Japanese Road to War: The Empire (1890s-1930s)

World War II Japan Empire Day
Figure 1.--These Tokyo primary school children are parading on Empire Day (February 11, 1939) in front of the Emperor's Palace. Notice the rifles. The Japanese military throughout the 1920s and 30s expanded its role in society, asssasinating civilian politicians that dared resist. The school system is just one of the institutions that the military set out to influence.

Japan had an emperor for more than a millenium. The term was probably used because China which dominated east Asia was governed by an emperor. Japan did not, however, have an empire in the sence of overseas possessions with non-Japanese populations. This was largely because that China was so powerful that there was no where for Japan to expand. Even Korea was dominated by the Chinese. This did not change until the Meiji Restoration (明治維新, Meiji Ishin) (1870s). As part of the Meiji Restoration, Japan began to modernize through industrialization. They also began to build an European style Army and Navy with modern weapons. Chinese traditional Imperial Government resisted these changes. Thus for the first time, Japan began amassing the military power to begin to carve out an Empire. At the time it was commonly hought that indistrial nations needed colonies. This began with the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). As part of the War, the Japanese seized Formosa (Taiwan) as well as participation in the Treaty Port system which the Europeans had forced on China. As a result of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Japanese seized Russian territory in Siberia and expanded its influenmce in Manchuria. Japan also ended Chinese dominance over Korea. Subsequently Japan formally seized Korea (1909). As a result of World war I, China expanded its position in China as well as obtained Mandate Islands in the South Pacific. Japan also enunciated its desire to turn China into a vast colony--the Twenty One Demands (1915). Here the Allies (primarily the United States) resisted as well as Japanese efforts to seize areas of Siberia from Russia. The Japanese seized Manchuria from China (1931). The major step was the invasion of China (1937). This was expected to be a quick campaign that would provide Japan both raw materials and markets. The Chinese Nationalists, however, resisted and proved more effective than the Japanese had anticipated. Despite seizing large areas of China, the Japanese Imperial Army proved unable to defeat the Chinese which the United States and Western Allies began to support bith financially and militarily. Rather than benefitting Japan, the war in China proved intractable and very costly. The Japanese Empire thus by the time World War II broke out in Europe was substantial, but still lacked key natural resources -- the most important being oil. And to make matters worse, Japan's principal source of oil was of all countries was the United States--the very country resisting the Japanese conquest of China. The Japanese militarists who had led the expansion of the Empire, especially in Manchuria and China, was determined to further expand the Empire. The Strike North Faction were interested primarily in the bountiful resources to the North in Siberia. Another faction, the Strike South Faction, favored expansion to the south, seeking the resources of Southeast Asia--the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). And notably here in the Dutch East Asia and Bfritish Borneo, oil in karge quanhtities was to be found. With SRZ oil, Japan would no longer need American oil. With the resiources of the SRZ, Japan believed they coukd finally complete the conquest of China.


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Created: 2:41 AM 6/16/2013
Last updated: 2:41 AM 6/16/2013