Fumbling My Way through History
- Oct 18, 2009
Chapter 1: A brief history of Japan.
The first known civilisation in Japan is known as the Jōmon period. It lasted from 14,000 BC to around 300 BC. The people were semi-nomadic hunterer-gatherers, who left us with priceless clay artifacts.
When metals were introduced from the Asian continent, the people learned to forge bronze and iron tools.
The first known written record comes from around 57 AD:
"Across the ocean from Lelang are the people of Wa. Formed from more than one hundred tribes, they come and pay tribute frequently."
By the 3rd century, the country was apparently unified by a shaman queen, Himiko of Yamataikoku.
The Kofun period saw Japan splintered into powerful military states, concentrated around clans (or zoku). The establishment of the dominant Yamato polity was centered in the provinces of Yamato and Kawachi from the 3rd century AD till the 7th century, establishing the origin of the Japanese imperial lineage. And so the polity, by suppressing the clans and acquiring agricultural lands, maintained a strong influence in the western part of Japan.
During the Asuka period (538 to 710), the proto-Japanese Yamato polity gradually became a clearly centralized state, defining and applying a code of governing laws, such as the Taika Reforms and Taihō Code. After the latter part of the fourth century, the three kingdoms of Korea repeated cooperation and conflict each other. During the reign of Emperor Kotoku, envoys often visited from Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla.
Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 538 by the Baekje people, to whom Japan continued to provide military support. Buddhism was promoted largely by the ruling class for their own purposes. Accordingly, in the early stages, Buddhism was not a popular religion with the common people of Japan. The practice of Buddhism, however, led to the discontinuance of burying the deceased in large kofuns.
Prince Shōtoku came to power in Japan as Regent to Empress Suiko in 594. Empress Suiko had come to the throne as the niece of the previous Emperor, Sujun (588–593), who had been assassinated in 593. Empress Suiko had also been married to a prior Emperor, Bidatsu (572–585), but she was the first female ruler of Japan since the legendary matriarchal times.
As Regent to Empress Suiko, Prince Shotoku devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism and Chinese culture in Japan He also brought relative peace to Japan through the proclamation of the Seventeen-article constitution, a Confucian style document that focused on the kinds of morals and virtues that were to be expected of government officials and the emperor's subjects. Buddhism would become a permanent part of Japanese culture.
A letter brought to the Emperor of China by an emissary from Japan in 607 stated that the "Emperor of the Land where the Sun rises (Japan) sends a letter to the Emperor of the land where Sun sets (China)", thereby implying an equal footing with China.
By the 8th century, Japan had evolved into an empire on the order of Imperial China. A new theory of state and a new structure of government supported the Japanese sovereign in the style and with the powers of an absolute monarch. A powerful new aristocracy emerged that controlled the state, collected taxes and build temples, roads and irragation networks.
The next several centuries saw the land torn apart in rebellions and civil wars. Two of these would prove to be of prime importance to the devellopment of Japan.
The Hōgen rebellion (1156-1158)led to the first stages of feudalism in Japan, while the Heji rebellion of 1160 was followed by a war, from which emerged a society of samurai clans led by a Shōgun.
In 1274 and 1281, powerful Mongol forces with superior ships and weapons tried to invade Japan, but a typhoon called a kamikaze (Divine Wind) wrecked both fleets and saved Japan, at the cost of favoring military expenses over the economy. It wasn’t until the mid-14th century that Japan saw renewed trade with China, now ruled by the Ming dynasty.
In 1574, during a period of renewed internal strife, a Portugese ship was forced by a storm to land in Japan. This would introduce firearms and missionaries to Japan.
By 1587, it was decided that Christianity was a dividing influence on Japanese society. All missionaries were expelled, schools and churces burned down and Daimyo were forced to renew their Buddhist faith. Christianity would not be re-introduced in Japan until the 19th century.
The Tokugawa period (1603 – 1868) saw power centralised, the economy stabilised and the nobility subordinated. It brought peace and prosperity to a nation of 31 million.
The policy of isolation lasted for more than 200 years. On July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew perry of the US Navy arrived in Yokohama with 4 modern warships and displayed the threatening power of his ships' cannons during a Christian burial which the Japanese observed. He requested that Japan open to trade with the West. These ships became known as the kurofune, the Black Ships.
The following year, Perry returned with seven ships and demanded that the shōgun sign the Treaty of Peace and Amity, establishing formal diplomatic relations between Japan and the USA. Within five years, Japan had signed similar treaties with other Western countries. These treaties were unequal, having been forced on Japan through gunboat diplomacy, and were interpreted by the Japanese as a sign of Western imperialism taking hold of the rest of the Asian continent. Among other measures, they gave the Western nations unequivocal control of tariffs on imports and the right of extraterritoriality to all of their visiting nationals. They would remain a sticking point in Japan's relations with the West up to around the start of the 20th century.
By march 1863, Emperor Kōmei had enough. His edict to expel the barbarians inspired attacks against the Shogunate as well as westerners. A British trader was killed and the United Kingdom demanded reparations. When these did not come, they used a strong Royal Navy Squadron to bombard a Japanese port and attack Japanese shipping.
By may 1869, the 200-year-old Shogunate was abolished in favor of Imperial rule. Several unsuccessful attempts at renegotiating the economic treaties with the West were made and, in the process, close observation of western culture and society led to an increasing westernisation of Japan. The increasing military and economic power saw the island nation emerge into the 20th century as a powerhouse in its own right.
In 1889, a constitution was signed, which formalised the Empire’s political structure and the Emperor’s direct rule.
Japan’s economic rise was subsidized by Zaibatsu (economic conglomerates) such as Mitsubishi. They borrowed money from the west, imported raw goods and exported finished goods.
In 1894, Korea was puppeted following a peasant rebellion. China objected and war ensued. It was over quickly, with China signing away the Liaodong peninsula and the island of Formosa. Japan was subsequently forced out by Russian, German and French forces.
The Russo-Japanese war was a conflict for control of Korea and parts of Manchuria between the Russian Empire and Empire of Japan that took place from 1904 to 1905. The war is significant as the first modern war in which an Asian country defeated a European power. The victory greatly raised Japan's stature in the world of global politics. The war is marked by the Japanese opposition of Russian interests in Korea, Manchuria, and China, notably, the Liaodong Peninsula, controlled by the city of Port Arthur.
As of 1910, Korea was part of the Empire.
Japan entered World War I in 1914, seizing the opportunity of Germany's distraction with the European War to expand its sphere of influence in China and the Pacific. Japan declared war on Germany on August 23, 1914. Japanese and allied British Empire forces soon moved to occupy Tsingtao fortress, the German East Asia Squadron base, German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province as well as the Marianas, Caroline, and Marshall Islands in the Pacific, which were part of German New Guinea. The Siege of Tsingtao and a swift invasion in the German territory of Jiaozhou (Kiautschou), proved successful and the colonial troops surrendered on November 7, 1914. Japan then gained the German holdings.
With its Western allies, notably the United Kingdom, heavily involved in the war in Europe, Japan dispatched a naval fleet to the Mediterranean Sea to aid allied shipping against German U-boot attacks. Japan sought further to consolidate its position in China by presenting the Twenty-One Demands to China in January 1915. In the face of slow negotiations with the Chinese government, widespread anti-Japanese sentiment in China, and international condemnation, Japan withdrew the final group of demands, and treaties were signed in May 1915.
In 1919, Japan proposed a clause on racial equality to be included in the League of Nations covenant at the Paris Peace Conference. The clause was rejected by several Western countries and was not forwarded for larger discussion at the full meeting of the conference. The rejection was an important factor in the coming years in turning Japan away from cooperation with West and towards nationalistic policies. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was ended in 1923.
Important institutional links existed between the party in government (Kōdōha) and military and political organizations, such as the Imperial Young Federation and the "Political Department" of the Kempeitai. Amongst the himitsu kessha (secret societies), the Kokuryu-kai (Black Dragon Society) and Kokka Shakai Shugi Gakumei (National Socialist League) also had close ties to the government. The Tonarigumi (residents committee) groups, the Nation Service Society (national government trade union), and Imperial Farmers Association were all allied as well. Other organizations and groups related with the government in wartime were: Double Leaf Society, Kokuhonsha, Taisei Yokusankai, Imperial Youth Corps, Keishicho (to 1945), Shintoist Rites Research Council, Treaty Faction, Fleet Faction, and Volunteer Fighting Corps.
Sadao Araki was an important figurehead and founder of the Army party and the most important right-wing thinker in his time. His first ideological works date from his leadership of the Kōdōha (Imperial Benevolent Rule or Action Group), opposed by the Tōseiha (Control Group) led by General Kazushige Ugaki. He linked the ancient (bushido code) and contemporary local and European fascist ideals (see Japanese fascism), to form the ideological basis of the movement (Shōwa nationalism).
From September 1932, the Japanese were becoming more locked into the course that would lead them into the Second World War, with Araki leading the way. Totalitarianism, militarism, and expansionism were to become the rule, with fewer voices able to speak against it. In a September 23 news conference, Araki first mentioned the philosophy of "Kōdōha" (The Imperial Way Faction). The concept of Kodo linked the Emperor, the people, land, and morality as indivisible. This led to the creation of a "new" Shinto and increased Emperor worship.
At same time, the Zaibatsu trading groups looked towards great future expansion. Their main concern was a shortage of raw materials. Prime Minister Konoye combined social concerns with the needs of capital, and planned for expansion.
The main goals of Japan's expansionism were acquisition and protection of spheres of influence, maintenance of territorial integrity, acquisition of raw materials, and access to Asian markets. Western nations, notably Great Britain, France, and the United States, had for long exhibited great interest in the commercial opportunities in China and other parts of Asia. These opportunities had attracted Western investment because of the availability of raw materials for both domestic production and re-export to Asia. Japan desired these opportunities.
The Great Depression, just as in many other countries, hindered Japan's economic growth. The Japanese Empire's main problem lay in that rapid industrial expansion had turned the country into a major manufacturing and industrial power that required raw materials; however, these had to be obtained from overseas, as there was a critical lack of natural resources on the home islands.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Japan needed to import raw materials such as iron, rubber, and oil to maintain strong economic growth. Most of these resources came from the United States. The Japanese felt that acquiring resource-rich territories would establish economic self-sufficiency and independence, and they also hoped to jump-start the nation's economy in the midst of the depression. As a result Japan set its sights on East Asia, specifically Manchuria with its many resources; Japan needed these resources to continue its economic development and maintain national integrity.
With little resistance, Japan invaded and conquered Manchuria in 1931. Japan claimed that this invasion was a liberation from the Chinese, although the majority of the population were Han Chinese. Japan then established a puppet regime called Manchukuo, and installed the former Emperor of China, Puyi, as the official head of state. Jehol, a Chinese territory bordering Manchuria, was also taken in 1933. This puppet regime had to carry on a protracted pacification campaign against the Anti-Japanese Volunteer Armies in Manchuria.