Empire of Japan

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Dai Nippon Teikoku
Empire of Japan


"Hakkō ichiu"
("The World Under One Roof")
("All Eight Corners of the World")
("May Your Reign Last Forever")
Officially translated:
("National Anthem")
The Empire of Japan in 1942.
  •      Japan
  •      Colonies / South Pacific Mandate
  •      Puppet states / Protectorate / Occupied territories
Capital Tokyo
Language(s) Japanese
Religion None (officially Shinto)
Government Daijō-kan[1]
Constitutional monarchy
Single-party state
 - 1868–1912 Meiji
 - 1912–1926 Taishō
 - 1926–1947 Shōwa
Prime Minister
 - 1885–88 Itō Hirobumi (first)
 - 1946–47 Shigeru Yoshida (last)
Legislature Imperial Diet
 - Upper house House of Peers
 - Lower house House of Representatives
Historical era Meiji, Taishō, Shōwa
 - Meiji Restoration January 3[3] 1868
 - Constitution adopted November 29, 1890
 - Russo-Japanese War February 10, 1904
 - Pacific War 1941–45
 - Surrender of Japan September 2, 1945
 - Reconstituted 3 May[2] 1945
 - 1942 estimate 7,400,000 km2 (2,857,156 sq mi)
Currency Japanese yen,
Korean yen,
Taiwanese yen,
Japanese military yen

The Empire of Japan (大日本帝國 Dai Nippon Teikoku) or officially Empire of Greater Japan or Greater Japanese Empire; also known as Imperial Japan or the Japanese Empire was a government under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan and the areas it ruled during the period from the Meiji Restoration to its defeat in World War II. The Emperors during this time, which spanned the Meiji, Taishō and Shōwa eras, are now known by their posthumous names which coincide with those era names: Emperor Meiji (Mutsuhito), Emperor Taishō (Yoshihito) and Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito).

Notable events during this period were the return of power to the Emperor on 9 November 1867, the Abolition of the Han system on July 14, 1871, the country's rapid industrialization and militarization under the slogan Fukoku Kyohei(Enrich the Country, Strengthen the Military), leading to its emergence as a world power eventually culminating with its membership in the Axis alliance and the conquest of a large part of the Asia-Pacific region. The Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allies on September 2, 1945 after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through the USAAF, following a Pacific War and Second Sino-Japanese War among others against the Allied nations of World War II. A period of occupation by the Allies followed the surrender and dissolution of the Empire and a new constitution was created with American involvement. American occupation and reconstruction of the country continued well into the 1950s eventually forming the current modern-day Japan.

Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989)


The Empire of Japan is a term used for Japan between the Meji Restoration in 1868 (ending feudal Japan) and the 1947 constitution (after WWII). However, Japan has had emperors throughout this time period, which continues to this day. Under the 1947 constitution, Japan has maintained a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with a bicameral legislature, the National Diet. As one of the defeated powers of WWII, causing effects such as being described negatively by Allied psychological warfare, various claims regarding events during this time period may be problematic, such as "victors' history".

Archaeological discoveries revealed the existence of Paleolithic humans in Japan when the islands were connected to the Asian continental landmass. Little is known about the origins of the earliest Japanese beyond the fact that they migrated from the continent. The first distinctive Neolithic culture, the Jõmon, existed in Japan from 11,000 bc to 300 bc. The Jõmon was displaced by the Yayoi culture, which introduced new agricultural and metallurgical skills from the continent. Tradition places the beginning of the Japanese nation in 660 bc with the ascendance to the throne of the legendary Emperor Jimmu. It is generally agreed, however, that as the Yayoi developed, the Yamato clan attained hegemony over southern Japan during the first three or four centuries of the Christian era and established the imperial family line. Earlier contacts with Korea were expanded in the 5th century to mainland China, and the great period of cultural borrowing began: industrial arts were imported; Chinese script was introduced (thereby permitting the study of medical texts), the Chinese calendar and Buddhism also arrived from China. Japanese leaders adapted the Chinese governmental organization but based power upon hereditary position rather than merit. The first imperial capital was established at Nara in 710. In 794, the imperial capital was moved to Heian (Kyoto), where it remained until 1868, when Tokyo became the nation's capital. Chinese influence waned as native institutions took on peculiarly Japanese forms. Outside court circles, local clans gained strength, giving rise to military clan influence over a weakening imperial system. The Minamoto clan gained national hegemony as it defeated the rival Taira clan in 1185, and its leader, the newly appointed Yoritomo, established a military form of government at Kamakura in 1192, a feudal system that lasted for nearly 700 years. Under the shogunate system, all political power was in the hands of the dominant military clan, with the emperors ruling in name only. The Kamakura period was followed by the Ashikaga shogunate (1336–1600) which saw economic growth and the development of a more complex feudalism. For over 100 years, until the end of the 16th century, continuous civil war among rival feudal lords (daimyo ) ensued. During this time, the first contact with the Western world took place with the arrival in 1543 of Portuguese traders, and with that, the first guns were imported. Six years later, St. Francis Xavier arrived, introducing Christianity to Japan. By 1590, the country was pacified and unified by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a peasant who had risen to a top military position. Hideyoshi also invaded Korea unsuccessfully, in 1592–93 and in 1598, dying during the second invasion. Ieyasu Tokugawa consolidated Hideyoshi's program of centralization. Appointed shogun in 1603, Tokugawa established the Tokugawa shogunate (military dictatorship), which was to rule Japan until the imperial restoration in 1868. Tokugawa made Edo (modern Tokyo) the capital, closed Japan to foreigners except Chinese and Dutch traders (who were restricted to Nagasaki) and occasional Korean diplomats, and banned Christianity. For the next 250 years, Japan enjoyed stability and a flowering of indigenous culture, although from the end of the 18th century onward, Japan came under increasing pressure from Western nations to end its isolationist policy. The arrival of Commodore Matthew C. Perry from the United States in 1853—with his famous "black ships"—started a process that soon ended Japanese feudalism. The following year, Perry obtained a treaty of peace and friendship between the United States and Japan, and similar pacts were signed with Russia, Britain, and the Netherlands based on the principle of extraterritoriality. A decade of turmoil and confusion followed over the question of opening Japan to foreigners. A coalition of southern clans led by ambitious young samurai of the Satsuma and Choshu clans forced the abdication of the Tokugawa shogun and reestablished the emperor as head of the nation. In 1868, Emperor Mutsuhito took over full sovereignty. This Meiji Restoration, as it is known, signaled the entry of Japan into the modern era. Intensive modernization and industrialization commenced under the leadership of the restoration leaders. A modern navy and army with universal military conscription and a modern civil service based on merit formed the foundation of the new nationstate. The government undertook the establishment of industry, by importing technological assistance. In 1889, a new constitution established a bicameral legislature (Diet) with a civil cabinet headed by a prime minister responsible to the emperor. By the end of the 19th century, irreconcilable territorial ambitions brought Japan into open conflict with its much larger western neighbors. The Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) was fought over the question of control of Korea, and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) over the question of Russian expansion in Manchuria and influence in Korean affairs. Japan emerged victorious in both conflicts, its victory over the Russians marking the first triumph of an Asian country over a Western power in modern times. Japan received the territories of Taiwan and the southern half of Sakhalin Island, as well as certain railway rights and concessions in Manchuria and recognition of paramount influence in Korea. The latter became a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and was annexed by Japan in 1910. During the Taisho era (1912–26), Japan participated in a limited way in World War I, in accordance with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902. Japan was one of the Big Five powers at the Versailles Peace Conference and in 1922 was recognized as the world's third-leading naval power at the Washington Naval Conference. The domestic economy developed rapidly, and Japan was transformed from an agricultural to an industrial nation. Economic power tended to be held by the industrial combines (zaibatsu ), controlled by descendants of those families that had instituted the modernization of the country decades earlier. In 1925, universal manhood suffrage was enacted, and political leaders found it necessary to take into consideration the growing influence of parties. In 1926, Emperor Hirohito ascended the throne beginning the Showa era. By the 1930s, democratic institutions atrophied and the military-industrial complex became dominant. With severe social distress caused by the great depression, an ultranationalist ideology emerged, particularly among young army officers. Acting independently of the central government, the military launched an invasion of Manchuria in 1931, eventually establishing the puppet state of Manchukuo. In 1932, a patriotic society assassinated the prime minister, bringing an end to cabinets formed by the majority party in the Diet. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations (which had protested the Manchurian takeover) in 1933, started a full-scale invasion of China (the Second Sino-Japanese War, 1937–45), and signed the Anti-Comintern pact with Germany in 1936 and a triple alliance with Germany and Italy in 1940. The military leadership, viewing the former USSR and the United States as chief barriers to Japanese expansion, negotiated a nonaggression pact with the USSR in April 1941, thus setting the stage for the attack on Pearl Harbor and other Pacific targets on 7 December of that year. Thereafter, Japanese military actions took place in the context of World War II. With its capture of the Philippines on 2 January 1942, Japan gained control of most of East Asia, including major portions of China, Indochina, and the southwest Pacific. Japanese forces, however, could not resist the continued mobilization of the US military. A series of costly naval campaigns—including battles at Midway, Guadalcanal, and Leyte Gulf—brought an end to Japanese domination in the Pacific. By 1945, the Philippines had been recaptured, and the stage was set for a direct assault on Japan. After the US troops captured Okinawa in a blood battle, US president Harry S. Truman argued that a full invasion of Japan would prove too costly and decided on aerial attacks to force Japan into surrendering. After four months of intense bombardment with conventional weapons, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and a second bomb on Nagasaki on 9 August. An estimated 340,000 persons died from the two attacks and the subsequent effects of radiation. In addition, all major cities, with the exception of Kyoto, were destroyed during the war and food and supply shortages continued for several years after the surrender. On 14 August, Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration for unconditional surrender with formal surrender documents signed aboard the USS Missouri on 2 September. After the surrender over 500 Japanese military officials committed suicide and hundreds more faced war crimes prosecution. Emperor Hirihito was not declared a war criminal and although he lost all military and political power he retained his royal title and became a symbol of the state until his death in 1989. The subsequent occupation (1945–52), under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, began a series of ambitious reforms. Political reforms included the adoption of a parliamentary system of government based on democratic principles and universal suffrage, a symbolic role for the emperor as titular head of state, the establishment of an independent trade union, and the disarmament of the military. Economic reforms consisted of land reform, the dissolution of the zaibatsu, and economic and political rights for women. A new constitution was promulgated on 3 November 1946 and put into force on 3 May 1947.[4]


The constitution recognized the need for change and modernization after removal of the shogunate:

We, the Successor to the prosperous Throne of Our Predecessors, do humbly and solemnly swear to the Imperial Founder of Our House and to Our other Imperial Ancestors that, in pursuance of a great policy co-extensive with the Heavens and with the Earth, We shall maintain and secure from decline the ancient form of government. ... In consideration of the progressive tendency of the course of human affairs and in parallel with the advance of civilization, We deem it expedient, in order to give clearness and distinctness to the instructions bequeathed by the Imperial Founder of Our House and by Our other Imperial Ancestors, to establish fundamental laws. ...

Imperial Japan was founded, de jure, after the 1889 signing of Constitution of the Empire of Japan. The constitution formalized much of the Empire's political structure and gave many responsibilities and powers to the Emperor.

Article 4. The Emperor is the head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty, and exercises them, according to the provisions of the present Constitution.

Article 6. The Emperor gives sanction to laws, and orders them to be promulgated and executed.

Article 11. The Emperor has the supreme command of the Army and Navy.[5]

Although it was in this constitution that the title Empire of Japan was officially used for the first time, it was not until 1936 that this title was legalized. Until then, the names "Nippon" (日本; Japan), "Dai-Nippon" (大日本; Greater Japan), "Dai-Nippon/-Nihon Koku" (日本國; literally State of Japan), "Nihon Teikoku" (日本帝國; Empire of Japan) were all used.

Imperial Diet

In 1890, the Imperial Diet (Parliament) was established in response to Meiji Constitution. The Diet consisted of a House of Representatives and a House of Peers. Both houses opened seats for colonial peoples as well as Japanese. The Imperial Diet continued until 1947.[2]

Korea under Japanese rule

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, various Western countries actively competed for influence, trade, and territory in East Asia, and Japan sought to join these modern colonial powers. The newly modernised Meiji government of Japan turned to Korea, then in the sphere of influence of China's Qing Dynasty. The Japanese government initially sought to separate Korea from Qing and make Korea a Japanese satellite in order to further their security and national interests.[6]

In January 1876, following the Meiji Restoration, Japan employed gunboat diplomacy to pressure Korea, under the Joseon Dynasty, to sign the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, which granted extraterritorial rights to Japanese citizens and opened three Korean ports to Japanese trade. The rights granted to Japan under this unequal treaty,[7] were similar to those granted western powers in Japan following the visit of Commodore Perry.[7] Japanese involvement in Korea increased during the 1890s, a period of political upheaval.

Korea was occupied and declared a Japanese protectorate following the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905, and officially annexed in 1910 through the annexation treaty.

In Korea, the period is usually described as a time of Japanese "forced occupation" (Hangul: 일제 강점기; Ilje gangjeomgi, Hanja: 日帝强占期). Other terms used for it include "Japanese Imperial Period" (Hangul: 일제시대, Ilje sidae, Hanja: 日帝時代) or "Japanese administration" (Hangul: 왜정, Wae jeong, Hanja: 倭政). In Japan, a more common description is Template:Nihongo. Korea would be officially part of the Empire of Japan for 35 years, from August 22, 1910, until the formal Japanese rule ended on September 2, 1945, upon the surrender of Japan. The 1905 and 1910 treaties were eventually declared "null and void" by both Japan and South Korea in 1965.

World War I

Main article: World War I

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, 1915. 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-boat 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.[8] The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was ended in 1923.

World War II

Emperor Hirohito on the battleship Musashi, 24 June 1943.
Main article: World War II

In the Pacific War (eastern part of World War II (1939-1945), many of the islands became dominions of the Japanese Empire.

Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies

The Japanese Empire occupied Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia), during World War II from March 1942 until after the end of the War in 1945. Now under German occupation, the Netherlands had little ability to properly defend its colony against the Japanese army, and less than three months after the first attacks on Borneo the Japanese navy triumphed and their army overran Dutch colonial forces. Initially, most Indonesians optimistically and even joyfully welcomed the Japanese as liberators from their centuries-old Dutch colonial masters. This sentiment changed as Indonesians were expected to endure more hardship for the war effort. In 1944–45, Allied troops largely by-passed the Dutch East Indies and did not fight their way into the most populous parts such as Java and Sumatra. As such, most of the Dutch East Indies was still under Japanese occupation at the time of their surrender in August 1945.

USA Occupation of Japan

A period known as occupied Japan followed after the war, spearheaded by United States General of the Army Douglas MacArthur who aimed to revise the Japanese constitution and de-militarize Japan. The American occupation, with economic and political assistance, continued well into the 1950s. The United States ordered Japan to abolish its famous Meiji Constitution and imposed the so-called Constitution of Japan, then renamed the Empire of Japan as Japan on May 3, 1947.[2] Japan became a parliamentary-based constitutional monarchy with the Emperor forced to renounce his status as a God. Nevertheless, Emperor Hirohito was left in situ.


There was a significant level of emigration to the overseas territories of the Japanese Empire during the Japanese colonial period, including Korea,[9] Formosa, Manchukuo, and Karafuto.[10] Unlike emigrants to the Americas, Japanese going to the colonies occupied a higher rather than lower social niche upon their arrival.[11] In 1938, there were 309,000 Japanese in Taiwan.[12] By the end of World War II, there were over 850,000 Japanese in Korea[13] and more than 2 million in China,[14] most of whom were farmers in Manchukuo (the Japanese planned to bring 5 million Japanese settlers into Manchukuo).[15]



Posthumous name1 Given name² Childhood name³ Period of Reigns Era name4
Meiji Tennō
Taishō Tennō
1912–26 Taishō
Shōwa Tennō
1926–896 Shōwa
1 Each posthumous name was given after the respective era names as Ming and Qing Dynasties of China.
2 The Japanese imperial family name has no surname or dynastic name.
3 The Meiji Emperor was known only by the appellation Sachi-no-miya from his birth until November 11, 1860, when he was proclaimed heir apparent to Emperor Kōmei and received the personal name Mutsuhito .
4 No multiple era names were given for each reign after Meiji Emperor.
5 Constitutionally.
6 Constitutionally. The reign of the Shōwa Emperor in fact continued until 1989 since he did not abdicate after World War II. However, he lost his status as a living god.

Further reading

  • Jansen, Marius; John Whitney Hall, Madoka Kanai, Denis Twitchett (1989). The Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22352-0. 
  • Jansen, Marius B. (2002). The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00334-9.  OCLC 44090600
  • Jansen, Marius B. (1995). The Emergence of Meiji Japan. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-5214-8405-7. 
  • Hunter, Janet (1984). Concise Dictionary of Modern Japanese History. University of California Press. ISBN 0-5200-4557-2. 
  • Keene, Donald (2002). Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12341-8.  OCLC 46731178
  • Klemen, L. (1999-2000). Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  • Takemae, Eiji (2003). The Allied Occupation of Japan. Continuum Press. ISBN 0-82641-521-0. 
  • Porter, Robert P. (1918). Japan: The Rise of a Modern Power. Oxford. ISBN 0-665-98994-6. 
  • Satow, Ernest Mason (1921). A Diplomat in Japan. ISBN 4-925080-28-8. 

See also

External links


  1. Hunter 1984, pp. 31-32.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Chronological table 5 1 December 1946 - 23 June 1947. National Diet Library. Retrieved on September 30, 2010.
  3. One can date the "restoration" of imperial rule from the edict of January 3, 1868. Jansen, p.334.
  4. Encyclopedia.com: Japan
  5. - The Constitution of the Empire of Japan (1889)
  6. Duus, Peter (1995). The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895–1910. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520213616. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 A reckless adventure in Taiwan amid Meiji Restoration turmoil, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, Retrieved on July 22, 2007.
  8. (2003) Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. Random House, 321. ISBN 0-375-76052-0. 
  9. Japanese Periodicals in Colonial Korea
  10. Japanese Immigration Statistics, DiscoverNikkei.org
  11. Lankov, Andrei (March 23, 2006). "The Dawn of Modern Korea (360): Settling Down". The Korea Times. http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/opinion/200603/kt2006032318091354130.htm. Retrieved December 18, 2006. 
  12. http://www.jstor.org/pss/2752241 Formosa (Taiwan) Under Japanese Rule
  13. http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/CMTS/MonoPaper3-13.html The Life Instability of Intermarried Japanese Women in Korea
  14. Killing of Chinese in Japan concerned, China Daily
  15. http://www.japanfocus.org/products/details/1715 Prasenjit Duara: The New Imperialism and the Post-Colonial Developmental State: Manchukuo in comparative perspective