When Sachinomiya, (1852-1912, pictured) was born, Japan was a cloistered society, by choice, ruled by an old feudal system with 180 land lords, with an outdated militaristic government, run by samurais and called a shogunate.

His name was shortened to Prince Sachi and he was but one year old when the American navy officer, Commodore Perry sailed his black war ships into Tokyo harbour in defiance of the Japanese edict against any foreign ship attending any harbour but at Nagasaki. Perry demanded trading right.

Perry's actions caused a chain reaction in Japan, a process which by the standards of nation-building, can only be called precipitous; but constitutional change is often sudden - ask any Frenchman, Russian or American.

Emperor MeijiThe old Japanese shogunate asked the emperor - Shanti's father - for advice. That an emperor would actually be consulted on political decisions was an event - it had not happened in Japan for centuries.

Still Satchi, give the named Mutshito when he turned 11, grew up hearing of ships, foreigners and reform - anathema to the ultra-conservative shoguns and samurai. He was privy to the growing number of private and public demonstrations against the shogunates. Common Japanese were tired of being repressed (see Japan: A Legal History). Even young samurai began to publicly question the shogun leadership in the crisis.

A rebel army sprung up and defeated the government's army in battle.

Then, Mushito's father suddenly died and Mushito was sworn in as emperor though only 14, and eventually given yet a third name, Emperor Meiji. He was in the Imperial Palace when the rebels overran the capital and reinstated the monarchy under the stated banner of modernization and international trade, but they meant no harm to the new emperor.

Three Japanese statesmen drafted the Charter, Yuri Kimimasa, Fukuoka Takachika and Kido Takayoshi.

The Charter Oath became law in Japan on April 7, 1868. It was then read aloud by Emperor Meiji to a gathering of 400 Japanese politicians who signed their names, totaling 767 signatures.

The Charter was intended to set the pace and tone for reform, the constitutional and legal reinvention of Japanese society and government.

With the formal, Japanese name of Gokajyo no Goseimon, the Charter Oath of the Five Articles read:

By this oath, we set up as our aim the establishment of the national wealth on a broad basis and the framing of a constitution and laws.

  • Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion.
  • All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.
  • The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.
  • Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.
  • Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.

To historians, the period of intense reform is known as the Meiji restoration of 1868.

But the legal document at the core of it all was the Charter Oath of the Five Articles.

Japan was changed forever.