- Give a brief background on Japanese isolationism which helped it to escape imperialism.
- Address how they had to end international isolationism and modernize in the process.
- State reasons for emergence and sustenance of ‘military-fascism’ in Japan.
For around 200 years, Japan practised isolationism from the rest of the world under Sakoku (strict foreign policy of Japan during 17th-19th century). During Sakoku, Japanese trying to leave the country were punishable with a death penalty and very few foreign nationals were permitted to enter and trade with Japan.
The rationale of the Shogunate behind the implementation of Sakoku in Japan was to remove any religious and colonial influence, primarily from Portugal and Spain, considered a threat to the shogunate. This isolationism helped Japan to escape imperialism.
In the beginning of the 19th century, Britain, United States, Russia and France wanted Japan to open its ports. Ships from those countries often stopped and anchored at Japanese shores, but the Japanese refused to receive them.
In 1853, Commodore Perry entered Japanese shores with four US fleets and delivered an ultimatum to Japan. The Japanese then realised that they were not powerful enough to resist foreign domination. In the wake of threat to its independence and a vehement anti foreign agitation, Japan underwent a process of modernization.
In 1868, the rule of the shoguns ended and new set of advisers came to the forefront. They introduced changes in the name of the emperor, Meiji. Thus began the period of Meiji Restoration in Japan. It resulted in speedy transformation of economic and political institutions in less than four decades.
The government raised taxes by exploiting the peasantry and heavily invested the collected capital in industries. It eventually sold the industries to capitalists, who later started industries on their own without government support. By the end of the 20th century, foreign commerce multiplied twenty-seven fold and Japanese goods, particularly textiles were competing in the international market. In addition to industrialisation, modernisation of Japan comprised education and skill development of its people, including women. More and more women entered into the labour force during the Meiji era.
Reasons for the Emergence of Military Fascism:
- Failure of democratic government- Japan’s democratic leaders were seen as weak, corrupt and inefficient, and they could not solve the economic problems. Government heavily suppressing the peasants. The workers were also unhappy.
- Parliament (Diet) had limited power- Real power remained in the hands of the Japan Emperor and the genre (Retired Japanese statesmen who served as informal advisers to Emperor). The Diet did not have the power to make decisions and make its own policies. It could only question the decisions of the cabinet ministers.
- Trade imbalance- Japan needed raw materials for its major industries most of which had to be imported. The trade imbalance grew when Japan had to import more food to feed its growing population. Great Depression occurred of 1929, led to a decrease in Japanese exports and worsened the situation.
- Growing American influence in the Asia pacific region (for example in Philippines and Hawaii) threatened Japanese plans to control the region. Washington Naval conference (1921-22) was seen as an unfair treaty by Japanese.
Further, educational system was used to promote emperor worship and an attitude of extreme nationalism and chauvinism. Civil liberties were suppressed, the police curtailed the press and prevented public meetings and demonstrations. The military enjoyed excessive power in the transformed system and eventually came to dominate it.