Meiji Period and Samurai Class

The changes that occurred in Japan during the Meiji period had a profound impact on the military class of samurai. The resoration of imperialism in 1868 marked the end of both the feudal regime and the government of the shogun. In 1876 the Meiji government issued the Hatorei edict prohibiting the wearing of swords in public, an exclusive privilege and right of samurai since the Edo period. The sword set, daisho, had defined a samurai since ancient times both physically and visually, representing his power and spirituality, and most importantly, his soul. Thus, the sword was worn near the centre of a man’s body, where the Japanese believed the soul to reside. Without the sword set, the samurai’s power disappeared, making him an equal amongst others. The "soul of the samurai" during the Meiji period was thus relegated to conduct of the past. In addition, the Meiji government banned the traditional hairstyle, the top-knot, and encouraged samurai to wear Western dress at all official government functions. The edict, thus, not only attempted to remove the samurai’s visibility from the public eye in an effort to conform him to the new Meiji society, based on Western standards and expectations, but it effectively stripped him of his spirituality, his soul.
Canadian Heritage Information Network
Vancouver Museum, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

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