Two major changes in government were the driving force for the Meiji and 1947 (MacArthur) Constitutions to be drafted in Japan. The Meiji Constitution presented in 1889, was created during an era of restoration that reestablished the Emperor as head of the Japanese government and its people. This document served to not only bring back an old form of government to the Japanese, but effectively ended a disorganized duel system of government (Emperor and Bakufu) and unified a nation in order to compete with western powers.
The occupation of Japan by the United States after Word War II also served to bring about great change in Japanese government. The result of this occupation was a drastic alteration of Meiji government along with its constitution in order to quill fears of Japanese aggression reemerging in the future. Both the Meiji and 1947 constitutions were major turning points in Japanese history, and can be compared due to their similarity. Known as the Meiji Era (1868-1912) Japan was in a process of reconstructing its self into a modern nation when the right elements existed to make a constitution.
With the Emperor as their national symbol, Japans people railed to the threat of Western powers taking over their country. Beginning in 1853 a policy of isolation that was well established for close to 200 years came to an end. Commodore Matthew Perry and a fleet of American warships sailed into Tokyo bay with a request to open its ports for trade. Out matched by western technology and aware of imperialism being posed on china the Japanese had no choice but to open their nation to the world.
The arrival of the west not only opened Japans ports but also resulted in a series of unequal treaties signed between the feudal Takugawa Shogunate and the Americans, British, and Dutch. To the Japanese people any treaties signed were unacceptable and something had to be done about it. Open rebellion eventually took place and the Shogun was overthrown. With the Takugawa gone marked an end to a duel system of government placing a figurehead Emperor in Edo, and a military government in Kamakura. In its place rose new central authority under the symbol of the Emperor.
Before this new authority could give rise the Japanese searched for suitable examples of government that they could use to make there own government. Representatives were sent to Europe and brought back many ideas that were used to create Japans government. The information the Japanese brought back ended up shaping the new government into what it was during the Meiji Era. With this new government shaped by western and Japanese ideals still something was missing, the idea of a Constitution was being considered.
Eventually this idea became reality and a constitution consisting of seven chapters, establishing an Emperor as ruler, diet (legislative body) as representation for the people, Penal laws, land rights, and the abolishment of the confusion style class system came into being. Along with the Emperor and a constitution came the build up of Japans military. With the threat of western powers winning a war against Japan, the Emperor was convinced that he should build up a strong Navy, Army, and Air Force to ensure Japans security.
Envoys were once again sent to western countries to gain knowledge of modern warfare and organization of a military. Upon there return delegates from these envoys suggested that a conscript law be established to draft solders for a modern military. This system effectively replaced the samurai and ensured the abolishment of feudalism. By the start of World War II the Japanese were a superpower in Asia Japans military had beaten the Russians, Chinese, and Korean giving the United States a reason to feel threatened by Japan.
The event that brought the United States to a panic came with the signing of treaties with Italy and Germany, and the invasion of Indochina by Japanese troops in the summer of 1941 . In response to these treaty and invasion the United States along with Britain placed embargos on Japan effectively cutting off supplies of oil and rubber. These two products were essential to the Japanese military and without them Japan would be sure to run out of their reserves quickly.
This ensured a war between Japan and the United States because of Japans isolation in the Pacific, and after all debate was over Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. From 1941-45 Japan fought intensely against the United States but ultimately lost. Atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, and the Russians declaring war on Japan proved to be the endgame on August 14th Japan officially surrendered. With this surrender marked a new turning point for Japan. For the first time in its history Japan had lost a war, and had a foreign country occupying their land.
After the war Japan as a country laid in ruin, she had to be rebuilt from the inside out. The Japanese responded to this challenge with a speed unseen by any nation. The reason for this was simple for two reasons, one Japan was allowed to keep the Emperor, and two Japanese government with modifications remained intact with the United States as its guide. After the occupation was established the United States began a plan to rebuild Japan by Demilitarization, Democratization, and Rehabilitation. General Douglas MacArthur Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers was placed in control of these efforts.
First MacArthur set out to dismantle the military and return Japan to its original size before expansionism occurred. Next MacArthur decided to establish a new Constitution; this is often considered one of the most important changes enacted. MacArthur kept some elements of the original constitution, but similarities and differences can be drawn when looking at both documents. Major differences in the 1947 and Meiji Constitution were a new definition of the Emperor, a totally elected Diet with the establishment of a Cabinet, and Article nine.
In the original constitution the Emperor was described as a monarch that with almost absolute power, in the 1947 constitution Article 1. The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power. This meant that the people were the reason the Emperor held the office he did. In the original Meiji Constitution the people served the Emperor and the State in more of a dictatorship however they could still vote him out of they choose.
The second change that can be observed is the establishment of a Cabinet that made both houses of the Diet elective. Next was the Decentralization of the national police force, Human rights guaranteed through a Bill of Rights, and lastly and most importantly Article Nine. Article Nine is important because it again shows the fear that the west had of a reemergence of Japanese aggression. Article Nine stated, The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right and that as a result no military forces will be kept or recognized.
The only exceptions to this article would be in case of Self-defense, Collective self-defense, Participation in UN enforcement actions, and Peace- keeping operations. Now Japan was Demilitarized, Democratized, and all that was left was Rehabilitation. Much was done to try and rebuild the economic, and educational system in Japan. Labor unions, and land reform was instituted along with the rebuilding of Japanese economy. Education was also an important factor set along a western standard a grade system of 6-3-3-4 was set along with college afterward.
The Meiji and 1947 MacArthur Constitution were both important documents. Equally these constitutions represented major turning points in Japans history. The Meiji Constitution represented an end to feudalism and the establishment of a strong central government run by the Emperor. The 1947 Constitution established by the United States redefining the Emperor as a ruler chosen by the people, established a cabinet making the Diet elective, Decentralizing the police force, Guaranteed human rights for everyone through a Bill of Rights, and restricted Japan from having a military with Article nine.