From the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century, a military government ruled Japan. Decisions were taken by the shogun, the chief military commander, with the emperor (although nominally in charge) reduced to a figurehead.
At the core of this was a strict caste system. At the top were large landowners, the daimyo, followed by the nobility, the samurai. Peasants, craftsmen and merchants were at the bottom of the heap and were required to pay taxes to their superiors.
The status quo was maintained with restrictions on trade and industry, which delayed Japan's economic development. The privileges enjoyed by the samurai became increasingly resented.
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Eventually, in 1867, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu was forced to give up political power to Emperor Meiji (also known as Meiji the Great). After a brief rebellion, Yoshinobu surrendered his main castle in Edo, bringing the era known as the Tokugawa Shogunate to a close.
The samurai lost their titles and privileges (which included the right to strike down commoners) and the daimyo were stripped of their lands, which peasants were allowed to lease. The government encouraged investment in heavy industry and modernised the army.
Japan went through a period of strong growth known as the Meiji Restoration with GDP nearly tripling from 1868 to 1912. Victory in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japan war underlined Japan's growing power.
However, many remnants of the shogun period persisted, such as the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few individuals. This problem was only solved through land reform during the American military occupation.
Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.
He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.
Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.
As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.
Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri
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