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Empire of Japan (Acts of Union)

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Timeline: Acts of Union

OTL equivalent: Japan, Outer Manchuria, Taiwan, Hainan, Korea
Flag of Japan Imperial Seal of Japan
Flag Coat of Arms
Empire of Japan
Location of Nippon/Japan

Eight Cords, One Roof (Japanese)
("八紘一宇 (Hakko ichiu)")

Anthem "君が代 (Kimigayo)

"May your reign last forever""

Capital Tokyo
Largest city Tokyo
Other cities Osaka, Taihoku, Saporro
  others Manchu, Taiwanese, Ainu, Okinawan, Korean
  others Buddhism, State Shinto
Ethnic Groups
  others Manchurian, Taiwanese, Korean
Demonym Japanese
Government Constitutional Monarchy
Emperor Akiyama
Population 238,123,557 
Currency Japanese yen
Time Zone UTC+9
Internet TLD .jp
Calling Code 81
Organizations GEAU, UN

The Empire of Japan (大日本帝國 Dai Nippon Teikoku?, literally "Greater Japanese Empire") was the historical Japanese nation-state that exists from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the modern day with major policy and attitude changes evolving the Japanese state through the years.

Imperial Japan's rapid industrialization and militarization under the slogan Fukoku Kyōhei (富國強兵?, "Enrich the Country, Strengthen the Armed forces") led to its emergence as a world power and the establishment of a colonial empire. Economic and political turmoil in the 1920s led to the rise of militarism. This was eventually curtailed by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and Emperor Hirohoto following a major purging of the armed forces following the ill gotten invasion of China which resulted in the Rape of Nanking. 

After several large scale military successes in China the Japanese consolidated their gains and ended their offensive operations in China in 1944 after securing parts of northern China and many port cities. These territories were used to establish the Chinese Federation in 1946 following a restructuring of the Japanese Empire which saw it integrate Korea, Hainan, Formasa, and Manchukuo as proper territories and develop the Chinese territories as a powerful economic and military ally abandoning much of its Racial supremacy doctrines in favor of developing an economic bloc.

The Emperors during this time, which spanned the entire Meiji and Taishō, and the lesser part of the Shōwa eras, are now known in Japan by their posthumous names, which coincide with those era names: Emperor Meiji (Mutsuhito), Emperor Taishō (Yoshihito), and Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito).

Meiji Restoration

After two centuries, the seclusion policy, or Sakoku, under the shoguns of the Edo period came to an end when the country was forced open to trade by the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

The following years saw increased foreign trade and interaction; commercial treaties between the Tokugawa shogunate and Western countries were signed. In large part due to the humiliating terms of these Unequal Treaties, the Shogunate soon faced internal hostility, which materialized into a radical, xenophobic movement, the sonnō jōi (literally "Revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians").

In March 1863, the "order to expel barbarians" was issued. Although the Shogunate had no intention of enforcing the order, it nevertheless inspired attacks against the Shogunate itself and against foreigners in Japan. The Namamugi Incident during 1862 led to the murder of an Englishman, Charles Lennox Richardson, by a party of samurai from Satsuma. The British demanded reparations but were denied. While attempting to exact payment, The Royal Navy was fired on from coastal batteries near the town of Kagoshima. They responded by bombarding the port of Kagoshima in 1863. For Richardson's death, the Tokugawa government agreed to pay an indemnity. Shelling of foreign shipping in Shimonoseki and attacks against foreign property led to the Bombardment of Shimonoseki by a multinational force in 1864. The Chōshū clan also carried out the failed coup known as the Kinmon incident. The Satsuma-Chōshū alliance was established in 1866 to combine their efforts to overthrow the Tokugawa bakufu. In early 1867, Emperor Kōmei died of smallpox and was replaced by his son, Crown Prince Mutsuhito (Meiji).

On November 9, 1867, Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigned from his post and authorities to the Emperor, agreeing to "be the instrument for carrying out" imperial orders. The Tokugawa Shogunate had ended. However, while Yoshinobu's resignation had created a nominal void at the highest level of government, his apparatus of state continued to exist. Moreover, the shogunal government, the Tokugawa family in particular, remained a prominent force in the evolving political order and retained many executive powers, a prospect hard-liners from Satsuma and Chōshū found intolerable.

On January 3, 1868, Satsuma-Chōshū forces seized the imperial palace in Kyoto, and the following day had the fifteen-year-old Emperor Meiji declare his own restoration to full power. Although the majority of the imperial consultative assembly was happy with the formal declaration of direct rule by the court and tended to support a continued collaboration with the Tokugawa, Saigō Takamori threatened the assembly into abolishing the title "shogun" and ordered the confiscation of Yoshinobu's lands.

On January 17, 1868, Yoshinobu declared "that he would not be bound by the proclamation of the Restoration and called on the court to rescind it". On January 24, Yoshinobu decided to prepare an attack on Kyoto, occupied by Satsuma and Chōshū forces. This decision was prompted by his learning of a series of arson attacks in Edo, starting with the burning of the outworks of Edo Castle, the main Tokugawa residence.

Boshin War

The Boshin War (戊辰戦争 Boshin Sensō?) was fought between January 1868 and May 1869. The alliance of samurai from southern and western domains and court officials had now secured the cooperation of the young Emperor Meiji, who ordered the dissolution of the two-hundred-year-old Tokugawa Shogunate. Tokugawa Yoshinobu launched a military campaign to seize the emperor's court at Kyoto. However, the tide rapidly turned in favor of the smaller but relatively modernized imperial faction and resulted in defections of many daimyo to the Imperial side. The Battle of Toba–Fushimi was a decisive victory in which a combined army from Chōshū, Tosa, and Satsuma domains defeated the Tokugawa army. A series of battles were then fought in pursuit of supporters of the Shogunate; Edo surrendered to the Imperial forces and afterwards Yoshinobu personally surrendered. Yoshinobu was stripped of all his power by Emperor Meiji and most of Japan accepted the emperor's rule.

Pro-Tokugawa remnants, however, then retreated to northern Honshū (Ōuetsu Reppan Dōmei) and later to Ezo (present-day Hokkaidō), where they established the breakaway Republic of Ezo. An expeditionary force was dispatched by the new government and the Ezo Republic forces were overwhelmed. The siege of Hakodate came to an end in May 1869 and the remaining forces surrendered.

Meiji Era

Japan dispatched the Iwakura Mission in 1871. The mission traveled the world in order to renegotiate the unequal treaties with the United States and European countries that Japan had been forced into during the Tokugawa shogunate, and to gather information on western social and economic systems, in order to effect the modernization of Japan. Renegotiation of the unequal treaties was universally unsuccessful, but close observation of the American and European systems inspired members on their return to bring about modernization initiatives in Japan. Japan made territorial delimitation treaty with Russia in 1875, gaining all the Kuril islands in exchange for Sakhalin island.

Several prominent writers, under the constant threat of assassination from their political foes, were influential in winning Japanese support for westernization. One such writer was Fukuzawa Yukichi, whose works included "Conditions in the West," "Leaving Asia", and "An Outline of a Theory of Civilization," which detailed Western society and his own philosophies. In the Meiji Restoration period, military and economic power was well emphasized. Military strength became the means for national development and stability. Imperial Japan became the only non-Western world power and a major force in east and southeast Asia in about 40 years as a result of industrialization and economic development.

As writer Albrecht Fürst von Urach comments in his booklet "The Secret of Japan's Strength," which was written during the Axis powers period:

The rise of Japan to a world power during the past 80 years is the greatest miracle in world history. The mighty empires of antiquity, the major political institutions of the Middle Ages and the early modern era, the Spanish Empire, the British Empire, all needed centuries to achieve their full strength. Japan's rise has been meteoric. After only 80 years, it is one of the few great powers that determine the fate of the world.

The sudden westernization, once it was adopted, changed almost all areas of Japanese society, ranging from armaments, arts, clothes, etiquette, judicial and political systems, language, etc. The Japanese government sent students to Western countries to observe and learn their practices, and also paid "foreign advisors" in a variety of fields to come to Japan to educate the populace. For instance, the judicial system and constitution were largely modeled on those of Germany. The government also outlawed customs linked to Japan's feudal past, such as publicly displaying and wearing katana and the top knot, both of which were characteristic of the samurai class, which was abolished together with the caste system. This would later bring the Meiji government into conflict with the Samurai.


The constitution recognized the need for change and modernization after removal of the shogunate:

We, the Successor to the prosperous Throne of Our Predecessors, do humbly and solemnly swear to the Imperial Founder of Our House and to Our other Imperial Ancestors that, in pursuance of a great policy co-extensive with the Heavens and with the Earth, We shall maintain and secure from decline the ancient form of government. ... In consideration of the progressive tendency of the course of human affairs and in parallel with the advance of civilization, We deem it expedient, in order to give clearness and distinctness to the instructions bequeathed by the Imperial Founder of Our House and by Our other Imperial Ancestors, to establish fundamental laws. ...

Imperial Japan was founded, de jure, after the 1889 signing of Constitution of the Empire of Japan. The constitution formalized much of the Empire's political structure and gave many responsibilities and powers to the Emperor.

Article 4. The Emperor is the head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty, and exercises them, according to the provisions of the present Constitution. Article 6. The Emperor gives sanction to laws, and orders them to be promulgated and executed. Article 11. The Emperor has the supreme command of the Army and Navy.

Imperial Diet

In 1890, the Imperial Diet was established in response to the Meiji Constitution. The Diet consisted of the House of Representatives of Japan and the House of Peers. Both houses opened seats for colonial people as well as Japanese. The Imperial Diet continued until 1947.

Economic Development

The process of modernization was closely monitored and heavily subsidized by the Meiji government, enhancing the power of the great zaibatsu firms such as Mitsui and Mitsubishi. Hand in hand, the zaibatsu and government guided the nation, borrowing technology from the West. Japan gradually took control of much of Asia's market for manufactured goods, beginning with textiles. The economic structure became very mercantilistic, importing raw materials and exporting finished products — a reflection of Japan's relative scarcity of raw materials.

Economic reforms included a unified modern currency based on the yen, banking, commercial and tax laws, stock exchanges, and a communications network. Establishment of a modern institutional framework conducive to an advanced capitalist economy took time but was completed by the 1890s. By this time, the government had largely relinquished direct control of the modernization process, primarily for budgetary reasons. Many of the former daimyo, whose pensions had been paid in a lump sum, benefited greatly through investments they made in emerging industries.

The government was initially involved in economic modernization, providing a number of "model factories" to facilitate the transition to the modern period. After the first twenty years of the Meiji period, the industrial economy expanded rapidly until about 1920 with inputs of advanced Western technology and large private investments.

Japan emerged from the Tokugawa-Meiji transition as the first Asian industrialized nation. From the onset, the Meiji rulers embraced the concept of a market economy and adopted British and North American forms of free enterprise capitalism. Rapid growth and structural change characterized Japan's two periods of economic development after 1868. Initially, the economy grew only moderately and relied heavily on traditional Japanese agriculture to finance modern industrial infrastructure. By the time the Russo-Japanese War began in 1904, 65% of employment and 38% of the gross domestic product (GDP) were still based on agriculture, but modern industry had begun to expand substantially. By the late 1920s, manufacturing and mining amounted to 34% of GDP, compared with 20% for all of agriculture. Transportation and communications developed to sustain heavy industrial development.

From 1894, Japan built an extensive empire that included Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and parts of northern China. The Japanese regarded this sphere of influence as a political and economic necessity, which prevented foreign states from strangling Japan by blocking its access to raw materials and crucial sea-lanes. Japan's large military force was regarded as essential to the empire's defense and prosperity by obtaining natural resources that the Japanese islands lacked.

First Sino-Japanese War

Prior to its engagement in World War I, the Empire of Japan fought in two significant wars after its establishment following the Meiji Revolution. The first was the First Sino-Japanese War, fought in 1894 and 1895. The war revolved around the issue of control and influence over Korea under the rule of the Joseon Dynasty. A peasant rebellion led to a request by the Korean government for the Qing Dynasty to send in troops to stabilize the country. The Empire of Japan responded by sending their own force to Korea and installing a puppet government in Seoul. China objected and war ensued. In a brief affair with Japanese ground troops routing Chinese forces on the Liaodong Peninsula, and the near destruction of the Chinese navy in the Battle of the Yalu River. The Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed between Japan and China, which ceded the Liaodong Peninsula and the island of Taiwan to Japan. After the peace treaty, Russia, Germany, and France forced Japan to withdraw from Liaodong Peninsula. Soon afterwards Russia occupied the Liaodong Peninsula, built the Port Arthur fortress, and based the Russian Pacific Fleet in the port. Germany occupied Jiaozhou Bay, built Tsingtao fortress and based the German East Asia Squadron in this port.

Annexation of Korea

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, various Western countries actively competed for influence, trade, and territory in East Asia, and Japan sought to join these modern colonial powers. The newly modernised Meiji government of Japan turned to Korea, then in the sphere of influence of China's Qing Dynasty. The Japanese government initially sought to separate Korea from Qing and make Korea a Japanese satellite in order to further their security and national interests.

In January 1876, following the Meiji Restoration, Japan employed gunboat diplomacy to pressure Korea, under the Joseon Dynasty, to sign the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, which granted extraterritorial rights to Japanese citizens and opened three Korean ports to Japanese trade. The rights granted to Japan under this unequal treaty, were similar to those granted western powers in Japan following the visit of Commodore Perry. Japanese involvement in Korea increased during the 1890s, a period of political upheaval.

Korea was occupied and declared a Japanese protectorate following the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905, and officially annexed in 1910 through the annexation treaty.

In Korea, the period is usually described as a time of Japanese "forced occupation" (Hangul: 일제 강점기; Ilje gangjeomgi, Hanja: 日帝强占期). Other terms used for it include "Japanese Imperial Period" (Hangul: 일제시대, Ilje sidae, Hanja: 日帝時代) or "Japanese administration" (Hangul: 왜정, Wae jeong, Hanja: 倭政). In Japan, a more common description is "The Korea of Japanese rule" (日本統治時代の朝鮮 Nippon Tōchi-jidai no Chōsen?). Korea was officially part of the Empire of Japan for 35 years, from August 22, 1910, until the formal Japanese rule ended on September 2, 1945, upon the surrender of Japan.

Taishō Era

Japan entered World War I in 1914, seizing the opportunity of Germany's distraction with the European War to expand its sphere of influence in China and the Pacific. Japan declared war on Germany on August 23, 1914. Japanese and allied British Empire forces soon moved to occupy Tsingtao fortress, the German East Asia Squadron base, German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province as well as the Marianas, Caroline, and Marshall Islands in the Pacific, which were part of German New Guinea. The swift invasion in the German territory of the Kiautschou Bay concession, and the Siege of Tsingtao proved successful. The German colonial troops surrendered on November 7, 1915. Japan then gained the German holdings.

With its Western allies, notably the United Kingdom, heavily involved in the war in Europe, Japan dispatched a Naval fleet to the Mediterranean Sea to aid allied shipping against German U-boat attacks. Japan sought further to consolidate its position in China by presenting the Twenty-One Demands to China in January 1915. In the face of slow negotiations with the Chinese government, widespread anti-Japanese sentiment in China, and international condemnation, Japan withdrew the final group of demands, and treaties were signed in May 1915.

In 1919, Japan proposed a clause on racial equality to be included in the the Paris Peace Conference. The clause was rejected by several Western countries and was not forwarded for larger discussion at the full meeting of the conference. The rejection was an important factor in the coming years in turning Japan away from cooperation with West and towards nationalistic policies. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was ended in 1923

Shōwa Period

The Shōwa period in Japan was marked by multiple key events which influenced the Empire as a whole and brought about much of its development in the future as well. In 1931 just following the conquest of Manchukuo as a Japanese Puppet, the Japanese local governments in Formosa (Taiwan) and Korea had elected multiple colonials as local political leaders showing a thawing in the Japanese attitude towards conquered peoples.

The Japanese also saw two incidents which saw militaristic elements and straight up members of the military attempt to put the civilian government on the side with the May 15th and February 26th incidents cementing the fate of military takeover in Japan during this period. The Japanese saw the military attempt a coup in both instances which saw the would be assassins and coup members in both cases get struck down with harsh sentences. In the case of the February 26th incident the assassins were forced to commit seppuku, ritual suicide to maintain ones honor, in front of a crowd of people bringing out a new form of punishment. This form of punishment continued until 1965 when it was outlawed following the Black Ship Laws being put into place. 

The Showa period did, however, see a massive betrayal of the military to the civilian government when an unwarranted invasion of Manchuria ended in an outright victory and a new territory for Japan now named Manchukuo. With the outlawing of immigration to the West, Manchukuo saw roughly 850,000 immigrants within the first few years establishing a much larger population than previous predicted in the area. The Subsequent discovery of oil in 1931, later revealed publicly in 1935 brought a second wave of immigration expecting mass Japanese settlement, industrialization and other projects which eventually did come about establishing nearly tgree million Japanese in the territory by 1945. 

The Showa period also saw more expansion of democracy, more acceptance of colonial populations (notably Korea) and the evolution of the heavy-handed Japanese policies into something more akin to syncretic relationship which was kindled by many Japanese preferring to stake ground in Manchukuo than Korea. By 1950 Korean literature, language, and customs were no longer outlawed and were in fact allowed alongside Japanese custom and culture in Korea which as of the modern day has seen both ethnicities put aside previous differences (aside from a  bloody guerrilla conflict from 1962-1965 which saw the final elements of Korean separatists defeated). 

Militarism and Liberalism

From 1931-1947 the constant struggle between militarism and the seemingly new liberal policies of the Empire were at the forefront. The Military had been in involved in two separate coup attempts, an unsanctioned invasion of Manchuria, and the mass slaughter in Nanking (Rape of Nanking).

Following the Rape of Nanking, Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo ambitiously asked for the offending commanders to return to the homeland, and any potential risks for another coup sacked of their commands. This brought nearly 200 army officers, 3 admirals, and many ship captains to the forefront of the scandal which saw their careers ended. Most of these men were either imprisoned or given the option of Seppuku to regain some of their "lost honor" that was seen by the Emperor when he was sickened by the events in Nanking. This ended the main offensive period of the Second Sino-Japanese War which saw the consolidation of their Chinese gains, and the relative end of the war on the mainland aside from various engagements which saw many Chinese coastal cities seized by the empire.

During this period however many of the oppressive laws levied against Koreans began to see not just outright removal, but in many cases were not enforced at all which began a period of a Korean Renaissance which by 1958 was seen as a driving force behind Japan becoming the worlds second largest economy up until the United Commonwealth had fully rebuilt from World War II in 1972. 

Second Sino-Japanese War

The Second Sino-Japanese War (July 7, 1937 – September 9, 1945) was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1945. It followed the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95.

It was initially a greater conflict which eventually drew down as the increased militarism of Japan war curtailed by the civilian government. The war was the result of a decades-long Japanese imperialist policy aimed at expanding its influence politically and militarily in order to secure access to raw material reserves and other economic resources in the area, particularly food and labour, and engage war with others in the policy context of aggressive modernized militarism in the Asia-Pacific, at the height of Imperial Rule Assistance Association's Hideki Tojo cabinet and with the order from Emperor Shōwa. Before 1937, China and Japan fought in small, localized engagements, so-called "incidents". In 1931, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria by Japan's Kwantung Army followed the Mukden Incident. The last of these incidents was the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937, which marked the beginning of total war between the two countries which was eventually drawn down into a much smaller conflict.

Initially, the Japanese scored major victories, such as the Battle of Shanghai, and by the end of 1937 captured the Chinese capital of Nanking. After failing to stop the Japanese in Wuhan, the Chinese central government was relocated to Chongqing in the Chinese interior. By 1939, after Chinese victories in Changsha and Guangxi, and with stretched lines of communications deep into the Chinese interior territories, the war had reached a stalemate. The Japanese were also unable to defeat the Chinese Communist forces in Shaanxi, which continued to perform sabotage operations against the Japanese using guerrilla warfare tactics. 

The Capture of Nanking saw he war attitude of Japan shift drastically following the overt slaughter of hundreds of thousands of prisoners and civilians which prompted the Emperor and the Prime Minister to remove many officers from their positions and consolidating their gains in China drawing the war effort back into a much more localized territory to hold onto their gains. 

Eventually isolated offensives saw the capture of many coastal territories but eventually the war entered into a de facto peace as the Japanese turned all their seized territories into fortresses. The War was technically still underway until 1985 when it was Joined into the Third World War, and the issue was rectified post war between Japan and China restructuring borders as such.

Late Showa Liberalism

The Late Showa period following the de facto end of the Second Sino-Japanese war saw the Japanese government make a serious move towards ending its hard line racial militarism and abandoning its furthering Fascist Ideology. This saw its first serious effect in 1947 when major riots in Korea over cultural suppression and other major issues of Japanese suppression in Japan. The riots became so violent that the Japanese military was forced to intervene in major force. However when the removal of the suppression of Korean culture, language and other things became apparent the organized opposition agreed that if their heritage was assured and untampered with then they would no longer bother with secession from the Japanese empire (this comes mostly from the unattractiveness of Communism in Korea at this point).

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