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Q3. Japan itself became an Imperialist country after the Meiji Restoration. Comment

Japan’s Tokugawa (or Edo) period, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, was dominated by Shoguns and who brought peace and prosperity to Japan but isolated Japan from external influence. Meiji Restoration of 1868 toppled the long-reigning Tokugawa shoguns, feudal society and agrarian state into powerful industrial state and transformed Japanese culture, politics and society.

In 1853, a flotilla of American warships commanded by Commodore Perry literally forced Japan to open its doors to foreign trade (known as “Gun-boat diplomacy”) with disastrous results for Japanese governments. Shogunate was replaced by imperial court under the emperor Matsuhito, called Meiji (“enlightened rule”). This is often seen as a reaction to and imitation of industrial state building in Western Europe, in particular that of Germany.

Japan adopted the slogan “wealthy country and strong arms” and sought to create a nation-state capable of standing equal among Western powers. Meiji government undertook major reforms which transformed Japan.

It dismantled of the old feudal regime and introduced prefecture system of centralized administration. A national constitution with bicameral parliament (diet) was introduced with modern civil service bureaucracy. System of modern fiscal system, banking, education along with modern industrial enterprise was incorporated. Defense forces were totally revamped with western military technology and universal conscription. Within a few decades, Japan became one of the most industrialized countries in the world with similar benefits and drawbacks.

By 1890, Japan had largely industrialized and was ready to look outward to protect what it saw as its interests. Japan being a small island nation faced problem of adequate land and paucity of raw materials to support her industries. It resulted in imperialistic expansion.

In a series of three conflicts, the Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War I, Japan emerged as a major power. China provided ample opportunities for Japan’s imperialist designs. It immediately started flexing its muscles and attacked China in Sino-Japanese War (1894-5) taking Taiwan and establishing its influence over Korea.

Japan’s victory over the Russian army and navy in the Russo-Japanese War (1903-5) gave Japan the Liaotang Peninsula and even tighter influence over Korea.

                Japan also signed Anglo-Japanese Alliance to assist one another in safeguarding their respective interests in China and Korea. It was a cornerstone of British and Japanese policy in Asia until after World War I. This alliance recognized Japan as a power of equal standing with great European powers. In the Russo-Japanese War, France (ally of Russia) did not intervene, fearing that Britain would intervene from Japan’s side. This helped Japan win the war.

During World War I, Japan declared war on Germany, easily taking its possessions in East Asia. By 1919 it had control of Korea, Taiwan, and the Liaotung Peninsula. In the 1930’s Japan’s burgeoning population and Great Depression cut Japan’s trade and its ability to pay for that imported food. This led to growing military influence, violence, and instability in the Japanese government. In 1931, Japan seized control of Manchuria from China. The Western powers, mired in their problems with the Depression, were unable to help China. Throughout the 1930’s, military control of the Japanese government tightened. In 1937, that military government invaded China, thus starting World War II in Asia.

Japan’s rise as an imperialist power shows that imperialism was not limited to any one region, religion or people. Imperialism was rather the result of greed for economic and political power which could distort the policy of any country regardless of its race, culture or religion.

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