ENLIGHTENMENT: Meiji & Beyond
The Meiji period (1868-1912) saw the end of over 250 years of military rule under the Tokugawa shoguns. A new democratic government was established and feudalism (the system of political and economic control through aristocracy, samurai and homage), which had for centuries been a way of life, was gradually abolished. Led by the Emperor and the ‘enlightened government’ (Meiji), Japan rapidly reformed following western models of education, justice, transport and industry.
The abolition of feudalism resulted in Japanese craftsmen losing the patronage of the samurai. However, the rise of international exhibitions coupled with the international export markets and increase in tourism provided them with new trading and design opportunities. The techniques used on traditional sword and dress accessories were transferred to designs and shapes of objects made to appeal to the West. These types of items, being small and easily classified, appealed to western collectors and had not previously been exported to the West.
The government moved from Kyoto to Edo (then renamed Tokyo) in 1868 and supported craftsmanship through policies such as the establishment of the First Trading and Manufacturing Company (Kiriu Kosho Kaisha). Coupled with the rise in international exhibitions and tourism, a craze rose in the West for Japanese arts, crafts, culture and design. The Japan once so recognisable from the Edo period prints was rapidly being replaced by a thriving and strong international power.