“On this day in 1890, the Meiji Constitution went into effect in Japan and the first Diet convened. It remained the organic law of the Japanese empire for almost 60 years after its implementation.
Prior to the Meiji Constitution, Japan had no written constitution. In the 6th century it adopted an elaborate, Chinese-inspired legal system and constitution (an unwritten code) known as ritsuryo, which, by the 10th and 11th centuries, had largely become a formality. After the Meiji Restoration, in which imperial rule was restored to Japan in 1868, its leaders sought to draft a constitution that would preserve their power while presenting Japan on the world stage as a modern nation deserving of Western respect. In 1882, Japanese prince Ito Hirobumi chaired a bureau to study various systems of constitutional government first-hand. The United States Constitution was immediately rejected as being too liberal, while the British system was deemed unwieldy. French and Spanish models, the bureau reasoned, invited despotism. Eventually the German and Prussian systems, with some changes, proved most adaptable to Japanese society.
The new Japanese government created a cabinet headed by Hirobumi as prime minister. Model in hand, the constitutional draft committee began creating the Meiji Constitution. Among its facets, the Constitution established the emperor’s sovereign authority through his divine ancestry “”unbroken for ages eternal,”” and through the kokutai, or national polity; a bicameral parliament, the Diet, consisting of an elected lower house and a prime minister and cabinet appointed by the emperor; and a privy council, composed of elders, to advise the emperor. After numerous drafts, done in secret by the draft committee, the Constitution was submitted to Emperor Meiji in 1888. It was promulgated by him in February 1889 and finally came into effect on 29 November 1890. The new representative assembly, the Imperial Diet, also convened for the first time on that day.
The Meiji Constitution consisted of 76 articles in seven chapters, including “”The Emperor,”” “”Rights and Duties of Subjects,”” and “”The Imperial Diet.”” It was the first time in its history that Japan had a written constitution and it served the country for almost 57 years until 2 May 1947, when the Empire of Japan was dissolved and its postwar constitution went into effect.”
Credit: Alamy AY5J0B
Caption: The Promulgation of the Meiji Constitution, Japan’s first modern constitution, occurred on 11 February 1889, and went into effect on 29 November 1890.