page 59.


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