Taishō period

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Japanese occupation of the Russian city of Khabarovsk during the Russian Civil War, 1919 Khabarovsk intervention.jpg
Japanese occupation of the Russian city of Khabarovsk during the Russian Civil War, 1919

The Taishō period(大正時代,Taishō jidai), or Taishō era, is a period in the history of Japan dating from 30 July 1912, to 25 December 1926, coinciding with the reign of the Emperor Taishō. [1] The new emperor was a sickly man, which prompted the shift in political power from the old oligarchic group of elder statesmen (or genrō ) to the Imperial Diet of Japan and the democratic parties. Thus, the era is considered the time of the liberal movement known as the "Taishō democracy" in Japan; it is usually distinguished from the preceding chaotic Meiji period and the following militaristic-driven first part of the Shōwa period. [2]

History of Japan aspect of history

The first human habitation in the Japanese archipelago has been traced to prehistoric times. The Jōmon period, named after its "cord-marked" pottery, was followed by the Yayoi in the first millennium BC when new technologies were introduced from continental Asia. During this period, the first known written reference to Japan was recorded in the Chinese Book of Han in the first century AD. Between the fourth century and the ninth century, Japan's many kingdoms and tribes gradually came to be unified under a centralized government, nominally controlled by the Emperor. This imperial dynasty continues to reign over Japan. In 794, a new imperial capital was established at Heian-kyō, marking the beginning of the Heian period, which lasted until 1185. The Heian period is considered a golden age of classical Japanese culture. Japanese religious life from this time and onwards was a mix of native Shinto practices and Buddhism.

Emperor Taishō Emperor of Japan from 1912 until 1926

Emperor Taishō was the 123rd Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from 30 July 1912 until his death on 25 December 1926.


Genrō (元老) was an unofficial designation given to certain retired elder Japanese statesmen, considered the "founding fathers" of modern Japan, who served as informal extraconstitutional advisors to the emperor, during the Meiji, Taishō, and Shōwa periods in Japanese history.


Meiji legacy

On 30 July 1912, the Meiji Emperor died and Crown Prince Yoshihito succeeded to the throne as Emperor of Japan. In his coronation address, the newly enthroned Emperor announced his reign's nengō (era name) Taishō, meaning "great righteousness". [3]

Emperor Meiji Emperor of Japan from 1867 until 1912

Emperor Meiji, or Meiji the Great, was the 122nd Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from 3 February 1867 until his death on 30 July 1912. He presided over the Meiji period, a time of rapid change that witnessed the Empire of Japan rapidly transform from an isolationist feudal state to an industrialized world power.

Emperor of Japan Monarch in Japan

The Emperor of Japan is the head of the Imperial Family and the head of state of Japan. Under the 1947 constitution, he is defined as "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people." Historically, he was also the highest authority of the Shinto religion. In Japanese, the Emperor is called Tennō (天皇), literally "heavenly sovereign". In English, the use of the term Mikado for the Emperor was once common, but is now considered obsolete.

The Japanese era name, also known as gengō (元号), is the first of the two elements that identify years in the Japanese era calendar scheme. The second element, a number, counts the years since the era began; as in many other systems, there is no year zero. For example, the first year of the Heisei period was 1989 CE, or "Heisei 1", so the year 2019 CE in this scheme is "Heisei 31".

The end of the Meiji period was marked by huge government domestic and overseas investments and defense programs, nearly exhausted credit, and a lack of foreign reserves to pay debts. The influence of Western culture experienced in the Meiji period continued. Kobayashi Kiyochika adopted Western painting styles while continuing to work in ukiyo-e . Okakura Kakuzō kept an interest in traditional Japanese painting. Mori Ōgai studied in the West and introduced a more modern view of human life.

Western culture Heritage of norms, customs, belief and political systems, and artifacts and technologies associated with Europe (both indigenous and foreign origin)

Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and European civilization, is a term used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems and specific artifacts and technologies that have some origin or association with Europe. The term also applies beyond Europe to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonization, or influence. For example, Western culture includes countries in the Americas and Australasia, whose language and demographic ethnicity majorities are European. The development of western culture has been strongly influenced by Christianity.

Kobayashi Kiyochika Japanese artist

Kobayashi Kiyochika was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, best known for his ukiyo-e colour woodblock prints and newspaper illustrations. His work documents the rapid modernization and Westernization Japanese underwent during the Meiji period (1868–1912) and employs a sense of light and shade called kōsen-ga inspired by Western art techniques. His work first found an audience in the 1870s with prints of red-brick buildings and trains that had proliferated after the Meiji Restoration; his prints of the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95 were also popular. Woodblock printing fell out of favour during this period, and many collectors consider Kobayashi's work the last significant example of ukiyo-e.

Ukiyo-e A genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries

Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica.

The events flowing from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 had seen not only the fulfillment of many domestic and foreign economic and political objectives—without Japan suffering the colonial fate of other Asian nations—but also a new intellectual ferment, in a time when there was worldwide interest in socialism and an urban proletariat was developing. Universal male suffrage, social welfare, workers' rights, and nonviolent protests were ideals of the early leftist movement. Government suppression of leftist activities, however, led to more radical leftist action and even more suppression, resulting in the dissolution of the Japan Socialist Party (日本社会党 Nihon Shakaitō) only a year after its founding and general failure of the socialist movement in 1906.

Meiji Restoration restoration of imperial rule in Japan

The Meiji Restoration, also known as the Meiji Renovation, Revolution, Reform, or Renewal, was an event that restored practical imperial rule to the Empire of Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji. Although there were ruling Emperors before the Meiji Restoration, the events restored practical abilities and consolidated the political system under the Emperor of Japan.

The proletariat is the class of wage-earners in an economic society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power. A member of such a class is a proletarian.

Suffrage right to vote

Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise is the right to vote in public, political elections. In some languages, and occasionally in English, the right to vote is called active suffrage, as distinct from passive suffrage, which is the right to stand for election. The combination of active and passive suffrage is sometimes called full suffrage.

The beginning of the Taishō period was marked by the Taishō political crisis in 1912–13 that interrupted the earlier politics of compromise. When Saionji Kinmochi tried to cut the military budget, the army minister resigned, bringing down the Rikken Seiyūkai cabinet. Both Yamagata Aritomo and Saionji refused to resume office, and the genrō were unable to find a solution. Public outrage over the military manipulation of the cabinet and the recall of Katsura Tarō for a third term led to still more demands for an end to genrō politics. Despite old guard opposition, the conservative forces formed a party of their own in 1913, the Rikken Dōshikai , a party that won a majority in the House over the Seiyūkai in late 1914.

Taishō political crisis

The Taishō political crisis was a period of political upheaval in Japan that occurred after the death of the Meiji Emperor in 1912. During the twelve-month period following the emperor's death, the Japanese government was led by three different prime ministers as the government attempted to restore the balance between the influence of Japan's elder statesmen and that of the Japanese public, as embodied in the Meiji Constitution.

Saionji Kinmochi Japanese politician

Prince Saionji Kinmochi was a Japanese politician, statesman and twice Prime Minister of Japan. His title does not signify the son of an emperor, but the highest rank of Japanese hereditary nobility; he was elevated from marquis to prince in 1920. As the last surviving genrō, he was Japan's most honored statesman of the 1920s and 1930s.

Rikken Seiyūkai early 20th century Japanese political party

The Rikken Seiyūkai was one of the main political parties in the pre-war Empire of Japan. It was also known simply as the "Seiyūkai".

On February 12, 1913, Yamamoto Gonnohyōe succeeded Katsura as prime minister. In April 1914, Ōkuma Shigenobu replaced Yamamoto.

Yamamoto Gonnohyōe Prime Minister of Japan

Admiral Count Yamamoto Gonbee, GCMG, also called Gonnohyōe, was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy and the 16th and 22nd Prime Minister of Japan.

Prime Minister of Japan Head of government of Japan

The Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government of Japan. The Prime Minister is appointed by the Emperor of Japan after being designated by the National Diet and must enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives to remain in office. He is the chairman of the Cabinet and appoints and dismisses the other Ministers of State. The literal translation of the Japanese name for the office is Minister for the Comprehensive Administration of the Cabinet.

Ōkuma Shigenobu Japanese politician

Prince Ōkuma Shigenobu was a Japanese politician in the Empire of Japan and the 8th and 17th Prime Minister of Japan. Ōkuma was also an early advocate of Western science and culture in Japan, and founder of Waseda University.

World War I and hegemony in China

World War I permitted Japan, which fought on the side of the victorious Allied Powers, to expand its influence in Asia and its territorial holdings in the Pacific. Japan declared war on Germany on August 23, 1914, and quickly occupied German-leased territories in China's Shandong and the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall islands in the Pacific Ocean. On November 7, Jiaozhou surrendered to Japan.

With its Western allies heavily involved in the war in Europe, Japan sought further to consolidate its position in China by presenting the Twenty-One Demands (Japanese: 対華二十一ヶ条要求; Chinese:二十一条) to the Government in January 1915. Besides expanding its control over German holdings, Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, Japan also sought joint ownership of a major mining and metallurgical complex in central China, prohibitions on China's ceding or leasing any coastal areas to a third power, and miscellaneous other political, economic and military controls, which, if achieved, would have reduced China to a Japanese protectorate. In the face of slow negotiations with the Chinese government, widespread anti-Japanese sentiment in China and international condemnation forced Japan to withdraw the final group of demands and treaties were signed in May 1915.

Japan's hegemony in northern China and other parts of Asia was facilitated through other international agreements. One with Russia in 1916 helped further secure Japan's influence in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, and agreements with France, Britain, and the United States in 1917 recognized Japan's territorial gains in China and the Pacific. The Nishihara Loans (named after Nishihara Kamezo, Tokyo's representative in Beijing) of 1917 and 1918, while aiding the Chinese government, put China still deeper into Japan's debt. Toward the end of the war, Japan increasingly filled orders for its European allies' needed war material, thus helping to diversify the country's industry, increase its exports, and transform Japan from a debtor to a creditor nation for the first time.

Japan's power in Asia grew following the collapse of the Imperial Russian government in 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution. Wanting to seize the opportunity, the Japanese army planned to occupy Siberia as far west as Lake Baikal. To do so, Japan had to negotiate an agreement with China allowing the transit of Japanese troops through Chinese territory. Although the force was scaled back to avoid antagonizing the United States, more than 70,000 Japanese troops joined the much smaller units of the Allied expeditionary force sent to Siberia in July 1918 as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.

On October 9, 1916, Terauchi Masatake took over as prime minister from Ōkuma Shigenobu. On November 2, 1917, the Lansing–Ishii Agreement noted the recognition of Japan's interests in China and pledges of keeping an "Open Door Policy" (門戸開放政策). In August 1918, rice riots erupted in towns and cities throughout Japan.

Japan after World War I: Taishō Democracy

The Empire of Japan and its colonies Taiwan and Korea during the Taisho period The outline of history - being a plain history of life and mankind (1920) (14744041256).jpg
The Empire of Japan and its colonies Taiwan and Korea during the Taishō period

The postwar era brought Japan unprecedented prosperity. Japan went to the peace conference at Paris in 1919 as one of the great military and industrial powers of the world and received official recognition as one of the "Big Five" nations of the new international order. [4] Tokyo was granted a permanent seat on the Council of the League of Nations and the peace treaty confirmed the transfer to Japan of Germany's rights in Shandong, a provision that led to anti-Japanese riots and a mass political movement throughout China. Similarly, Germany's former Pacific islands were put under a Japanese mandate. Japan was also involved in the post-war Allied intervention in Russia and was the last Allied power to withdraw (doing so in 1925). Despite its small role in World War I and the Western powers' rejection of its bid for a racial equality clause in the peace treaty, Japan emerged as a major actor in international politics at the close of the war.

The two-party political system that had been developing in Japan since the turn of the century came of age after World War I, gave rise to the nickname for the period, "Taishō Democracy". In 1918, Hara Takashi, a protégé of Saionji and a major influence in the prewar Seiyūkai cabinets, had become the first commoner to serve as prime minister. He took advantage of long-standing relationships he had throughout the government, won the support of the surviving genrō and the House of Peers, and brought into his cabinet as army minister Tanaka Giichi, who had a greater appreciation of favorable civil-military relations than his predecessors. Nevertheless, major problems confronted Hara: inflation, the need to adjust the Japanese economy to postwar circumstances, the influx of foreign ideas, and an emerging labor movement. Prewar solutions were applied by the cabinet to these postwar problems, and little was done to reform the government. Hara worked to ensure a Seiyūkai majority through time-tested methods, such as new election laws and electoral redistricting, and embarked on major government-funded public works programs. [5]

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 Western schools of thought, mounted large but orderly public demonstrations in favor of universal male suffrage in 1919 and 1920. New elections brought still another Seiyūkai majority, but barely so. In the political milieu of the day, there was a proliferation of new parties, including socialist and communist parties.

In the midst of this political ferment, Hara was assassinated by a disenchanted railroad worker in 1921. Hara was followed by a succession of nonparty prime ministers and coalition cabinets. Fear of a broader electorate, left-wing power, and the growing social change engendered by the influx of Western popular culture together 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.

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. Although the worldwide depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s had minimal effects on Japan—indeed, Japanese exports grew substantially during this period—there was a sense of rising discontent that was heightened with the assault upon Rikken Minseitō prime minister Osachi Hamaguchi in 1930. Though Hamaguchi survived the attack and tried to continue in office despite the severity of his wounds, he was forced to resign the following year and died not long afterwards.

Communism and the Japanese response

The victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1922 and their hopes for a world revolution led to the establishment of the Comintern. The Comintern realized the importance of Japan in achieving successful revolution in East Asia and actively worked to form the Japanese Communist Party, which was founded in July 1922. The announced goals of the Japanese Communist Party in 1923 included the unification of the working class as well as farmers, recognition of the Soviet Union, and withdrawal of Japanese troops from Siberia, Sakhalin, China, Korea, and Taiwan. In the coming years, authorities tried to suppress the party, especially after the Toranomon Incident when a radical student under the influence of Japanese Marxist thinkers tried to assassinate Prince Regent Hirohito. The 1925 Peace Preservation Law was a direct response to the "dangerous thoughts" perpetrated by communist elements in Japan.

The liberalization of election laws with the General Election Law in 1925 benefited communist candidates, even though the Japan Communist Party itself was banned. A new Peace Preservation Law in 1928, however, further impeded communist efforts by banning the parties they had infiltrated. The police apparatus of the day was ubiquitous and quite thorough in attempting to control the socialist movement. By 1926, the Japan Communist Party had been forced underground, by the summer of 1929 the party leadership had been virtually destroyed, and by 1933 the party had largely disintegrated.

Pan-Asianism was characteristic of right-wing politics and conservative militarism since the inception of the Meiji Restoration, contributing greatly to the pro-war politics of the 1870s. Disenchanted former samurai had established patriotic societies and intelligence-gathering organizations, such as the Gen'yōsha (玄洋社 Black Ocean Society, founded in 1881) and its later offshoot, the Kokuryūkai (黒竜会 Black Dragon Society or Amur River Society, founded in 1901). These groups became active in domestic and foreign politics, helped foment pro-war sentiments, and supported ultra-nationalist causes through the end of World War II. After Japan's victories over China and Russia, the ultra-nationalists concentrated on domestic issues and perceived domestic threats such as socialism and communism.

Taishō foreign policy

Kofu city hall building of the second. Taken in 1918. Kofu city hall building of the second. Taken in 1918.jpg
Kofu city hall building of the second. Taken in 1918.

Emerging Chinese nationalism, the victory of the communists in Russia, and the growing presence of the United States in East Asia all worked against Japan's postwar foreign policy interests. The four-year Siberian expedition and activities in China, combined with big domestic spending programs, had depleted Japan's wartime earnings. Only through more competitive business practices, supported by further economic development and industrial modernization, all accommodated by the growth of the zaibatsu , could Japan hope to become dominant in Asia. The United States, long a source of many imported goods and loans needed for development, was seen as becoming a major impediment to this goal because of its policies of containing Japanese imperialism.

An international turning point in military diplomacy was the Washington Conference of 1921–22, which produced a series of agreements that affected a new order in the Pacific region. Japan's economic problems made a naval buildup nearly impossible and, realizing the need to compete with the United States on an economic rather than a military basis, rapprochement became inevitable. Japan adopted a more neutral attitude toward the civil war in China, dropped efforts to expand its hegemony into China proper, and joined the United States, Britain, and France in encouraging Chinese self-development.

In the Four-Power Treaty on Insular Possessions signed on December 13, 1921, Japan, the United States, Britain, and France agreed to recognize the status quo in the Pacific, and Japan and Britain agreed to terminate formally their Treaty of Alliance. The Washington Naval Treaty, signed on February 6, 1922, established an international capital ship ratio for the United States, Britain, Japan, France, and Italy (5, 5, 3, 1.75, and 1.75, respectively) and limited the size and armaments of capital ships already built or under construction. In a move that gave the Japanese Imperial Navy greater freedom in the Pacific Ocean, Washington and London agreed not to build any new military bases between Singapore and Hawaii.

The goal of the Nine-Power Treaty also signed on February 6, 1922, by Belgium, China, the Netherlands, and Portugal, along with the original five powers, was to prevent a war in the Pacific. The signatories agreed to respect China's independence and integrity, not to interfere in Chinese attempts to establish a stable government, to refrain from seeking special privileges in China or threatening the positions of other nations there, to support a policy of equal opportunity for commerce and industry of all nations in China, and to reexamine extraterritoriality and tariff autonomy. Japan also agreed to withdraw its troops from Shandong, relinquishing all but purely economic rights there, and to evacuate its troops from Siberia.

End of the Taishō Democracy

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.


Equivalent calendars

By coincidence, Taishō year numbering just happens to be the same that of the Minguo calendar of the Republic of China, and the Juche calendar of North Korea.


  1. Nussbaum & Roth 2005, p.  929 at Google Books.
  2. Hoffman, Michael (July 29, 2012), "The Taisho Era: When modernity ruled Japan's masses", Japan Times , p. 7.
  3. Bowman 2000, p. 149.
  4. Dower, John W (1999), Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, New York: WW Norton & Co, p. 21.
  5. Hoffman, Michael, "'Taisho Democracy' pays the ultimate price", Japan Times , July 29, 2012, p. 8

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Preceded by
Era or nengō

Succeeded by