(A little background for others reading this post) In 1868 Emperor Meiji re-established imperial rule. To move Japan into the modern era, he encouraged his people to explore and learn from the more technologically advanced cultures of the world.
Even in the late 1800s, English was the language of international commerce. Emperor Meiji's push to learn English was an attempt to jump onto the world stage with both feet. The effort failed for many of the same reasons that the metric system failed in the US. People are creatures of habit - they only change when they want to change or environment forces them to change. A decree has no force without the will of the people. Language is also a source of national identity. It is easy to adopt someone else's architecture and technology, but language is personal.
By contrast, during this same period the government ordered commoners to adopt a surname. Imagine living in a caste system in which only the high-class had last names, and you are told to be more like a high-class person. In spite of the large scale and significance of this change, it is hard to imagine an effort like this failing.
The only way English would have succeeded as a national language in Japan is if it were somehow necessary.
I found this virtual exhibit from a Canadian Museum (of all places). Though it does not address English specifically, it does a great job of summarizing the attitude in Japan during the late 1800s.