I don't know if first, power was returned to the Emperor and a series of reforms were made to modernize Japan, both things referred to as the Meiji Restoration, and that led to the Boshin War, or if first the Boshin War occurred between the supporters of the Emperor and the process of modernization (Satsuma and Choshu clans) and the supporters of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate (I guess it defended traditional customs), and since the first ones won, after the Boshin war the Meiji Restoration occurred.

I read that Boshin war was fought from 1868 to 1869, but in a chronology, where would be the Meiji Restoration located: before or after Boshin War? And Meiji Restoration is normally in Japan conceived as a event happened in 1868, or which span of time would it have?

I've tried to read several articles about the matter, but since my knowledge of this topic is still very limited, I don't understand many things and at some point I end up quite confused. If you could please help me to clarify the main points of these events, I would be very thankful.


1 Answer 1


The Meiji Restoration wasn't just an event that happened at 5:17PM on a Tuesday one year. It was a process that happened over time to "restore practical imperial rule to Japan ... under Emperor Meiji". Given that wars also aren't instant, there's a 3rd possibility that wasn't allowed for in the question framing: they happened at overlapping times.

But in fact, the relation is even stronger than that. The Wikipedia page for the Boshin War, down in the 3rd paragraph, refers to the war as "the military phase of the Meiji Restoration". In other words, the war was part of the Restoration, not some separate event happening at a different time.

As for the timing of the Restoration, you have a point. It looks like 1868 is picked because that's when the new government first met after the Shogunate ended. However, it looks like the beginning of the serious organized pushback against the Shogunate was in 1866:

The foundation of the Meiji Restoration was the 1866 Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance between Saigō Takamori and Kido Takayoshi, leaders of the reformist elements in the Satsuma and Chōshū Domains at the southwestern end of the Japanese archipelago. These two leaders supported the Emperor Kōmei (Emperor Meiji's father) and were brought together by Sakamoto Ryōma for the purpose of challenging the ruling Tokugawa shogunate (bakufu) and restoring the Emperor to power.

The "Restoration" period itself was more of an ongoing thing from that point, rather than something that completed and then all the changes stopped. There was even another war in the 1870's which threatened to end the modernization, had it been successful.

You'd certainly end the period by the surrender at the end of WWII, but late Imperial Japan was so different than Japan at the end of the Boshin War that it doesn't seem reasonable to consider it as part of the same historical era.

I'd say good candidates for calling a definitive end to the Restoration period would include:

  1. The Meiji Constitution which went into effect in 1890.
  2. The signing of the Japan-Korea treaty in 1910, after which Japan was a true imperial power.
  3. The death of Meiji in 1912.

I'm a big believer in the cultural impact of how power flows in your government, so I'd probably go with the 1890 number.

  • First of all, thank you very much for your answer. It seems pretty reasonable what you point out, the fact that Boshin War is a phase of the Meiji Restoration, so they were happening at overlapping times. However, reading the several articles you linked, a new doubt arised in me.
    – kanachan
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 12:54
  • On the Meiji Restoration article, it is said that "the Tokugawa shogunate came to its official end on 9 November 1867, when Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th Tokugawa shōgun, "put his prerogatives at the Emperor's disposal" and resigned 10 days later", and Emperor fully obtained power on 3 January 1868.
    – kanachan
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 12:55
  • On the contrary, on the Boshin War article, it is stated that Boshin War (January 27, 1868 – June 27, 1869) "was a civil war in Japan fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and a coalition seeking to seize political power in the name of the Imperial Court", so I feel both articles statements clash each other, since Tokugawa shogun had already resigned and abandoned power by the time war was fought.
    – kanachan
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 12:55
  • But then, if the war was not fought to return power to the Emperor and subsequently carry out reforms towards modernization, what was its point? I'm very sorry for the inconvenience, it's just that I feel like I'm missing something, and I can't quite elucidate the order of the different events and why they occurred.
    – kanachan
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 12:55
  • 2
    @kanachan - That's where it pays to read a bit more in-depth. The Shogun was forced to resign his position in '67, but there was no organized replacement government until early '68. Meanwhile, he'd thought better of it, and started fighting against those who'd forced him to resign in hopes of restoring the (his) Shogunate, hence the war.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 14:54

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