Two events in Japanese history have been all-important in its recent development. The first was the change in the regime of its government and the promulgation of the constitution, and the other was the Chino-Japanese War.
Today we continue The New Japan,
with a selection from Japan by the Japanese by Ito Hirobumi. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 3 installments for 5 minute daily reading each.
Previously in The New Japan.
I was one of the first Japanese to visit foreign lands, and was able to do so only by stealth, escaping to Shanghai in 1863. The country was only just opened to foreign intercourse, and Japanese subjects were not yet allowed to leave the country.
I have always been very much in favor of the adoption of the principles of Western civilization by Japan, and I have been enabled to use my services in the direction of assisting the present progress and transformation in Japan’s estate. In the thirty- four years during which I have held office I have always tried to help, and sometimes even to force upon antagonistic spirits measures necessary for the growth of modern Japan. From the beginning we realized fully how necessary it was that the Japanese people should not only adopt Western methods, but should also speedily become competent to do without the aid of foreign instruction and supervision. In the early days we brought many foreigners to Japan to help introduce modern methods, but we always did it in such a way as to enable the Japanese students to take their rightful place in the nation after they had been educated. I must say that sometimes the foreigners, and even the foreign nations themselves, endeavored to take advantage of Japanese inexperience by passing men off as experts when they really knew next to nothing of the subjects for which they were engaged. We were, however, able to secure the services of many excellent men whose names are still honored in Japan, although they have long since left her shores.
On the occasion of my second visit to London, as one of the ambassadors of our country, a suggestion was made to me that it would be beneficial to establish a special engineering college in Japan, where every branch of engineering should be taught. Such a college would be quite unique, no other nation having one. The idea seemed very good, and on my return to Japan I took the necessary steps, and, with the assistance of foreign professors, we founded a college of engineering, now incorporated in the Tokio University. From this institution have come the majority of engineers who are now working the resources and industries of Japan. The establishment of this college was one of the most important factors in the development of Japan.
It was necessary that Japan should be not only educated, but also provided with suitable codes of laws, before there could be any question of a revision of the treaties with foreign nations, and for a considerable time all our efforts were concentrated in this direction.
Two events in Japanese history have been all-important in its recent development. The first was the change in the regime of its government and the promulgation of the constitution, and the other was the Chino-Japanese War. I spent much time away from Japan studying the constitutions of various countries, the Emperor having ordered me to undertake the arduous task of framing a draft of the new Japanese Constitution. The work was very difficult and required much thought. Never before had there been a constitution, in the modern sense of the word, in Japan, to help me to know what were the most vital points to be provided for in the new code. The country had been so essentially non-constitutional and feudal that it was difficult to sit down on the debris of its history and prepare for it off-hand a constitution; and even when I had decided what was most necessary, very great care was required to insure the proper working and execution of the various provisions. I had always to remember that my work was intended as a permanent measure, and therefore I had to consider all possible effects likely to arise from it in the distant future. Above all, there was the preeminent importance to be attached to the necessity of safeguarding the sacred and traditional rights of the sovereign. With the assistance of my secretaries and collaborators, all of them as devoted to the work as myself, I accomplished my task as well as I could, and it is not without satisfaction that I see it has not been necessary to amend the constitution since its promulgation.
As the old election law, however, has been found unsatisfactory, we have introduced an improved law, one of the principal changes in which is that the voting is by secret ballot, instead of by signed ballot, another important change being the insertion of provisions for more ample representation of the commercial and industrial elements of the country, and the business-tax. According to the new law, if any candidate should resort to corrupt means to secure his election, the proceedings would become, owing to the secrecy of the ballot, much more uncertain and costly than formerly. This new law was experimented with at the election of 1902.
I have always recognized the vital importance of a supremely efficient navy and army. The former is made the more important by our insular position. Our program of naval expansion laid down after the Chinese War, in 1895, is practically completed, and Japan possesses now a homogeneous and powerful modern fleet. In its numbers are included several of the largest and best-armed battleships and cruisers, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that the Japanese sailors and officers are as efficient in every respect as the ships they man. Our navy is largely of British construction, and we have made that country our model in this department, though, following the principles that have enabled us to make progress in the past, we are always ready to take advantage of improvements from any source.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history