On the Meiji Restoration: Japan's search for sovereignty?

Masaru Kohno*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


It is generally taken for granted that the Meiji Restoration was a watershed event that incorporated Japan into the modern sovereign state system. This conventional wisdom is misleading. The Japanese political system that existed prior to the Meiji Restoration, the so-called Tokugawa Baku-Han regime, was comparable with many modern sovereign states in its exercise of public authority and its ability to control cross-border movements. Furthermore, as Krasner has shown, sovereignty itself is a problematic concept, the fundamental norms and principles of which are frequently violated. A case study of the 1862 incident known as Namamugi Jiken demonstrates how Japan was recognized and treated internationally, revealing that while some aspects of Japan's sovereignty were conveniently violated, other sovereignty norms were certainly respected by the Western nations. These norms constrained the range of choices available to the key actors involved in this incident and thus significantly affected the subsequent course of events, which ultimately led to Tokugawa's collapse in 1868. Hence, it was the complex (hypocritical) nature of Japan's existent sovereignty, and not its absence, that explains why the Meiji Restoration occurred the way it actually did.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-283
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Relations of the Asia-Pacific
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001 Aug 1
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • Political Science and International Relations


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