Japanese Imperialist Expansion and Its Drivers Essay

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

The expansion of the Japanese empire in the Asian continent took place in the same period when the Western countries were actively invading China. The Russian territory was growing fast and posing a threat to Japan, given that Russia had taken some Chinese lands that were bordering it. The Trans-Siberian railway also made Japan fear the invasion of Russia in the last decade of the 17th century. The railway line increased the penetration of Russia into Manchuria.

Russia was invading the territories that Japan was aiming to take over in China and Korea. Just like other European nations at that moment, the government of Japan made the expansion of its territories a systematic goal. The government cited several reasons to justify this move. The reasons can be classified as military reasons and economic motivations.

Military Motivations

The military leaders in Japan had futuristic views that promoted the country’s imperial extension. The army commanders viewed territories like Korea as very strategic in the region. The other military motivation for this expansion was prestige. Armies would be classified depending on the wars they won. Therefore, it meant that if Japan took part in military wars and seized several regions, then its reputation would rise and be considered prestigious.

Economic Motivation

The industrial development of Japan provided favorable conditions for territorial expansion, as the needed raw materials were readily available. They longed for more territories so that they could plant their crops and strengthen their business capacity. The Japanese established their cash crop in every territory they conquered; for instance, Soybeans in Manchuria, Sugar in Taiwan, and Rice in Korea. These crops boosted the economy of Japan due to improved trade with the Western countries, such as the United States and the European continent.

Proponents of Japan Imperialism

Although the imperialism of Japan was strongly opposed by most Western countries, this move was welcomed and supported mainly by Britain. In justifying its support, Britain regarded the expansion of Japan as a counter move to the rapid expansion of the Russian empire.

The activities that characterized the Japanese expansion included colonialism, imperialism, the use of conquests by governments to show their strength, and the use of imperialism as a reverse of nationalism. The Japanese government developed a systematic way that Japan was to follow to achieve its territorial expansion.

Among the basic reasons cited by the Japanese government for this move were security reasons, outsourcing for the resources needed for its industrial development, national pride, settlement of the overpopulated Japanese nationals, and seeking a market for its finished industrial products. There were particular reasons provided by the Japanese government for invading individual states. For instance, Korea was to be used as a source of raw materials. It was also seized for security reasons and to provide land for farming. China could provide land for farming, a good source of raw materials, as well as a market for Japan’s finished products. Japan wanted Okinawa because it was strategic for war and had important natural resources. Hokkaido, on the other hand, had fertile farmland, among other benefits.

Imperialism was also occasioned by the relationship that existed between Japan, its neighbors, and the Western countries. Racism was the main motivating factor for Japan’s imperialism. The US and the UK misjudged Japan as an undeveloped country. The Japanese government, therefore, reasoned that imperial expansion was the only way they could use to earn the respect they deserved from the Western countries. The Japanese believed that the move would also ensure that they survived as a country, and probably result in the civilization of other Asian countries.

Other political reasons also forced Japan into imperialism. For instance, imperialism was used as a reaction to the signed Treaty of Portsmouth. The public demanded that Japan should war against Russia after the talks failed. It should be noted that this imperial expansion occurred in conjunction with the rising Japanese nationalism. Japan’s move appeared a threat to other Western countries, except in Britain, which supported the move. In its defense, Britain argued that Japan had been sidelined in the existing treaties, and the rapid expansion of Russia was a threat to international security. Therefore, Britain considered Japan imperialism as an excellent move to counter expanding Russia.

Failure of Taisho Democracy and Japan’s Subsequent Slide in Militarism in the 1930s

The Taisho democracy refers to the period when Emperor Taisho, the first son of the Meiji emperor, reigned over Japan. It occurred between the years of 1912 and 1926. This period was named the Taisho democracy because it was during this period that Japan experienced a massive political liberation that had never been experienced in the many decades under the Meiji reign. The rate of human activism was continually getting high. Additionally, power was given to the people who were elected by the citizens. On the other hand, the employees came together to form trade unions. However, this democracy failed and paved the way for military rule. Several reasons contributed to the failure, as discussed below.

The Japanese political structure played a fundamental role in the failure of Taisho democracy. The noble and the imperial family composed the ‘House of Peers’, while individuals who were chosen by the populace became the members of the House of Representatives. However, the real powers were vested in the emperor, who had the powers to dissolve any of the houses at will. Japan had no democratic tradition by then; therefore, people did not fully understand how to cope with the new changes. In the eyes of the public, the people that were appointed by the emperor were always loyal to him. Most of them were always old and very conservative. On the contrary, the elected leaders appeared to be weaker and soft-spoken, particularly when it came to foreign policies. The emperor’s regime was, therefore, preferred.

Corruption also played a vital role in the fall of Taisho democracy. Zaibatsu supported most politicians and their campaigns. The democratic government, therefore, became advantageous to a few rich people. It resulted in economic problems, and people lost trust in it. The farmers who grew rice were required to pay high rental levies, although they had little land to farm. Workers were forced to work overtime and under harsh conditions to manage the entire government.

An economic depression happened as a result. The exports from Japan suffered a lot, with the silk industry being the most hit. Protectionism also set in, and there were high levels of inflation and unemployment. The Japanese population blamed the democratic government for all the problems and reasoned that only a military system would be a solution to the problems. The pressure from the public made Japan become a military state by the mid-1930s.

The fall of the Taisho democracy was mainly occasioned by inherent constraints that were experienced between the Taisho Democracy itself. There were also external reasons. Among the internal reasons that played a key role in the failure of the Taisho democracy was the Showa Restoration, which occurred between the years 1926 and 1989. The reign of the Showa emperor weakened the democratic system steadily. During his reign, the education system in the nation was changed to focus only on anti-foreign sentiments and nationalism. During lessons, the Japanese nationals were also urged to exercise blind loyalty to their emperor. The education system resulted in the establishment of patriotic societies, which also proved to be a blow to the democratic system.

Organizations that were ultra-nationalistic were formed under the patriotic societies. These organizations advocated militarism and aggressive foreign policies. They believed that the destiny of Japan as a nation was to move forward, conquer other nations, and rule over them. The activities of most of these societies largely worked against the policies of the civilian democratic government, which they believed was very soft and weak.

Amid these problems of the civilian government, the population believed a military system was better due to the evident successes that the military had achieved. The military had won all the battles since 1895, making the military influential. Therefore, the general public saw the military as the ultimate answer to their problems while describing the civilian government as having failed. Within a short time, the military was acting independently without any influence from the civilian government.

Other factors that contributed were mainly external, involving countries where Japan had copied the democratic system. The foreign relationship between Japan and other nations was worsening. For instance, the passing of strict immigration laws made Japan feel inferior. Japan was also involved in stiff competition with the US over the Pacific Islands, a competition that strained the relationship between the two countries. The population regarded the military system as the only hope, given the forms of humiliation that they had received from the US and other Western countries. The Taisho democracy finally failed and paved the way for the entry of military rule after multiple aggressions and denial of the civilian democratic government.

The US Occupation of Japan

The rehabilitation and occupation of Japan occurred following the defeat of Japan in the Second World War. It was led by the US, a member of the Allies. The US army spearheaded extensive reforms when it occupied Japan in 1945-1952. The decision of the Allied members to occupy Japan was made in a series of conferences that took place during the war. The Allied countries came up with plans of how to grow Japan’s economy and govern Taiwan and Korea to avoid a repeat of militarization in the days to come.

The Potsdam Declaration required Japan to submit without any condition no later than August 1945. However, Japan failed to honor this request, leading to the implementation of the Allied countries’ decision to take over Japan. The occupation can be subdivided into three phases.

Phase 1

It occurred between 1945 and 1947. It can be described as the phase of punishing and reforming Japan. Japan received was castigated for militarization and the takeover of neighboring territories. The country’s military was also stripped of its powers and banned from political involvement in novel government. SCAP forced a new constitution on Japan in early 1947. The constitution had significant changes. For instance, the emperor was reduced to a ceremonial figurehead, with no control over political systems. Power was vested in the parliamentary system, the rights of women and their privileges were highly promoted, and the right to freely wage war was renounced.

Phase 2

This phase largely involved measures to revive the economy of Japan after an economic crisis occurred between late 1947 and early 1948. This phase was also termed “reverse course”, as the economic crisis coupled with the widespread communism forced the Allied members to reconsider the occupation policy. Rehabilitation of the Japanese economy was the main concern in this phase. Therefore, changes such as tax reforms and measures of controlling the rate of inflation were undertaken. The phase lasted till 1950.

Phase 3

This phase mainly entailed finalizing the official peace alliances and treaties. By 1950, the SCAP reasoned that the future of the Japanese economy and political stability had been established. Consequently, a peace accord was drafted and signed to end the Allied occupation and any war in general.

The occupation of Japan was formulated by the members of the Allied alliance with the sole aim of ensuring Japan would never go back to war. Therefore, the first policy of the occupation was the demilitarization of the Japan. The Japanese military was later dismantled and disengaged from political and public life. This occupation can be deemed to have been successful because Japan never involved itself in war forty years after the occupation. Moreover, Japan is still a close ally of the US and most of the established reforms enacted during the occupation are still operational. Several political, economic, and social changes that defined the occupation process were made.

Political Changes

These were the most significant changes that took place during the occupation. Japan adopted a new constitution during this period. The constitution is sometimes referred to as the MacArthur constitution. The MacArthur constitution shifted the center of sovereignty from the emperor to the people. Other constitutional changes included the establishment of the emperor as a sign of Japanese culture and unity, but with no political powers. The Japanese parliament was made the highest political institution. Moreover, the participation of women in the society was enhanced through advocacy for equal rights. Political participation at the grassroots was also encouraged through the strengthening of local governments. The citizens started enjoying the right to free speech. On the other hand, the police were weakened.

Economic Changes

The economic changes were established to make Japan economically stable to support reforms. The redistribution of land was the hallmark of the economic changes, where the peasants also received land to till freely. The economic independence of farmers allowed them to freely participate in the established democratic system. Employees in the industries also got the opportunity to come together and form workers’ unions. Almost 50% of all workers had joined trade unions of choice in 1949.

Civic Value Changes

These changes were aimed at giving the Japanese people a better understanding of democracy. Print press became a major avenue for preaching democracy. Moreover, the school system got an overhaul, leading to the abolishment of training that was morally-oriented to one that was democratically-oriented. Laws that gave full authority to the head of the house were changed to give each of the family members a right to make individual decisions. Consequently, democracy was enhanced from the grassroots. Nevertheless, only reforms that were well grounded stood after the occupation period.

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