From Edo to Meiji

The public sphere and political criticism in nineteenth-century Japan

Authored by: Matsuda Ko¯ichiro¯

Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese History

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138815186
eBook ISBN: 9781315746678
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter examines the role of public opinion and public participation in political debate in Japan from the late Edo period to the early Meiji period. Though the censorship of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1868) was strict, political views were circulated through networks that involved both samurai and commoners. After the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the fledgling media, such as newspapers and periodicals, and political associations played an important role in developing the sphere of public debate. Although the Meiji government recognized the need for public support to undertake political and social reforms, they considered the control of public opinion indispensable. As a result, the Meiji government found itself in a position that required sensitive manoeuvring. Also, political media and voluntary associations, often mutually competing, were involved in complicated bargaining with the government.

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