The nature and role of the Meirokusha : a reassessment




Huish, D. J.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis is an attempt to reassess the nature and rôle of the society of bureaucrat-intellectuals known as the Meirokusha. It will be suggested that in itself the Meirokusha did not make such a significant contribution to the 'Civilization and Enlightenment (Bwnmei Kaika) Movement' of the 1870s as is generally assumed, more especially in Western works. Further, it wi I I be claimed that too conscious and we! I-defined an aim, too unified and communally purposive a nature have been attributed to the society. The Meirokusha has attracted a great deal of attention from both Japanese and Western scholars, and is generally regarded as having made a vital contribution to the Bummei Kaika Movement. This thesis 'therefore begins with an introductory review of assessments of the Meirokusha that have been made by some leading Japanese and Western scholars, and which seeks to show in what way these assessments need to be modified. The first chapter is then devoted to Mori Arinori, the principal founder of the Meirokusha. His early life and thought up to the foundation of the Meirokusha are examined in detail in order to ascertain and illuminate what were his principle motives in founding the society. Chapters two, three and four demonstrate in the first place why Mori's aims in particular were unattainable, and in the second place why the current reputation of the Meirokusha cannot justifiably be accepted. These themes are respectively the 'nature' and 'rôle' of the Meirokusha alluded to in the title. Chapter two is devoted to a detailed examination of Fukuzawa Yukichi, who, as the leading 'Enlightenment' figure, is of particular importance in any discussion of the Meirokusha's rôle. It will be seen that not only was Fukuzawa's dominant position the result of activities totally outside the scope of the Meirokusha, but that furthermore, he played a completely minor rôle within the society - except at its disbandment, of which he was the effective prime mover. Chapter three is a less detailed discussion of the life histories and personal relations of the remaining members who contributed to the society's magazine, the Meiroku Zasshi. This chapter seeks to isolate what these men had in common which led them to join together in the first place, but also emphasises their essentially heterogeneous nature, which was undoubtedly a contributary factor in their subsequent inability to stay together. At the same time, it is seen that what they did have in common was basically their already prominent position as leaders of the 'Enlightenment' , a rôle which they again continued individually, after the break-up of the society. Thus it is seen that it was not the Meirokusha as such which led the 'Enlightenment', but the Meirokusha men individually and separately. The final chapter comprises a history of the organization and activities of the Meirokusha and demonstrates the haphazard nature of its development. The important point is made that what must be inferred as Mori Arinori's aims in founding the Meirokusha were essentially incompatible with the human material he had at his disposal. And the highlighting of the continuing lack of agreement among the members on the central purpose of the society provides important justification of this view. In the conclusion, a tentative redefinition of the nature and rôle of the Meirokusha is attempted.






Thesis (PhD)

Book Title

Entity type

Access Statement

License Rights



Restricted until