Lessons of the past: 150th anniversary of Meiji Restoration in Japan
St Petersburg University has held a conference on the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration.
The Meiji Restoration, as it restored practical imperial rule to Japan in 1868, was a drive for international status and world power of Japan that was primarily agricultural at that time. The Meiji Ishin has always been in the limelight globally as understanding how the changes occur in Japan is the key to building partner relationships with the country.
“St Petersburg University has always been focused on study and teaching the Japanese language, culture, and history. Now Russia is becoming increasingly interested in Japan, and it is a common tendency in international relationships. We have signed a number of agreements with the universities and are signing more and more agreements with the Japan’s companies: JTI, Mitsui, and Panasonic that support our academic mobility programmes, — said Senior Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Oriental Studies Aleksei Rodionov. — Traditionally, students in oriental Studies and International Relations studied Japanese, but last year students in management got an opportunity to study Japanese too. Next year students in law will have this opportunity as ell as the University is to open an undergraduate programme in Law with a focus on Japanese language and law”.
SPbU Professor Aleksandr Philippov also touched upon how the Meiji Restoration was studied in Japan and worldwide. For example, in Russian historiography the Meiji is generally referred to as “unfinished bourgeois revolution” (the term was coined by Lenin), in European tradition it is the Restoration, while in Japan the Meiji Ishin (“Meiji renewal”). The 150th anniversary has revived the interest to the phenomenon and therefore brought new approaches to interpret it: in Japan, there appeared the publications on life of the “innovators of high-tech of the Edo period who laid grounds for the Meiji Ishin” and publications comparing the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and 150th anniversary of the Meiji.
The events of 1868 can help us find answers for many questions Japan is facing today, says historian and political expert Dmitrii Streltsov. Unlike Europe where the dramatic social changes throughout the historical development were evolutionary in nature, the Meiji was a response to the foreign threat. The-then slogans, as expert agree, are successfully used by the Japanese political elite today. The Meiji Ishin was based on such values as harmony and conformity, idealization of the patriarchal country life and idea of the emperor as a father of the nation. All these reference points are quite up-to-date for the practices in the modern politics.
The restoration heritage is at the focus of public attention in the politics and society. Japan's largest broadcasting organization NHK broadcast a series of programmes on the Meiji. The underlying reason, as SPbU’s graduate and lecturer at Hiroshima University Sergei Tolstoguzov says, is a social self-reflection.
Today, Japanese are trying to understand why Japan is risking to lose its role as a global leader in the economics? How was it possible for a traditional and exotic country to become on a par with the leading European countries within 20-30 years? What did they do? The senior generation is anxious about infantilism of the young generation that is not willing to have a pro-active approach to life. The Meiji Ishin is just the opposite experience: many outstanding people were not afraid of undertaking initiatives.
Lecturer at Hiroshima University Sergei Tolstoguzov
The reports on the Japanese-Russian, Japanese-Turkish, and Japanese-Italian relations on various levels show that Japan was forced to learn as was Russia during Peter’s the Great reign, said SPbU Associate Professor in Japanese History Maria Malashevskaia. By early 20th century, Japan had become an only non-European modernized country. Yet its plans to be a partner-state to Europe ended up in the tragedy in 1930-40s.
“The defeat in the WWII brought about political, economic, and social changes in Japan that still preserved the Meiji spirit. Japan opted for a way for peaceful development that is still pursuing, — said the expert. — Japan is a real example of the concept of economic state, with soft power as a key tool of the international politics. Although it has been experiencing an economic downturn in the last 25 years, it is culturally and historically strong state on the global arena”.
Some of the sections focused on the painstaking enquiries into how the Meiji Ishin influenced the Russian-Japanese relations, brought social changes, altered foreign policy, develop literature, culture, education, language, and life. The conferenced was visited by the researchers from Russia, Japan, Serbia, Italy, and Bulgaria. The linguists from the University of Belgrade made a presentation of the Russian study guide of the Japanese language that was translated by LSU’s graduate and expert in Serbian philology Ivan Priima.
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