1853-Commodore Matthew Perry arrives in Japan 1868-End of Tokugawa rule and restoration of imperial power 1869-Tokugawa Shogunate defeated by Satsuma and Chōshū 1872-All domains returned to the Emperor 1877-Satsuma Rebellion 1889-Declaration of Meiji Constitution 1894-Official declaration of war between China and Japan (First Sino-Japanese War) 1895-Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed marking the end of the war and Korean Independence 1904-Japan issues declaration of war against Russia (Russo-Japanese War) 1905-Treaty of Portsmouth marking the end of the war 1910-Japanese annexation of Korea 1912-Death of Emperor Meiji and succeeded by Emperor Taisho 1914-Start of WW1 1918-End of WW1 1919-Treaty of Versailles 1920-League of Nations founded by Woodrow Wilson 1926-Death of Emperor Taisho, succeeded by Emperor Showa (Hirohito) 1929-Great Depression 1931-Mukden Incident sparking the invasion of Manchuria 1932-Assasination of PM Inukai Tsuyoshi (May 15th Incident) 1936-Attempted coup by members of Imperial Army (Feb. 26th incident)
Anti–Comintern Pact between Japan and Germany
1937-Marco Polo Bridge Incident sparking the Second Sino-Japanese War 1939-Nomonhan Incident and German–Soviet Non-aggression Pact 1940-Fall of France and Japan stations troops in northern Indochina
End of Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and the U.S.
1941-Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact
Germany invades the Soviet Union
Japan occupies southern Indochina
Total Embargo on Japan
Attack on Pearl Harbor and invasion of Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and Malaya
1942-Japan defeats the British in the Battle of Singapore
Japan defeats the U.S. in the Philippines campaign
Japan formally occupies Burma
1943-Greater East Asia Conference 1945-Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
1854 Japanese print depicting the Matthew C. Perry expedition. Source Wikipedia
The First Opium War saw the Qing Dynasty, a leading power in Asia, fall to Great Britain. It was only 10 years later when Japan also faced the dominance of Western imperialism, in the form of Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Perry managed to force the Japanese to sign the Kanagawa Treaty, effectively ending Japan’s isolationist policy. A few years later Townsend Harris, the first consul general of Japan, arrived to negotiate a new treaty. The event coincided with the “Arrow” War (Second Opium War), which saw the British and French defeat China. Harris argued that if Japan did not accept America’s terms, they would meet a similar fate as China. However, what the Japanese officials did not realize was that the American treaties were only slightly more favorable than the British and French. The Harris Treaty (Treaty of Amity and Commerce) included the opening of more ports in larger cities, counselor jurisdiction, and extraterritoriality. Notably, the economic restrictions such as the ban of tariffs on foreign goods, limited their ability to modernize. The new treaty sparked animosity toward the West, as it tarnished Japan’s prestige. Political tension within Japan caused by the American treaties led to a civil war. The Tokugawa Shogunate fell to the Satsuma and Chōshū domains in the Boshin War, and sovereignty was restored to the emperor.
From Matthew Perry to the Russo-Japanese War
The Meiji Restoration that followed transformed Japanese society. The nation’s new goal was to catch up to the West and modernize in order to prevent another incident like Perry. The Japanese adopted many facets of western thought ranging from military theory to clothing. However, modernization did not entail democracy. The government heavily restricted the media and prevented others from gaining political power. They suppressed the well-educated civilians to prevent uprisings, especially the Samurai class. The government implemented stronger restrictions after the war against the Satsuma Rebellion (Seinan War) and the rise of the People’s Rights movement. They prohibited writings, notably textbooks, with pro-democratic and liberal ideas, and instead pushed for conservative Shinto and Confucian values. The Meiji Restoration also coincided with the era of racial science; Western science could empirically “prove” their superiority over the Japanese. The Japanese had formed their own theory of racial superiority through the Yamato race. According to legends, the Yamato people are the ancestors of the Japanese race. Academics argued that their unique and “pure” quality make the Japanese a superior race. The government also enforced the Emperor’s sacred authority through Shinto mythology. In 1890, the Department of Education issued the “The Imperial Rescript on Education,” which required devotion toward the Emperor and the pursuit of Confucian ethics.
Japanese graphics 19 century. Source Wikipedia
The new imperial government adopted a western-style military and recruited several officers from European nations. The Army initially adopted a French model, including military academies, a conscription ordinance, and weaponry. Their first test was against the Satsuma Rebellion, a group of Samurai resentful of their loss of privilege. What started as Saigo Takamori and Itagaki Taisuke’s resignation over the military expedition to Korea led to a full-scale civil war between the Samurai class and the Imperial Army. The Army eventually defeated the rebellions, but it exposed the vulnerability of the Army’s conscription system and their lack of fighting spirit. China also acted to maintain its sphere of influence over Korea. In 1894, the Sino-Japanese rivalry culminated in war, in which the Japanese came out victorious. The aggression seen during the war foreshadowed the atrocities committed by the Japanese in the 20th Century, notably 60,000 Chinese (soldiers and civilians) were massacred in four days following the capture of Port Arthur. Additionally, many Japanese soldiers had expected a rich and cultured civilization. In reality, most of China was impoverished; this led to racial stereotypes toward the Chinese and sentiments of Japanese superiority. Japanese writer Kansuke Naka recounted his elementary school years and explained the racial tensions forming between Japanese and Chinese peoples, “After the war started, my friends would talk of nothing else but the ‘brave Japanese, the cowardly Chinks.’ The teachers urged us on like a pack of puppies whelping after a Chinese bone. We repeated it at every chance.” The Western powers intervened six days after the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Russia, Germany, and France forced Japan to return to the Liaodong Peninsula. It was a sign that the West still saw Japan as inferior. As the Russian presence grew in Manchuria, there was a growing risk that they would invade Korea. Japanese leaders saw the significance of Korea as crucial to their imperialist goals for expansion. The Japanese launched a surprise attack on the harbor at Port Arthur and declared war on Russia (Russo-Japanese War). Japan surprised the world by defeating the Russians, thus gaining exclusive rights in Korea and the Russian railroad lines in Southern Manchuria. Japan thus became internationally recognized as a leading power, heightening its beliefs of both Japanese political and cultural supremacy.
A Clash of Empires at Pearl Harbor How Nanshin-ron, Japanese Nationalism, and Militarism Exacerbated the Imperialization of Asia
Despite the Pearl Harbor Attack being a well-known incident, its build-up is still unfamiliar to many. In hindsight, the attack was a complete blunder, as it led to Japan's downfall. Hence, many people avoid seriously asking the question, "why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?" In this publication, this question is investigated through the lens of nanshin-ron, the Southern Advance Doctrine.
Along with the rapid economic growth during the Meiji era came the rise of imperialism. Japan began to expand its territory to protect itself from European and American threats. Following their victory in the Sino-Japanese War, the question arose whether to advance toward the north or south. Thus emerged nanshin-ron as many political writers began pushing for economic expansion into Southeast Asia. Colonial ambitions formed during WWI when Japan conquered several German territories in the Pacific. However, Japan's efforts did not last long. Following the Treaty of Versailles, the Allied powers enforced disarmament agreements to prevent another global war. It was only in WWII did nanshin-ron regain its former popularity.
The Second Sino-Japanese War was draining Japanese resources. Following the American economic sanctions, Japan became desperate for raw materials. So they turned to the resource-rich islands in Southeast Asia. We examine the political and economic consequences of the Japanese expansion. How did it change Southeast Asian tradition and culture? What did it mean to "liberate the South" to form the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere"? These questions are the gateway to understanding the Pearl Harbor Attack from Japan's perspective.