The Meiji Restoration (明治維新; Meiji Ishin) describes a chain of events that led to a change in Japan's political and social structure; it occurred from 1866 to 1869, a period of 4 years that transverses both the late Edo (often called Late Tokugawa shogunate) and beginning of the Meiji Era.
The formation in 1866 of the Satcho Alliance between Saigo Takamori, the leader of the Satsuma domain, and Kido Takayoshi, the leader of the Choshu domain, marks the beginning of the Meiji restoration. These two leaders supported the emperor and were brought together by Ryoma Sakamoto for the purpose of challenging the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate (bakufu) and restoring the emperor to power.
The Tokugawa bakufu came to an official end on November 9th, 1867 with the resignation of the 15th Tokugawa Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu and the "restoration" (Taisei Houkan) of imperial rule. The 15-year-old Mutsuhito succeeded his father, Emperor Komei, and the following year took the reign name Meiji (明治) or "enlightened rule," and signed the Five Charter Oath.
Shortly thereafter in January 1868, the Boshin War (War of the Year of the Dragon) started with the Battle of Toba Fushimi in which the new government's army, led by the forces from Choshu and Satsuma defeated the shogun's army. The war ended in early 1869 with the siege of Hakodate, Hokkaido. The defeat of the armies of the former shogun (led by Hijikata Toshizo) marked the end of the Meiji Restoration; all defiance to the emperor and his rule ended.
The leaders of the Meiji Restoration, as this revolution came to be known, claimed that their actions restored the emperor's powers. This is not in fact true. Power simply moved from the Tokugawa Shogun to a new oligarchy of the daimyo who defeated him. These oligarchs were mostly from the Satsuma province (Okubo Toshimichi and Saigo Takamori), and the Choshu province (Ito Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo, and Kido Koin.)
1 Okubo Toshimichi (1830-1878)
2 Kido Takayoshi (1833-1877)
3 Saigo Takamori (1827-1877)
4 Iwakura Tomomi (1825-1883)
5 Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909)
6 Kuroda Kiyotaka (1840-1900)
7 Matsukata Masayoshi (1835-1924)
8 Oyama Iwao (1842-1916)
9 Saigo Tsugumichi (1843-1902)
10 Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922)
11 Inoue Kaoru (1835-1915)
12 Saionji Kinmochi (1849-1940)