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The
principle of popular representation is strictly adhered to, every
prefecture, every county, every town, and every district having its
own local assembly, wherein the number of members is fixed in
proportion to the population. These bodies are all elected. The
enjoyment of the franchise depends upon a property qualification
which, in the case of prefectural and county assemblies, is an annual
payment of direct national taxes to the amount of three yen (6s.,
$1.50); in the case of town and district assemblies two yen; and in
the case of prefectural assemblies, ten yen. There are other
arrangements to secure the due representation of property, the
electors being divided into classes according to their aggregate
payment to the national treasury. Three such classes exist, and each
elects one-third of an assembly's members. There is no payment for
the members of an assembly, but all salaried officials, ministers of
religion, and contractors for public works, as well as persons unable
to write their own names and the names of the candidates for whom
they vote, are denied the franchise.

A prefectural assembly holds one session of thirty days annually; and
a county assembly, one session of not more than fourteen days; while
the town and district assemblies are summoned by the mayor or the
headman whenever recourse to their deliberation appears expedient.
Each prefecture has a prefect (governor) and each county assembly has
a headman. Both are appointed by the Central Administration, but an
assembly has competence to appeal to the minister of Home Affairs
from the prefect's decisions. In the districts, also, there are
headmen, but their post is always elective and generally
non-salaried. Other details of the local-government system are here
omitted. It suffices to say that the system has been in operation for
over thirty years and has been found satisfactory in practice.
Moreover, these assemblies constitute excellent schools for the
political education of the people.

THE CONSTITUTION

It has already been shown that the sovereign's so-called coronation
oath did not contemplate a national assembly in the Western sense of
the term. The first assembly convened in obedience to the oath
consisted of nobles and samurai only, and was found to be a virtually
useless body. Not till 1873, when Itagaki Taisuke, seceding from the
Cabinet on account of the Korean complication, became a warm advocate
of appealing national questions to an elective assembly, did the
people at large come to understand what was involved in such an
institution. Thenceforth Itagaki became the centre of a more or less
enthusiastic group of men advocating a parliamentary system, some
from sincere motives, and others from a conviction that their failure
to obtain posts was in a manner due to the oligarchical form of their
country's polity.

When the Satsuma rebellion broke out, four years later, this band of
Tosa agitators memorialized the Government, charging it with
administering affairs in despite of public opinion; with ignoring
popular rights, and with levelling down instead of up, since the
samurai had been reduced to the class of commoners, whereas the
latter should have been educated to the standard of the former. But
the statesmen in power insisted that the nation was not yet ready to
enjoy constitutional privileges. They did not, indeed, labour under
any delusion as to the ultimate direction in which their reforms
tended, but they were determined to move gradually, not
precipitately. They had already (1874) arranged for the convention of
an annual assembly of prefects who should act as channels of
communication between the central authorities and the people in the
provinces. This was designed to be the embryo of representative
institutions, though obviously it bore that character in a very
limited degree only.

In the following year (1875), the second step was taken by organizing
a Senate (Genro-in), which consisted of official nominees and was
charged with the duty of discussing and revising laws and ordinances
prior to their promulgation. But it had no power of initiative, and
its credit in the eyes of the nation was more or less injured by the
fact that its members consisted for the most part of men for whom no
posts could be found in the administration and who, without some
steadying influence, might have been drawn into the current of
discontent.

At this stage, an event occurred which probably moved the Government
to greater expedition. In the spring of 1878, the great statesman,
Okubo Toshimitsu, who had acted such a prominent part on the stage of
the reformation drama, was assassinated. His slayers were avowedly
sympathizers of Saigo, but in their statement of motives they
assigned as their principal incentive the Government's failure to
establish representative institutions. They belonged to a province
far removed from Satsuma, and their explanation of the murder showed
that they had little knowledge of Saigo's real sentiments. But the
nation saw in them champions of a constitutional form of government,
and the authorities appreciated the necessity of greater expedition.
Thus, two months after Okubo's death, the establishment of elective
assemblies in the prefectures and cities was proclaimed.

ENGRAVING: OKUBO TOSHIMITSU

Reference has already been made to these and it will suffice here to
note that their principal functions were to determine the amount and
object of local taxes; to audit the accounts for the previous year;
and to petition the Central Government, should that seem expedient.
These assemblies represented the foundations of genuinely
representative institutions, for although they lacked legislative
power, they discharged parliamentary functions in other respects. In
fact, they served as excellent training schools for the future Diet.
But this did not at all satisfy Itagaki and his followers. They had
now persuaded themselves that without a national assembly it would be
impossible to oust the clique of clansmen who monopolized the prizes
of power. Accordingly, Itagaki organized an association called
Jiyu-to (Liberals), the first political party in Japan. Between the
men in office and these visionary agitators a time of friction, more
or less severe, ensued. The Government withheld from the people the
privileges of free speech and public meeting, so that the press and
the platform found themselves in frequent collision with the police.
Thus, little by little, the Liberals came to be regarded as victims
of official tyranny, so that they constantly obtained fresh
adherents.

Three years subsequently (1881), another political crisis occurred.
Okuma Shigenobu resigned his portfolio, and was followed into private
life by many able politicians and administrators. These organized
themselves into a party ultimately called Progressists (Shimpo-to),
who, although they professed the same doctrine as the Liberals, were
careful to maintain an independent attitude; thus showing that
"Japan's first political parties were grouped, not about principles,
but about persons."*

*Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edition); article "Japan," by
Brinkley.

It must not be supposed for a moment that the Progressists were
conservative. There was no such thing as real conservatism in Japan
at that time. The whole nation exhaled the breath of progress.
Okuma's secession was followed quickly by an edict promising the
convention of a national assembly in ten years. Confronted by this
engagement, the political parties might have been expected to lay
down their arms. But a great majority of them aimed at ousting the
clan-statesmen rather than at setting up a national assembly. Thus,
having obtained a promise of a parliament, they applied themselves to
exciting anti-official sentiments in the future electorates; and as
the Government made no attempt to controvert the prejudices thus
excited, it was evident that when the promised parliament came into
existence, it would become an arena for vehement attacks upon the
Cabinet.

Of course, as might have been expected, the ten years of agitated
waiting, between 1881 and 1891, were often disfigured by recourse to
violence. Plots to assassinate ministers; attempts to employ
dynamite; schemes to bring about an insurrection in Korea--such
things were not infrequent. There were also repeated dispersions of
political meetings by order of police inspectors, as well as
suspensions or suppressions of newspapers by the fiat of the Home
minister. Ultimately it became necessary to enact a law empowering
the police to banish persons of doubtful character from Tokyo without
legal trial, and even to arrest and detain such persons on suspicion.
In 1887, the Progressist leader, Okuma, rejoined the Cabinet for a
time as minister of Foreign Affairs, but after a few months of office
his leg was shattered by a bomb and he retired into private life and
founded the Waseda University in Tokyo.

It may indeed be asserted that during the decade immediately prior to
the opening of the national assembly, "an anti-Government propaganda
was incessantly preached from the platform and in the press." The
Tokyo statesmen, however, were not at all discouraged. They proceeded
with their reforms unflinchingly. In 1885, the ministry was recast,
Ito Hirobumi--the same Prince Ito who afterwards fell in Manchuria
under the pistol of an assassin--being appointed premier and the
departments of State being reorganized on European lines. Then a
nobility was created, with five orders, prince, marquis, count,
viscount, and baron. The civil and penal laws were codified. The
finances were placed on a sound footing. A national bank with a
network of subordinate institutions was established. Railway
construction was pushed on steadily. Postal and telegraph services
were extended. The foundations of a strong mercantile marine were
laid. A system of postal savings-banks was instituted. Extensive
schemes of harbour improvement, roads, and riparian works were
planned and put into operation. The portals of the civil service were
made accessible solely by competitive examination.



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