Industrialisation of Japan [1868-1898]: Meiji Restoration | 1905 Russo-Japanese War | Edo Period (2023)

1853-1894 witnessed the Japan transformation. 1867 was the beginning of the Meiji era that led Japan towards westernization and industrialization.This article will highlight the Industrial Revolution in Japan within the context of the IAS Exam.

The industrial revolution in Japan led to unprecedented changes in the economy, social fabric and military of Japan. This furthered an impact not just on the country but on the whole world at large.

The benefits of the industrial revolution established Japan as the paramount Asian power of its time.

The topic, ‘Industrial Revolution of Japan’ is an important topic of the World History syllabus of UPSC 2021. Read similar relevant topics below:
  1. Industrial Revolution (1760-1840)
  2. Industrial Revolution in the United States
  3. Industrial Revolution in Russia
  4. RSTV: In-Depth – Fourth Industrial Revolution

Japan during the late 19th Century

Grudgingly, Japan had been bought out of its self-imposed isolation following the expedition of Admiral Matthew C Perry of the United States Navy in 1852. As a result, Japan was exposed to modern ideas that would undermine the powers of its feudal warlords, the Shoguns.

The Shoguns would initiate a series of rebellions to preserve their power but ultimately, the emperor, backed by a modernised Japanese army would defeat them. This would establish the Meiji era in Japan whose first acts would by establishing its authority through the abolishment of fiefdoms and creation of prefectures subordinate to the centre. These reforms were necessary for a strong centralised state that could initiate reforms needed to further modernise Japan.

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The Emperor and his ministers understood the importance of industrialisation as they feared Japan sharing the fate of India and Southeast Asia, currently under the grips of colonialism and Chinese defeat at British hands during the First Opium War in 1842 which ceded Hong-Kong to the British Empire.

Thus in order to rapidly modernise itself to stand against European imperialism, Japan needed an industrial revolution of its own.

To this end, the Emperor sent the Iwakura Mission, whose task was to observe and learn about how best the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America could best be applied to Japan in order to boost its own economic and military strength.

The Mission would consist of students who would play a crucial role in the modernisation of Japan upon their return

The mission also carried many students, and its participants contributed greatly to the country’s modernization on their return to Japan.

Reforms of the Meiji Government

Closer to home, the Meiji Government initiated a series of reforms to foster capitalism in Japan. One of these was the scraping away of the feudal system of post stations, merchant guilds and checkpoints that were barriers to industrial development. New infrastructure included the first telegraph line between Tokyo and Yokohama in 1869.

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In 1871, a modern postal service replaced the former courier system and post offices were established around the country, selling stamps and postcards at set prices. Japan’s postal services were linked internationally when it joined the Universal Postal Services in 1877. The same year, Japan would import its first telephone sets.

The first rail services would start in 1872 between Tokyo and Yokohama. With new links being opened up in 1874 and 1877. By the end of the century Rail, networks had spread throughout most of Japan. The government also upgraded major roads in the country which ensured smooth transportation of goods to all corners of Japan.

Through government patronage, the Meiji authorities encouraged the setting up of private establishments that would be competing with Western companies in the coming years. Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Ono would be such companies that would receive government support

These companies would set up and operate many factories that would manufacture industrial and agricultural goods. The most famous of these, the Tomioka Silk Mill in the Gunma Prefecture is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built-in 1872, it would incorporate 300 silk reeling machines imported from France. The mill workers were taught to handle these machines by French technicians. The local workers, in turn, would pass on their knowledge to other mills across the country.

The increase in the production of cotton and silk would transform the Japanese light industry and the economy as a whole. By 1898, a capitalist economy has been firmly established in Japan.

Industrial Revolution in Japan: UPSC Notes – Download PDF Here

What made the rapid modernisation of Japan possible?

The rapid modernisation of Japan of the early Meiji era (1868-1912) was thanks to the progress made in the Edo period (1603-1868)

It was during the Edo period when a large number of common people learned to read and write at local temple schools. The publishing industry flourished and education also flourished as a result. Arguably, Japan’s primary education was the best in the world at the time.

The education system of the Edo-period was the important reason for the rapid industrialisation and the arrival of the capitalist Japanese economy during the Meiji period. This would also play an influential role in the rise of Japan as a major power.

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Impact of the Industrial Revolution in Japan

The rapid industrialisation of Japan helped to modernise the Japanese Army and Navy to an extent that it would take on major European powers. The first of these would be Russia. Invading Russian held Korea in 1904, the Japanese army and navy would inflict a series of defeats on the Russian Empire.

The turning point of the war would be in 1905 when the Japanese navy would destroy the entire Russian Baltic fleet during the battle of Tsushima. It was the first time in history that a European navy had been annihilated by an Asian navy. With surprise and apprehension, the world powers of the time would see Japan in a new light, from that of an agricultural backwater to that of a major superpower.

This new-found confidence in managing world affairs would see japan fight on the Allied side during World War I, but it would still be ignored as when Germany would be defeated in the war and its colonies would be divided among the victors of the Great war. Frustrated, Japan would make new alliances with its former foes forming the Axis alliance.

With mounting confidence in its own industrial might, Japan would invade China in 1936 much to the frustration of the League of Nations. Believing that none would stand in its way in becoming a colonial empire of its own, Japan would ignite World War II in the pacific by attacking the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in December 1941, but this time it would meet its match in the adversary that had initially opened its doors to the industrial revolution, to begin with.

Quick Facts on Japan’s Industrial Revolution


When was the industrial revolution in Japan?

The Meiji Era that spanned from 1868 to 1912 witnessed the industrialization of Japan.


What were the benefits of industrialization in Japan?

  • It abolished the Shogunate and led to the centralization of authority
  • Feudalism was abolished.
  • A national army was set up that recruited people from all sections of the society.
  • A new Constitution was established.
  • The Japan industrial revolution brought new code of laws.
  • Agricultural productivity improved due to the diffusion of best practises of agriculture across Japan.


What are the negative impacts of the industrial revolution of Japan?

  • The living standards in the crowded cities deteriorated.
  • The political changes led to frequent elections in the country which further led to dynamic changes like disputes between emperors and ministers, political assassinations, etc.

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