The Meiji era: the end of the Samurai?

ere meiji banniere

The Meiji Era is strong of symbols for thehistory of Japan and samurai. It is characterized by many movements related to the modernization of the country.

The Meiji era stands out for its shift from feudalism to an industrial system. Japan then became a technological power in its own right that would make more than one Westerner swoon.

The Meiji era in a few key points

  • The Meiji era spans the following dates from 1868 to 1912
  • This was a period of extreme modernization for Japan
  • It appears following the cessation of the powers of the shogunate to the emperor
  • The Meiji era will produce katana not original but inspired by the Kamakura and Nanboku-ch么 eras
  • The Meiji era had a goal of colonial expansion
  • The Meiji era provoked many rebellions from traditionalist samurais

The Meiji era marks an extreme separation between the old world and the new world. It allows Japan to modernize at high speed and to compete with Western countries, economically and militarily.

House of Culture

Contextualizing the Meiji Era in Japanese History

The Meiji era is the scene of radical material and philosophical changes for Japan.

Emperor Mutsuhito, a key figure of the Meiji era

It is through theemperor Mutsuhito that Japan will know an unprecedented technical progress. He wanted to make Japan less vulnerable to the West, which was very advanced at the time.

At the same time, it develops conquests that extend into Asia. He also sent Japanese people to Europe and the United States to study their advances and copy them in Japan.

The objective is clear, it is necessary to catch up with their counterparts in order not to lose sovereignty. At that time, Japan was still locked in its traditional shackles and was not very advanced in industrialization. It was, however, the major issue of this century.

The modernization of Japanese politics

Shintoism was declared the official religion of the empire in 1869. This will allow the emperor to establish his hegemony through the values of loyalty transmitted in this religion. The other religions will however have the right to be exercised in the name of freedom of worship.

The samurais were integrated into the Japanese army as leaders and officers. The rebels were eradicated after their bloody revolt in 1877. At issue is the loss of their privileges acquired over the centuries.

1889 saw the formation of a constitution that established a hereditary monarchy with a parliament of two assemblies. The first was elected by universal suffrage and the other by the emperor himself. This is the system used by the British.

Illustration Meiji Era

The economic modernization of Japan

The economic modernization of Japan can be summarized in a few elements:

  • The creation of a modern army The creation of a modern army: Japan also industrialized to provide the army with a lot of equipment for the fight.
  • Railroad networks and telegraph lines: they allow to fluidify the exchanges in the country and to make the trade fruitful.
  • An increase in the population The population has grown from 30 to 50 million in about 30 years. In cause, the advances caused by the industrialization of the country.
  • The birth of a working class The birth of a working class: it follows directly from the birth of industry, like any industrialized country.

Japan’s colonial expansion

This industrialized model requires a lot of raw materials in Japan. The latter is not the champion at all and must find its resources elsewhere. That is why the emperor in office at that time launched a great colonial wave.

Japan then attacked its close Chinese neighbors and won battles up to the island of Formosa, which is now called Taiwan. Japan will obtain other islands and peninsulas and will have to give back one of them under the pressure of the Westerners.

In 1900, Japan participated in the intervention against the Boxer Rebellion. This will allow him to recover Liao-toung and the southern Sakhalin Islands.

What became of the samurai during the Meiji era

Samurai are traditionally the servants of the imperial court. Initially, these are senior civil servants who deal with the provincial sectors. But it is during the 10th and 11th century that they become militarized.

Their mission in the community is highly respected and will give them many rights. They will obtain for example, strong ties of vassalage giving them a feudal power over the letters as well as the men.

The repeated troubles that Japan knew during its history favored their role of warrior. The Genpei War witnessed two clans of samurai clashing for the power of the country.

It is in 1192 that Minamoto no Yoritomo is declared shogun. The Shogun is general in chief of the armies. It is he who governs the country.

A samurai government was then created and the emperor was only an honorary title without much impact. The samurai government remained in place until 1868!

Do you know the samurai code? We explain everything in our article on Bushido.

Samurai Meiji Era

The year 1868 marks the end of the shogunate in Japan

This year marks the end of the Samurai hegemony. It gives moreover place to confrontations between the samurais and the government in place. The end of the shogunate was not made smoothly and witnessed many rebellions to restore the old regime.

The social revolution of the samurais will have had as a consequence to give them a bad press. Japan’s new modern army will have overpowered this movement as a result of a series of decisions.

The samurai then lost all their ancient privileges as well as their feudal power. But the latter had had time to rise to the top of society. Thus, many Japanese samurai actively participate in the modernization of Japan.

For Westerners, the devaluation of war values is a godsend. It allows them to get weapons and war souvenirs from Japan. The country is well aware of its value and still today has an industry dedicated to the export of Japanese swords of all kinds.

The Meiji era and the advent of shinshint么

It is during the Meiji era that the shinshinto are born. Following the handing over of powers by the emperor, the Shogun and the katana fell into oblivion.

It is Suishinshi Masahide who gave it back its letters of nobility during this period. This great actor comes from a samurai family and is sorry to see this traditional weapon forgotten by the Japanese.

To make up for this, he trained about one hundred students at theEdo. It is thanks to this movement that the forges will start working on the production of katana again. Tachis are back in force and so are the five Gokaden. The 5 Gokaden form a set of forging schools with very specific techniques.

This heterogeneity between schools, gives rise to the creation of katana very different from each other. Tantos were also born following their disappearance during the Shinto period.

To sum up, this period does not produce any new katana. Blacksmiths rely on the Kamakura and Nanboku-ch么 era to try to recover the quality of the weapons of the past. With the disappearance of the samurai, the katana was diverted from its main function as a weapon of war.

During the Meiji era, it becomes above all an object of art to be displayed at home.

katana exhibition

Should I buy Meiji era katana?

You will not find any recent katana that will be inspired by the Meiji era. As seen before, the latter did not produce any new type of katana. The blacksmiths of the time were content to reproduce the traditional katana.

However, it is possible to acquire a Meiji era katana as a relic. You can very well get an object at an auction for example.

Where to buy a good traditional katana copied during the Meiji era?

To get a katana that looks like the ones of the Meiji era, you just have to look for the models made with the techniques of the Kamakura or Nanboku-ch么 era.

To acquire this type of model, we advise you to go to an online store of katana. Our extensive collection will give you no trouble finding a katana inspired by these two eras.


Which dates correspond to the Meiji era?

The Meiji era spans from 1868 to 1912. It follows the change of government in Japan during this period. The shogunate indeed gave up its power to an emperor during the Meiji era. The latter will be in charge of the modernization of the country during all these years.

Did the Meiji era produce good katana?

The Meiji era only drew inspiration from various styles developed in the previous periods. Even if the blacksmiths were experienced, they did not invent anything during this period. We find in particular katana inspired by the Kamakura and Nanboku-ch么 eras.

Is the Meiji era responsible for the end of the samurai?

The Meiji era sounds indeed the end of the samurais in the sense that we understand it. The latter lost all their feudal privileges during this period. This led to a rebellion that was quickly suppressed by the Japanese army.