The meiji period (1868–1912) in Japanese history is known traditionally as an era of bustling reform during which the leaders of the restored imperial government sought to discard a feudal and backward civilization and to replace it with the modernity of the West. No people, however, notwithstanding all their persistence, talents, and hopes can have worked as great a transformation in their national life as has been claimed for the Japanese during this period. There is no doubt that great and far-reaching reforms were inaugurated, but it is especially necessary, in assessing them, to distinguish between the initial plans and hopes of the Japanese, on the one hand, and the actual achievements, on the other. The fundamental institutional changes which were projected required in most instances the passage of at least a generation before a reasonable stage of progress was attained. Failure to bear in mind the gradual nature of these changes has often resulted in the presentation of distorted and anachronistic treatments of modern Japanese history.

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