1868-90: Meiji Reforms

Japan had been forced to open up to foreign trade after Commodore Perry’s visit in 1853. Fearing that they would be divided up by competing foreign powers, Japan embarked on a period of modernization, known as the Meiji Reforms.

Key changes:


  • During this period, a new political system was introduced.

  • A constitutional monarchy with political parties and a new constitution was established.


  • By building railways, telegraph lines, shipyards and textile factories, Japan embraced Western industrialization.


  • Japan ended the feudal system by abolishing the samurai class and recruiting peasants into the army.


  • A new education system was introduced which promoted and created nationalism and Japanese pride in their country.

  • Conscription increased national pride.


  • Conscription was introduced, making military service compulsory for all adult males. This increased Japan's military.

  • The Japanese navy gained 28 modern warships.

Did it lead to Japan being recognised as a world power?

On the one hand, Japan’s status as a strong power improved significantly. Rapid modernization meant that it was able to avoid being divided up by the European powers as China had been; being split up into colonies and spheres of influence. Therefore, Japan retained their independence.

On the other hand, Japan was still not recognised as a world power. Although Japan had modernised significantly, it still lacked the level of military power which could rival the other imperial powers in Asia, such as Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia.