The Itō Cabinet of Meiji Japan, 1885

Dear Delegates,

Hello, and welcome to the Itō Cabinet of Meiji Japan, 1885! My name is Mikael Tessema, I am a sophomore at Harvard College, and I have the distinct pleasure of serving as your Director for this committee. As members of the first modern cabinet of Japan, you will have the chance to explore this fascinating period in East Asian history.

Although I spent my whole life in my little corner of Connecticut, I have always enjoyed learning about history outside of my culture and my country, so I relished the chance to get involved with international relations through Model United Nations during my freshman year. I was fortunate enough to staff last year’s HNMUN Court of Süleyman the Great, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Outside of MUN, I am engaged in the Harvard IOP—specifically, the Fellows and Study Groups program. I intend to concentrate in Government with a potential secondary concentration in Statistics. In my spare time, I enjoy consuming political journalism, exploring campus spaces, and playing video games.

We will be covering a broad range of topics related to the Meiji Period, but you will discover that many of the larger trends of Japan’s modernization—rapid industrialization, social upheaval, sweeping political reforms, and military expansion—are very much still at play today. Recognizing historical precedents for dealing with economic inequality will offer surprising insights into solving the world’s pressing challenges. It will be up to you, members of the Cabinet, to forge a new path for Japan in an era of uncertainty and in defining the nation’s place on the world stage, reshape the course of history. I’m excited to see the direction this committee will take!

On that note, I will be acting as Emperor Meiji himself for the duration of cabinet proceedings. Of course, the real power lies with you, the imperial cabinet, who I have appointed to govern in my stead. Take advantage of my acquiescence to advance the agenda you want to see enacted!

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at any point with any questions that you may have as the conference date approaches. I eagerly await your arrival at HNMUN 2018!

Sincerely,
Mikael Tessema
Director, Itō Cabinet of Meiji Japan, 1885
Harvard National Model United Nations 2018
meiji@hnmun.org



Dear Delegates,

Welcome to the Ito Cabinet committee at Harvard National Model United Nations 2018! My name is Brett Dowling, and I am incredibly excited to serve as your crisis director for this committee. I am a senior concentrating in Social Studies, and my academic work focuses primarily on political and social theory. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, my interest in Model UN began when I was a freshman in high school. Since then, I have been involved with over 20 conferences as a delegate, a staff member, and a secretariat member. I am currently a member of Harvard’s intercollegiate Model UN team, and have enjoyed attending conferences across the United States. This is my third (and final!) year working with HNMUN, and I am also working at Harvard’s high school conference, HMUN, this year.

The Ito Cabinet will be an experience unique to HNMUN 2018. As a historical continuous crisis committee, the
Ito Cabinet will test both your historical knowledge as well as your strategic cunning. It will involve
a full immersion in East Asian affairs and social transformation—two fields about which I am very passionate, and
about which I hope you are passionate too. My own interest in East Asian affairs and Japan in particular stems
from my personal background, as my mom’s side of the family is Japanese. My background has inspired me to pursue courses in Japanese politics, international history, and comparative politics while at college. Leading up to and at conference, I hope to be able to share my knowledge with all of you, and learn about your unique perspectives on these matters as well.

The Ito Cabinet was the first official cabinet of Japan, and was both a product and a cause of the great social, political, and economic transition occurring in the country at the time. I hope through this committee you will gain a better appreciation for the immense changes that faced Japan during the restoration. You will confront questions of modernity, identity, and tradition all against the backdrop of a political struggle between various power factions. You indeed face a very daunting array of responsibilities, ranging from updating the economy to subduing challenges to your political authority. But you are also faced with the great opportunity of hindsight to rehash and improve on both the successes and failures of the actual Ito Cabinet. Finally, despite the fact that this committee is historically situated, I hope that you always remember that many of the matters that the Ito Cabinet confronted so many years ago may be more relevant today than ever before.

Prepare yourselves for crises that will be challenging, unexpected, educational, and, with a bit of luck, a decent amount of fun! Best of luck with your background research, and please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions or require further research. I look forward to meeting you all at conference.

Sincerely,
Brett Dowling
Crisis Director, Itō Cabinet of Meiji Japan, 1885
Harvard National Model United Nations 2018


Although Japan has made significant progress since Emperor Meiji’s restoration, the nation’s road ahead is fraught with uncertainty in 1885. The feudal social and economic system has long been dismantled, and Japan is experiencing explosive economic growth as a result. Rapid industrialization, technological progress, and drastic changes to land rights all help to liberate millions peasants from rice farms and enable them to work in urban factories, bringing the nation closer to a middle-income society. Consolidated financial and industrial conglomerates (zaibatsu) are prospering as they command an ever-growing portion of Japan’s markets. The Meiji government has found their ties with Western experts and technology to be invaluable in developing the economy, but the zaibatsu’s influence on the government itself is growing quickly.

Political discontent and unrest, however, poses serious challenges to the Itō Cabinet. As the former masters of Japan—the samurai—find themselves forced out of political power from their feudal domains and conscripted into military service, they grow more disillusioned with a rapidly changing society. One rebellion has already been crushed; more could be in the works. Western political ideologies are disseminating quickly amongst the population, as the conservative Meiji government resists calls for political liberalization. The Emperor has charged the Itō Cabinet with producing a national constitution by the decade’s end, which might address the grievances of political opponents.

Division simmers within the Meiji government as politicians clash over their visions for the nation. Members of this cabinet will be tasked with providing answers to pressing questions about Japan’s future. Can the Meiji government continue the nation’s rapid industrialization alone, or will it have to bow to the zaibatsu? What will the fate of the samurai be in a new Japan? Will the government heed the calls for political liberalization, or remain under oligarchic rule? How should Japan develop its military? Will Japan go to war over territorial claims with its neighbors in Korea, China, and Russia? Should Japan become a colonial power itself, or push back against Western imperialism in East Asia?

At this pivotal moment in history, you, members of the Itō Cabinet, will decide the fate of Japan and more broadly, the face of 20th century East Asia. The actions this cabinet takes will directly impact the nation’s fortunes and reverberate far into Asia’s future—I look forward to witnessing them.