Modernization in Meiji Japan the Term Paper

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Yet there was no smooth transition. Ohara designed a new penal system following the Western panopticon model in which prisoners were subject to pervasive surveillance. Botsman analyzes Ohara's "Rules" to show how the subjectivity of prisoners was constituted.

Ohara laid out careful rules for the location and living grounds for inmates down to the material details. Inside the prison, Botsman says, "complete and perfect order was to reign."

The building should be a cross design with a central watchtower, wings, and an interior clear of obstacles to enable easy inspection. There should be careful distribution of bodies, each "housed in his own separate cell."

What is important is that the "Rules" reflected broader social change. They mirror Edo's transformation through traffic flow, commerce, and clearing slums for air circulation and hygiene. Simultaneously, a new police force monitored the public. Botsman writes, "Of greatest direct relevance for Ohara's vision of space in the new prisons, however, was the dismantling of the formal structures of the old status system and the emergence of a new understanding of the people as subjects under the direct, unifying authority of the emperor."

Botsman is pointing in a postmodernist way to multiple parallel changes is social structure.

The key to understanding Botsman description of modernization is to notice the analogies he draws. His method points to transformations in multiple sectors at once based on the same new principles. What happened in the prisons reflects an overall pattern of structural change during Meiji times. He shows, for instance, how the prisoner's time and work schedule was regimented. This parallels the rise of the new education and factory systems, which likewise imposed on its subject strict time-keeping and discipline. In other words, there were observable social homologies that took shape as techniques for social control. Often these social restructurings were exploited, as in using prison labor for commercial profit or building prisons in Taiwan (all linked with the modernity themes of industrialization, productivity, and colonization). In addition, Botsman points out the mechanisms by which bodies came to be scrutinized and micromanaged. All was done in service of new kinds of institutions (e.g., the prison) that shifted Japan toward modernity under the watchful gaze of the West. With Meiji rule, there came a fundamental break, not continuity. It was this break and the institutions it formed that created Japanese modernization. Botsman's analysis complicates advancement and questions whether prisons were a sign of progress. His analysis leans from traditionalism in its strategies and foci.


What is striking is that, in 1984, Gluck's excellent book on Meiji ideology omits all mention of the hospital and the prison. This shows her focus on ideology to be a positive but incomplete step toward postmodernism, which localized analyses such as Burns and Botsman have carried further. In deviating from typical traditionalist concerns, Burns and Botsman do not display a lack of depth. On the contrary, a new depth emerges, fertile for new historical understandings. By focusing careful attention on atypical sources and by asking questions of power, resistance, techniques for social control, construction of bodies, restructurings, multiple meanings, and new institutions, they are able to provide fresh insights into old question. These new insights have been shown to be challenging to traditionalist interpretations of the Meiji period. While they offer no grand narratives, evolutionary perspectives, or highlights of the elite, their inclusion of marginalized perspectives heightens the complexity of social reality and points constructively away from modernization theory.


Botsman, Daniel V. Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Burns, Susan L. "Contemplating Places: The Hospital as Modern Experience in Meiji Japan." In New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan. Edited by Helen Hardacre and Adam L. Kern, 702-718. Brill's Japanese Studies Library. Vol 6. Leiden: Brill, 1997.

Gluck, Carol. Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Hardacre, Helen. "Introduction." In New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan. Edited by Helen Hardacre and Adam L. Kern, xiii-xlii. Brill's Japanese Studies Library. Vol 6. Leiden: Brill, 1997.

Carol Gluck, Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 39.

Helen Hardacre, "Introduction," in New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan, eds. Helen Hardacre and Adam L. Kern, xiii-xlii (Leiden: Brill, 1997).

Hardacre, xvi.

Hardacre, xviii.

Susan L. Burns, "Contemplating Places: The Hospital as Modern Experience in Meiji Japan," in New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan, eds. Helen Hardacre and Adam L. Kern, 702-718 (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 703.

Burns, 704.

Burns, 709.

Burns, 713.

Burns, 712.

Burns, 715.

Burns, 715.

Burns, 718.…[continue]

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