I am aware the Emperor Meiji abolished the Samurai class during the reformation. Why did he do so? How was it enforced?

  • Many samurai found it difficult to exist and took the drastic move to emigrate to the US and Latin America as exploited labor force. Bushido went with them. Bushido did not really exist in the Japanese modern military, which was influenced by going to the US and observing wars against Indigenous Nations by the US military Custer was the Japanese military in WW2. The samurai soldiers were the Nisei boys in the segregated 442nd combat unit of the 101st Battalion for the US Army, which suffered 300% casyakty rate. I learned this point of view from an indigenous elder who is a WW2 military buff.
    – Misa Joo
    Jan 7, 2020 at 18:21

3 Answers 3


The Charter Oath promulgated at the enthronement of Emperor Meiji of Japan on 7 April 1868 includes several parts that identify the reasons for the radical social restructure that followed the Meiji restoration and an indication of the motivations for the dissolution of the warrior class that had been a defining characteristic of Japanese society.

  1. Deliberative assemblies shall be widely convoked and all matters of state shall be decided by public discussion;
  2. All classes, high and low, shall unite in vigorously promoting the economy and welfare of the nation;
  3. All civil and military officials, and the common people as well, shall be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, so that there may be no discontent among them;
  4. Base customs of the past shall be abandoned, and all actions shall conform to the principles of international justice;
  5. Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world, and thus shall be strengthened the foundation of the Imperial polity.

The determination to remove the "base customs" of the past drove the new government to dismantle the old Confucian based social order. This included the removal of the restrictions and privileges that had defined the samurai, peasant, artisan and merchant classes.

During the summer of 1869 Tokyo formally reclassified the population as nobles, former samurai and commoners.

In 1871 the Tokyo government assumed the responsibility for paying stipends to the former samurai. This immediately accounted for almost one-third of the government's expenditure. This massive financial obligation created pressure to abolish the subsidies entirely.

Despite less than universal support amongst the new leaders, in 1873 the Daijō-kan (department of state) offered interest-bearing goverment bonds to former samurai who surrendered their stipends. Three years later it made that exchange obligatory.

In 1876 ex-warriors were deprived the right to carry swords.

These steps to dissolve the military estate coincided with the establishment of a conscript army based on the Prussian and French models. Vice minister of military affairs Yamagata had seen the efficacy of these armies first hand in Europe and in 1873 enacted a Conscription Ordinance:

By this innovation the rulers and the ruled will be put on the same basis, the rights of the people will be equal, and the way will be cleared for the unity of soldier and peasant

This landmark measure was a major step in the disfranchising of the samurai estate and vastly strengthened the regime's authority by creating a force capable of dealing with countercoups and providing internal security.

Quotes and references from:

James L. McClain. Japan, a modern history W.W. Norton & Co, 2002


... and as Steven I think implies, the power of the samurai continued in the Japanese Army. This was one reason why the army had no problem doing all their evil in the name of the 'Emperor', while actually doing everything they could to ensure his opinion was never allowed to interfere. This reflected previous Japanese history when Emperors were puppets of the shogun.

  • 4
    Actually, the samurai influence was stronger in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. In that war, the Japanese were often praised for their very correct fighting and treatment of prisoners. I've seen arguments that the WWII behavior is more typical in Japanese history when arming the non-samurai classes. Oct 29, 2011 at 13:08

This appears to have happened roughly around 1873, when Emperor Meiji decided to change his military structure to use a conscripted army. He was attempting to modernize Japan by following the examples he had seen from England and Germany. Most of the Samurai volunteered to become soldiers and many eventually became officers in the new modernized Japanese army. By eliminating the Samurai, the emperor was also attempting to eliminate the feudal domains that had separated the country into different political domains, thereby reinforcing support for his centralized government.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.