Japan’s Emergence as a Great Power
Japan had an intense fusion of peace and war…peace when its people settled in the quiet nights and awaking in mornings with no fear amidst its landscape which beautifully transformed in each passing season…and war when its people were besieged with societal concerns and illusions of power.
After the end of feudalism, the Meiji rule imposed a centralized power. Measures for the abolition of the daimyos’ control over lands and samurai class were implemented. A new constitution with provisions that the emperor remained the most powerful with the prime minister running the government functions, was established in 1889. The new government had manifested a serious attention to its people through freedom of speech and religion, compulsory education for men, women and children, and the enhancement of scientific and technological knowledge by exchanging ideas with the West.
The Meiji government had a clear vision and was an exponent of preparedness. It valued the importance of progress and major innovations such as telegraphs. Railroad constructions were pushed continually. They recognized the profound effect of industrial technology so shipyards and ironworks were built…with emphasis to strengthen its military force that by 1890, their military strength was tantamount to any Western power.
When Japan defeated China during the Sino-Japanese War from August 1894 – April 1895, which was a war against China over control of Korea, a peace treaty was signed giving Japan some islands including Formosa, which we now call Taiwan, some parts of Manchuria and China’s recognition of Korea’s independence. In 1904, the Russo-Japanese War started. Japan came out victorious and the Russian forces were forced out of Manchuria. A treaty was signed in 1905 confirming Japan’s territorial claims… and this marked the beginning of the Japanese expansion in Asia and the Pacific. The West now saw Japan as a force to contend with… their equal, rather than a country to be colonized.
Japan was recognized as the leading country in Asia.
Two years after Emperor Meiji’s death, WWI broke out in Europe. The Great War which started on July 28, 1914, formed new groups of alliances…and enemies among nations.
New weaponries were used for the four long years of bloodshed which killed almost 17million people. As science progressed, it paved the way to more discoveries which changed the material circumstances of human life…and influenced man to use more powerful forces. The technological advancements to weaponry created a dramatic change to warfare. The scope of harm multiplied enormously…and the effects more devastating. Armament manufacturers in countries like United States, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, France, Austria, and Japan became the major arms suppliers during that Great War. As one of the suppliers to the Allies, Japan’s trade and industry prospered.
Many countries got involved in WWI. Japan, as a British ally, seized the German possessions on the Shantung Peninsula in China and islands in the Pacific Ocean. After the war, Japan attended the Versailles Peace Conference as one of the “Big Five” nations.
With the devastation brought about by WWI, there were efforts to restore international peace however, fascist dictatorship was gaining ground in Europe, a spirit of nationalism was building up among some nations… with leaders having an intense desire to expand their empires…like Adolf Hitler. He built an army of 550,000 men, violating the Versailles Treaty and in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. This marked the beginning of the Second World War which lasted six years and resulted to more than 50 million military and civilian deaths.
WWII involved more of the world’s peoples – more than 100 million from more than 30 countries…and among them, Japan. Its military leaders led to conquests in the eastern Pacific. It sought to incorporate some areas in Asia to be the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”…and only the United States was in the position to try to stop its expansion. At 7:55 am in December 7, 1941, the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor…with simultaneous attacks on British spheres in Malaysia and Hong Kong. On December 8, Britain and United States declared war on Japan. On August 6, 1945, the American bomber planes dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima…and three days later, over Nagasaki. There was such disillusionment created by the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The atomic bombs wiped out almost 90% of the cities and the high level of radioactivity killed thousands even after the war ended. This led to its unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945. Japan was demilitarized during the American occupation from 1945 to 1952 and a democratic constitution replaced the old Meiji constitution which was established in 1889. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur led to work hand in hand with the Japanese government to implement the reforms. Japan and United States finally became allies, signing a security treaty which allowed the United States forces to use the Japanese military bases. This guaranteed Japan’s security against any attack.
In 1952, a peace treaty formally ending the war was signed by Japan, United States and 47 other nations.
At last, a light of peace shone through this beautiful land… its people gathered its strength…and decided to take huge steps forward.