The sixteen-year-old Prince Mutsuhito came into power in 1868. His accession to the throne marked the beginning of a national revolution known as the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) after the great Tokugawa shogunate was abolished.
The Meiji rule was intended to lead Japan into a new and completely modernized age influenced by the ways of the west. However, the role played by Mutsuhito in the redevelopment of Japan was not one of making reforms that would assist Japan in this. Under the Meiji constitution, the emperor was declared ?sacred and inviolable. ?, but he was still only a figurehead.
Though Mutsuhito was the emperor, the real brains behind the actions were a small group of samurai, known as the Meiji Oligarchs who wished to revolutionize Japan. ?Although the emperor in time became an influential force in the government, he functioned mainly as a symbol of national unity, leaving the actual business of governing to his ministers. ?
His presence was essential to the new government as a source of legitimacy and as a sanction for its transformation of Japan. He fostered a sense of nationalism and unity. Until then, most Japanese had identified themselves as loyal to their daimyo (feudal lord) first.