Japanese History

Japanese history
Figure 1.--The Japanese military and allied nationalists imbued a generation of youth with the belief that they were a superior people destined to rule Asia if not the world. The Japanese people would pay a dreadful price as Japan embarked on a series of aggressions culminating in the attack on Pearl Harbor in an effort to destroy the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet.

Japan with the assistance of the weather was one of the few countries to wiyhstand the Mongol onslaught. Its island have allowed it to develop a destinctive civilization, if rent by internal war for long periods. Unlike many countries, Japan managed to strictly control European traders and military expansion. The Industrial Revolution change this by providing Europeans industrial and military power that the traditional civilizations of Asia could not resist. India was the first major Asian area to sucumb to European expansion. After the Napoleonic Wars, Europe began to use its growing military power to expand into Europe. China's weakness was made manifest in the Opium Wars. Following the Opium Wars in short order the other civilizations of Asia were brought within the otbit of the world economy dominated by Europe. Commodore Perry opened Japan with his famed black ships. The reaction in Japan, however, was radically different than that of the rest of Asia.


A revered legend attributes the creation of Japan to the sun goddess, from whom the country's emperors descended.

Yamamoto Clan (1st century AD)

The country's actual written history of Japan began when Japan was first mentioned in Chinese texts (1st century AD). The Yamato clan located in Kyoto achieved dominance over much of Japan (5th century). Contacts with China developed, at first through Korea. The Yamato influenced by China established an imperial system.


Buddhism arrived in Korea and was accepted without destroying the old animist Shinto faith.

Warring Nobility

Over time the warring nobility established considerable power, eclipsing that of the emperor and mainting independent armies manned by the famed samurai warrior class, a class comparable to medieval European knights.

Minamoto Shogonate (12th century)

The Minamoto clan prevailed in the wars which plagued Japan and established a military government--the Shogonate (1192). The first Shogun was Yoritomo. The Shoguns ruled Japan for sevent centuries, but payed deference to the emperor in Edo (Tokyo).

The Mongols (1281)

Japan with the assistance of the weather was one of the few countries to withstand the Mongol onslaught. It was the seas that saved the Japanese from the Mongols (1281). Perhaps the most important military campaign in Japanese history is the defeat of the Wmperor Kubla Khan's invasion fleet. The Mongol Emperor of China was Kublan Kahn introduced to the West by Marco Polo. China at the time was the most poweful country in the world Mongul armies had conquered China and then swept all opponents and pushed into the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Kubla Khan controlled an empire streaching from Poland to Korea. He dispattched an invasion fleet to add Japan to his empire. Japan at the time was a primitive country made up of waring fiefdoms. The Hojo family usurped the authority of the Japan's emperor, establishing the Shoganate. When the Shogun refused to pay homage to the Mongol Emperor, Kubla Khan set his eyes on Japan. He launced a massice invassion in 1281. The invasion fleet was made up of 4,200 ships and 142,000 men--larger than the D-Day invasion at Normandy. The Japanese would have been no match for the hugh Mongol army and sophiticated battlefield tactics. Mongil sophisticate battle formations rather than individual Samuri The fleet was destroyed by a storm known as the Divine Wind (Kamikaze). This became the inspiration for the Japanese suicide pilots (Kamikaze) of World War II.

Internal Wars

Its island have allowed it to develop a destinctive civilization, if rent by internal war for long periods.

European Voyages of Discovery

The great European voyages of discovery of the 15th and 16th centuries were fundamentally economic enterprises. They were conducted by the European countries of the Atlantic coasts to establish direct trade contacts with China and the Spice Islands (Indonesia) that was being blocked by Byzantium/Venice and the Arabs. At the time, trade in silk, porcelin, and spices from the East carried over the Silk Road had to pass through Turkish, Arab, Byzantine, and Italian middleman, making them enormously expensive. The crusaders failed to break the Islamic wall separating still primitive Europe from the riches of the East. Circumventing the land Silk Road and the sea Spice Route would have profound economic consequences for Europe and the world. The ballance of power would shift from Eastern to Western Europe and eventualkly to northern Europe. Two nations led the early explorarions in the 15th century--Spain and Portugal. These two countries pioneered the sea routes that would lead Europeans to Asia and the Americas, but the Dutch, English, and French were to follow in the 16th century.

European Contacts (16th century)

At the time that the Europeans first made contact with the Japanese, the Chinese viewd Japan as a land of pirates. The Japanese for their part saw China as a revered land from where like Korea they had drawn the core of their culture. Unlike many countries, Japan managed to strictly control European traders and military expansion. The first Europeans, Portuguese traders, were ship wrecked along the Japanese coast (1542). They were well received. The Portugues reorteda friendly, artistic people which were open to new ideas. [Sanpsom, pp. 105-124.] The Portuguese and other Europeans brought trade and Christianity. Japanese merchants were especially interested in the Portuguese. They offered valuable trade items and their armed ships offered a secure way of trading. They also were of interest to the warring factions in Japan because they possessed knowledge of firearms. Columbus has sought China by sailing west. It was the Portuguese who first reached China and Japan by sailing east as they develooped the Spice Route. They were soon followed by the Sapnish, Dutch, and English. With them the brought Christianity.

Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867).

The civil wars ended with the victory of the Tokugawa clan. The family was not part of the imperial line. Thus Tokugawa's ruled as ahereduitary military dynasty--the Shoguns. In theory the Emperor was the all-powerful, even devine, figure in Japan. In reality the Emperor exercised little real power, but wasa kind of cultured, father figure. Some of the most important historical trasures in Japan are fabulous castles. These castles were enormous forts as well as palaces. Here the samuri of the Shogun, Emperor and the Daimo struggled to control the country. Thet are enormous and solid, but archetecularly elegant structurs--unlike anything in any other country. Some were destroyed in battle and fires, but many survived and are located in carfully cared for parks. One of the most fabeled in Suri castle.

Closing of Japan (1638)

The seas brought the Europeans from whom the Shogun eventually decided the Japanese people had to insulated. The Shonguns eventually decided that both Eyropeans and Christiamity were a baleful influence on Japan. Merchants at the time which benefitted from contacts with the Europeans were unable to exert an influence on the Shoganate. The Shogun appears to have concluded that the Europeans and Christinity challnged his absolute power. Important nobels had converted to Christisanity. The Shogun had to launch a major military campaign to supressed the Christians. The Shogun came to see the many Chistian converts as a threat to traditional Japanese values. He ordered the Christians killed. The Shogun closed Japan off from ordinary contact with the outside world (1638). and limited foreign trade to a small number of Chinese and Dutch traders and limited to a tiny island near Nagasaki--Deshima (1641). Japan began a period of self-imposed iosolation. Not only were foreigners not allowed to enter Japan, but the Japanese people were not allowed to leave Japan. The construction of ocean-going vessels was nanned. The death penalty was enforced upon Japanese who attempted to go abroad. Gradually skills like navigation and ship building disappeared in Japan. Japan became a hermetically sealed country, known in the west as the Hermit Kingdom.

The Russians

The Rusians came to be seen by the Japanese as the most dangerous Europeans, primarily because the Russians appeared along Japan's norther borders not as traders, but as colonists. The Russians began to colonize Siberia, although reaching Siberia from Russia was a huge undertaking. The Russians set up an outpost in Okhotsk in eastern Siberia (1649). The Russians went on to explore Kamchatka, the Kuriles, and Sakhalin. The Russians then began to explore south, appearing off Honsgu (1739). A Polish exile escaped from Siberia through Japan (1771). He left the Japanese with the impression that the Russians had designs oin their islands. [Sansom, p. 213.] The Russians attempted to open diplomatic reltions with the Japanese, but were rebuffed. The Russians raided Japanese settlements in Sakhalin and the Kuriles (1806). They claimed the Kuriles as part of the Russian Empire. The Bakufu (Shogunate government) ordered that all foreign vesseks be fied upon approching the coast, except at Nagasaki (1825).

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution change this by providing Europeans industrial and military power that the traditional civilizations of Asia could not resist.

European Expansion into Asia

India was the first major Asian area to sucumb to European expansion. After the Napoleonic Wars, Europe began to use its growing military power to expand into Europe. China's weakness was made manifest in the Opium Wars. Following the Opium Wars in short order the other civilizations of Asia were brought within the otbit of the world economy dominated by Europe.

Opening of Japan (1853-58)

Thoughtful Japnese saw that still largely feudal Japan could not resist Western technology. The Russians were not the only Western power interested in the North Pacific. The Americans had launched aproftiable whale fishery in the North Pacific. Some whlers had become ship wrecked in Japan. American missionaries chated an unarmed vessel to retrive these men (1837). The Japanese fired on the vessel. After this incident, the Bakufu begab to moderate the orders to fire on any foreign vessel. he turning point in Japan's isolation came at mid-century. Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened Japan with his famed black ships (1854). The Shogun ended the policy of closing Japan off from the rest of the world. The American naval vessels first called at Tokyo harbor in 1853, but were resisted by the Japanese. Commodore Perry returned in 1854 and the Shogun's government agreed to open two ports to foreign ships. The Shogun in 1858 signed a detailed commercial treaty with the United States. Other European powers (the Netherlands, Russia, Britain, and France subsquently adhered. The reaction in Japan, however, was radically different than that of the rest of Asia. Throughout Asia old institutions were increasingly descredited. The old power structure resisted change clinging to the past. China in particular clung to the old ways while the Europeans carved out protected areas in the major trading ports. Younger elements began to debate whay should replace the ancestral practices. Japan's opening did not involve a military conquest. It was a great shock to the Japanese. It was clear to many that their military forces were not capable of resisting foreign intrusion. The Japanese decided that the appropriate response was to develop a modern economy and industrialize. Japan's response proved much more effective than any where else in Asia. What Japan did not change was its traditional social structure and traditional values. Thus Japan became a mixed society of traditional culture along side developing industrial technology and government which began to build a modern military force.

Traditional Rulers

At the time of Japan's opening, China and Japan were controlled by traditional rulers, the Manchu emperors in China and the Tokugawa shoguns in Japan. They had shown themselves incapable of defending their countries from expanding European powers. A small clique of reformers set out to transforms society in both countries. The reformers failed in China, but gradually emerged to dominate and create a new Japan. A central element was the creation of a new industrial economy to equip a modern army and navy. Japan as an island country gave considerable importance to building a modern navy. An industru=ial economy can not, however, be built in a vacume. It requires planners, technicians, and workers with needed skills and knowledge. This created the need for a modern educational system. The new economy and new education could not but affect traditional Japanese society. Many even among the reformers, however, resisted changes to traditional society.

Restoration of the Emperor (1868)

A civil war resulted in the overthrow of the Shogun and the creation of a superficially Western-style government under the emperor Meiji (1868). The Shogun's decession to open Japan under the guns of foreign ships undermined his credibility in the eyes of many Japanese. Patriotic warriors and clan leaders had long chafed under the dominant position of the Tokugawa family. The movement to unseat the Shogun focused on restoring the perogatives of the emperor. Traditional Shintoism had developed into a more public religion in Japan. This provided considerable popular support for the restoration of the emperor who was seen as a revered or god figure by Shinto adherents. The moving force behind the movement to depose the Shogun were complicated informal alliances and rivalries within the military clans which dominatw Japanese society. The Shogun was further weakened by uncertainties over the succession. There were no direct heirs of the Tokugawa line. The individual Shoguns in the mid-19th century were were largely ineffective leaders. They were also uncertain about the new policy of opening the country to foreign commerce and thus the Shogunate was divided. In contrast, their oponents were more united and rallied around patriotic slogans and the emperor.

Anti-Western Orientation

Despite the treary opening Japan, there were incidents involving attacks on Westerners. Anto-Western feeling was widespread among both the Shonganate and reformers. In additional individual Japanese resented the foreigners and their challenge to traditional Japanese culture. As a result of these attacks, a foreign naval force (American, British, Dutch, and French) naval force bombarded a number of Japanese coastal forts (1864). Comodore Perry had not engaged the Japanese. This fleet did and the power of the foreign navies and destruction left a deep imprint on Japanese leaders.

Meiji Imperial Regime (1867-1912)

With the coup d'état in 1867, the Shogun abdicated. An energetic new, young emperor for the first time in centuries actually ruled Japan. He took the title Meiji for his reign (1867-1912). He soon showed himself to be both competent and strong-willed. He proved to be especially adept at choosing wise officials to positions of influence. Japan under Meiji rule pursue a consistent policy with considerable success. He installed men from the formerly "outside clans" into the key positions of power. The new Government had taken power in part becauuse of the Shogun's decession to open Japan. They concluded, however, that given Western military superiority that convinced the men who took control in 1867 that anti-Western actions and policies, without the military power needed to defend the country, would be self defeating. They decided to mute their anti-Western attitudes while Japan built a modern military. Officials soon realized that this meant industrialization. (In the West, the Royal Navy played a key role in the Industrial Revolution.) This connection between industry and military power was soon recognized. Thus a deeply conservative who treasured tradition, set about transforming themselves with breathtaking speed and thourgness. Japan quickly made the transition from a medieval to a modern economy. The Japanese followed European models. The country formed a parliamentary government (1889), but the social and political modernization lagged the economic modernization--a development that would lead to the 20th century Pacific War. A rising industrial base allowed Japan to create the most powerful military in Asia.

Economic Modernization

After the Unied States forced Japan to open its ports (1850s), the Tokogawa Shogunate began the industrilization of the country. That process was excelerated by the Mejii Restoration. One of the major steps taken by the Mjii reforers was to end the feudal system. The first sector to industrilize as with the induistrial revvolution in the West was the textile industry, primarily cotton and especially silk. Cotton had to be imported, but silk was produced domesticlly. Traditionally silk was produed at home workshops in rural areas. Modern Japanese textiles plants dominated the domestic marke and had begu to competey with British textiles in China and India (1890s) Japanese shippers had begun competing with European lines to carry goods in the Pacific and had begun to open European routes. The textile mills employed mainly employed women, abot half of whom were teenagers. Their fathers incouraged this to increase family income. Japan largely skipped over theearly water power phase that Britain went thrug and early mills oprated on steam power. This created ademand for coal, onentural resource Japan had. The Mejii Government intervened massively in the economy. The government often introduced new industries seen as important, especially industries needed for producing military weapons and supplies. The Gopvernment would not operate these new industries over a long period. Once a factory had achieved some success, it was sold to private operators, not uncommonly at attractiove prices. Thus the Japanese Government was financing the creation of a capitalist economy. Many developing countries maintain high-import duties on foreign goods to promote the development of domestic industries. Japan did not do this. Thus Japanese industries while supported by the sate developed in a competitive environment and became highly efficient. It also meant that the companies could compete on the world market. Even before World War I, Japanese products had begun to compete with Western goods in China and other sian markets.

Building a Modern Military

The new Government proceeded with the steps needed to create a modern army and navy. This meant the creation of an entirely new industrial economy and educational, social, and political reforms needed to create the new industrial base. The population including elietes, peasants and commoners complied with remarkable acquiesemce. Within one single generation a new modern Japan had begun to emerge. The central aim of the Meiji regime was to make Japan militarily strong so it could resist Western gunboat diplomacy. Meiji officials soon realized that fundamental changes would be needed in still largely feudal Japanese society. This is interesting because the Meiji Resoration was launched because of oposition to foreigners and changes in traditional Japaese feudal society. Meiji officials soon concluded, however, that the only way to confront the Westerners was to fundamentally change Japanese society. After only a few years of seizing power, the Meiji Reforms were launched. Ehe Emperor abolished feudalism (n 1869-71). This meant ending the privlidged position of the Samuri warrior class who could no longer collect rice rents from the peasantry. The Samuris received government bonds in compensation. Other rfeforms included a postal service, newspapers, and a ministry of education. The Emperor instututed universal military service (conscription) as a step toward building a modern military.

Education System

Japan before the Meiji Resoration had no real national education system. The vast majority of Japanese children received no formal education. The Meiji reformers, however, saw that schools would be needed to train students in modern subjects such as mathematics and science that were needed for Japan's new industrial economy. Japan introduced universal elementary education opened. This also had profound social consequences.

Imperial Army

Meiji officials looked around the world for the best military establishment on which to base their new army. They first thought of the French, but eventually settled on the Prussian Army. The Emperor introduced universal military service (1872). This was a truly radical step. Manpower was needed on a large scale to make Japan a powerful military force. This step, however, had profound social consequences. The right to bear arms had been a jealously guarded right of Japan's Samuri class. Universal military service meant that men from all sectors of Japanese society. This included those from the bottom rungs of Japanese society including the peasantry and others which traditionally had been confined to menial tasks. The new Imperial Army introduced a radical approach into still largely traditional Japan. Appointments and advancement would be based upon merit and seniority rather than traditional status. The old Samuri class was apauled, even staging an aborted rebellion (1877). They were quickly defeated by the new Imperial Army. The Army attracted energetic young men from the peasant and working class eager to advance. This was the death of the Samuri class, but not of the mythology of the Samuri.

First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95)

Japan began using it rising military power to build an overseas empire. The Japanese shocked the Chinese when they emerged victorious in the First Sino-Japanese War. Tension between China and Japan over interests in Korea broke out in war (1894). The War highlighted the decline of the Qing dynasty. It also highlighted the weakness of the Chinese military and the success of the modetnization process in Japan. The Yi dynasty in Korea attempted continue its traditional seclusion. Korea had a tributary relationship with China which in exchange had provided military protection. China allowed Japan to recognize Korea as an independent state (1875). Subsequently the situation in Korea became complicated. China attempted to maintain its influemce while Japan attempted to expand its influenmce. The Koreans divided between conservative traditionlists and reformists, many of who supported the Japanese. After thge assasination of a reformer, a Korean religious sect, the Tonghak, launched a rebellion. The traditionalist Korean Government asked for Chinese mikitary support. A Japanese military epedition reached Seoul (June 8, 1894), obstensibly to support the reformers. China declared war (August 1) after both land and naval engagements had occurred. The War was a disaster for China. The Japanese Armny mauled the Chinese in battles around Seoul and Pyóngyang. The Chinese retreated north and suffered another defeat at Liaoning. The Japanese then took Port Arthur (Luda) (November 21). The Chinese fared even worse at sea. China's northern fleet was devestated by the Japanese Navy in a battle at the mouth of the Yalu River. The Yalu forms part of the border between China and Korea. The Japanese sank 8 of 12 Chinese ships engaged. The surviving 4 ships withdrew behind the fortifications of the naval base at Weihaiwei. There they were destroyed when the Japanese attacked by land across the Liaodong Peninsula. Japan took Weihaiwei (February 2, 1895). After the harsh Winter weather passed, The Japanese drove into Manchuria. The Chinese finally sued for peace. The Treaty of Shimonoseki ended the War (April 1895). Korea was recognized as a sovereign state, but effectively became a Japanese protectorate. China ceded Formosa (Taiwan), the Liaodong Peninsula, and the Pescadores Islands to Japan. The Japanese set out on a comprehensive program of imposing the Japanese language and culture. China was required to to pay an indemnity of 200 million taels. Even more humiliating for China, they were forced to open four more treaty ports to external trade. The outcome of the War, however, was modifIed by the Triple Intervention (Russia, France, and Germany). They forced Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula, but China was required to pay an additional 30 million taels to mollify the Japanese. China's defeat outraged Chinese students and strengthened the reform movement in China. Sun Yat-sen founded the revolutionary republican movement which evolved into the Kuomintang.

Imperial Navy

Japan as an island country has in many ways been shaped by the sea. It was the seas that saved the Japanese from the Mongols (1281). The seas brought the Europeans from whom the Shogun eventually decided the Japanese people had to insulated (1636). Much later it was the seas that permitted America to open the "Hermit Kingdom" (1853). Japapanese reformers decided that Japan must have a modern navy. Japan at the time of the arrival of Commodore Perry had no navy in a modern sence. The forces of the Shogun and Emperor deployed naval forces during the civil war. With the vicyory of the Emperor, these forces were reorganized intpo a new Imperial Navy. A Naval Academy was founded at Eta Jima, a small island near Hiroshima. The Academy and the Imperial Navy itself was modeled on the British Royal Navy. The Japanese even imported bricks indiciduall wrapped in paper from England so that theiur Academy would look like Dartmouth. The new Imperial Navy helped Japan seize its first colony from China--Formoisa (Taiwan) (1895). The battle history of the Imperial Japanese Navy lasted a mere 50 years. In that short time it demolished the Imperail Russian Navy (1905), drve the Royal Navy from the Pacific (1941) and the Indian Ocean (1942). The Japanese built the world's most powerful carrier force and with that brilliantly equipped and trained fleet came close close to defeating the American Navy, despite the massive difference in industrial power.

Constitution (1899)

The Emperor proclaimed a new constitution (1899). Ironically, the Constitution enhanced the power ofthe Emperor rather than limited it. Here the Emperor chose the German Imperial Government that Bismarck had helped contruct as a basis. Germany at the time was not a dictatorship, but was an authoritarian system. It was a parlimentary system in which the executive brach or Emperor (Kaiser) dominated. The elected parliament Diet) had even more modest powers than in Germany. Sufferage was restricted to the monied classes. Even with its limited powers, the Duet did provide a platform,for the privlidged classes to make their desires and wants known. The Diet played a major role in cofdifing Japanese law on a European model. The new Government persued conservative economic policies and placed the yen on the gold standard, one of many achievements adding to Japan's growing economic status.

Social Development

Japan rapidly adopted Western technology and insustrial manufacturing. The country began to look superficilly like it s becoming a modern nation. Thee is, however, more tp modernity than tecnology. Other largely Western idea make up the modern state, ideas like equality (both social and gender), civil libertie, the rule of law, civilian control of the military, and other basic principles that were dveloping in the West during the 19th century. Some in th leadership undrstood the imkportance of such mtters, but small minority. These ides did not percolate down to the larger siciety. The great majority saw industrial expnsion as a way of expanding military power and doing what many saw as the perogative of a rising military power--acquiring an empire. This was especially important for Japan as the country had such limited natural resources. Some of the political leaders and much of the military saw building an empire is what agreat nation naturally did. One reason that Japan was able to industrilize so rapidly was the survival of traditional inequality and the supression of the Communists and even trade unionism. Impoprtantly the Japanese peasantry remained politically quiessent and obedient to authority. The peasatry remained poor, but the new nationl eucation sytem provided opportunity for clever, hardworking peasant boys, especially in the military. The needed capital for indutyrialization came promarily from peasajtry. This was thesame approg Stalin used, but instead of supressing the peasanry, th Jpanese taxed it. As Japanese indutry grew, corporations could fiance themselves throuh profits. And expot earnings provided further earmings, the pressue in the peasantry could be relaxed somwhat. And as Japan began to build an empire (Taiwan, areas of China, and Korea), they had guaanteed markets. Social discipline was a huge assett in the country;'srapidly inustriliztion. The Japanese remained devoted to the imperial authority. A changing circle of ministers and informal advisers served the emperor and in the 20th century largely controlled the young Hirohito. The habit of command and obedience had been carefully cultivated by a series od shoguns and this did not change with Mejii Restotation. What did change was the struggle for power by cometing clans declined as the military rose in importance. And the military came to replace the clans in the stuggle fo powerrepresenting the nation as a whole.

Ending Extraterritorial Rights (1899)

The Western countries with the opening of Japan had demanded extraterritorial rights in the same manner as in China where treay ports were carved out of China. These rights were allowed to lapse (1899)

Boxer Rebellion (1900)

China's experiece in the 20th century was the most turbulant of any great power. It began with the Boxer Rebellion (1900) which exposed the weakeness of decadent Manchu dynasty. China had viewed itself as the greatest world power and other countries of little importance. Growing European power by the 19th century had enforced many indignaties on China, begnning in particular with the Opium Wars. European countries enforced inequitable treties and carved out treaty ports. Japan even seized Formosa (1895). There were two major responses. One was a desire by progressive reformers to modernize China by adopting modern technology and institutions along the lines being persued in Japan. The other was a desire to drive out all foreign influence and maintain traditional culture. Dowager Empress Cixi suppressed the progressive reformers . Unable to resist the European powers openly, Emperess Cixi secretly promoted the traditionalist faction. The most important traditionalist faction was the Society of Harmonious Fists which in the West became known as the Boxers. The Boxers began attacking foreigners, especially isolated foreigners living outside the treaty ports. Here the most vulnerable were the foreign missionaries living among the Chinese. The missionaries were especially hated by the Boxers. Gradually attackd on foreigners and Chinese associated with them increased, especially in north China. Open fighting began when a British force moving to Peking to protect the forign community there came under fire--something the regular Chinese Army was afraid to do. Full scale revolt broke out in Peking. The Boxers killed the German ambassador and beseigned the foreign embassies. Attacks on foreigners and foreign property occurred all over north China. Six fireign govern,ents (America, Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) organized a relief mission. The Japanese played a particularly important role. The European rescue force and the reparations and concessions imposed on China under the Peking Protocol descredited the Manchus and led to the overthrow of the monarch (1912).

British Alliance (1901)

Europe at the turn of the century was involved in amassive arms race. The European powers also signed treaties in an effort to build blocs of such power that no other power woild dare attack. The British with the world's largest fleet decided to sign an alliance with Asia's emerging naval power (1901). The Imperial Navy upon its founding had based itself on the Royal Navy. And the Royal Navy through vessel sales and various exchanges had played an important role in the development of the Imperial Navy.

Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)

With the decline of Chinese power, both Russia and Japan moved into Manchuria. This enevitably created a clash. The world assumed that Russia would easoly deal with the upstart Japanese. To the surrise of the world community, the Japanese not only defeated the Russian Army, but also a large Russian fleet was defeated in a climatic naval engagement at the Straits of Tsushima. This became a centerpiece in Japanese naval stratrgy--seeking out a climatic naval battle. It is a concept Japanese admirals would seek out in the upcoming Pacific War. Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) expanded its influence in Manchuria and Korea and added southern Sakhalin (1904-05).

Seizing Korea (1910)

Korea like Japan had attempted to isolate itself from the rest of the world. For mich of its existence, Korea had been a Chinese client state, but with the decline of Chinese power, both Russia and Japan vied for influence. Japanm's victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) changed the power equation. Japanese interests became increasingly important in Korea, creating resentment among the Koreas. (Essentially like Western involvement created resentment in China and Japan.) A revolt in Korea attempted to expel the Japanese. Military forces supressed the revolt and made Korea into a colony. Japan formally annexed Korea (1910). As in Formosa, the Japanese sought to supress Korean culture. The schools were taught in Japanese.

Chinese Republic (1912)

China throughout history had been the dominant Asian power. China unlike Japan was unwilling to modernize. There were reformist elements in Japan. They were noy supported and in many cases actually supressed by the Empress Dowager. Thus while Japan moved to modernize, China languaished it chaotic traditionalism. The Firsr Sino-Japanese showed how the ballance of power had shifted between the two countries. The Emoress Dowager finally died (1908). The Empire fell to Puyi the boy emperor who was unable to execise real power. This left China leaderless for several years. Finally Dr. Sun Yat-sen managed to succeed in establish an uneasy accendy amony the regional leaders (war lords) who emerged as the imperial authority declined. He declared a republic (1912), but in fact did not control large areas of the country. The great powers generally agreed that it was best to support the territorial integrity of China, largely to avoid a conflict that could easily lead to war with each other. Japan was one of the contending powers and before World War did not make any special claim to an accendency in China. And Japan maintained a naval alliance with the greatest European colonial power--Brirain.

Emperor Taisho (1912-26)

The Emperor Taisho (1912-26) is generally seen as a weak emperor. During his reign the center of power in Japan shifted from the Emperor and the oligarchic clique (genro) around him to the Parliament (Diet) and the democratic parties.

World War I (1914-18)

Japan with little ebcouragement joined the Allies in World War I. The country played only a minor role in the War, but gained German possessions in the Central Pacific which they proceeded to turn into fortified bases. almost at the onset of the War (August 23, 1914). It seems surprising that Japan would have entered the War so quickly when the German Army was marching through Belgium and seemed likely to reach Paris. Japan had signed an Alliance with Britain (1902), but it was not aimed at Germany nor did it require Japan to join the Allies when war broke out in Europe. The British fearing that the German Far Eastern Squadron would disrupt trade, asked the Japanese for assistance. The Japanese Government for largely domestic reasons quickly agreed to the British request. Germany had acquired several colonial possessions, including concessions in China and Pacific islands. The Germans build a major naval base at Tsingtao. It was hear that the only major engagement in the Far East was fought. The Japanese supported by the British succeeded in seizing Tsingtao a very little cost in a conbined land sea operation (November 1914). More importantly for the future, the Japanese seized control of the formerly German owned Shantung Railway. Japan seized German Pacific islands without resistance, includung Palau and the Marshall, Caroline, and Marianas islands. This gave them the naval bases at Yap, Ponape, and Jaluit. Japanese naval surveyors subsequently discovered the potential fleet base of Truk, and after the war built a major naval base there. As agreed by the Allies, the Japanese seized German colonies north of the Equator while those to the south were seized by British and Dominion forces. A New Zealand force escorted by British, French and Australian warships seized German Samoa (August 28, 1914). A British ship seized the guano-mining island of Nauru. The Australian Navy seized the Bismarck Islands (September 1914). The German forces surrendered German New Guinea and the Bismarck, Admiralty, and Solomon Islands. After seizing the German bases, the Japanese Navy assisted the Allies in convoy protection from German raiders. There were small German military units in these colonies as well as civilians. We do not notice any attrocities by the Japanese during World War I like they committed during World War II. After the War, the Treaty of Versailles awarded Japan a mandate over the islands.

The 21 Demands (1915)

Japan secured Formosa from China (1895) and reduced Korea to a colonia dependency (1910). The Russo-Japanese War had achieved important territorial concessions, especially part of Sakalin as well as expanded interests in Manchuria in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Japan hoped to achieve much more, especially in China, as a result of participation in the War. It thus submitted its 21 Demands to the Chinese Government (January 1915). This would have essentially reduced China to a colonial dependendency. It would also put in question the rights that the European powers had secured in China. It went far beyound the treaties the European powers signed with China and the creation of the treaty ports. It was a major shift in Japanese policy. It not only put the Japanese in conflict with China, but the European powers and the United States as well. It was in effect, the first step leading to the Pacific War. The European powers were shocked at the Japanese demands. Diplomatic protests caused the Japanese to recast their demands, but not to disavow them. Japanese naval support in World War I (both in the Pacific and Mediterranean) caused the British to support the Japanese clain tonthe former German treaty port of Shantung. There was, however, no endorsement of the 21 Demands. The European powers, however, even the British were primarily focused on Europe. It was the United States that was especially alarmed about the 21 Demands. It was in direct opposition to the long-standing American China policy of the Open Door. This was probably a factor in President Wilson's s support for an important naval building program (1916).

Versailles Treary (1919)

Japan as a member of the victorious Allied World War I coalition expected to be treated with considerable deference. The Japanese were, however, not satisfied with their treatment at Versailles. In fact the Japanese were largely ignored. They wanted a clause inserted in the Convenent of the League of Nations which would have affirmed the equality of all races. (The Convent of the League of Nations was part of the Versailles Treaty.) President Wilson promoted national self determination at the Conference, but he was not an advocate of racial equality. Racist attitudes were also common among the other European powers. This was strongly opposed by the Australian Government. The Japanese accepted the advise offered by the Americans to withhold their proposal. Both the United States and the Britain would have opposed it if it had been offered. The Treaty of Versailles awarded Japan a mandate over the Pacific Islands islands seized from Germany. Japan was also awarded the former German concession of Shantung. Despite these awards, the Japanese left Paris believing that they had not been accorded the deference they deserved. The victorious allies entered the peace-making process with significantly differing aims. The European powers, even Britain, were primarily focused on the future of Europe. Thus the Far East was essentially left by default to Japan, the inly substantial Asian power. Only the United States had substantial concerns about rising Japanese naval power and designs on China.

Washington Naval Conference (1921)

Japanese diplomats at the Washington Naval Conference (1921) failed to achieve goals and this angered nationalist elements, especially in the Army. America pressured Japan to sign the Washington Naval Treaties (1921–22) which required Japan to respect national integrity of China and to limit naval construction. This angered the Japanese military who considered it a national affront. The military assasinated politicans who disagreed with them and gradually came to dominate the Japanese Government. The Washington Naval Treaties sought to control military spending and to prevent a post-War arms race. The delegates at the Washington Conference also discuss issues concerning China and the Pacific. The United States argued for the acceptance of Open Door policies which were in effect a redudisation of Japn's 21 Demands.

Emperor Hirohito

Racist Attitudes and Policies

Racist attitudes toward oriental people had plagued Western attitides toward both the Chinmese and Japanese in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the Japanese this began with Commodore Perry's opening of Japanese ports (1850s). Japanese emmigrating to America encounterted both racism and racist laws. Even so, a sizeable Japanese population flourished in both the Hawaian Islands and California. These laws were a sore point in American_Japanese relations. Incidents in the 1920s were widely reported in Japan. America after World War significantly restricted immigration. Restrictive quotas were established for European immigration. The United States enacted the Exclusion Act that prohibited further Japanes eimmigration (1924).

Japanese Governments (1920s)

Japan after World War I was ruled by governments that were not committed to expansion through military measures or of challenging the European powers. The Goverment acted simiarly to many Western Governments, limiting appropriations to the military. Calls to appropriate funds to modernize the Army were rejected. The size of the Army was actually reduced. The Government reduced the Army by four divisins (1922-25). [Jones, p. 5.]

Economic Difficulties

Japan in the 1920s and 30s was Asia's only industrial nation. It was, however, an indudtrial nation with few natural resources. It also did not have an agricultural sector capable of feeding the population. Japan was thus the country at the time most dependent on foreign trade, especially exporting its industrial output to finance raw material and food imporys. The country, however. experienced economic difficulties after World war I. The Great Kanto Earthquake did substantial ecionomic damage (1923). The Wall Street stock crash (1929) and resulting Depression caused further problems. The protectionist trade policies in America and Europe in particular adversely affected the Japanese economy. The Japanese military increasingly advovated action to secure markets and raw materials.

Japanese Military (1920s)

Japan as part of its late 19th century modernization program began to build a modern military forces. The Imperial Army was the dominant service and built on the Prussian model. T he Imperial Navy was smaller, but give Japan's island location still of considerable importance. The Navy was built on a British model. The military was generally unhappy in the limited appropriations approved by the economy-minded civilian governmnts during the 1920s. The Army in particular objected to the failure of civilan governments to funded needed moderization efforts. The Army was the strongest and most modern in Asia, but in lagged behind European sandards in the quality of its equipment, especially machine guns, artillery, and tanks. Communications equipment was also deficent. Even its small arms were of inferior quality. Many Army officers were drawn from rural backgrounds. They were frustrated by the political systems in which the two major political parties had close ties to the the great industrial conglomeates and in general favored the interests of the urban proleteit and industrials over rural landowning and peasant classes. In this atmosphere, radical grouups rose within the Army. They were stringly indluenced by the natavist, militant writings of Kosaburo Tachibana, a kind of Japanese Fascist. The most powerful secret society within the Army was the Aikyojuku (School of Lovers of the Native Land). The Aikyojuku promote a heady mixture of racism and almost Socialist belief in a more equitable distribution of income, although they were strongly anti-Communist. They wanted to shift the Government's focus on urban society. They were oparticularly committed to more stringly confrointing the world economic system established klargely by Europeans and dominated by Britain and America. Their ajor concern was acquiring the aw materials that Japan now had to import. This was the situatin when the Wall Street Crash occurred (1929).

Road to World War II

Looking back as a historian, it is almost incomprehensible that Japan decided to wage war against the United States. War with Britain and the Netherlands is more understandable. Britain in 1941 looked like if not a defeated nation, at least a severely weakened one. The Netherlands was occupied by Axis ally NAZI Germany. America is a very different matter. The United States was not at war. It had not been weakened by the War. And Japan had no commitment that the Germany would join them if they attacked America. War with America seems like an extrodinarily wreckless decession for a country already mired down in a war with China and that had experienced a sharp defeat in a short war with the Soviets. Why would Japan have decided on war with America, a country with a larger population and a much larger industrial and scientific base. The road to war began early in the history of modern Japan. Wars with China (1895), Russia (1904-05), and Germany (1914-18) proved both short and profitable, enabling Japan to build a small empire. The risring influence of the military brought to power men of limited outlook who saw military action as a legitimate use of sate power. They were backward looking men who saw the European empires of the 19th century as to what Japan should seek to establish. And they were men who were strongly influenced by the historic image of the Samurai and Bushido which convinced them that Japanese racial superiority and martial spirit could prevail over the material supperority of America. Despite the power of American induistry, tgey saw Americans as a weak, decadent people who would not fight. Most of the Japanese militarists who made this judgement on which the very life of Japan would hang, knew no Americans and had little or no experience with Ameica.

Pacific War (1941-45)

Japan with little encouragement joined the Allies in World War I. The country played only a minor role in the War, but gained German possessions in the Central Pacific which they proceeded to turn into fortified bases. Japanese diplomats at both Versailles (1919) and the Washington Naval Conference (1921) failed to achieve goals and this angered nationalist elements, especially in the Army. The Depression and resulting protectionist trade polivcies in America and Europe adversely affected the Japanese economy. The Japanese military increasingly advovated action to secure markets and raw materials. This process began with the Japanese Army seized Manchiera and set up the puppet state of Manchuko (1931). This brought international condemnation and Japan withdrew from the League of Nations. An Army revolt in Tokyo failed, but left the Army essentially in control of the Japanese Government (1936). The Japanese signed the Anti-Comentern Pact to protect their position in Manchuko (1936). Japan invaded China proper (1937). Many historians date this as the beginning of World War II. After the NAZI victories in Europe, Japan moved into French Indo China (1940). Japan formally joined the Axis (1941). The United States objected to Japanese expanonist policies and moved the Pacific fleet to Pearl Harbor and ininitated embargoes of strastegic materials. The Army had been the main force pushing for war, the Navy realizing they would have to fight the American and British fleets were less enthusiastic. Once the decession was made, however, the Navy dutifully prepared for war. Hitler as Soviet resistance stiffened expected Japan to join his anti-Bolshevik struggle. Instead the Japanese struck south with a devestating carrier attack at Pearl Harbor (1941). This brought America into the war and initiated a war of unprecedented savegery. The Japanese Army treated both POWs and civilians with unprecedented cruelty. As Japanese naval commander Yamamoto predicted, spearheaded by a powerful carrier force, Japan in 6 months swept ower Southeast Asian and the central Pacific with largely ineffective opposition. The decisive American naval vicvtory at Miday (1942) significantly weakened the Imperial Navy. This provided America's vast industrial strength to build the naval forces needed to seize the Pacific island bases to bring the war to Japan. America then laubched a desestating strategic bombing campaign vulminating in the dropping of the atomic bombs (1945). Most countries that played important roles in World War II have come to terms with the War. Japan is the principal country today which keeps the truth of the War from their school children.

American Occupation (1945- )

Occupation and Aftermath American troops landed in Japan immediately after the Imperial Government surrendered on September 3. The American occupation was completely unlike the Japanese occupation of the countries that it had conquered. Most Japanese were stunded by the final year of the War and the massdive destruction. There was also widespread hunger. Many Japanese had been led to expect a brutal American occupation. General Douglas MacArthur as supreme commander of the U.S. occupation oversaw the political and social modernization of Japan. Under MacArthur Japan acquired a democratic constitution, labor unioins were empowered, the franchise broadened, and women given equal rights. Japan also demilitarized. The American occupation ended (1952), but string security relatins remain to this day. Japan's postwar economic recovery, as in Germany, was remarkable. The Japanese threw the same energy that had been devoted to the military into technology and industrial manufacturing.

Japanese Views of the War

Most countries that played important roles in World War II have come to terms with the War. Japan is the principal country today which keeps the truth of the War from their school children. The Japanese outlook is radically differnt than the path taken by Germany which has accepted resoonsibility for the NAZI past. Japan committed terrible atrocities during the War which today are virtually incomprehensible to modern people. The Japanese military killing some 20 million people, mostly innocent civilians. There is some knowledge of these atrocities, but real no realization of the enormity or chilling brutality. And a wide-spread belief that this was just the normal nature of warfare and that the Japanese military did not conduct the War in a radically different way than other militaries. The idea that Japan committef actual crimes is not widely accepted. Children without any basic hitorical perspective are led to the view that Japan was a victim of the wr and for no real reason, a peace-loving Japan was suddenly attacked by a brutal America with two horrendous weapons. Many Japanese people believe that America should appolgize for dropping the atomic bombs.

Post-War Era (1945-70)

Japan was devestated by the Pacific War, mostly in the last year of the War when the American strategic bombing campaign turned city after city into vast heeps of ash. The atomic two bombs were actually only made a minor contribution to the destuction of Japan's wood and paper cities. Most of the destruction resulted from the incideraries dropped as part of the Strategic Bombing Campaign. While the massive destruction draws the attention of most authors, an under-reporting matter is that the Japanese at the end of the War were surviving on near-starvation diets. And had the E,mperor not surrendered (August 1945), there would have been a terrible famine. The detuction of the country's transport system and a very poor harvest would have resulted in mass starvation. America in a poorly reported achievement saved millions of Japanese people from starvation. Food was a problem in the first years of the occupation, but people did not starve, in sharp contrast to the countries occupied by Japan during the War. Gen. MacArthur who oversaw the occupation virtually created modern Japan, a fusion of traditional culture with Western modernity. The reforms today taken for granted were at the time bind-boggling. The reforms included demilitarization, breaking up the Zibatsus, enranchizing women, enpoweing labor unions, constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, a free press, a constitunional monarchy, dismantling the Empire, land reform, and much more. With military expansion ended, the Japanese turned their energies toward the economy, resulting in the Japan Econonomic Mircle--becoming the first of the Asian Tigers. Experts were amazed at the spped with which the country recovered. And unlike the early phase of industrialization, the average person including the rural peasantry benifited. Japan very quickly shifted from making low-cost goods, to high technology products with notavly high quality standards. Within only a few decades, Japan became a country which not only achieved European living standards, but in most cases exceeding those standards.

Cold War

Japan like Germany began the Cold War as an occupied country. There were, however, some basic differences. Japan unlike Germany did not prove to be central to the Cold War--rather the focus at first shofted east to China and Korea. The Japanese unlike the Germans never accepted the war guilt and responsibility for horrendous and widespread war crimes. The Japanese also did not surrender unconditionally--the Emperor was not arrested and tried as war criminal. Also the country was not divided into Allied occupation zones. The United States was solely responsible for the occupation. Actually this and not just the atomic bombs had been a major reason for the Japanese surrender. The Soviets were rapidly moving through Manchuria and down the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese realized that a Soviet invasion of the Home Islands might result. The Japanese Government had suppressed the Communists and a Soviet invasion would mean the inevitable introduction of Communism. The American occupation meant change--but not Communism. General MacArthur oversaw the occupation. He introduced a new democratic institution, gave women the right to vote, made the Emperor a constitutional figurehead, allowed the organization of labor unions, promoted a free press, and made other major changes. Japan was transformed from a militarist, authoritarian society to a modern democratic nation with a vibrant capitalist economy. As in Germany, at the heart of the outcome in Japan was the Japanese Economic Miracle. The strongly statified society which had been unraveling with the military's rise to power was also transformed. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dominated post-War elections. The Communists who were allowed to organize and achieved some influence in labor unions were essentually defeated by the economic successes of Japan's capitalist economy. Japan while accepting American military protection and allowing continued American use of bases in Japan, did not participate militarily in the Cold War. There were Constitutional prohibitions on war, although Japan did build a competent, albeit military for self defense. The American occupation was one of the great success stories which influenced the outcome of the Cold War. Given the World War II disster, Japan did not become involved militarily, but the failure of the Communists to achieve any success in Japan was an important Cold War developoment. The Japanese economic success was largely ignored in the rest of Asia, especilly with the Communist military victory in China. Economic success would prive a very different matter. New Asian leaders with decolonization tended to employ socialist, central planning policies. Only slowly with the success of the Asian Tigers did the vitality of market capitalism as first demonsrrated in Japan become increasingly apparent to Asian leaders.

Modern Japan

Japan today is one of the most prosperous and productive in the world.


Jomes, F.C. Japan;'s New Order in East Asia (Londn, 1954).

Sanpson, G.B. The Western World and Japan (London, 1950).


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Created: 12:20 AM 9/21/2005
Last updated: 12:19 AM 7/11/2017