Japan History: From The Enlightened Government of Mutsuhito to 1945

Japan History - From The Enlightened Government of Mutsuhito to 1945


The years known as Meiji (Illuminated Government, 1868-1912) are worthy of attention both for the internal history of Japan and for its foreign policy events that amazed the world at the time, completely unprepared for the hypothesis that a country foreign to Western civilization could establish itself among the major powers of the globe. Japan modernized itself by borrowing new values ​​from the West itself. The ancient Far Eastern tradition of respect for knowledge facilitated the spread of culture and therefore the intelligent mobilization of all forces. On the other hand, the productive conversion of the wealth of the feudal nobility and the exploitation of the labor of the countryside made possible a very rapid work of industrialization. In foreign policy as defined on recipesinthebox, Japan initially had relations above all with Russia, to which it yielded Sahalin in exchange for the Kuril Islands. Then, due to the common aims on Korea, the diatribe with China took over, which led to war in 1894. It was the first major international conflict that Japan faced after opening to the West. Its efficient war machine imposed itself on the now decaying Chinese giant. Occupied key posts such as Dalny and Port Arthur (today’s Lüshun), the Japanese swept through Manchuria and came to threaten Beijing. On April 17, 1895, the Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed: China ceded Taiwan, the Pescadores, the Liaotung, recognized the independence of Korea, paid a large indemnity and opened four ports for Japanese trade. The success of Japan worried the Western powers, however, and France, Russia and Germany pressed for Japan to give up the Liaotung in exchange for another indemnity. The government was forced to accept, but this decision caused discontent especially towards the tsarist empire which had immediately taken advantage of the situation to occupy precisely those territories, such as Port Arthur, which had been denied to Japan. Furthermore, the continued Russian meddling in the territories of Manchuria and Korea led Japan to a second major challenge: in 1904 it attacked the Tsar’s empire. The world watched in amazement at another sensational victory for the small Asian state. With the Portsmouth Treaty of 1905 Russia was forced to give up the southern part of the 50th parallel of the island of Sahalin, the Liaotung area already taken from China, its interests in Manchuria, and to give the green light to Japanese projects on Korea. The definitive annexation of the peninsula by the Tōkyō government took place in 1910, after internal disputes over the policy to be followed had dramatically brought to the fore the disagreement between the civilian party and that of the military.


In 1912 Mutsuhito died and was succeeded by his son Yoshihito, whose reign (1912-26) is known as Taishō (Great Righteousness). At the outbreak of the First World War, Japan found the pretext to declare war on Germany and on 24 August 1914 entered the conflict. He quickly conquered Tsingtao and Jiaozhou Wan and the German islands of the Pacific, that is, the Marianas, the Carolines and the Marshalls: achievements that were ratified by the Versailles Conference of 1919. But the Japanese attention in those years was entirely directed to China and, taking advantage of the favorable moment, on January 18, 1915 the Japanese government presented to the Chinese one the famous “Twenty-one Questions”, basically an ultimatum, with which peremptorily inserted into Chinese political life. The end of the war saw Japan among the great world powers. Internal political crisis had not arrested a very accentuated process of economic development that stimulated the large monopoly groups (zaibatsu) to push for an anti-militarist policy in the interest of free trade. When Emperor Hirohito took the throne in 1926, he assumed the name of Shōwa (Peace Enlightened), the future of the country seemed to have started according to peaceful and orderly plans. Instead the equilibrium went into crisis almost immediately. The anti-Soviet politics, the aims on China, the resentment for the American measures against immigration pushed Japan towards an expansionist policy which, after the indirect interference in Manchuria, resulted in the crisis with China. The 1932 proclamation of the independent (but actually vassal) Empire of Manchukuo; of 1937 is the beginning of the direct conflict with China which led to the occupation of vast areas and the creation in them of a puppet government with capital in Nanjing, headed by a former collaborator of Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Ching -wei. The military, more and more powerful, conditioned political life and spread an ideology in some respects common to Western fascisms. Japan left the United Nations, signed the Anticomintern Pact with Germany in 1936 (to which Italy joined in 1937) and the tripartite Pact with Italy and Germany in 1940. Meanwhile, relations with the United States worsened (which asked the Japan renounces colonial expansionism) and on 7 December 1941, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Second World War began in the Far East. For about a year the Japanese advance was unstoppable: from the Aleutians to New Guinea and the gates of India. Then the fate gradually reversed and the explosion of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an already prostrate country induced the emperor to offer the surrender, accepted on August 14, 1945 and ratified on the following September 2.

Japan History - From The Enlightened Government of Mutsuhito to 1945