Painting - Kuroda Seiki (1895)

Early Modern and Modern Japan: 1600 - Present

 

Edo Period: 1603 – 1868

Tokugawa Ieyasu Gains Power
The Edo period begins with the official establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603 and ends with the Meiji Restoration. Tokugawa Ieyasu's victory over rival daimyo at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 gave him control over most of Japan. He consolidated his power in Edo, present day Tokyo, surrounding himself with trusted vassals and launching military campaigns to destroy those who opposed him. The last significant threat to the newly established Tokugawa Shogunate, the Toyotomi clan, was destroyed by Tokugawa forces in Osaka in 1615. The Tokugawa Shogunate established a strong relationship with the Emperor and the Imperial Court by helping to rebuild its castles and allocating additional lands. Tokugawa Ieyasu's granddaughter was accepted as a consort to the Imperial Court in 1619, which further strengthened the relationship.

Closed Country Policies
Tokugawa Ieyasu was suspicious of foreigners and instituted strong measures to minimize their presence and influence in Japan. Followers of Christianity were forced to renounce their faith and missionaries were either executed or expelled from Japan. The Shimabara Rebellion in 1637-1638 was an uprising of mostly Christian peasants who were angry at increased taxes and persecution of Christians. The Tokugawa Shogunate, with help from the Dutch who provided gunpowder and cannons, crushed the rebellion and beheaded an estimated 37,000 rebels and sympathizers. The rebel commander, 14 year-old Amakura Shiro, was beheaded and his head taken to Nagasaki for public display. The government-sponsored persecution of Christians continued until the 1850's forcing some to practice their faith as a kakura kirishitan, or "hidden Christian". The strict foreign policy measures did not stop with persecution of Christians. In 1635, the Closed Country Edict prohibited Japanese from leaving Japan and if someone left they would not be allowed re-entry.

Society
Social position was inherited and the feudalist social hierarchy from earlier periods continued into the Edo period. Land could only be owned by the Imperial family, the Shogun, or regional daimyo. The families of daimyo were forced to live in Edo and the daimyo themselves had to alternate between living in Edo for one year and their own province the next. Under this system, the Shogun was able to keep regional daimyo from becoming too powerful. Maintaining family status was of great importance, both socially and legally. If an individual was found guily of a crime and executed, their immediate family members could become slaves under Article 17 of the Gotoke reijo, or Tokugawa House Laws. However, this practice never became common in Japan.

Art and Culture
The Japanese began increasing their knowledge of the world through the study of books received through the Dutch. Geisha, professional female entertainers, became popular during the Edo period. The Kabuki style of theater began in the early Edo period and instantly became popular. Bunraku, a form of Japanese puppet theater, was founded in Osaka in 1684. Ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints depicting the "floating world", began being produced in the 17th century. The floating world represents scenes that are completely detached from the responsibilities of the everyday world. Many Western artists were influenced by the Ukiyo-e style including Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Renoir, and Monet.

Arrival of Mathew Perry and Decline of Shogunate
Commodore Mathew Perry and his fleet of kuro-fune, black ships, first arrived in Japan on July 14th, 1853. Perry's primary mission was to force Japan to open its ports to American ships. At the time the Tokugawa Shogunate was dealing with a complex domestic political situation and wished to avoid war, although their critics supported declaring war on the United States. In the end they capitulated to the demands of the United States and opened two ports to American ships as well as establishing other laws to protect Americans in Japan. Critics of the Tokugawa Shogunate were unhappy with the forced treaty and sought to reorganize the government under the emperor. A civil war, known as the Boshin War, erupted in 1868 between the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate and Imperial factions. Edo was captured by the Imperial army in 1868 and the 16 year-old Emperor Meiji moved his residence from Kyoto to Tokyo (Edo). This marked the end of military rule under the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji period.

 

Meiji Period: 1868 – 1912

Political Reforms and First Constitution Of Japan
The Meiji period is named after Emperor Meiji who reigned from 1868 to 1912. Meiji-jidai (Meiji preiod) translates to "Period of Enlightened Rule". It marks the beginning of many political, social, and military reforms in Japan. Emperor Meiji moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo, renaming Edo to Tokyo (Eastern Capital). The general aims of the Meiji government were summarized in the Five Charter Oath of 1868:

1. Establishment of deliberative assemblies
2. Involvement of all classes in carrying out state affairs
3. The revocation of sumptuary laws and class restrictions on employment
4. Replacement of "evil customs" with the "just laws of nature"
5. An international search for knowledge to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule.

To implement the Charter Oaths the Constitution of the Empire of Japan was finalized in 1889.It contained provisions paving the way toward a new democratic style of government. The constitution provided for new legislative bodies including the Imperial Diet, the House of Peers, and an independent cabinet directly under the Emperor. It also contained provisions which limited office tenure to four years, allowed for public voting, and reformed the rank system for the noble and common classes. Land reform laws forced daimyo to forfeit their land holdings to the Emperor and private land ownership was legalized. Despite the changes, the Emperor still maintained sovereignty based on the divine ancestry of the Imperial line.

Modernization
During the Meiji period Japan made great efforts toward modernization. After Mathew Perry forced Japan into signing an unequal treaty with the United States the small island nation was determined not to be bullied again and planned to re-negotiate the terms of existing unequal treaties. Japan imported over 3,000 foreign experts to educate its people in a variety of fields including English, math, science, and military studies. Japanese envoys were dispatched around the globe to gather knowledge from Western powers.

Zaibatsu and the Economy
During this time zaibatsu, large privately owned corporations, began to form. As Japan was limited by possessing few natural resources, the economy was largely based on the import of raw materials and the export of finished products. With the Meiji reforms, Japan became the first industrialized country in Asia. Stock exchanges, banks, and new tax laws were established. Many former daimyo became investors in new industries. Western innovations and private investments helped fuel industrial economic expansion in Japan until the early 1920's.

Military Modernization and Conflicts
Japan passed the Conscription Law, which required healthy male Japanese citizens of all classes to serve three years in the first reserves and two additional years in the second reserves. Many peasants maimed or mutilated themselves to avoid service. Samurai also did not like the new law as it meant they would be fighting alongside members of the peasant class. The French government helped train the new military and the rank structure of the enlisted Japanese corps was the same as the French. Japanese cadets were also sent abroad to study at military and naval schools in the United States and Europe.

The newly formed army under the Meiji government was tested in 1877. Takamori Saigo, against the reforms of the Meiji, led the last rebellion of Samurai in Kyushu. The Meiji army was able to defeat the remaining Samurai and behead Takamori Saigo. The victory ended the era of the Samurai and marked the beginning of a new modernized military in Japan.

Tensions between Japan and China over the control of Korea led to the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki on April 17, 1895. China recognized independence of Korea and ceded several territories, including Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula, to Japan. China also agreed to pay around 510,000,000 yen in war reparations.

Russia was concerned with Japan gaining Port Arthur, a warm water port located in Liaodong province. At the time, Russia only had a cold-water port in the region, which had to be closed during the winter months. Russia was successful in persuading Germany and France to apply diplomatic pressure on Japan to relinquish Liaodong Peninsula in exchange for additional reparation of 450,000,000 yen. This is now referred to as the Triple Intervention.

As soon as Japan's withdrawal from Liaodong Peninsula was complete, Russia moved in almost immediately to occupy the peninsula and fortify Port Arthur. The Triple Intervention fueled hostility towards Russia in Japan and lead to the Russo-Japanese War during 1904-1905. The war ended in victory for Japan and the United States President, Theodore Roosevelt, mediated the peace discussions. The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed by Japanese and Russian delegations in the U.S. naval station at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on September 5, 1905. Russia recognized Korea as part of Japan's sphere of influence, withdrew from Manchuria, ceded Port Arthur and the entire Liaodong Peninsula, and ceded the southern half of Sakhalin Island.

 

Taisho Period: 1912 – 1926

When Emperor Meiji died on July 30, 1912, Crown Prince Yoshihito became the new emperor of Japan. Emperor Yoshihito, posthumously named Emperor Taisho, reigned from July 30, 1912 to December 25, 1926. A shift in power from the Emperor and genro, a group of elder statesmen, to the Diet of Japan marked the beginning of the liberal movement known as the the "Taisho Democracy". The Meiji era had been successful in modernizing Japan and keeping it free from Western colonialization, but left the nation in debt and with nearly exhausted credit.

World War I
Looking to expand its sphere of influence in China and gain recognition as a world power, Japan entered World War I in 1914. Japan helped secure sea lanes in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans from the German navy in response to a request from the British government. Japanese forces gained control of China's Shandong Province, and the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall islands in the Pacific. The Japanese Navy was the first in the world to conduct naval-launched air raids when they attacked German land and sea targets from the Japanese carrier Wakamiya.

With its European allies busy with the war in Europe, Japan took the opportunity to increase its hegemony in China and presented China with the Twenty One Demands on January 18, 1915. If accepted, the demands would have reduced China to a Japanese protectorate, with Japan administering China's police force. The demands sparked anti-Japan protests in China and condemnation from the United States. As a result, Japan and China signed an amended treaty which resulted in little benefit for Japan. In 1916, Japan and Russia signed a treaty where both agreed not to make a separate peace with Germany. They also agreed to consult each other and take joint action should any territory under their control be threatened.

Foreign Relations
After the war Japan became one of the great industrial and military powers of the world gaining a permanent seat at the Council of the League of Nations. Large spending, to fund domestic projects as well as foreign military operations in China and Siberia, depleted wartime revenues and prevented Japan from building a substantial navy. The United States, concerned about Japan's designs on China, held two months of negotiations with Japanese diplomats in Washington D.C., which resulted in the signing of the Lansing-Ishii Agreement on November 2, 1917. Both parties agreed to uphold Chinese governmental and territorial integrity, but at same time, the United States acknowledged that Japan had "special interests" in China due to the geographic proximity of the two countries. Contradictory and vague language resulted in nothing having been accomplished after two months of negotiations. The Lansing-Ishii Agreement was later replaced by the Nine-Power Treaty. The Nine-Power Treaty had similar objectives as the Lansing-Ishii Agreement, upholding Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United States hoped to prevent China from being carved up by Japan and European powers. The treaty was signed by Japan, China, France, Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States on February 6, 1922.

Relations between Japan and the United States remained acrimonious after the signing of the Nine-Power Treaty in 1922. The United Status 1924 Immigration Act included a provision, which excluded entry to any nationality, or race that was ineligible for citizenship. The existing citizenship laws excluded Asians from naturalizing. This meant that Japanese would no longer be admitted into the United States. The Japanese referred to the new policy as the Japanese Exclusion Act. Despite protest from the Japanese government the new law remained.

 

Showa Period: 1926 – 1989

The Showa period corresponds to Emperor Hirohito's (posthumously named Emperor Showa) reign from December 25, 1926 - January 7, 1989 and is the longest reign of a Japanese Emperor. Showa-jidai, or Showa period, ironically translates to "period of enlightened peace".

Rise of Militarism and Ultra-nationalism (1926-1937)
Japan's economy weakened in the 1920's as exports plummeted due to a rise in economic nationalism in the West. Silk demand dropped, production decreased, and unemployment skyrocketed. Despite the opposition of 1,028 economists, the United States approved the Tariff Act of 1930, raising tariffs on over 20,000 imported items to the highest level in American history. Japan's export market suffered further and as a result the buying power of its economy also suffered. On November 14, 1930, after failing to negotiate advantageous naval ship ratios with the United States and Britain, Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi was shot by an ultra-nationalist. He died later in 1931.

The government had now lost control over the populace and the military, acting indepentendly from the official government, invaded Manchuria in 1931. Japan viewed Manchuria as a source for raw materials and a way to increase security from communist Russia in the north. The League of Nations' Lytton Report criticized Japan's actions in Manchuria and labeled Japan as the aggressor. The Diet of Japan, dominated by army officials, reacted to the report by withdrawing from the League of Nations on March 27, 1933. Japan's aggressive military stance and disengagement from multilateral diplomacy were a source of Anglo-American anxiety. Americans felt that Japan was willing to expand its empire at any risk. The lack of substantial action by America and other Western powers emboldened Japan. Japan, surrounded by enemies and looking for allies, signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in 1936.

Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II (1937-1945)
On July 7, 1937 Japan launched an invasion from Manchuria into China which lead to a full scale war. Japan had a military advantage as it possessed more armor and artillery than China and also had the world's third largest navy including 2,700 airplanes. In 1939, most of China's main cities were under Japanese control including Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai. On August 1, 1940, Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke announced the idea of the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere". The concept promoted the establishment of a bloc of self-sufficient Asian nations led by Japanese and free from Western influence. On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, creating the Rome-Tokyo-Berlin Axis powers of World War II. In July of 1941 U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced an oil embargo against Japan for its refusal to withdraw troops from China and French Indochina.

In order to prevent American naval intervention in the Pacific Japan went on the offensive and attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. By the summer of 1942, with America's Pacific fleet crippled, Japan gained control of Burma, Siam (Thailand), the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies. The momentum of the war changed with the decisive U.S. naval victory at the battle of Midway between June 4 - June 7, 1942. With the loss of four aircraft carriers and over two hundred aircraft, the Japanese navy could no longer go on the offensive. The United States then followed a strategy of island hopping, also called leapfrogging. Heavily fortified positions were bypassed and less fortified positions were targeted with the goal of supporting an eventual attack on the main Japanese islands. By 1945, the U.S. had clear air superiority and Tokyo was repeatedly firebombed. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later on August 9, 1945 another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Faced with nuclear destruction and the Soviet Union invading Manchuria, Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945. The following day Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender over the radio.

Allied Occupation of Japan (1945-1952)
The Allied Powers, led by the United States, occupied the Japanese Empire on For the first time in Japan's history it was occupied by a foreign power. General Douglas MacArthur was appointed as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) to lead the occupation. At the end of the war and for several years after there was a severe food shortage and most people were starving. MacArthur organized a food distribution network and billions of dollars in aid was received from the U.S. government.

In 1946, the Diet ratified a new Constitution of Japan which was modeled after an example provided by MacArthur. Included in the new constitution was the famous Article Nine, which prevented Japan from maintaining a standing army and using war as an instrument of state policy. The SCAP enforced strict censorship of Japanese media. Criticism of the U.S. and other allies was forbidden as well as criticism of the occupation. Discussion of censorship itself was also forbidden. The de-industrialization of Japan was also one of the initial objectives of the occupation. However, after the U.S. government reviewed the cost to American taxpayers to maintain food aid to Japan, the restrictions were loosened. In 1948, the Johnston Committee Report supported reconstruction of Japan's economy. In 1949, MacArthur signed over increased power to native Japanese leaders. On April 28, 1952, the occupation of Japan ended as a result of the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed on September 8, 1951.

Post Occupation (1952-1989)
Under the terms of the San Francisco Treaty, Japan was able to retain its sovereignty but had to relinquish many of its pre-war possessions including Korea, Taiwan, and Sakhalin. It also had to give up the Marianas and the Marshalls. On the same day the San Francisco Treaty was signed Shigeru Yoshida and Harry Truman signed an agreement allowing U.S. forces to continue their use of military bases in Japan. Under the treaty, Japan was allowed to engage in international defense blocs and in 1954, the Self-Defense Forces were established. Currently Japan's military budget is the sixth largest in the world.

With the United States military providing protection Japan was able to focus on rebuilding its economy. Trade expansion and investment from the U.S. helped spur on a quick post-war economic recovery. Japan passed strict protectionist laws, which prevented foreign companies from encroaching on the Japanese market. Japan's economy continued to grow for the next 40 years until the economic bubble burst in the early 1990's.

 

Heisei Period: 1989 – present

The Heisei period, the current era in Japan, began on January 8, 1989, the day after the death of Emperor Hiroto (posthumously named Emperor Showa). His son, Akihito, succeeded the throne and is currently the reigning Emperor of Japan. The name Heisei was derived from two historical Chinese texts, the Shujing and the Shiji, and is intended to mean "peace everywhere".

The "Lost Decade"
In the beginning of the Heisei period Japan's rapidly growing economy began to slow and by 1991, the "Japanese asset price bubble" had ended. Real estate and stock prices hit record lows and banks scrambled to resolve bad debts. Credit became very difficult to obtain and economic expansion ground to a halt. In Japan, the 1990's came to be known as the "lost decade". Almost twenty years later, the interest rate is near 0% and credit still difficult to obtain. The effects of the economic downturn on the average Japanese family have been limited and this is likely due to the Japanese emphasis on frugality and saving. Major Japanese exports include cars, industrial machinery, and computer accessories. The United States imports about one quarter of all Japanese exports. In the past Japan has maintained a trade surplus with the United States, which has been a source of tension between the two nations. However, in 2009, Japan experienced its first trade deficit in 28 years due to shrinking demand overseas, particularly in the US.