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Empire of Japan (1868–1945)
Beginning in 1868, Japan undertook political, economic, and cultural transformations emerging as a unified and centralized state, the Empire of Japan. This period was a time of rapid economic growth. Japan became an imperial power, colonizing Korea and Taiwan. Starting in 1931 it began the takeover of Manchuria and China, in defiance of the United States. Escalating tension with the U.S.--and western control of Japan's vital oil supplies—led to World War II. Japan launched multiple successful attacks on the U.S. as well as British territories in 1941–42. After a series of great naval battles, the Japanese sank the U.S. fleet and largely destroyed its largest west coast cities through air raids.
Renewed contact with the West precipitated a profound alteration of Japanese society. Importantly, within the context of Japan's subsequent aggressive militarism, the signing of the treaties was viewed as profoundly humiliating and a source of national shame. The Tokugawa shōgun was forced to resign, and soon after the Boshin War of 1868, the emperor was restored to power, beginning a period of fierce nationalism and intense socio-economic restructuring known as the Meiji Restoration. The Tokugawa system was abolished, the military was modernized, and numerous Western institutions were adopted–including a Western legal system and quasi-parliamentary constitutional government as outlined in the Meiji Constitution. This constitution was modeled on the first constitution of the German Empire. While many aspects of the Meiji Restoration were adopted directly from Western institutions, others, such as the dissolution of the feudal system and removal of the shogunate, were processes that had begun long before the arrival of Perry. Nonetheless, Perry's intervention is widely viewed as a pivotal moment in Japanese history.
Japan's industrial revolution began about 1870 as national leaders decided to catch up with the West. The government built railroads, improved roads, and inaugurated a land reform program to prepare the country for further development. Modern industry first appeared in textiles, including cotton and especially silk, which was based in home workshops in rural areas. the government inaugurated a new Western-based education system for all young people, sent thousands of students to the United States and Europe, and hired more than 3,000 Westerners to teach modern science, mathematics, technology, and foreign languages in Japan (O-yatoi gaikokujin).
In 1871 a group of Japanese politicians known as the Iwakura Mission toured Europe and the USA to learn western ways. The result was a deliberate state-led industrialisation policy to enable Japan to quickly catch up. The Bank of Japan, founded in 1877, used taxes to fund model steel and textile factories. Education was expanded and Japanese students were sent to study in the West.
Wars with China and Russia
Japanese intellectuals of the late-Meiji period espoused the concept of a "line of advantage", an idea that would help to justify Japanese foreign policy around the start of the 20th century. According to this principle, embodied in the slogan fukoku kyōhei, Japan would be vulnerable to aggressive Western imperialism unless it extended a line of advantage beyond its borders which would help to repel foreign incursions and strengthen the Japanese economy. Emphasis was especially placed on Japan's "preeminent interests" in the Korean Peninsula, once famously described as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Japan". It was tensions over Korea and Manchuria, respectively, that led Japan to become involved in the first Sino-Japanese War with China in 1894–1895 and the Russo-Japanese War with Russia in 1904–1905.
The war with China made Japan the world's first Eastern, modern imperial power, and the war with Russia proved that a Western power could be defeated by an Eastern state. The aftermath of these two wars left Japan the dominant power in the Far East with a sphere of influence extending over southern Manchuria and Korea, which was formally annexed as part of the Japanese Empire in 1910. Japan had also gained half of Sakhalin Island from Russia. The results of these wars established Japan's dominant interest in Korea, while giving it the Pescadores Islands, Formosa (now Taiwan), and the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria, which was eventually retroceded in the "humiliating" Triple Intervention.
Over the next decade, Japan would flaunt its growing prowess, including a very significant contribution to the Eight-Nation Alliance formed to quell China's Boxer Rebellion. Many Japanese, however, believed their new empire was still regarded as inferior by the Western powers, and they sought a means of cementing their international standing. This set the climate for growing tensions with Russia, which would continually intrude into Japan's "line of advantage" during this time.
Russian pressure from the north appeared again after Muraviev had gained Outer Manchuria at Aigun (1858) and Peking (1860). This led to heavy Russian pressure on Sakhalin which the Japanese eventually yielded in exchange for the Kuril islands (1875). The Ryukyu Islands were similarly secured in 1879, establishing the borders within which Japan would "enter the World". In 1898, the last of the unequal treaties with Western powers was removed, signaling Japan's new status among the nations of the world. In a few decades by reforming and modernizing social, educational, economic, military, political and industrial systems, the Emperor Meiji's "controlled revolution" had transformed a feudal and isolated state into a world power. Significantly, the impetus for this change was the belief that Japan had to compete with the West both industrially and militarily to achieve equality.
The Anglo-Japanese Alliance treaty was signed with Britain in 1902. It was renewed in 1905 and 1911 before its demise in 1921 and its termination in 1923. It was a military alliance between the two countries that threatened Russia and Germany. Due to this alliance, Japan entered World War I on the side of Great Britain. Japan seized German bases in China and the pacific. The Treaty facilitated cultural and technological exchange between the two countries.
World War I
Japan entered World War I on the Allied side and declared war on the Central Powers. Though Japan's role was limited largely to seizing German colonial outposts in East Asia and the Pacific, it took advantage of the opportunity to expand its influence in Asia and its territorial holdings in the Pacific. Acting virtually independently of the civil government, the Japanese navy seized Germany's Micronesian colonies. It also attacked and occupied the German coaling port of Qingdao in the Chinese Shandong peninsula.
Japan went to the peace conference at Versailles in 1919 as one of the great military and industrial powers of the world and received official recognition as one of the "Big Five" of the new international order. It joined the League of Nations and received a mandate over Pacific islands north of the Equator formerly held by Germany. Japan was also involved in the post-war Allied intervention in Russia, occupying Russian (Outer) Manchuria and also north Sakhalin (which held Japan's limited oil reserves). It was the last Allied power to withdraw from the interventions against Soviet Russia (doing so in 1925).
The post–World War I era brought Japan unprecedented prosperity.
Fascism in Japan
During the 1910s and 1920s, Japan progressed towards democracy movements known as 'Taishō Democracy'. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the late 1920s and 1930s during the Depression period, and its state became increasingly militarized. This was due to the increasing powers of military leaders and was similar to the actions some European nations were taking leading up to World War II. These shifts in power were made possible by the ambiguity and imprecision of the Meiji Constitution, particularly its measure that the legislative body was answerable to the Emperor and not the people. The Kodoha, a militarist faction, even attempted a coup d'état known as the February 26 Incident, which was crushed after three days by Hirohito, the Emperor Shōwa.
Party politics came under increasing fire because it was believed they were divisive to the nation and promoted self-interest where unity was needed. As a result, the major parties voted to dissolve themselves and were absorbed into a single party, the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA), which also absorbed many prefectural organizations such as women's clubs and neighborhood associations. However, this umbrella organization did not have a cohesive political agenda and factional in-fighting persisted throughout its existence, meaning Japan did not devolve into a totalitarian state. The IRAA has been likened to a sponge, in that it could soak everything up, but there is little one could do with it afterwards. Its creation was precipitated by a series of domestic crises, including the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the actions of extremists such as the members of the Cherry Blossom Society, who enacted the May 15 Incident.
Second Sino-Japanese War
Under the pretext of the Manchurian Incident, Lieutenant Colonel Kanji Ishiwara invaded Inner (Chinese) Manchuria in 1931, an action the Japanese government ratified with the creation of the puppet state of Manchukuo under the last Chinese emperor, Pu Yi. As a result of international condemnation of the incident, Japan resigned from the League of Nations in 1933. After several more similar incidents fueled by an expansionist military, the second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937 after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.
From 1937–45, Emperor Hirohito was supreme commander of the Imperial General Headquarters, by which the military decisions were made. After joining the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936, Japan formed the Axis Pact with Germany and Italy on September 27, 1940. Many Japanese politicians believed war with the Occident to be inevitable due to inherent cultural differences and Western imperialism. Japanese imperialism was then justified by the revival of the traditional concept of hakko ichiu, the divine right of the emperor to unite and rule the world.
Japan was defeated by Soviet Union in 1938 in large-scale but localized battles at Battle of Lake Khasan and in 1939 in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. The Army no longer wanted to fight the Soviets, so the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact was signed in 1941. The treaty held until August 1945 when the Soviets invaded Manchuria and Korea.
World War II
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