- The reign-period from 1868-1912 during which the Meiji emperor (Meiji tenno) was enthroned. It marked Japan's transformation from the feudal society of the Tokugawa period to a modern industrial state. It was a new era of direct imperial rule, portrayed by its advocates as a 'restoration' of ancient practice (see Fukko-Shinto) which started with the collapse of the last Tokugawa shogun's government in 1867 and included brief civil wars (see Yasukuni Jinja). The first years of Meiji were marked by nationalist and anti-feudal sentiments roused against Buddhism which was officially characterised as a 'foreign' religion and disestablished (see Shinbutsu bunri). The Charter Oath of April 1868 promulgated by the young emperor Meiji, whose court was moved to Tokyo, set out a broadly modernising framework of government which was gradually elaborated through constitutional reforms and imperial rescripts though the Meiji government remained essentially an oligarchy. The primary aim of the enterprising Meiji regime was to transform Japan as rapidly as possible into a rich and strong country, indeed empire, in conformity with the Western model of the industrialised nation-state. To this end, while elements of Tokugawa Confucian thought such as loyalty and filial piety were re-emphasised for the ordinary people, and many useful aspects of the Tokugawa administrative structure were preserved, archaic elements of the ritsuryo system such as the idea of saisei itchi and (briefly) the jingikan were revived at least in name to enhance the sacred and inviolable status of the emperor and provide an ultimate focus for national loyalty. From 1868 onwards a central-ised imperial religious cult focusing on the divinity of the emperor was gradually developed which incorporated shrines as well as schools and other civil and military organs of the state. This came to be identified as 'Shinto' and was from the 1890's declared 'non-religious' (i.e. supra-religious) to differentiate Japan's supposedly indigenous sacred heritage from 'foreign' faiths such as Buddhism and Christianity. It should be noted that the term 'Meiji' is often used in a very broad sense to refer to the whole Meiji, Taisho and part-Showa reign-periods from 1868 right up to 1945 when the system of government next underwent radical change. Shinto-related events and personalities in the Meiji period are too numerous to list here and can be found throughout the dictionary. Most of the salient features of modern Shinto were established as a result of government legislation in the Meiji period.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.