Japan History

By | January 9, 2023

Japan – national flag

Japan National Flag

Japan’s flag was officially adopted in 1854, and its use expanded in 1870. The flag is called Hinomaru, ‘Sun disk’, and is an example of a so-called mon, a stylized emblem of Japan’s ancient form of heraldry. The sun disk has been an imperial symbol since the 1300’s. The white color stands for purity and honesty, the red for clarity, sincerity and warmth.

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According to a2zgov, the flag is available in three differently proportioned versions. On August 9, 1999, the flag received official status as the country’s national flag for the first time.

Japan (Prehistory)

It is disputed when the Japanese islands were first inhabited. For between 2 million. and 10,000 years ago the archipelago was for long periods connected with the mainland. The oldest traces of people in the area date from approximately 43,000 BC From this time until approximately 13,000 BC the islands were inhabited by hunters and gatherers. The tools show great similarities with simultaneous finds from settlements in Siberia and Europe. From the late Paleolithic settlements of northern Japan comes the world’s oldest pottery, carbon 14-dated to approximately 10,000 BC In Mesolithic Jomon culture, a finely ornamented pottery was developed; characteristic are also many richly decorated female statues of burnt clay. Furthermore, thousands of kitchen manure are known, where quantities of shells of oysters and mussels as well as bones of fish, deer and wild boar testify to the food composition. Domesticated or wild useful plants occur between 5500 and 300 BC, albeit to a limited extent; some wheat, millet, beans and rice were grown. The rich coastal resources remained of paramount importance.

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Approximately 300 BC with the Yayoi period, agriculture was introduced in earnest with intensive rice cultivation reflecting immigration from Korea. Along with rice cultivation, bronze and iron technology were introduced. During this period, megalithic tombs of nozzle-like shapes were erected, which also show Korean influence.

approximately 250 AD began the proto-historical period in which a strong hierarchical society was built and Japan gathered under the first emperors. Thousands of monumental burial mounds were erected for the leading families, some with burial chamber-like megalithic chambers, other giant burial mounds with a ground plan in the form of a keyhole. The largest of these is Emperor Nintoku high near Osaka from 400 t., There is more than 1/2 km long and about 30 m high, surrounded by ramparts and moats.

Japan (History)

The founding of the empire and the introduction of Buddhism (up to 710)

The oldest Japanese historiography from the 8th century traces the founding of the empire back to the descendant of the sun goddess, the mythological emperor Jimmu, 660 BCE However, the political unification process in Japan does not begin until many hundreds of years later in the Inland Sea area.

Various clans, uji, had fought for power in the period of state formation, and in the 400’s-500’s a single line of rulers, the one who claimed to descend from the sun goddess, seems to have won. The Yamato community was heavily stratified. The main division was in uji, be, ie. artisan corporations, and slaves. Many uji and be were of Korean origin, and during this period there were close connections to the Korean kingdoms Paekche and Silla and possibly to a Japanese colony called Mimana (366-562). Via Korea also came the Chinese script as well as Buddhism and Confucianism, and it became the prelude to a cultural explosion that totally changed the primitive clan society.

The introduction of Buddhism in 552 gave rise to fierce strife between the leading clans, but under the leadership of the powerful Sogaklan, the position of Buddhism was secured in 587, and monks, nuns, writers, architects and artists arrived from Korea. The new state and the new Chinese-inspired political ideology began to take shape in earnest under Prince Shotoku Taishi, who ruled 593-622, culminating in the Taika reform.in 646. A centralized state was now to be organized according to the Chinese model: all land was declared the property of the emperor, clan leaders became governors for years, a central administration and a new tax system were introduced, and regular censuses and land surveys were to be conducted. Although the Taika reform did not succeed, Japan was transformed during the 600’s and 700’s into a centralized imperial state with significant tax revenues, known as the ritsuryo system.

Historical overview
Year Event
approx. 13000 BCE Immigration of mammoth and bison hunters from Siberia.
approx. 4000 BC Beginning agriculture.
approx. 300 BC Yayoiperioden; rice cultivation is intensified. Immigration from Korea and introduction of bronze and iron tools.
400-500’s evt The country gathers under the first emperors.
500’s Cultural influence from China; Buddhism, Confucianism and Chinese written language are introduced.
646 Taikareformen; centralization of power. All land becomes the property of the emperor.
710-794 Naraperioden; art and literature flourish.
794-1185 Heianperioden; the capital is moved to Kyoto; the power of the court nobility grows at the expense of the emperor.
1185-1333 Kamakura periods; the political power lies with the shogun. Feudalization.
1274 and 1281 Mongol invasion attempts.
1392-1568 Muromachi period; The Ashikaga family occupies the shogunate; wars between the feudal lords. In the 1540’s, the first Europeans arrive in Japan.
1603-1868 Tokugawa Shogunate (Edo Period); strong central power; the emperor without political influence.
approx. 1630 Japan isolates itself from the outside world.
1853 A US Navy arrives in Japan. In the following years, more ports will be opened.
1868 May restaurants. The shogunate is abolished and the emperor regains political authority. Social and political reforms.
1889 Japan gets a constitution.
1894-1895 The Sino-Japanese War.
1904-1905 The Russo-Japanese War.
1914-1918 Japan participates in World War I on the side of the Allies.
1921-1922 Washington Conference; naval treaty between England, the United States and Japan.
1932 The Japanese sound state Manchukuo is established in Manchuria.
1937 Japan invades China.
1940 Tripartite Pact between Japan, Germany and Italy.
1941 Japan bombs Pearl Harbor on December 7 and begins extensive expansion in South and Southeast Asia.
1945 The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. The Soviet Union declares war on 8 August. Japan capitulates on August 15th.
1945-1952 Japan under American occupation. Democratization and demilitarization.
approx. 1950 Strong economic growth is taking hold.
1951 Peace agreement between Japan and the United States.
1956 Japan joins the UN.
1964 Japan joins the OECD.
1975 The G7 group is created with Japan as a member.
1993 The LDP’s long-standing government monopoly ceases.
2003 Japan sends troops to Iraq.

Naraperioden (710-794)

Nara (Heijo) was now the capital and was built with the Chinese capital Chang’an (Xi’an) as a model; art and literature flourished and the first national historiography was created. At the same time, the influence of the Buddhist monasteries grew, and therefore, in 794, the capital was finally moved to Kyoto (Heian).

Pagan periods (794-1185)

This period became the classical heyday of an aristocratic Japanese court culture, detached from the all-dominating Chinese influence that had characterized the Nara period. However, the strong imperial power that had manifested itself in the construction phase did not allow itself to be sustained. Power slipped over to the court, the cow, first and foremost to the Fujiwara clan. The daughters of the family married the emperors, and its men became rulers, kampaku, called sessho, if the emperor was a minor. The centralized state power with the emperor’s ownership of all land did not allow itself to be maintained in the long run either. Allocated lands to nobles and monasteries, the sho, became hereditary, and newly reclaimed land was retained in private hands by the noble families.

At the same time, the kingdom expanded to the east and north through constant fighting with the indigenous tribes, the Emishi or the Ezo. It is debated whether these belonged to the Ainu people. They were rice growers and lived in villages, and as they were subjugated, their leaders became absorbed into the Japanese elite. The fighting meant that a new powerful warrior nobility developed based in the provinces, and the Buddhist monasteries emerged as independent units. A feudalization process had begun, and during the 900’s and 1000’s, the central government lost control of large parts of the country. Two new families, Taira and Minamoto, with a power base in the Kanto area around present-day Tokyo, now asserted themselves and put their influence through the court. The Taira family was dominant for most of the 12th century, but after a dramatic and complete defeat, power passed in 1185 to Minamoto Yoritomo.

Kamakura Period (1185-1333)

Minamoto Yoritomo adopted the title of shogun, i.e. the emperor’s supreme general, and assumed political power. The government, the bakufu (‘field government’), was annexed to Kamakura near modern-day Tokyo, while the emperor remained in Kyoto. His role was now reduced to a purely religious (Shinto) function. 1205-1333, the Hojo family took over political power as rulers, the shiks, for the shoguns. In 1274 and again in 1281, the Mongols under Khubilai Khan attempted to invade Japan, but were repulsed both times.

Muromachi Period (1392-1568)

The high rulers, however, failed to stop the feudal dissolution process. In 1333, Emperor Go-Daigo (1289-1339) tried to seize effective power, but in 1336 he had to flee Kyoto, and until 1392, two rival imperial courts existed. The shogunate passed to the Ashikaga family (1338-1565), who moved the Bacufu government to Muromachi, a neighborhood in Kyoto. The last phase of the Ashikaga shogunate, 1467-1568, is also called sengoku jidai (‘the time of the warring provinces’), because the country was now divided between warring feudal lords.

The years from the 12th century to the 16th century constituted Japan’s Middle Ages, chusei, and during that period the classical warrior ideals, bushi-do (‘the warrior’s path’) developed. The feudal lords, daimyo, surrounded themselves with a local force of warriors, the samurai, who were allotted land in return for war service and loyalty. In the turbulent times, however, social mobility was great and the bonds of loyalty were not always equally strong. Despite the political unrest, the country underwent economic and social development during these centuries. The cultivated area was expanded and new cultivation methods were introduced. Markets arose and a merchant class began to assert itself.

In the latter half of the 16th century, castle towns sprang up all over Japan: the local Daimyos built castles and dragged their samurai away from the land into the castle, where they were now paid with scholarships. With this, actual urban formations were established, which in turn provided a basis for the influx of craftsmen and merchants, and the surrounding farmers could therefore produce for a market. Relations with China had been reopened by the Ashikaga shoguns, who sent official trade delegations to China, while local pirates, wako, traded more illegally.

By the middle of the 16th century, European expansion reached Japan. In the 1540’s, Portuguese merchants began to emerge, and Nagasaki quickly became the most important port and trading city. Since then, Spanish, English and Dutch merchants followed. In 1549, the Jesuit missionary Francisco Xavier arrived at Kagoshima on Kyushu, and the mission was initially a great success. But Christianity from the beginning became part of the political game of the Daimyo, and both the missionaries and the foreign merchants could be a splitting factor for the strong central power that was now developing.

The National Assembly Period (1568-1600)

By the early 16th century, Japan was totally decentralized; neither the emperor nor the bakufu of Muromachi were able to exercise political authority, and the country was divided between more than 250 warring daimyos. Gradually, some of these daimyos developed into regional rulers fighting with each other for national dominion. Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu emerge as the great national heroes of this process, which began with Nobunaga’s conquest of Kyoto in 1568 and the deposition of the Ashikaga shogun and ended with the Battle of Sekigahara.in 1600, where Ieyasu stood as victor. As part of the pacification of the country, Hideyoshi carried out an extensive matriculation in the 1580’s to ensure a better tax base, and at the same time the peasants lost the right to bear arms and became staffed.

Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868)

In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu was appointed shogun by the emperor, tenno, who was still considered the originator of sovereignty and the bearer of legitimacy, even though he was otherwise without political influence. The shakun’s bakufu government was based in Edo (present-day Tokyo), which was central to Ieyasu’s domain. With the Tokugawa shogunate, a whole new state formation saw the light of day, the baku-han system. The shogun’s own domain included approximately 1/4 of the country: central Japan with Kyoto and Edo and the important ports and mines. Outside got his relatives, shimpan, and allied daimyos, fudai, their len, he, and ultimately came the daimyos, tozama, who had only joined Ieyasu after the Battle of Sekigahara. The income base of both shoguns and daimyos was their county, the peasants alone were taxed, and the tax was paid in rice. The loyalty of the Daimyos was ensured through the sankin kotai system: Every two years, the Daimyos were to spend in Edo, and when they returned home to their county, they had to leave their families hostage.

The structure of society was strictly hierarchically determined; one was thus born to and remained either a samurai, a farmer, a craftsman, or a merchant in that rank. Throughout the feudal period, the mighty Buddhist monasteries had been a major power factor, but now it became different. In the state of Tokugawa, Confucianism was the guiding principle, and the whole ingenious structure of society was based on the ties of Confucian loyalty; all classes of society were bound to their particular place.

Japan as a closed country (approximately 1630-1853)

The very rationale behind the new state structure was political stability. After Sekigahara, internal peace was secured, but it could be threatened from the outside at a time when Japan had more open relations with the outside world than perhaps ever before. Hideyoshi had immediately before his death attempted a large-scale conquest of Korea; that kind Ieyasu did not indulge in, but his successors went a step further and during the 1630’s made Japan a closed country, sakoku. The Christians were executed or forcibly converted, the missionaries deported, and the foreign merchants sent home. Only Dutch and Chinese were allowed to maintain trading posts in Nagasaki, completely cut off from the rest of the community. During the death penalty, the Japanese were forbidden to leave the country and even to build sea-going ships. For more than 200 years, this isolationist policy has been successfully maintained.

The period was marked by economic growth with increased productivity in agriculture, technological improvements, a flourishing trade and growing demand in the cities. The Sankin kotai system developed into a race among the daimyo to hold the most beautiful court in Edo, which in the 18th century was a city of millions. The late 17th and early 18th centuries were a period of cultural flourishing, genroku (‘original happiness’), centered on the trading and financial city of Osaka.

But with economic growth also came changes in the social structure, which in turn led to growing political instability. By the mid-19th century, the baku-han system was in serious crisis. The Daimyo were indebted, the samurai impoverished, and the new merchant class politically powerless. Nationwide famine and peasant uprisings in the 1780’s and 1830’s testified to increasing social unrest in the countryside. It is an open question whether the Tokugawa shogunate could have reformed itself out of the crisis, but in 1853 the U.S. Navy Commander Matthew Perry (1794-1858) summoned into Edo Bay and faced Japan with an ultimatum. The country had once again come under the spotlight of the Western powers, but now the situation was completely different than in the 17th century.

Japan’s opening in 1853

It was Japan’s opening that Matthew Perry demanded on behalf of the United States. In the Opium War of 1840-1842, European powers had forced China to open and establish so-called treaty ports, and the Japanese government was not unaware of these events. When Perry returned the following year, two ports were opened, and in the following years further negotiations also took place with Great Britain, France, Russia and the Netherlands, which in 1858 resulted in the unequal treaties : Edo, Kobe, Nagasaki, Niigata and Yokohama were opened; the Japanese customs were placed under international control and a low import duty was established; the foreign residents were given extraterritorial law. The shogunate’s policy of indulgence did not go unchallenged on the part of the leading daimyoers with the representatives of the two great outer counties.Satsuma and Choshu in the lead. A re-establishment of the imperial power came to be at the center of the efforts, and in November 1867 the shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913) was forced to resign his office, which an imperial decree subsequently declared abolished. A military confrontation did not change the outcome.

The Restoration of the Empire

The Meiji restaurant ushered in a new phase in the history of Japan. In January 1868, the rebuilding, restoration of the imperial power was proclaimed, and the young emperor Mutsuhito relocated from Kyoto to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo. As the name of his reign, he adopted Meiji (‘enlightened rule’). In the following years, it was a circle of courtiers and young samurai from the outer counties, often referred to as the oligarchs, who undertook to transform Japan into a modern nation-state.

Emperors from 1867
Year Emperor
1867-1912 Mutsuhito (Meiji)
1912-1926 Yoshihito (Taisho)
1926-1989 Hirohito (Showa)
1989- Akihito (Heisei)

The name of the imperial period is given in parentheses.

The first goal was the repeal of the unequal treaties and the securing of the great powers’ acceptance of Japan as an equal partner. The means for this were comprehensive political and economic reforms. The new men of the Meiji state were aware that in order to survive, the state needed a powerful ideology that could unite the country against the external challenge and ensure social stability. This does not necessarily mean that there was an overall plan; on the contrary, everything suggests that there was a “trial and error” process with many experiments and many studies in both Western and Chinese conditions. Openness and a high level of information were characteristic features of the early Meiji period; nevertheless, an overarching objective emerges: the need for comprehensive Western-style modernization, but at the same time an adherence to the traditional Japanese in an attempt to preserve its own identity. This identity was found in the empire.

Political reforms and industrialization

Over the next decade, a series of reforms changed the structure of Japanese society. Together with the counties, the hierarchically divided estate community was abolished, and ordinary schooling and conscription were introduced. In addition, telegraphs and railways were set up, modern land and banking laws were introduced, a judicial reform was implemented and a number of measures to promote industry were launched. It was not until 1889, after much deliberation and in-depth study of Western constitutional law, that Japan got a constitution modeled on Prussian. The right to vote included 5 percent of the male population. Thus, on paper, Japan was a constitutional monarchy with admittedly severely limited civil rights. The following year, the “Imperial Decree on Education” was issued,

Prime Ministers since 1918
Year Prime minister
1918-1921 Hara Kei (Takashi)
1921-1922 Takahashi Korekiyo
1922-1923 Kato Tomosaburo
1923-1924 Yamamoto Gombei
1924 Kiyoura Keigo
1924-1926 Kato Komei (Takaaki)
1926-1927 Wakatsuki Reijiro
1927-1929 Tanaka Giichi
1929-1931 Hamaguchi Yuko (Osachi)
1931 Wakatsuki Reijiro
1931-1932 Inukai Ki (Tsuyoshi)
1932-1934 Saito Makoto
1934-1936 Okada Keisuke
1936-1937 Hirota Koki
1937 Hayashi Senjuro
1937-1939 Konoe Fumimaro
1939 Hiranuma Kiichiro
1939-1940 Abe Nobuyuki
1940 Yonai Mitsumasa
1940-1941 Konoe Fumimaro
1941-1944 Tojo Hideki
1944-1945 Koiso Kuniaki
1945 Suzuki Kantaro
1945 Higashikuni Naruhiko
1945-1946 Shidehara Kijuro
1946-1947 Yoshida Shigeru
1947-1948 Katayama Tetsu
1948 Ashida Hitoshi
1948-1954 Yoshida Shigeru
1954-1956 Hatoyama Ichiro
1956-1957 Ishibashi Tanzan
1957-1960 Kishi Nobusuke
1960-1964 Ikeda Hayato
1964-1972 Sato Eisaku
1972-1974 Tanaka Kakuei
1974-1976 Miki Takeo
1976-1978 Fukuda Takeo
1978-1980 Ohira Masayoshi
1980-1982 Suzuki Zenko
1982-1987 Nakasone Yasuhiro
1987-1989 Takeshita Noboru
1989 Uno Sosuke
1989-1991 Kaifu Toshiki
1991-1993 Miyazawa Kiichi
1993-1994 Hosokawa Morihiro
1994 Hata Tsutomo
1994-1996 Murayama Tomiichi
1996-1998 Hashimoto Ryutaro
1998-2000 Keizo Obuchi
2000-2001 Yoshiro Mori
2001-2006 Junichiro Koizumi
2006-2007 Shinzo Abe
2007-2008 Fukuda Yasou
2008-2009 Aso Taro
2009-2010 Hatoyama Yukio
2010-2011 Kan Naoto
2011- Noda Yoshihiko

The political reforms went hand in hand with changes in the country’s economic structure. As the only country in the Third World, Japan managed to carry out an industrialization process before World War II. The early industrial development was based on the textile industry, and it was not until the interwar period that heavy industry gained importance. The silk and cotton industry was at the heart of the development, and the government spearheaded the establishment of model factories and quality control. Foreign experts also played a role in the early stages, but Japan sought to carry out industrialization without large foreign loans. This meant heavy tax burdens for the peasants, and not least the deflationary policy in the 1880’s gave rise to a sharp growth in the number of subsistence farmers. The government supported the large, strategically important industries, and characteristic was, on the whole, the co-operation between government and the private business community. In the last half of the Meiji period, major economic combinations arose,zaibatsu; the four largest were Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Yasuda. These were family-owned holding companies, which included banking and insurance, various forms of industry, shipping companies, trading houses, etc. The companies competed with each other and at the same time, by virtue of their size, exercised significant political influence.

Wars against China and Russia (1894-1905)

By 1890, political reforms were complete, and those in power began to look outward. Russia’s decision to build the Trans-Siberian Railway rekindled Japan’s traditional security policy interest in Korea. Riots in Korea led to the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, and the Chinese suffered a crushing defeat. With the Shimonoseki Treaty of 1895, Japan received Formosa (Taiwan), the Pescadors (Penghu Lietao) and the Liaodong Peninsula, as well as extensive war damages. Korea became independent from China. Immediately after, however, Germany, Russia and France intervened (the Triple Intervention) and demanded that Japan cede the Liaodong Peninsula. This humiliating diplomatic defeat led to a massive Japanese rearmament and a search for allies. The result was the British-Japanese Confederation in 1902.

Japanese and Russian interests increasingly clashed in Korea and Manchuria, and in 1904 the Japanese launched war with a surprise attack on the Russian navy. The war ended at the Portsmouth Conference in 1905, when the United States acted as a mediator. Japan was awarded the southern part of Sakhalin, recognition of its all-dominating interest in Korea, the Liaodong Peninsula for rent and railway rights in southern Manchuria. In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan.

World War 1

The Japanese victory over Russia resonated with all the oppressed peoples of Asia and brought the Russian Empire to the brink of political collapse. But the war had been a huge drain on the Japanese economy, and with large expenses for continued armaments and for the newly gained empire and the resulting indebtedness, the country had landed on the brink of bankruptcy at the outbreak of World War I. During the war, Japan joined the Western powers and conquered the German possessions in Shandong and in the Pacific: the Carolines, the Marianas, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Yap. At the same time, the Japanese took over the European markets in Asia, and exports tripled, so that Japan emerged from the war with a significantly improved economy. But in the wake of the war followed social unrest and growing political instability. The problems of modern industrial society had really reached Japan.

1920’s political crisis

The political structure of the Meiji state was characterized by a number of competing elites: the business community (zaikai), the bureaucracy and the military, as well as the oligarchs, who, as they withdrew from active politics, formed the genro (a council of elders), which had the decisive say in government formation.. After 1889, parliament and the newly formed (conservative) parties, which were dependent on bureaucracy and business, but without a popular basis, had to find their place in this unstable balance and perhaps in time completely take over the role after the oligarchs.

The Meiji emperor died in 1912 and was succeeded by his son Yoshihito, whose reign was named Taisho (‘great justice’). During the 1920’s, it became common for party leaders to form a government, the so-called Taishode democracy, but the parties remained without popular support, and the governments failed to solve the increasingly pressing economic and social problems.

The great earthquake in the Tokyo area in 1923 gave rise to great unrest and massacres of Koreans living in Japan, and in general the workers became more militant, strife between landowners and tenant farmers grew, and radical movements saw the light of day. The Communist Party was formed in 1922, but immediately banned. In 1925, the government was forced to introduce universal suffrage for men, but this was followed by a “law of preservation of peace” that prohibited groups that agitated for changes in the political system or in private property. At the election of 1928, several “proletarian” parties lined up; they obtained only 2 percent of the vote, but several of the parties were banned immediately after the election, and in the following year there were extensive arrests of leftists.

The new order in Asia and the world crisis

In 1915, in the midst of World War I, the Japanese government issued the twenty-one demands to China, which would in effect mean that China came under total Japanese influence. With this, Japan had not only confessed suit and shown its ambitions in China, but also put itself on a confrontational course with Britain and above all with the United States. Japan was forced to modify its demands, and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 showed that the Western powers now believed that a new world order had replaced the age of imperialism. Japan retained German possessions but felt degraded to a second-class nation when the Japanese proposal for a racial equality clause in the League of Nations was rejected. The new order in Asia was established at the Washington Conference 1921-1922. A Nine Powers Treaty guaranteed China’s territorial integrity, and a naval treaty limited the race between Britain, USA and Japan by locking in the size ratio between the three countries’ naval forces to 5: 5: 3. In the following years, Japan elected under the leadership of Foreign MinisterShidehara Kijuro an internationalist course of cooperation, and the economic invasion of China took place by peaceful means. But in Japan, opinions on the appropriateness of this policy were divided. In the wake of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Japanese troops together with US forces invaded Siberia and the Japanese units were not withdrawn until 1922 after pressure from the United States.

Emperor Hirohito ascended the throne in 1926, and he seems to have been willing to give the imperial office a more active role than had been the case under his mentally ill father. His reign was named Showa(‘enlightened peace’). In 1929, the world economic crisis erupted. The three countries that were perhaps hardest hit were Germany, Japan and the United States. The United States was Japan’s most important trading partner, and the collapse of the American market became a disaster for the Japanese economy. In 1929-1931, exports fell by 50 percent, and real income by 33 percent. The economic crisis followed in the heels of the political one. The government sought to rally the population around nationalist slogans and loyalty to the emperor, but it gave wind in the sails to ultranationalist groups that now seemed to threaten social stability.

Manchuria becomes the Japanese sound state

The renegotiation of the naval treaty at the London Conference in 1930 gave rise to violent protests in Japan, and Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi (1870-1931) was mortally wounded by a young ultranationalist fanatic. In September 1931, the Kwantung Army, stationed in southern Manchuria to protect Japanese concessions, took matters into its own hands and began the conquest of all of Manchuria; it resulted in the creation of the Japanese sound state of Manchukuo in 1932. In the next decade, Manchukuo underwent rapid economic development under the control of the Japanese army and became the most industrialized and militarized area on the Asian mainland.

The conquest of Manchuria became a turning point. The civilian government stood powerless, Prime Minister Wakatsuki Reijiro (1866-1949) resigned, and his successor, Inukai Tsuyoshi (1855-1932), was assassinated in May 1932; after that, the influence of the political parties was over. The international community was just as powerless. When the Lytton Commission set up by the League of Nations presented its report, Japan chose in 1933 to resign from the League of Nations. The US government’s refusal to recognize Manchukuo remained an empty gesture. Japan had now definitively abandoned international cooperation policy and proclaimed a “Monroe Doctrine of Asia”, i.e. rejection of the influence of the Western powers in Asia, and also withdrew from the Washington Treaty system. Instead, an armaments policy was launched, and Japan then moved rapidly out of the depression. 1931-1936, Japan doubled its exports, thanks to a write-down of the Japanese yen and a tight control, regulation and rationalization of the industry.

Hand in hand with the economic mobilization went a national, ideological mobilization of the population. Among the younger officers in the army spread the idea of ​​a Showarestauration, where the military was to take over the government and free the emperor from his bad advisers, so that he was able to exercise his real authority and create a union between the leaders and the people. Noble titles were to be abolished, the power of big industry reduced, workers and peasants helped, so that a new harmony could emerge in Japanese society. At the same time, Japan was to take the lead in liberating Asia from Western influence. The unrest culminated with the coup attempt on February 26, 1936, which was slowed down, by the active intervention of Emperor Hirohito.

Invasion of China 1937 and the national defense state

Since the conquest of Manchuria, Japan had constantly sought to expand its influence in northern China. On July 7, 1937, a skirmish between Japanese and Chinese forces at the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing developed into an actual Japanese conquest of China itself. However, the Chinese government under Chiang Kai-shek proved to be unexpectedly determined, and although the Japanese had subjugated the main cities and the railway network during 1938, the Guomindang government prayedstuck in Chongqing, and Japan was then embroiled in a bloody Asian mainland war that could not be won and became an ever-increasing drain on Japanese material and human resources. At the same time, the attack on China meant that Japan was now definitely on a collision course with the United States, whose Asian open door policy precisely had China’s territorial integrity as a cornerstone.

The war in China had far-reaching domestic political consequences in the form of total military mobilization and centralized economic planning, a showcase restoration from above. A law on national mobilization put parliament out of influence. The reforms began in 1937 and culminated in 1940, when Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro proclaimed a “new national structure”, the Shintaisei, to make Japan an advanced national defense state. The political parties were disbanded and replaced by a “support organization of the imperial government”, taisei yokusankai, and the few remaining unions were disbanded and all workers organized into a patriotic organization. To ensure social control, the population was organized into “neighborhood committees”,, which was united in a nationwide organization. Great resources were invested in the spiritual mobilization of the people around the ideas of the divine empire, the unique character of the Japanese state, kokutai, and Japan’s special mission in Asia. At the same time, Konoe developed the idea of ​​”the Greater Asian collective welfare sphere”, which encompassed the whole of Southeast Asia with Japan as its center.

World War II in Asia

It was also in 1940 that the Asian and European wars merged. In the wake of the French capitulation, Japan entered northern Indochina in 1940, and in September, Japan, Germany and Italy, at the initiative of Japan, entered into the so-called Three Powers.. In April 1941, Japan also concluded a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. In response to Japanese policy, the US government terminated the trade treaty with Japan and imposed an embargo on exports of jet fuel as well as scrap iron and steel, which was crucial to Japan’s war effort. The US embargo was further extended in November 1940 to include iron and steel, and in July 1941, trade between the two countries was brought to an almost total halt when the US government froze the Japanese receivables in the US as a result of Japan’s invasion of the south. Indochina. The Japanese government therefore faced either abandoning its expansive China policy or seeking its needs for oil, strategic minerals and rubber covered by the invasion of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and the Malacca Peninsula. The Japanese government chose the latter, knowing that it would mean war with the United States. Hoping to paralyze the United States, it was decided to strike first. It happened with the attack on the naval basePearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. With this, Japan was definitely involved in World War II.

The Japanese invasion of China was marked by great brutality, as it was expressed at the Nanjing Massacre, but wherever Japanese troops invaded the former colonies, they were received as liberators. Japan, however, quickly proved to be a ruthless occupying power. For the remaining Westerners, the occupation became a nightmare; both civilians and prisoners of war were subjected to degrading and often cruel treatment, which at the same time was part of a deliberate policy that was to show that the “white race” was no longer superior.

In the first months of 1942, it seemed that “the Greater Asian collective welfare sphere” was going to become a reality. Singapore fell in February, the whole of the Dutch East Indies in March, most of the Philippines in April, and in May the Japanese entered northern Burma, cutting off supplies to China. But then the fortunes of war returned, and after the great battles of the Coral Sea and at Midway in mid-1942, Japan was on the defensive.

The costs of the war now began to make their mark on the everyday life of ordinary Japanese. The US Navy dominated the Pacific and cut off Japan’s imports of raw materials. Agricultural production was drastically reduced due to the lack of fertilizers and the handing over of labor to the war industry, and in late 1944 the US Air Force began a systematic bombing of the Japanese cities. In a single attack with firebombs on Tokyo in March 1945 alone, approximately 100,000 people, and in total approximately 668,000 Japanese civilians killed in these bombings. With the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, the Allies demanded the unconditional capitulation of Japan. But it required two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasakiresp. on 6 and 9 August and the Soviet declaration of war on 8 August with subsequent invasion of Manchuria, before Japan surrendered on 15 August and then only with the express understanding that the empire could be allowed to survive. Thereafter, Japan was under American occupation from 1945 to 1952, formally on behalf of the Allies.

American Occupation and Cold War (1945-1952)

The American occupation of Japan became another turning point in the history of modern Japan. The rationale behind the initial phase of the occupation was demilitarization and democratization, and during the first few years a number of fundamental structural reforms were implemented: the recognition of all political parties, the safeguarding of civil liberties and the implementation of a modern parliamentary and democratic constitution with universal suffrage. men and women. In addition, a land reform was launched that solved the problem of the tenant farmers and created a politically stable class of self-employed farmers. Through labor laws, trade unions were legalized, and the right to organize, strike, and collective bargaining were secured, and in order to get the zaibatsudissolved an antitrust law was passed. In addition, there were a number of reforms aimed at increasing local self-government and decentralization of Japanese society, including the police and education sector. The army and navy were disbanded, and in Article 9 of the Constitution, Japan expressly renounced military power for all time to come. At the same time, a purge of leading politicians and military and business people was carried out. On January 1, 1946, Emperor Hirohito issued a decree renouncing his divinity.

The fundamental problem for the Japanese state since the Meiji restoration had been the diffuse distribution of power between competing elites. With the reforms of the occupation, political stability was ensured. The military was definitely put out of play, and the position of the political parties consolidated within a democratic political system. But the political parties still had to share power with the bureaucracy and the business community not in competition, but in partnership. It had several reasons.

The American occupying power had not only accepted the maintenance of the empire, but had also, for resource reasons, chosen to implement its reform policy through the Japanese government and the Japanese bureaucracy. The central role that the bureaucracy had played since the 1930’s in governing and regulating Japanese society was therefore not changed. In addition, the Cold War turned the priorities of US Japan policy upside down. It was a development that began as early as 1947 and gained momentum with the so-called reverse coursein 1949. The desire to reform Japanese society had to give way to efforts to make Japan “the bastion of the free world in Asia.” This required, among other things, a resurgence of Japanese industry so that it could function as an economic locomotive for the whole of Southeast Asia. The profound structural changes in Japanese business that had been the original intention were therefore not implemented. The Zaibatsure reform was probably implemented, but the major economic combinations lived on under other forms, partly with different names, and new ones emerged. The political influence of big business was once again a reality. The militant trade union movement, which developed in the first years of the occupation, was tamed by the purge of communist and other radical trade union leaders, and the reconstruction of Japanese industry took place under slogans of harmony between labor and capital. Loyalty to the emperor and state was replaced by loyalty to company and economic growth.

On September 8, 1951, Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru was finally able to sign a peace treaty with the United States and 47 other countries, which did not include India, the Soviet Union, and the new communist government in China. The following year, the occupation was formally brought to an end, and Japan simultaneously signed a security treaty with the United States that continued to guarantee U.S. bases in Japan and obliged the United States to protect Japan in the event of war. By that time, the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 had already caused an economic boom, which was the beginning of the “economic miracle” that became characteristic of Japanese development for the next many years, but only in 1955 had the Japanese economy reached pre-war levels.

Japan’s economic miracle and political crisis

In the period 1950-1970, the average annual growth rate was over 10 percent, 1965-1970 even 12.1 percent. The oil crises of the 1970’s also hit Japan, but the Japanese economy recovered faster than the European one, and economic growth continued, albeit at a slower pace, until the late 1980’s. The growth was accompanied by a remarkable and continuous transformation of Japanese industrial production into increasingly advanced products, ensuring the continued competitiveness of exports. The conscious commitment to economic growth was supported by constant technological innovation, high savings among the ordinary Japanese, a well-educated and highly motivated workforce and a well-developed cooperation between government, bureaucracy and business on the most favorable conditions for production. The post-war free trade climate and the general development of world trade were also a significant factor. But most important of all was perhaps the political stability provided by the reforms of the occupation era. From 1955 to 1993, Japan was constantly led by governments formed by the Liberal Democratic Party,LDP, which became the guarantor of the partnership between government, bureaucracy and business.

However, the unilateral commitment to economic growth was not without costs. In the 1960’s, the growing environmental pollution gave rise to violent popular protests, which the government was forced to take note of in the form of extensive environmental legislation, and political life has repeatedly been ravaged by extensive corruption scandals.

It was also in the 1960’s that Japan really changed face and urbanization took hold. The rapidly expanding economy combined with low population growth led to labor shortages and consequent migration from country to city. The mass emigration from the country caused major housing problems and also gave rise to a completely new constellation in Japanese politics, namely the Buddhist-inspired party Komeito, which achieved approximately 10 percent of the vote and just picked up its voters among the newcomers. However, sustained and strong economic growth throughout the decade ensured continued political stability. In 1968, Japan’s national product surpassed West Germany, making Japan the world’s third largest economy.

Since the end of the occupation, Japan has covered itself under the American nuclear umbrella, put itself in the wake of American politics and been the United States’ most loyal ally in Asia. This meant, among other things, that after the communist takeover of China in 1949, Japan severed diplomatic relations and instead recognized the nationalist government in Taiwan in 1952. After the American rapprochement with China in 1971, which happened without Japan in advance was informed, Japan took steps already in 1972 to resume relations with China, and a peace treaty was signed in 1978. The historically strained relationship with Korea was normalized for South Korea with the conclusion of a treaty in 1965. The subsequent Japanese loans and investments as well the increased trade had a significant share in South Korea’s economic breakthrough. At the psychological level, however, there are still a number of unresolved issues between the two countries. Relations with the Soviet Union improved in 1956, but without an actual peace treaty. The Soviet occupation of the archipelagoThe Kuriles after World War II remain a stumbling block in the Russo-Japanese relationship, with Japan wanting the two southernmost islands and two more small islands returned to Japanese sovereignty.

In foreign policy, Japan has kept a low profile. Strong pacifist forces in the population, rooted in the bitter experiences of the war and the country’s status as the sole atomic bomb victim, have prevented an amendment to Article 9 of the Constitution, even though the country has had a technologically advanced national self-defense force, the SDF. Such a relatively undramatic decision as participation in the UN peacekeeping forces could even in 1992 give rise to extensive discussions. However, the recognition of Japan’s strong economic position during the 1980’s gave rise to a growing self-awareness and in nationalist-oriented circles also to the desire for a more independent role in world politics.

Emperor Hirohito died in 1989 and was succeeded by his son Akihito, who adopted the name Heisei (‘lasting peace’) for his reign. The first year of the period seemed to signal new times in the form of the collapse of the 1980’s speculative “bubble economy” accompanied by economic stagnation and political upheaval. The LDP’s monopoly on government power was broken in 1993 and replaced by changing coalitions. At the same time, the population’s dissatisfaction with political corruption seemed greater than ever.

Japan in the 2000’s

Japan’s banking and finance sector suffered a series of scandals in the second half of the 1990’s, which, together with a severe economic crisis, gave further distrust to the political system. In 2000, Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo died and was succeeded by LDP Secretary-General Mori Yoshiro. He unsuccessfully sought to curb the economic problems and in a short time became so unpopular that he was effectively paralyzed. Mori resigned in 2001 and was replaced by Koizumi Junichiro. Koizumi soon became immensely popular with his at once reform-oriented and nationalist program, but he too has had trouble resolving the country’s economic crisis. Koizumi sought to strengthen Japan’s foreign policy position through close cooperation with the United States; In 2003, Japan sent a troop contingent to Iraq; it was the first time since 1945 that Japanese soldiers had been deployed in a war zone. Another sign of Japan’s renewed military commitment was that in 2006 the country established a Ministry of Defense, the first since World War II.

Koizumi was replaced by Shinzo Abe in 2006; however, he had to resign the following year. Japan was hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008, and in 2009 the center-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won the parliamentary elections, breaking half a century of almost unbroken LDP rule. The new prime minister was DPJ’s Hatoyama Yukio, who formed a coalition government with other former opposition parties. The parties wanted to break with the US-oriented policy and instead turn more towards the rest of Asia. However, it also proved difficult for these parties to get the economy back on track, and as early as 2010, Hatoyama resigned, after which former Finance Minister Naoto Kan became head of government.

On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a devastating earthquake, with subsequent tsunamis in particular causing colossal destruction in many port cities. More than 15,000 died and several thousand were reported missing. The Fukushima nuclear power plant was hit by the tsunami, which caused the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Large areas were cordoned off due to radiation danger. Criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis led to the resignation of Naoto Kan a few months later.

In the December 2012 election, the LDP regained power and Shinzo Abe became Prime Minister again.