The 18th century was centric in the world’s history, especially in East Asia. China was the only superpower in this region while Japan conducted its policies separately from Asian neighbors and thus, developed a unique culture. Nevertheless, the 18th century brought a new issue to both countries. They had to deal with the imperial expansion to which they responded differently. As a result, the Japanese Empire appeared. It was a state that existed on the territories of Japan, China, and Southeast Asia. It had a large number of colonies in the Pacific Ocean. The Empire of Japan was founded by Emperor Mutsuhito. Since then, the country has received the status of the Empire and opened for foreigners. In fact, the Japanese Empire existed from November 9, 1867 to September 2, 1945. Legally, the term of Empire can be applied to Japan from 29 November 1890 to 3 May 1947 (Collingham). During this period, Japan’s constitution declared the return of power to the emperor as a head of the state and government. In fact, the empire existed in the period from 1871 (when the Meiji government first turned the attention to the neighboring state) to the adoption of the postwar constitution in 1947. In the history of the Empire of Japan, there are the following periods: the Meiji period, Taisho period and the first 21 years of Showa period (1926-1989) during the reign of Emperor Hirohito. The construction of the Japanese Empire deeply relied on the collaborators and was particularly different from the Chinese response to imperial expansion.
In 1867-1868, the Tokugawa era ended with the Meiji Restoration (Collingham). Emperor Meiji left Kyoto and moved to the new capital, Tokyo. His power has been restored. Political force moved from the Tokugawa shogunate to the hands of a small group of noble samurai.
New Japan strongly began to catch up with the West in the economic and military respects. Tough reforms took place across the country. The new government has decided to make Japan a democratic country according to the principle of universal equality. The boundaries between the social classes were erased. True samurai were dissatisfied with this reform, because they lost all their privileges. The reforms also included the introduction of human rights, such as freedom of religion. For the stabilization of the new government, all the old feudal daimyo had to return all of their lands to the emperor. This was followed by the redistribution of the country’s prefectures. The educational system was also reformed, first according to the French and later the German type. Among those reforms, there was the introduction of compulsory education. After about 20-30 years of such intensive Westernization, the government listened to conservatives and nationalists. The principles of Confucianism and Shinto, including the cult of the emperor, were introduced in the school curricula.
Moreover, the Empire invited local collaborators to make and maintain its colonies. They contributed to the popularization of the idea that Japan’s discourse of colonization was based on the desire to civilize the occupied territories. This gave a reason to consider colonization as an opportunity of advancement of populist agendas. The collaborators were considered representatives of people and claimed for the protection of the right for freedom, life and property. Thus, they were ready to sacrifice their sovereignty if that could ensure the equality of rights of the people.
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The growth in the military direction in the era of European nationalism was the high priority for the Japanese Empire. Like other Asian countries, the Empire was forced to sign an agreement that was disadvantageous. There was an introduction of conscription. The new army was built on the lines of the Prussian. The fleet was built by the type of the British one.
For a more rapid transformation of Japan’s agricultural country into an industrial empire, many Japanese students were sent to the West to study science and languages. Japan also invited foreign teachers. A lot of money has been invested in the development of transport and communications. The government supported the development of business and industry, especially large companies. Before World War II, light industry grew faster than heavy one. Working conditions at factories were poor, and soon there were liberal and socialist movements, pressing on the ruling group Genrō.
After the Japanese Empire had gotten its first, the parliament appeared, but the emperor retained his independence: he was the head of the army and navy as well as an executive and legislative power. Political parties have not yet had sufficient impact primarily due to conflicts between their members.
The conflict between China and Japan against Korea led to the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-1895 (Ishikawa 1). The Japanese defeated and captured Taiwan, but under the influence of the West, they were forced to return to some areas of China (Ishikawa 3). These actions prompted the Japanese army and navy to re-accelerate. A new conflict of interest in China and Manchuria, this time with Russia, has led to the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905 years. The Japanese Empire has also won this war with some gaining of territory and international respect. Later, the Empire has increased its influence on Korea and annexed it in 1910. In Japan, such military success led to an unprecedented increase in nationalism. In 1912, Emperor Meiji died, and the era of the ruling group ended (Collingham).
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After the death of Meiji, the Emperor Ёsihito began to rule under the slogan ‘Taisho’ that meant ‘the great justice’. Gradually, the political power was overtaken by the parliament. The government party was formed. It was headed by the leader of the leading parliamentary party. The country had introduced universal male suffrage. Thus, this period received the name ‘Taisho democracy’.
In the World War II, Japan’s role was negligible. By joining the Entente under the guise of a coalition with England, it has strengthened its position in China and has received the German possessions in China as well as Marshall, Mariana and Caroline Islands. Japan has actively participated in the intervention in the Far East of Russia.
Post-war depression and the spread of socialism contributed to the growth of revolutionary sentiment across the society. The Law on Protection of Public Order prohibited anti-government political parties and movements, and called for harsh punishments for the revolutionary activities. Socio-economic situation of the Empire deteriorated as a result of a large earthquake in the Kanto region, the economic depression and, finally, the global economic crisis in 1929.
The new Emperor Hirohito came to power. His reign was based on the slogan ‘Showa’ (‘enlightened peace’). At the end of the 1920s, the influence of the Imperial Council Genro and political parties was significantly reduced. There was observed radical intensification of the patriotic movement led by young officers of the Army and Navy, which have resulted in several attacks at a military coup.
During the World War II, the Empire has been on the side of Nazi Germany since 1943. Originally, it was planned to attack the Soviet Union, but after the signing of Smolensk’s peace treaty by the Germans, the Japanese Empire has set its sights on domination in the ocean. The use of the German blitzkrieg tactics had a great success. Japan attacked the military base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and then declared war on the United States. After declaring war, Japan has openly asked for help from the Reich that agreed to help in view of the domination of Western and Central Europe. The next day, the plane with the atomic bomb that was called Alzen-Shreyt (after the German general Helmut Alzen-Shreyt) flew from Berlin and headed for New York. After a few days, without a declaration of war, the Germans attacked the United States by dropping the bomb on the city. The United States capitulated, while Japan began to dominate the Pacific Ocean. After World War II, the Japanese Empire ceased military action against China only in 1947. Empire had quickly renewed. By 1970, it had become the advanced naval power in the world.
There were many differences in the responses to imperialism in Japan and China. Japan’s nationalism was expansionist and even aggressive. It allowed Japan to become imperial power in a remarkably short period. In contrast, China’s nationalism was disorganized and reactive, leaving the state in chaos for long time. Japan was oriented towards the West due to its knowledge and modernization. The Japanese leaders realized that they had to modernize their country in order to become a world power. As a result, there was the abolishment of feudalism, adoption of new taxation, and the establishment of coinage system. There was also the adoption of Western institutions and infrastructure. Chinese modernization took place on a more limited scale. The second reason for the difference between the two empires was their rulers. In Japan, the power has held by reform-minded elite, while Chinese rulers were oriented towards preservation of the traditional institutions.
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The militarist-Japanese domination over the conquered territories and countries proved to be short-lived. However, the leaders of totalitarian regime had a few years to rebuild the lives in the occupied territories of Asia. The conquerors believed that they fulfilled the mission of correcting humanity. The new procedure was to provide the political control over the lives of other people and the ability to economically exploit the conquered country. Collaboration, which played an important role in the construction of the Japanese Empire, was sometimes generated from the devotion to citizens, and the desire to protect them from the most brutal repression of the enemy. In other cases, the collaborators’ activities were based on a bitter feeling of disappointment because of the failures of the country. The Japanese nation was empowered by a great mission, unification under the beneficent rule of the emperor of the world.