Clearly the landscape of early modern Edo society had captured the heart of this proud Victorian woman. Isabella Bird, incidentally, traveled all around the world until she was 70, at a time when it was still practically unheard of for a woman to travel simply for the adventure of it. She visited not only Japan but also America, Hawaii, Malaya, the Red Sea, the Black Sea, Korea, China, and Morocco and was eminently qualified to comment on Japan_s beauty relative to that of other parts of the world. The Japanese, however, were unable to compare their own society with that of other countries, having been prohibited from traveling overseas during most of the Edo period. Fukuzawa Yukichi (1834-1901), on the other hand, after taking the time to appraise his own country in relation to others, became a convert to the system of power politics exemplified by the slogan_Enrich the country, strengthen the military;_ advocating that Japan turn its back on the institutions of early modern Edo society_which he referred to as _the ancestral enemy__and devote itself to _catching up with Western civilization._ (See Bunmei-ron no gairyaku [An Outline of a Theory of Civilization], 1875.) By grafting the capital-intensive production revolution of the West onto the labor-intensive production revolution accomplished during the early modern era, Meiji Japan, Asia_s first modern state, was able to hold its own against the great Western powers.
Let us pause here to consider once again the difference between the early modern and modern ages. The Europe that Japan encountered around the time of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 was indisputably _modern,_ with countries that were both rich and militarily strong. Its wealth was generated by capitalism, and its military strength owed much to the system of conscription instituted by Napoleon. Until Napoleon_s time, wars had been fought primarily by mercenaries, who were inclined to flee if the tide turned against them. Napoleon_s conscription system, in which people were expected to fight for their own country, was a concrete embodiment of the concept of the modern nation-state. Japan_s adoption of this system during the early Meiji era was a crucial event symbolizing the end of Edo society. For Europe, which had sanctioned the right of belligerency since the seventeenth century, the modern age was merely an extension of the early modern era where military matters were concerned. But the situation was different for the Japanese, whose weapon of choice, the sword, had primarily a spiritual significance, symbolizing _the soul of the warrior._ For Japan, the dawn of the modern age meant, in military terms, a clean break with the early modern era. As mentioned above, Europe crossed the line dividing the early modern and modern eras sometime around the year 1800. In terms of relations with other regions, the early modern era can be regarded as an age of transition, during which Europe and Japan asserted their independence from the old civilizations of Eurasia and began to take their place as major centers of civilization. The completion of this de-Asianization process signaled the end of the early modern era and the beginning of the modern age.
Seeking a Synthesis
Contemporary society, as we know, is beset by a host of grave problems, including the threat of nuclear destruction, the North-South gap, environmental degradation, refugees, racial discrimination, and ethnic conflict. And all of these problems, without exception, are the offspring of the modern world system. Can we look to that same system for solutions to these problems? The biggest problem created by capitalism is the ever-increasing disparities in wealth resulting from free competition, and the system that much of the world once looked to solve that problem_socialism_has proven itself unviable. The socialist bloc of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has collapsed. China has switched to _a socialist market economy_ that is socialist in name only; and North Korea is in the grip of famine. The socialist system has exposed itself as the breeding ground of poverty. This is only one example, to be sure, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that the modern world system has basically exhausted its legacy in attempting to rectify the momentous problems facing the world.