Empire of Japan

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Empire of Japan
  • 大日本帝國
  • Dai Nippon Teikoku or
    Dai Nihon Teikoku
Gokajō no Goseimon
"The Oath in Five Articles"
"His Imperial Majesty's Reign"
[1] [2] [lower-alpha 1]
The Empire of Japan, 1939–1945 (1 to 6 [lower-alpha 3] ).
Japanese Empire (orthographic projection).svg
Areas de facto controlled by the Empire of Japan at peak in World War II (1942):
Largest city
  • Tokyo City (1868–1943)
  • Tokyo (1943–1947)
Official languages Japanese
Recognised regional languages
Government Unitary absolute monarchy
(1868–1890) [7]

Unitary parliamentary semi-constitutional monarchy
(1890–1947) [8]


Prime Minister  
 1885–1888 (first)
Itō Hirobumi
 1946–1947 (last)
Shigeru Yoshida
LegislatureNone (rule by decree) (1868–1871)
House of Peers (1871–1889)
Imperial Diet (since 1889)
House of Peers (1889–1947)
House of Representatives (from 1890)
Historical era Meiji   Taishō   Shōwa
3 January 1868 [9]
11 February 1889
25 July 1894
8 February 1904
23 August 1914
18 September 1931
7 July 1937
12 October 1940
7 December 1941
2 September 1945
3 May 1947 [8]
1938 [10] 1,984,000 [lower-alpha 7]  km2 (766,000 sq mi)
1942 [11] 7,400,000 [lower-alpha 8]  km2 (2,900,000 sq mi)
105,200,000 [lower-alpha 9] b
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of the Tokugawa Shogunate.svg Tokugawa shogunate
Seal of Ezo.svg Republic of Ezo
Occupied Japan Flag of Allied Occupied Japan.svg
  1. 56.0 million lived in the naichi. [12]
  2. 73.1 million lived in the naichi. [12]
Japanese Empire
Japanese name
Kanji 大日本帝国
Hiragana だいにっぽんていこく
Katakana ダイニッポンテイコク
Kyūjitai 大日本帝國

The Russo-Japanese War was a conflict for control of Korea and parts of Manchuria between the Russian Empire and Empire of Japan that took place from 1904 to 1905. The victory greatly raised Japan's stature in the world of global politics. [60] The war is marked by the Japanese opposition of Russian interests in Korea, Manchuria, and China, notably, the Liaodong Peninsula, controlled by the city of Ryojun.

Originally, in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Ryojun had been given to Japan. This part of the treaty was overruled by Western powers, which gave the port to the Russian Empire, furthering Russian interests in the region. These interests came into conflict with Japanese interests. The war began with a surprise attack on the Russian Eastern fleet stationed at Port Arthur, which was followed by the Battle of Port Arthur. Those elements that attempted escape were defeated by the Japanese navy under Admiral Togo Heihachiro at the Battle of the Yellow Sea. Following a late start, the Russian Baltic fleet was denied passage through the British-controlled Suez Canal. The fleet arrived on the scene a year later, only to be annihilated in the Battle of Tsushima. While the ground war did not fare as poorly for the Russians, the Japanese forces were significantly more aggressive than their Russian counterparts and gained a political advantage that culminated with the Treaty of Portsmouth, negotiated in the United States by the American president Theodore Roosevelt. As a result, Russia lost the part of Sakhalin Island south of 50 degrees North latitude (which became Karafuto Prefecture), as well as many mineral rights in Manchuria. In addition, Russia's defeat cleared the way for Japan to annex Korea outright in 1910.

Annexation of Korea

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 (under the Joseon dynasty), 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 puppet state in order to further their security and national interests. [61]

In January 1876, following the Meiji Restoration, Japan employed gunboat diplomacy to pressure the Joseon Dynasty into signing 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, [62] were similar to those granted western powers in Japan following the visit of Commodore Perry. [62] Japanese involvement in Korea increased during the 1890s, a period of political upheaval.

Korea (under the Korean Empire) was de facto occupied and declared a Japanese protectorate following the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905. After proclaimed the founding of the Korean Empire, Korea was officially annexed in Japan through the annexation treaty in 1910.

In Korea, the period is usually described as the "Time of Japanese Forced Occupation" (Hangul: 일제 강점기; Ilje gangjeomgi, Hanja: 日帝强占期). Other terms 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 "The Korea of Japanese rule" (日本統治時代の朝鮮, Nippon Tōchi-jidai no Chōsen). The Korean Peninsula was officially part of the Empire of Japan for 35 years, from August 29, 1910, until the formal Japanese rule ended, de jure, on September 2, 1945, upon the surrender of Japan in World War II. The 1905 and 1910 treaties were eventually declared "null and void" by both Japan and South Korea in 1965.

Taishō era (1912–1926)

Emperor Taisho, the 123rd emperor of Japan Emperor Taisho.jpg
Emperor Taishō, the 123rd emperor of Japan

World War I

Japan entered World War I on the side of the Allies 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 swift invasion in the German territory of the Kiautschou Bay concession and the Siege of Tsingtao proved successful. The German colonial troops surrendered on November 7, 1914, and Japan gained the German holdings. In 1920, the League of Nations established the South Seas Mandate under Japanese administration to replace German New Guinea.

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. 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. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was renewed and expanded in scope twice, in 1905 and 1911, before its demise in 1921. It was officially terminated in 1923.

Siberian Intervention

Commanding Officers and Chiefs of Staff of the Allied Military Mission to Siberia, Vladivostok during the Allied intervention Major General Graves, U.S.A., Gen. Otani, Japanese Army, and Staff, Vladivostok, Siberia., ca. 1918 - ca. 1919 - NARA - 533738.jpg
Commanding Officers and Chiefs of Staff of the Allied Military Mission to Siberia, Vladivostok during the Allied intervention

After the fall of the Tsarist regime and the later provisional regime in 1917, the new Bolshevik government signed a separate peace treaty with Germany. After this, various factions that succeeded the Russian Empire fought amongst themselves in a multi-sided civil war.

In July 1918, President Wilson asked the Japanese government to supply 7,000 troops as part of an international coalition of 25,000 troops planned to support the American Expeditionary Force Siberia. Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake agreed to send 12,000 troops but under the Japanese command rather than as part of an international coalition. The Japanese had several hidden motives for the venture, which included an intense hostility and fear of communism; a determination to recoup historical losses to Russia; and the desire to settle the "northern problem" in Japan's security, either through the creation of a buffer state or through outright territorial acquisition.

By November 1918, more than 70,000 Japanese troops under Chief of Staff Yui Mitsue had occupied all ports and major towns in the Russian Maritime Provinces and eastern Siberia. Japan received 765 Polish orphans from Siberia. [63] [64]

In June 1920, around 450 Japanese civilians and 350 Japanese soldiers, along with Russian White Army supporters, were massacred by partisan forces associated with the Red Army at Nikolayevsk on the Amur River; the United States and its allied coalition partners consequently withdrew from Vladivostok after the capture and execution of White Army leader Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak by the Red Army. However, the Japanese decided to stay, primarily due to fears of the spread of Communism so close to Japan and Japanese-controlled Korea and Manchuria. The Japanese army provided military support to the Japanese-backed Provisional Priamurye Government based in Vladivostok against the Moscow-backed Far Eastern Republic.

The continued Japanese presence concerned the United States, which suspected that Japan had territorial designs on Siberia and the Russian Far East. Subjected to intense diplomatic pressure by the United States and United Kingdom, and facing increasing domestic opposition due to the economic and human cost, the administration of Prime Minister Katō Tomosaburō withdrew the Japanese forces in October 1922. Japanese casualties from the expedition were 5,000 dead from combat or illness, with the expedition costing over 900 million yen.

"Taishō Democracy"

Count Itagaki Taisuke is credited as being the first Japanese party leader and an important force for liberalism in Meiji Japan. Itagaki Taisuke.jpg
Count Itagaki Taisuke is credited as being the first Japanese party leader and an important force for liberalism in Meiji Japan.

The two-party political system that had been developing in Japan since the turn of the century came of age after World War I, giving rise to the nickname for the period, "Taishō Democracy". The public grew disillusioned with the growing national debt and the new election laws, which retained the old minimum tax qualifications for voters. Calls were raised for universal suffrage and the dismantling of the old political party network. Students, university professors, and journalists, bolstered by labor unions and inspired by a variety of democratic, socialist, communist, anarchist, and other thoughts, mounted large but orderly public demonstrations in favor of universal male suffrage in 1919 and 1920.

On 1 September 1923, at a magnitude of 7.9, an earthquake struck Kantō Plain. The death toll was estimated to have exceeded to 140,000 lives lost. On the same day, the Imperial Japanese Army and its nationalists committed a massacre of Korean residents.

The election of Katō Komei as Prime Minister of Japan continued democratic reforms that had been advocated by influential individuals on the left. This culminated in the passage of universal male suffrage in March 1925. This bill gave all male subjects over the age of 25 the right to vote, provided they had lived in their electoral districts for at least one year and were not homeless. The electorate thereby increased from 3.3 million to 12.5 million. [65]

In the political milieu of the day, there was a proliferation of new parties, including socialist and communist parties. Fear of a broader electorate, left-wing power, and the growing social change led to the passage of the Peace Preservation Law in 1925, which forbade any change in the political structure or the abolition of private property.

In 1932, Park Chun-kum was elected to the House of Representatives in the Japanese general election as the first person elected from a colonial background.[ clarification needed ] [66] In 1935, democracy was introduced in Taiwan and in response to Taiwanese public opinion, local assemblies were established. [67] In 1942, 38 colonial people were elected to local assemblies of the Japanese homeland. [66]

Unstable coalitions and divisiveness in the Diet led the Kenseikai (憲政会Constitutional Government Association) and the Seiyū Hontō (政友本党True Seiyūkai) to merge as the Rikken Minseitō (立憲民政党Constitutional Democratic Party) in 1927. The Rikken Minseitō platform was committed to the parliamentary system, democratic politics, and world peace. Thereafter, until 1932, the Seiyūkai and the Rikken Minseitō alternated in power.

Despite the political realignments and hope for more orderly government, domestic economic crises plagued whichever party held power. Fiscal austerity programs and appeals for public support of such conservative government policies as the Peace Preservation Law—including reminders of the moral obligation to make sacrifices for the emperor and the state—were attempted as solutions.

Early Shōwa (1926–1930)

Emperor Showa during an army inspection on January 8, 1938 Emperor Showa Army 1938-1-8.jpg
Emperor Shōwa during an army inspection on January 8, 1938

Rise of militarism and its social organisations

Important institutional links existed between the party in government (Kōdōha) and military and political organizations, such as the Imperial Young Federation and the "Political Department" of the Kempeitai. Amongst the himitsu kessha (secret societies), the Kokuryu-kai and Kokka Shakai Shugi Gakumei (National Socialist League) also had close ties to the government. The Tonarigumi (residents committee) groups, the Nation Service Society (national government trade union), and Imperial Farmers Association were all allied as well. Other organizations and groups related with the government in wartime were the Double Leaf Society, Kokuhonsha, Taisei Yokusankai, Imperial Youth Corps, Keishichō (to 1945), Shintoist Rites Research Council, Treaty Faction, Fleet Faction, and Volunteer Fighting Corps.

Nationalism and decline of democracy

Sadao Araki was an important figurehead and founder of the Army party and the most important militarist thinker in his time. His first ideological works date from his leadership of the Kōdōha (Imperial Benevolent Rule or Action Group), opposed by the Tōseiha (Control Group) led by General Kazushige Ugaki. He linked the ancient ( bushido code) and contemporary local and European fascist ideals (see Statism in Shōwa Japan), to form the ideological basis of the movement (Shōwa nationalism).

Rebel troops assembling at police headquarters during the February 26 Incident 226 Police HQ Rebels.JPG
Rebel troops assembling at police headquarters during the February 26 Incident

From September 1931, the Japanese were becoming more locked into the course that would lead them into the Second World War, with Araki leading the way. Totalitarianism, militarism, and expansionism were to become the rule, with fewer voices able to speak against it. In a September 23 news conference, Araki first mentioned the philosophy of "Kōdōha" (The Imperial Way Faction). The concept of Kodo linked the Emperor, the people, land, and morality as indivisible. This led to the creation of a "new" Shinto and increased Emperor worship.

On February 26, 1936, a coup d'état was attempted (the February 26 Incident). Launched by the ultranationalist Kōdōha faction with the military, it ultimately failed due to the intervention of the Emperor. Kōdōha members were purged from the top military positions and the Tōseiha faction gained dominance. However, both factions believed in expansionism, a strong military, and a coming war. Furthermore, Kōdōha members, while removed from the military, still had political influence within the government.

The state was being transformed to serve the Army and the Emperor. Symbolic katana swords came back into fashion as the martial embodiment of these beliefs, and the Nambu pistol became its contemporary equivalent, with the implicit message that the Army doctrine of close combat would prevail. The final objective, as envisioned by Army thinkers such as Sadao Araki and right-wing line followers, was a return to the old Shogunate system, but in the form of a contemporary Military Shogunate. In such a government the Emperor would once more be a figurehead (as in the Edo period). Real power would fall to a leader very similar to a führer or duce, though with the power less nakedly held. On the other hand, the traditionalist Navy militarists defended the Emperor and a constitutional monarchy with a significant religious aspect.

A third point of view was supported by Prince Chichibu, a brother of Emperor Shōwa, who repeatedly counseled him to implement a direct imperial rule, even if that meant suspending the constitution. [68]

With the launching of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association in 1940 by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Japan would turn to a form of government that resembled totalitarianism. This unique style of government, very similar to fascism, was known as "Shōwa Statism".

In the early twentieth century, a distinctive style of architecture was developed for the empire. Now referred to as Imperial Crown Style (帝冠様式, teikan yōshiki), before the end of World War II, it was originally referred to as Emperor's Crown Amalgamate Style, and sometimes Emperor's Crown Style (帝冠式, Teikanshiki). The style is identified by Japanese-style roofing on top of Neoclassical styled buildings; and can have a centrally elevated structure with a pyramidal dome. The prototype for this style was developed by architect Shimoda Kikutaro in his proposal for the Imperial Diet Building (present National Diet Building) in 1920 – although his proposal was ultimately rejected. Outside of the Japanese mainland, in places like Taiwan and Korea, Imperial Crown Style architecture often included regional architectural elements. [69]

Overall, during the 1920s, Japan changed its direction toward a democratic system of government. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the 1930s, during which military leaders became increasingly influential. These shifts in power were made possible by the ambiguity and imprecision of the Meiji Constitution, particularly as regarded the position of the Emperor in relation to the constitution.

Economic factors

A bank run during the Showa financial crisis, March 1927 Bank run during the Showa Financial Crisis.JPG
A bank run during the Shōwa financial crisis, March 1927

During the 1920s, the whole global economy was dubbed as "a decade of global uncertainty". At the same time, the zaibatsu trading groups (principally Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo, and Yasuda) looked towards great future expansion. Their main concern was a shortage of raw materials. Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe combined social concerns with the needs of capital, and planned for expansion. Their economic growth was stimulated by certain domestic policies and it can be seen in the steady and progressive increase of materials such as in the iron, steel and chemical industry. [70]

The main goals of Japan's expansionism were acquisition and protection of spheres of influence, maintenance of territorial integrity, acquisition of raw materials, and access to Asian markets. Western nations, notably the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, had for long exhibited great interest in the commercial opportunities in China and other parts of Asia. These opportunities had attracted Western investment because of the availability of raw materials for both domestic production and re-export to Asia. Japan desired these opportunities in planning the development of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The Great Depression, just as in many other countries, hindered Japan's economic growth. The Japanese Empire's main problem lay in that rapid industrial expansion had turned the country into a major manufacturing and industrial power that required raw materials; however, these had to be obtained from overseas, as there was a critical lack of natural resources on the home islands.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Japan needed to import raw materials such as iron, rubber, and oil to maintain strong economic growth. Most of these resources came from the United States. The Japanese felt that acquiring resource-rich territories would establish economic self-sufficiency and independence, and they also hoped to jump-start the nation's economy in the midst of the depression. As a result, Japan set its sights on East Asia, specifically Manchuria with its many resources; Japan needed these resources to continue its economic development and maintain national integrity.

Later Shōwa (1931–1941)

Prewar expansionism

Japanese troops entering Shenyang, Northeast China during the Mukden Incident, 1931 Mukden 1931 japan shenyang.jpg
Japanese troops entering Shenyang, Northeast China during the Mukden Incident, 1931

In 1931, Japan invaded and conquered Northeast China (Manchuria) with little resistance. Japan claimed that this invasion was a liberation of the local Manchus from the Chinese, although the majority of the population were Han Chinese as a result of the large scale settlement of Chinese in Manchuria in the 19th century. Japan then established a puppet state called Manchukuo (Chinese :滿洲國), and installed the last Manchu Emperor of China, Puyi, as the official head of state. Rehe, a Chinese territory bordering Manchukuo, was later also taken in 1933. This puppet regime had to carry on a protracted pacification campaign against the Anti-Japanese Volunteer Armies in Manchuria. In 1936, Japan created a similar Mongolian puppet state in Inner Mongolia named Mengjiang (Chinese :蒙疆), which was also predominantly Chinese as a result of recent Han immigration to the area. At that time, East Asians were banned from immigration to North America and Australia, but the newly established Manchukuo was open to immigration of Asians. Japan had an emigration plan to encourage colonization; the Japanese population in Manchuria subsequently grew to 850,000. [71] With rich natural resources and labor force in Manchuria, army-owned corporations turned Manchuria into a solid material support machine of the Japanese Army. [72]

Second Sino-Japanese War
The Japanese occupation of Peiping (Beijing) in China, on August 13, 1937. Japanese troops are shown passing from Peiping into the Tartar City through Zhengyangmen, the main gate leading onward to the palaces in the Forbidden City. First pictures of the Japanese occupation of Peiping in China.jpg
The Japanese occupation of Peiping (Beijing) in China, on August 13, 1937. Japanese troops are shown passing from Peiping into the Tartar City through Zhengyangmen, the main gate leading onward to the palaces in the Forbidden City.

Japan invaded China proper in 1937, beginning a war against both Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and also the Communists of Mao Zedong's united front. On December 13 of that same year, the Nationalist capital of Nanjing surrendered to Japanese troops. In the event known as the "Nanjing Massacre", Japanese troops killed many tens-of-thousands of people associated with the defending garrison. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 to 300,000 including civilians, may have been killed, although the actual numbers are uncertain and possibly inflated—coupled with the fact that the government of the People's Republic of China has never undertaken a full accounting of the massacre. In total, an estimated 20 million Chinese, mostly civilians, were killed during World War II. A puppet state was also set up in China quickly afterwards, headed by Wang Jingwei. The Second Sino-Japanese War continued into World War II with the Communists and Nationalists in a temporary and uneasy nominal alliance against the Japanese.

Clashes with the Soviet Union

In 1938, the Japanese 19th Division entered territory claimed by the Soviet Union, leading to the Battle of Lake Khasan. This incursion was founded in the Japanese belief that the Soviet Union misinterpreted the demarcation of the boundary, as stipulated in the Treaty of Peking, between Imperial Russia and Manchu China (and subsequent supplementary agreements on demarcation), and furthermore, that the demarcation markers were tampered with.

On May 11, 1939, in the Nomonhan Incident (Battle of Khalkhin Gol), a Mongolian cavalry unit of some 70 to 90 men entered the disputed area in search of grazing for their horses, and encountered Manchukuoan cavalry, who drove them out. Two days later the Mongolian force returned and the Manchukoans were unable to evict them.

The IJA 23rd Division and other units of the Kwantung Army then became involved. Joseph Stalin ordered Stavka, the Red Army's high command, to develop a plan for a counterstrike against the Japanese. In late August, Georgy Zhukov employed encircling tactics that made skillful use of superior artillery, armor, and air forces; this offensive nearly annihilated the 23rd Division and decimated the IJA 7th Division. On September 15 an armistice was arranged. Nearly two years later, on April 13, 1941, the parties signed a Neutrality Pact, in which the Soviet Union pledged to respect the territorial integrity and inviolability of Manchukuo, while Japan agreed similarly for the Mongolian People's Republic.

Tripartite Pact
Signing ceremony for the Tripartite Pact, September 27, 1940 in Berlin, Nazi Germany Signing ceremony for the Axis Powers Tripartite Pact;.jpg
Signing ceremony for the Tripartite Pact, September 27, 1940 in Berlin, Nazi Germany

In 1938, Japan prohibited the expulsion of the Jews in Japan, Manchuria, and China in accordance with the spirit of racial equality on which Japan had insisted for many years. [73] [74]

The Second Sino-Japanese War had seen tensions rise between Imperial Japan and the United States; events such as the Panay incident and the Nanjing Massacre turned American public opinion against Japan. With the occupation of French Indochina in the years of 1940–41, and with the continuing war in China, the United States and its allies placed embargoes on Japan of strategic materials such as scrap metal and oil, which were vitally needed for the war effort. The Japanese were faced with the option of either withdrawing from China and losing face or seizing and securing new sources of raw materials in the resource-rich, European-controlled colonies of Southeast Asia—specifically British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia).

On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. Their objectives were to "establish and maintain a new order of things" in their respective world regions and spheres of influence, with Germany and Italy in Europe, and Japan in Asia. The signatories of this alliance became known as the Axis Powers. The pact also called for mutual protection—if any one of the member powers was attacked by a country not already at war, excluding the Soviet Union and for technological and economic cooperation between the signatories.

For the sake of their own people and nation, Prime Minister Konoe formed the Taisei Yokusankai (Imperial Rule Assistance Association) on October 12, 1940, as a ruling party in Japan.

In 1940 Japan celebrated the 2600th anniversary of Jimmu's ascension and built a monument to Hakkō ichiu despite the fact that all historians knew Jimmu was a made up figure. In 1941 the Japanese government charged the one historian who dared to challenge Jimmu's existence publicly, Tsuda Sokichi. [75] During the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Second World War, the firm Iwanami Shoten was repeatedly censored because of its positions against the war and the Emperor. Shigeo Iwanami was even sentenced to two months in prison for the publication of the banned works of Tsuda Sōkichi (a sentence which he did not serve, however). Shortly before his death in 1946, he founded the newspaper Sekai , which had a great influence in post-war Japanese intellectual circles. [76] The early 20th century historian Tsuda Sōkichi, who put forward the then-controversial theory that the Kojiki 's accounts were not based on history (as Edo period kokugaku and State Shinto ideology believed them to be) but rather propagandistic myths concocted to explain and legitimize the rule of the imperial (Yamato) dynasty, also saw Susanoo as a negative figure, arguing that he was created to serve as the rebellious opposite of the imperial ancestress Amaterasu. [77] A historian in 20th century, Sokichi Tsuda's view of history, which has become mainstream after the World War II, is based on his idea. Many scholars today also believe that the mythology of Takamagahara in Kojiki was created by the ruling class to make people believe that the class was precious because they originated in the heavenly realm. [78] [79]

World War II (1941–1945)

Map of Japanese conquests from 1937 to 1942 Second world war asia 1937-1942 map en6.png
Map of Japanese conquests from 1937 to 1942

On November 5, 1941, Yamamoto in his "Top Secret Operation Order no. 1" issued to the Combined Fleet, the Empire of Japan must drive out Britain and America from Greater East Asia and to hasten the settlement of the China, whereas should the eventuality that Britain and America would really be driven out from the Philippines and Dutch East Indies, an independent, self-supporting economic entity will be firmly established – mirroring the principle of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in another personification. [80]

Facing an oil embargo by the United States as well as dwindling domestic reserves, the Japanese government decided to execute a plan developed by Isoroku Yamamoto to attack the United States Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. While the United States was neutral and continued negotiating with Japan for possible peace in Asia, the Imperial Japanese Navy at the same time made its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu on December 7, 1941. As a result, the U.S. battleship fleet was decimated and almost 2,500 people died in the attack that day. The primary objective of the attack was to incapacitate the United States long enough for Japan to establish its long-planned South East Asian empire and defensible buffer zones. The American public saw the attack as barbaric and treacherous and rallied against the Japanese. Four days later, Adolf Hitler of Germany, and Benito Mussolini of Italy declared war on the United States, merging the separate conflicts. The United States entered the European Theatre and Pacific Theater in full force, thereby bringing the United States to World War II on the side of the Allies.

Even as they launched the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were well aware that the United States had the capability to mount a counter-offensive against them. However, they believed that they could maintain their defensive perimeter and push back any attempt by the British and Americans that could incur enough losses to make the Allied forces consider making peace on the basis of Japan's retainment of the territories she had gained. [81]

Japanese conquests

Victorious Japanese troops marching through the city center of Singapore following the city's capture in February 1942 JapaneseMarchSgpCity.jpg
Victorious Japanese troops marching through the city center of Singapore following the city's capture in February 1942

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched offensives against Allied forces in East and Southeast Asia, with simultaneous attacks in British Hong Kong, British Malaya and the Philippines. Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese on December 25. In Malaya the Japanese overwhelmed an Allied army composed of British, Indian, Australian and Malay forces. The Japanese were quickly able to advance down the Malayan Peninsula, forcing the Allied forces to retreat towards Singapore. The Allies lacked aircover and tanks; the Japanese had complete air superiority. The sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse on December 10, 1941, led to the east coast of Malaya being exposed to Japanese landings and the elimination of British naval power in the area. By the end of January 1942, the last Allied forces crossed the strait of Johore and into Singapore.

On January 11, 1942, a Japanese submarine shelled the United States naval Station at Pago Pago in Samoa, suggesting that the Japanese were advancing to the direction of Australia and nearby Oceanic regions. [82]

In the Philippines, the Japanese pushed the combined American-Filipino force towards the Bataan Peninsula and later the island of Corregidor. By January 1942, General Douglas MacArthur and President Manuel L. Quezon were forced to flee in the face of Japanese advance. This marked one of the worst defeats suffered by the Americans, leaving over 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war in the custody of the Japanese. On February 15, 1942, Singapore, due to the overwhelming superiority of Japanese forces and encirclement tactics, fell to the Japanese, causing the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history. An estimated 80,000 Australian, British and Indian troops were taken as prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken in the Japanese invasion of Malaya (modern day Malaysia). The Japanese then seized the key oil production zones of Borneo, Central Java, Malang, Cebu, Sumatra, and Dutch New Guinea of the late Dutch East Indies, defeating the Dutch forces. [83] However, Allied sabotage had made it difficult for the Japanese to restore oil production to its pre-war peak. [84] The Japanese then consolidated their lines of supply through capturing key islands of the Pacific, including Guadalcanal.

Tide turns

A model representing the attack by dive bombers from USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise on the Japanese aircraft carriers Soryu, Akagi and Kaga in the morning of June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway Battle of Midway.jpg
A model representing the attack by dive bombers from USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise on the Japanese aircraft carriers Sōryū, Akagi and Kaga in the morning of June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway

Japanese military strategists were keenly aware of the unfavorable discrepancy between the industrial potential of Japan and the United States. Because of this they reasoned that Japanese success hinged on their ability to extend the strategic advantage gained at Pearl Harbor with additional rapid strategic victories. The Japanese Command reasoned that only decisive destruction of the United States' Pacific Fleet and conquest of its remote outposts would ensure that the Japanese Empire would not be overwhelmed by America's industrial might.

In April 1942, Japan was bombed for the first time in the Doolittle Raid. During the same month, after the Japanese victory in the Battle of Bataan, the Bataan Death March was conducted, where 5,650 to 18,000 Filipinos died under the rule of the imperial army. [85] In May 1942, failure to decisively defeat the Allies at the Battle of the Coral Sea, in spite of Japanese numerical superiority, equated to a strategic defeat for the Japanese. This setback was followed in June 1942 by the catastrophic loss of four fleet carriers at the Battle of Midway, the first decisive defeat for the Imperial Japanese Navy. It proved to be the turning point of the war as the Navy lost its offensive strategic capability and never managed to reconstruct the "'critical mass' of both large numbers of carriers and well-trained air groups". [86]

Australian land forces defeated Japanese Marines in New Guinea at the Battle of Milne Bay in September 1942, which was the first land defeat suffered by the Japanese in the Pacific. Further victories by the Allies at Guadalcanal in September 1942 and New Guinea in 1943 put the Empire of Japan on the defensive for the remainder of the war, with Guadalcanal in particular sapping their already-limited oil supplies. [84] During 1943 and 1944, Allied forces, backed by the industrial might and vast raw material resources of the United States, advanced steadily towards Japan. The Sixth United States Army, led by General MacArthur, landed on Leyte on October 20, 1944. The Palawan massacre was committed by the imperial army against Filipinos in December 1944. [87] In the subsequent months, during the Philippines campaign (1944–45), the Allies, including the combined United States forces together with the native guerrilla units, recaptured the Philippines.


The rebuilt battlecruiser Haruna sank at her moorings in the naval base of Kure on July 24 during a series of bombings. Japanese battleship Haruna sunk.jpg
The rebuilt battlecruiser Haruna sank at her moorings in the naval base of Kure on July 24 during a series of bombings.

By 1944, the Allies had seized or bypassed and neutralized many of Japan's strategic bases through amphibious landings and bombardment. This, coupled with the losses inflicted by Allied submarines on Japanese shipping routes, began to strangle Japan's economy and undermine its ability to supply its army. By early 1945, the US Marines had wrested control of the Ogasawara Islands in several hard-fought battles such as the Battle of Iwo Jima, marking the beginning of the fall of the islands of Japan. After securing airfields in Saipan and Guam in the summer of 1944, the United States Army Air Forces conducted an intense strategic bombing campaign by having B-29 Superfortress bombers in nighttime low altitude incendiary raids, burning Japanese cities in an effort to pulverize Japan's war industry and shatter its morale. The Operation Meetinghouse raid on Tokyo on the night of March 9–10, 1945, led to the deaths of approximately 120,000 civilians. Approximately 350,000–500,000 civilians died in 67 Japanese cities as a result of the incendiary bombing campaign on Japan. Concurrent with these attacks, Japan's vital coastal shipping operations were severely hampered with extensive aerial mining by the US's Operation Starvation. Regardless, these efforts did not succeed in persuading the Japanese military to surrender. In mid-August 1945, the United States dropped nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These bombings were the first and only combat use of nuclear weaponry. These two bombs killed approximately 120,000 people in a matter of seconds, and as many as a result of nuclear radiation in the following weeks, months and years. The bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945.

At the Yalta agreement, the US, the UK, and the USSR had agreed that the USSR would enter the war on Japan within three months of the defeat of Germany in Europe. This Soviet–Japanese War led to the fall of Japan's Manchurian occupation, Soviet occupation of South Sakhalin island, and a real, imminent threat of Soviet invasion of the home islands of Japan. This was a significant factor for some internal parties in the Japanese decision to surrender to the US [88] and gain some protection, rather than face simultaneous Soviet invasion as well as defeat by the US and its allies. Likewise, the superior numbers of the armies of the Soviet Union in Europe was a factor in the US decision to demonstrate the use of atomic weapons to the USSR,[ citation needed ] just as the Allied victory in Europe was evolving into the division of Germany and Berlin, the division of Europe with the Iron Curtain and the subsequent Cold War.

Having ignored (mokusatsu) the Potsdam Declaration, the Empire of Japan surrendered and ended World War II after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the declaration of war by the Soviet Union and subsequent invasion of Manchuria and other territories. In a national radio address on August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender to the Japanese people by Gyokuon-hōsō .

End of the Empire of Japan

Occupation of Japan

A drawing depicting a speech in the Imperial Japanese Diet on November 1, 1945, following the end of the Second World War. In the foreground are several Allied soldiers watching the proceedings from the back of the balcony. The Imperial Japanese Diet, Tokyo - the House of Representatives Art.IWMARTLD5841.jpg
A drawing depicting a speech in the Imperial Japanese Diet on November 1, 1945, following the end of the Second World War. In the foreground are several Allied soldiers watching the proceedings from the back of the balcony.

A period known as occupied Japan followed after the war, largely spearheaded by US Army General Douglas MacArthur to revise the Japanese constitution and de-militarize the nation. The Allied occupation, including concurrent economic and political assistance, continued until 1952. Allied forces ordered Japan to abolish the Meiji Constitution and enforce the 1947 Constitution of Japan. This new constitution was imposed by the United States under the supervision of MacArthur. MacArthur included Article 9 which changed Japan into a pacifist country. [89]

Upon adoption of the 1947 constitution, the Empire of Japan dissolved and became simply the state of Japan, and all the territories such as Taiwan, Korea, Karafuto, and Kwantung were lost. Japan was reduced to the territories that were traditionally within the Japanese cultural sphere pre-1895: the four main islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku), the Ryukyu Islands, and the Nanpō Islands. The Kuril Islands also historically belonged to Japan [90] and were first inhabited by the Ainu people before coming under the control of the Matsumae clan during the Edo Period. [91] However, the Kuril Islands were not included due to a dispute with the Soviet Union. [8]

Japan adopted a parliamentary-based political system, and the role of the Emperor became symbolic. The US occupation forces were fully responsible for protecting Japan from external threats. Japan only had a minor police force for domestic security. Japan was under the sole control of the United States. This was the only time in Japanese history that it was occupied by a foreign power. [92]

General MacArthur later commended the new Japanese government that he helped establish and the new Japanese period when he was about to send the American forces to the Korean War:

The Japanese people, since the war, have undergone the greatest reformation recorded in modern history. With a commendable will, eagerness to learn, and marked capacity to understand, they have, from the ashes left in war's wake, erected in Japan an edifice dedicated to the supremacy of individual liberty and personal dignity; and in the ensuing process there has been created a truly representative government committed to the advance of political morality, freedom of economic enterprise, and social justice. Politically, economically, and socially Japan is now abreast of many free nations of the earth and will not again fail the universal trust. ... I sent all four of our occupation divisions to the Korean battlefront without the slightest qualms as to the effect of the resulting power vacuum upon Japan. The results fully justified my faith. I know of no nation more serene, orderly, and industrious, nor in which higher hopes can be entertained for future constructive service in the advance of the human race.

For historian John W. Dower:

In retrospect, apart from the military officer corps, the purge of alleged militarists and ultranationalists that was conducted under the Occupation had relatively small impact on the long-term composition of men of influence in the public and private sectors. The purge initially brought new blood into the political parties, but this was offset by the return of huge numbers of formerly purged conservative politicians to national as well as local politics in the early 1950s. In the bureaucracy, the purge was negligible from the outset. ... In the economic sector, the purge similarly was only mildly disruptive, affecting less than sixteen hundred individuals spread among some four hundred companies. Everywhere one looks, the corridors of power in postwar Japan are crowded with men whose talents had already been recognized during the war years, and who found the same talents highly prized in the 'new' Japan. [93]

Influential personnel


In the administration of Japan dominated by the military political movement during World War II, the civil central government was under the management of military men and their right-wing civilian allies, along with members of the nobility and Imperial Family. The Emperor was in the center of this power structure as supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Armed Forces and head of state.

Early period:

World War II:


Early period

World War II


From left to right: Marshal Admiral Heihachiro Togo (1848-1934), Field Marshal Oku Yasukata (1847-1930), Marshal Admiral Yoshika Inoue (1845-1929) and Field Marshal Kageaki Kawamura (1850-1926), at the unveiling ceremony of the bronze statue of Field Marshal Iwao Oyama Marshals Kawamura, Inoue, Oku and Togo.jpg
From left to right: Marshal Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō (1848–1934), Field Marshal Oku Yasukata (1847–1930), Marshal Admiral Yoshika Inoue (1845–1929) and Field Marshal Kageaki Kawamura (1850–1926), at the unveiling ceremony of the bronze statue of Field Marshal Iwao Ōyama

The Empire of Japan's military was divided into two main branches: the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy. To coordinate operations, the Imperial General Headquarters, headed by the Emperor, was established in 1893. Prominent generals and leaders:

Imperial Japanese Army

Early period
World War II

Imperial Japanese Navy

Early period
World War II


Population density map of the naichi (1920) Population Density of the Empire of Japan (1920).png
Population density map of the naichi (1920)
Population density map of the naichi (1940) Population Density of the Empire of Japan (1940).png
Population density map of the naichi (1940)



Notable scholars/scientists

19th century

Anthropologists, ethnologists, archaeologists, and historians

Medical scientists, biologists, evolutionary theorists, and geneticists

Inventors, industrialists, engineers

Philosophers, educators, mathematicians, and polymaths

Chemists, physicists, and geologists

20th century



Posthumous name 1Given name2Childhood name3Period of reignEra name4
Meiji Tennō
Taishō Tennō
Shōwa Tennō
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 Emperor Meiji.
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 and influence on politics after the 1947 constitution was adopted.


See also


  1. Modified version used in 1880–1945.
  2. The South Seas Mandate (7) was a mandate of the League of Nations under Japanese administration.
  3. The South Seas Mandate (7) was a mandate of the League of Nations under Japanese administration.
  4. From 1943 to 1945, Karafuto was part of the naichi
  5. From 1943 to 1945, Karafuto was part of the naichi
  6. Although the Empire of Japan officially had no state religion, [4] [5] Shinto played an important part for the Japanese state. Marius Jansen states: "The Meiji government had from the first incorporated, and in a sense created, Shinto, and utilized its tales of the divine origin of the ruling house as the core of its ritual addressed to ancestors 'of ages past'. As the Japanese empire grew the affirmation of a divine mission for the Japanese race was emphasized more strongly. Shinto was imposed on colonial lands in Taiwan and Korea, and public funds were utilized to build and maintain new shrines there. Shinto priests were attached to army units as chaplains, and the cult of war dead, enshrined at the Yasukuni Jinja in Tokyo, took on ever greater proportions as their number grew." [6]
  7. De facto, including Japanese puppet state Manchukuo and not official.
  8. De facto, including Japanese occupation territories and not official.
  9. De facto, including population in Japanese occupation territories and not official.
  10. "During the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan's nation-builders forged the Meiji nation-state out of an older, heterogeneous Tokugawa realm, integrating semi-autonomous domain states into a unified political community." [13] "Rather than restore an ancient (and probably imaginary) center-periphery order, the Meiji Restoration hastened the creation of a new and unambiguously centralized and modern nation-state. Within a few decades of the official beginning of the nation-building project, Tokyo had become the political and economic capital of a state that replaced semi-autonomous domains with newly created prefectures subordinate to central laws and centrally appointed administrators." [14]
  11. 富国強兵, "Enrich the Country, Strengthen the Armed Forces"
  12. 殖産興業, "Promote Industry"
  13. During a recess, Saigō, who had his troops outside, "remarked that it would take only one short sword to settle the discussion". [25] The word used for "dagger" was tantō.

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Preceded by
Edo period
History of Japan
Empire of Japan
Succeeded by
Post-war Japan
Occupation of Japan

35°40′57″N139°45′10″E / 35.68250°N 139.75278°E / 35.68250; 139.75278