After the collapse of the long-standing Tokugawa regime (1603–1867), Japan under the Meiji emperor (1867–1912) rapidly implemented the process of modern nation-building by effectively utilizing the venerable institution of the emperor (Tennō) as its new national symbol. Following the imperial restoration, the Meiji government abolished the socioeconomic and political privileges of the samurai class, namely its exclusive right to bear arms, hold office and receive hereditary stipends. By 1900, Japan had already equipped itself with a modern Constitution that defined citizens' rights and obligations, a parliamentary system, an updated judicial system, universal education, a restructured national and local bureaucracy, national standing army, private ownership of land, and a nation-wide taxation system. None of these institutions had existed prior to 1868. All of the developmental innovations listed above were instituted within little more than a quarter century after the collapse of their predecessor's political structures. Before the Meiji restoration, Japanese society had been governed exclusively by its hereditary samurai elites for two and a half centuries. It was only during the early Meiji period – a little more than two decades or so – that the concept of kokumin (usually translated as “citizen”, more literally “country-person”) entered the popular vocabulary for the first time in Japanese history. The complex social and political dynamics of this initial period of development for Japanese citizenship rights is the primary object of my inquiry.
* I would like to thank Reid Andrews, Herrick Chapman, Betsy Fray, Michael Mosher and Charles Tilly for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. A version of this paper was presented at the 1994 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Los Angeles, and at a conference on “Social Construction of Democracy” at the University of Pittsburgh in 1992.