Traditionally, Japan dates from 660 bc. The earliest surviving records of Japanese history, aside from Chinese accounts, are contained in two semimythical chronicles, the Koji-ki and the Nihon shoki (or Nihongi), the former compiled in ad 712 and the latter in ad 720. These chronicles purport to concern events from about the 7th century bc to the 7th century ad. The chronicles and other collections of legends were the basis of the traditional accounts of the history of Japan. The Nihon shoki gives 660 bc as the year in which Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan, ascended the throne, thereby founding the Japanese Empire.
Archaeological and historical research has shown that the Ainu, a tribal people whose origins are unknown, were probably the earliest inhabitants of the Japanese Archipelago. They may have populated all the Japanese islands in the 2d and 1st millennia bc. Invading peoples from nearby areas in Asia began expeditions of conquest to the islands. Gradually, the Ainu were forced to the northern and eastern portions of Honshu by the invaders. According to the chronicles, Emperor Jimmu, having established his rule in Kyushu, led his forces northward and extended his domains to Yamato, a province in central Honshu, which gave its name to the imperial house and eventually to all ancient Japan.
The Imperial Clan.
The ruling Yamato chieftain consolidated his power by making a primitive form of Shinto the general religion and, thus, a political instrument. In the early centuries of the Christian era the Yamato chieftains exerted indirect control over various autonomous tribal units known as uji. Each uji had its own clan gods and its own domain. The most important of the uji were the Omi, who claimed divine descent, and the Muraji, who were said to be descended from nobles of the pre-Yamato era. The rule of the imperial clan, regarded as the head clan, was more nominal than actual, although its principal deity, the sun goddess, was worshipped nationally.
About ad 360 Empress Jingo (fl. about 356–80), a legendary ruler who came to be considered a goddess, took over the government at the death of her husband, Emperor Chuai (r. 356–63). The warrior empress is said to have equipped an army and invaded and conquered a portion of Korea. Korean culture, greatly influenced by adjacent China, had already advanced to a comparatively high level. During the next several centuries intercourse between Japan and Korea, including the movement of people, considerably stimulated the developing civilization of the islands. Chinese writing, literature, and philosophy became popular at the court of Yamato. At the beginning of the 5th century the Chinese script came into use at the Yamato court. About 430 the imperial court appointed its first historiographers, and more dependable records were kept. The most important event of the period was the importation of Buddhism. This is usually dated in 552, when the king of Pakche, in southwestern Korea, sent Buddhist priests to Japan, together with religious images, Buddhist scriptures, calendars, and methods of keeping time. The imported culture soon became strongly rooted in the archipelago, and while contacts between the two countries weakened after the Japanese were driven out of Korea in 562, it made little difference; by the early 7th century Buddhism had become the official religion of Japan.
In 604, the first Japanese constitution, comprising a simple set of maxims for good government, was drafted. It was strongly influenced by the centralized government of China. Originally 12, and later 8, hierarchical ranks of court officials were established. A great council, the Dajokan, ruled the realm through local governors sent out from the capital. Nara in Yamato became the fixed capital in 710; in 794 Kyoto was made the imperial residence and, with few interruptions, remained the capital until 1868. By the 9th century the Yamato court had come to rule all the main islands of Japan except Hokkaido.
(858–1160). During the 9th century the emperors began to withdraw from public life. Delegating the affairs of government to subordinates, they went into seclusion and, in time, came to be regarded as abstractions in the national life rather than its directors. The retirement of the emperors was accompanied by the rising power of the Fujiwara, the leading family of court nobles. In 858 the FUJIWARA became virtual masters of Japan, maintaining their power for the next three centuries. In that year a Fujiwara prince, Yoshifusa (804–72), became regent for his grandson, then less than one year old. The Fujiwara monopolized most of the court and administrative offices. In 884 Fujiwara Mototsune (836–91) became the first official civil dictator (kampaku). The greatest of the Fujiwara leaders was Michinaga (966–1027), whose five daughters married successive emperors, and who was the leading figure at the court from 995 to 1027.
The period of Fujiwara supremacy was marked by a great flowering of Japanese culture and by the growth of a civilization greatly influenced but no longer dominated by the Chinese one, which had been its fountainhead. The dictatorship of Michinaga is regarded as the classical age of Japanese literature. The character of the government also changed under the Fujiwara ascendancy. The centralized administration, which became rife with corruption, weakened, and the country in time was divided up into large, hereditary estates, owned by the nobles as tax-free emoluments for their official positions. Most peasants were only too willing to attach their lands to such estates in order to escape the heavy burden of taxes on the public lands that had been meted out of them. Thus, great private estates became characteristic of landownership throughout the empire.
In the provinces, local groups of warriors banded together for protection, forming protofeudal groups of lords and vassals. The leaders of these groups were often members of the TAIRA and the Minamoto clans, both of which had been founded by imperial princes. The Taira warriors acquired their military renown and power in the southwest; the Minamoto, in the east. In the 12th century both great military clans started to extend their power to the court itself, dominated by the Fujiwara, and a struggle for control of Japan ensued. In 1156 a civil war was waged between the forces of two rival emperors, and, after a second war in 1159–60, the Taira crushed the Minamoto and seized control of Japan from the Fujiwara. The Taira leader, Kiyomori (1118–81), was named prime minister in 1167, and, modeling his policies on those of the Fujiwara, married his daughter to an imperial prince, their infant son becoming emperor in 1180. In the same year the Minamoto leader, Yoritomo, led an uprising in eastern Japan, and the Taira were driven from the capital. The civil war endured five years, ending in 1185 with the naval battle of Dannoura, near present Shimonoseki on the Inland Sea. Yoritomo became the leader of Japan, ending the era of imperial administration and inaugurating a military dictatorship that ruled Japan for the next seven centuries.
(12th–16th cent.). Stressing the almost complete division between the civil and military phases of government, Yoritomo established a separate military capital at Kamakura, near Tokyo, in 1185. During the Kamakura period, which lasted from 1185 to 1333, Japanese art flourished. Also from that time forward Japanese feudalism developed until it was stronger than the imperial administration had ever been. In 1192 Yoritomo was appointed to the office of Seiitaishogun (“barbarian–subduing great general”), usually shortened to shogun, the military commander in chief. Through his military network, Yoritomo was already the virtual ruler of Japan, and his shogunate made him titular leader as well. The emperor and court were largely powerless before the shogun. Kamakura became the true court and government, while Kyoto remained a titular court, without power.
In 1219 the HOJO family, by means of a series of conspiracies and murders that eliminated Minamoto heirs and their supporters, became the military rulers of Japan. No Hojo ever became shogun; instead, the family prevailed on the emperor to appoint figurehead shoguns, sometimes small children, while a Hojo leader governed as the shikken, or hereditary regent, with the actual power. For more than 100 years the Hojo maintained their rule. In 1274 and again in 1281 the Mongols, then in control of China and Korea, attempted to invade Japan, each time unsuccessfully. The invasions were a serious drain on Hojo resources, and the Hojos were unable to reward their vassals for support during the invasions. An able emperor, Daigo II (1287–1339), led a rebellion that was climaxed in 1333 with the capture of Kamakura and the downfall of the Hojo. For the next two years Daigo tried to restore the imperial administration. One of his vassals, Ashikaga Tokouji (1305–58), revolted and, driving Daigo from Kyoto, set up his own candidate for emperor in 1226. Daigo and his supporters fled to Yoshino, a region south of Nara in Honshu, and established a rival court. For the next 56 years civil war between Daigo and his successors and the emperors controlled by the ASHIKAGA who became shoguns, ravaged Japan. At length, in 1392, an Ashikaga envoy persuaded the true emperor at Yoshino to abdicate and relinquish the sacred imperial regalia. With their nominees acknowledged as rightful emperors, the Ashikaga shoguns felt empowered to establish their own feudal control over all Japan.
By this time, however, a class of hereditary, feudal lords, called daimyo, had developed in all parts of Japan. The Ashikaga shoguns were never able to exercise absolute control over the powerful daimyo. In general, the period of Ashikaga ascendancy was one of great refinement of manners, of great art and literary endeavor, and, notably, of the development of Buddhism as a political force. For some centuries Buddhist monasteries had been so wealthy and powerful that they were great forces in the country. Buddhist monks, clad in armor and bearing weapons, often turned the tide of medieval battles with their strong organizations and fortified monasteries. Local wars among feudal lords became common by the 16th century, which is known in Japanese history as the Epoch of a Warring Country.
Three great contemporary warlords finally established order in the strife-torn empire. Oda Nobunaga, a general of Taira descent, broke the power of the monasteries between 1570 and 1580, destroying Buddhism as a political force. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a follower of Oda, united all Japan under his rule by 1590. Using his power to its greatest extent, the dictator marked out the boundaries of all feudal fiefs. Finally, in 1603, the successor to Hideyoshi, Ieyasu (1542–1616), became the first of the TOKUGAWA shoguns; they ruled Japan for the succeeding two and a half centuries.
The Tokugawa Shogunate
(1603–1867). Ieyasu made Edo (later named Tokyo) his capital. In a short time the city became the greatest in the empire, developing culturally and economically as well as politically. Ieyasu brought the feudal organization that had been planned by Hideyoshi to fulfillment. The daimyos and administrators, as well as the emperor and his court, were put under the strict control of the shogunate. Social classes became rigidly stratified. The form of feudalism established by Ieyasu and the succeeding Tokugawa shoguns endured until the end of the feudal period in the late 19th century.
Another result of Tokugawa domination was the imposed isolation of Japan from the Western world. The first Europeans to visit Japan were Portuguese traders who had landed on an island near Kyushu about 1542. St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary, had brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. During the remainder of the century about 300,000 Japanese were converted to Roman Catholicism, despite disapproval and persecution by Hideyoshi. Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch traders visited Japan more and more frequently. The shoguns became convinced that the introduction of Christianity was designed to serve as a preliminary to European conquest. In 1612 Christians became subject to Official persecution, and various massacres occurred. The Spanish were refused permission to land in Japan after 1624, and a series of edicts in the next decade forbade travel abroad, prohibiting even the building of large ships. The only Europeans permitted to remain in Japan were a small group of Dutch traders restricted to the artificial island of Deshima in the harbor of Nagasaki and continually subjected to indignities and limitations on their activities. During the succeeding two centuries the forms of Japanese feudalism remained static. Bushido, the code of the feudal warriors, became the standard of conduct for the great lords and the lesser nobility, the professional warriors called samurai. Japanese culture, closed to outside influence, grew inward and received intensive development resulting in extreme nationalism.
During the 18th century, however, new social and economic conditions in the islands began to indicate the inevitable collapse of rigid feudalism. A large, wealthy merchant class rose in great strength. At that time, too, peasant disturbances became more frequent because of the impoverishment of the landless peasantry.
Japan’s awakening consciousness of the outside world was formally acknowledged in 1720, when the Tokugawa shogun Yoshimune (1677–1751) repealed the proscription on European books and study. By the early 19th century, visits from Europeans, mostly traders and explorers, became comparatively frequent, although the ban was still officially in force. The U.S. was particularly anxious to make a treaty of friendship and, if possible, one of commerce with Japan. One of the objects behind this American policy was to secure the release of American whalers from ships wrecked on the Japanese coast. In 1853 the American government sent a formal mission to the emperor of Japan; this mission was headed by Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, who arrived with a squadron of ships. Following extended negotiations, Perry and representatives of the emperor signed a treaty on March 31, 1854, establishing trade relations between the U.S. and Japan. In 1860 a Japanese embassy was sent to the U.S., and two years later Japanese trade missions visited European capitals to negotiate formal agreements.
The opening of Japan was achieved more through the show of superior force by Western nations than by an actual desire for foreign relations on the part of Japanese leaders. The Japanese warlords, equipped with medieval weapons and trained in small-scale warfare, were dismayed by Western military equipment and dared not, at first, resist. Nevertheless, a militant antiforeign faction immediately developed, and attacks on foreign traders became common in the 1860s. The leaders of the antiforeign movement were the great clans that had always resented Tokugawa rule from Edo. They rallied around the emperor at Kyoto and, with imperial support, initiated military and naval attacks on foreign ships in Japanese harbors. The antiforeign movement was short-lived, however; it ended in 1864, following a show of force by the Western powers, but it resulted in the decline of the shogunate and the restoration of imperial administration.
Restoration of Imperial Rule.
In 1867 the last shogun, Hitotsubashi (1837–1902), resigned, and the emperor, Mutsuhito, regained the position of actual head of the government, with the support of the southwestern clans. Mutsuhito took the name Meiji (“enlightened government”) to designate his reign, and this became his imperial title. The royal capital was transferred to Edo, renamed Tokyo (“eastern capital”). In 1869 the lords of the great Choshu, Hizen, Satsuma, and Tosa clans surrendered their feudal fiefs to the emperor, and, after a succession of such surrenders by other clans, an imperial decree in 1871 abolished all fiefs and created centrally administered prefectures in their stead.
Under the direction of such farsighted statesmen as Prince Iwakura Tomomi (1835–83) and Marquis Okubo Toshimichi (1830?–78), the Japanese remained untouched by the European imperialism that, at the time, was engulfing other Asian countries. By concerted imitation of Western civilization in all its aspects, they set out to make Japan itself a world power. French officers were engaged to remodel the army; British seamen reorganized the navy; and Dutch engineers supervised new construction in the islands. Japanese were sent abroad to analyze foreign governments and to select their best features for duplication in Japan. A new penal code was modeled on that of France, and a ministry of education was established in 1871 to develop a system of universal education based on that of the U.S. Universal military service was decreed in 1872, and four years later the samurai class of professional warriors was abolished by decree.
Changes in the Japanese political system were imposed from the top and were not the result of political demands by the people. In 1881 the emperor promised formally to establish a national legislature, and in 1884, preparing for an upper house, he created a peerage with five orders of nobility. A cabinet modeled on that of Germany was organized in 1885 with Marquis Ito Hirobumi as the first prime minister, and a privy council was created in 1888, both being responsible to the emperor. The new constitution, drafted by Marquis Ito after constitutional research in Europe and the U.S., was promulgated in 1889. A bicameral diet was designed to have a house of peers of 363 members and a 463-member lower house elected by citizens paying direct annual taxes of not less than 15 yen. The emperor’s powers were carefully safeguarded; he was permitted to issue decrees as laws, and only he could decide on war or the cessation of war. Moreover, the lower house could be dissolved and the upper one adjourned by imperial decree. Rapid industrialization, under government direction, accompanied this political growth.
The empire also embarked on an aggressive foreign policy. In 1879 Japan had taken over the Ryukyu Islands, a Japanese protectorate since 1609, designating them the prefecture of Okinawa. The struggle for control of Korea became the next step in Japanese expansion. Conflict with China in Korea resulted in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, in which the modernized Japanese forces completely and easily defeated the Chinese army and navy. By the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895, China gave Japan Taiwan (Formosa), the Pescadores, and a large monetary indemnity. The treaty had originally also awarded the Liaodong (Liao-tung) Peninsula (southern Manchuria) to Japan, but intervention by Russia, France, and Germany forced Japan to accept an additional indemnity instead.
The decisive Japanese triumph indicated to the world that a new, strong power was rising in the East. As a preliminary to negotiating full equality with the great powers, Japan, in 1890, had completely revised its criminal, civil, and commercial law codes on Western models. Thus, the empire was in a position to demand the revocation of extraterritoriality clauses from its treaties. By 1899 all the great powers had signed treaties abandoning extraterritoriality in Japan. In 1894 the U.S. and Great Britain were the first nations given the freedom of the entire empire for trade.
In pursuing its interests in Korea, Japan inevitably came into conflict with Russia. Resentment against Russia was already high, because that country had been the principal agent in depriving Japan of the Liaodong Peninsula following the Chinese war. The two countries signed a treaty pledging the independence of Korea in 1898, but allowing Japanese commercial interest to predominate there. Two years later in 1900, following the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Russians occupied Manchuria and, from bases there, began to penetrate northern Korea.
In 1904, after repeated attempts to negotiate the matter had failed, Japan broke off diplomatic relations with Russia and attacked Russian-leased Port Arthur (now part of Dalian) in southern Manchuria, beginning the Russo-Japanese War. Japan won its second modern war in less than 18 months. The peace treaty, mediated by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, was signed in Portsmouth, N.H., on Sept. 5, 1905. Japan was awarded the lease (to 1923, later extended to 1997) of the Liaodong Peninsula, including the Guangdong territory, and the southern half of Sakhalin, thereafter known as Karafuto. Moreover, the Russians acknowledged the paramount interest of Japan in Korea. Five years later (1910) Korea was formally annexed to the Japanese and named Chosen.
Japanese-American relations had for some years been strained by difficulties over Japanese immigration to the U.S. Thousands of Japanese had settled in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, and the American residents of these states demanded the exclusion of the Japanese by legislation similar to the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, 1892, and 1902. This agitation was led by American labor unions, resenting the fact that Japanese laborers were willing to work for lower wages and longer hours than those called for by American labor policies. Formal protests against the treatment of Japanese in Pacific Coast states were delivered by the Japanese ambassador in Washington in 1906 and, after a series of negotiations, Japan and the U.S. concluded a so-called gentleman’s agreement in 1908. By this extralegal agreement, confirmed in 1911, the Japanese government consented to withhold passports from laborers, and the U.S. Department of State promised to disapprove anti-Japanese legislation. The problem, however, was never fully resolved, and it contributed to anti-American feeling in Japan, which steadily increased during the following three decades.
World War I.
In August 1914, following the outbreak of World War I, Japan sent an ultimatum to Germany, demanding the evacuation of the German-leased territory of Jiaozhou in northeastern China. When Germany refused to comply, Japan entered the war on the side of the Allies. Japanese troops occupied the German-held Marshall, Caroline, and Mariana islands in the Pacific Ocean. In 1915 the empire submitted the Twenty-one Demands to China, calling for industrial, railroad, and mining privileges and a promise that China would not lease or give any coastal territory opposite Taiwan to a nation other than Japan. These demands, some of which were quickly granted, were the first statement of the Japanese policy of domination over China and the Far East. A year later, in 1916, China ceded commercial rights in Inner Mongolia and southern Manchuria to Japan.
As a result of the World War I peace settlement, Japan received the Pacific Islands, which it had occupied as mandates from the League of Nations, the empire having become a charter member of that organization. The leased territory of Jiaozhou was also awarded to Japan, but the empire restored it to China in 1922 as a result of an agreement, the Shandong Treaty, made during the Washington Conference in 1922. This conference also resulted in the replacement of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance by the Four-Power Treaty, by which Japan, France, Great Britain, and the U.S. pledged themselves to respect one another’s territories in the Pacific Ocean and to consult if their territorial rights were threatened. The Nine-Power Treaty (Belgium, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, France, Italy, China, and the U.S.) bound the signatories to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of China. An additional treaty between Great Britain, the U.S., Japan, France, and Italy dealt with naval disarmament on a 5–5–3–1.67–1.67 ratio, respectively, with the Japanese navy being limited to 315,000 tons of capital ships.
With the adoption of the Shandong and Nine-Power treaties, Japan demonstrated a conciliatory attitude toward China. Nevertheless, Japanese commercial interests in China were still regarded as paramount over Chinese interests. Russo-Japanese relations, which had become strained after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the subsequent invasion of Siberia and northern Sakhalin by the Japanese in 1918, became more amicable after Japan recognized the Soviet regime in 1925. This less aggressive attitude on the part of the Japanese was due partly to a surge of political liberalism stimulated by the victory of the democratic nations in World War I. Beginning in 1919 the Japanese government was assailed with increasing demands for universal suffrage, an issue that occasioned rioting in the cities. In answer to these demands the government passed (1919) a reform act doubling the electorate (to 3 million). The protests became even more intense, however, and universal suffrage was granted in 1925. The electorate increased sharply, to 14 million. Reflecting the rising interest in popular government, the political trend during the 1920s was toward party cabinets and away from oligarchic rule by the nobility, the military leaders, and the so-called elder statesmen. This movement was short-lived, however.
Ascendancy of the Militarists.
In 1926 Hirohito, the unassuming grandson of Emperor Meiji, succeeded to the throne. He adopted Showa (“enlightened peace”) as the official designation for his reign, but when Gen. Baron Tanaka Giichi became prime minister in 1927, he declared the resumption of an aggressive policy toward China. The impelling force in this change of policy lay in the expansion of Japanese industry, which had begun with the start of World War I in 1914 and was still continuing at a rapid pace, requiring new markets for the increased output.
Occupation of Manchuria.
In the late 1920s Japan, in effect, gained domination of the administrative and economic affairs of Manchuria. The Chinese, however, increasingly resented Japanese interference in what was, technically, part of China. On Sept. 18, 1931, the Japanese army in Guangdong, claiming that an explosion on the Japanese-owned South Manchuria Railroad had been caused by Chinese saboteurs, seized the arsenals of Shenyang and of several neighboring cities. Chinese troops were forced to withdraw from the area. Entirely without official sanction by the Japanese government, the Guangdong army extended its operations into all Manchuria and, in about five months, was in possession of the entire region. Manchuria was then established as the puppet state of Manchukuo; Henry Pu-Yi (Hsüan T’ung as last emperor of China) was crowned emperor of Manchukuo in 1934 as K’ang Te.
All pretense of party government in Japan was abandoned as a result of the occupation of Manchuria. Viscount Saito Makoto (1858–1936) formed a so-called national cabinet composed chiefly of men who belonged to no party. The international repercussions of the Manchurian incident resulted in an inquiry by a League of Nations commission, acting by authority of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. In 1933, when the League Assembly requested that Japan cease hostilities in China, Japan instead announced its withdrawal from the league, to take effect in 1935. To consolidate its gains in China, Japan landed troops in Shanghai to put down an effective Chinese boycott of Japanese goods. In the north the Japanese Manchurian army occupied and annexed the province of Chengde and threatened to occupy the cities of Beijing and Tianjin. Unable to resist the superior Japanese forces, the Chinese, in May 1933, recognized the Japanese conquest by signing a truce.
The independent action of the army indicated the power of the military leaders in Japanese politics. In 1936 the empire signed an anti-Communist agreement with Germany and, one year later, a similar pact with Italy. The establishment of almost complete military rule, with the cooperation of the Zaibatzu, or family trusts, made aggression and expansion the avowed policy of the empire.
War with China.
On July 7, 1937, a Chinese patrol clashed with Japanese troops on the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing. Using the incident as a pretext to begin hostilities, the Japanese army in Manchuria moved troops into the area, precipitating another Sino-Japanese war, although it was never actually declared. A Japanese force quickly overran northern China. By the end of 1937 the Japanese navy had completed a blockade of almost the entire Chinese coast. The army advanced into eastern and southern China throughout 1937 and 1938, capturing, successively, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Tsingtao, Guangzhou, and Hankou, and forcing the Chinese army into the west. A Japanese force occupied the island of Hainan. Protests by foreign governments concerning property owned by their nationals and mistreatment by Japanese troops of foreigners who were residing in China, were, in effect, ignored by the empire. By the end of 1938 the war with China had reached a virtual stalemate. The Japanese army was checked by the mountains of central China, behind which the Chinese waged guerrilla warfare against the invaders.
Japan, meanwhile, was subjected to a controlled war economy. In 1937 a cabinet headed by Prince Konoye Fumimaro relegated the entire conduct of the war, without government interference, to military and naval leaders.
World War II.
The beginning of World War II in Europe, in September 1939, gave Japan new opportunity for aggression in Southeast Asia. These aggressive acts were prefaced by a series of diplomatic arrangements. In September 1940 the empire concluded a tripartite alliance with Germany and Italy, the so-called Rome-Berlin Axis, pledging mutual and total aid for a period of ten years. Japan considered, however, that a 1939 neutrality pact between Germany and the Soviet Union had released the empire from any obligation incurred by the 1936 anti-Communist alliance. In September 1941, therefore, Japan signed a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union, thus protecting the northern border of Manchuria. A year before, with the consent of the German-sponsored Vichy government of France, Japanese forces occupied French Indochina. At the same time Japan tried to obtain economic and political footholds in the Netherlands East Indies.
These acts in Indochina and the East Indies contributed to increasing hostility between Japan and the U.S. The protection of American property in eastern Asia had been a source of friction since the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. Continued protests from Joseph Clark Grew (1880–1965), then U.S. ambassador to Japan, were fruitless. In October 1941, Gen. Tojo Hideki, who was militantly anti-American, became the Japanese premier and minister of war. Negotiations aimed at settling the differences between the two countries continued in Washington throughout November, even after the decision for war had been made in Tokyo.
Attack on Pearl Harbor.
On Dec. 7, 1941, without warning and while negotiations between American and Japanese diplomats were still in progress, Japanese carrier-based airplanes attacked Pearl Harbor, the main U.S. naval base in the Pacific. Simultaneous attacks were launched by the Japanese army, navy, and air force against the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Midway Island, Hong Kong, British Malaya, and Thailand. On December 8 the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan, as did all Allied powers except the USSR.
For about a year following the successful surprise attacks, Japan maintained the offensive in Southeast Asia and the islands of the South Pacific. The empire designated eastern Asia and its environs as the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” and made effective propaganda of the slogan “Asia for the Asians.” Moreover, nationalistic elements in many of the countries of eastern Asia gave tacit and, in some cases, active support to the Japanese, because they saw an apparent way to free themselves from Western imperialism. In December 1941, Japan invaded Thailand, forcing the government to conclude a treaty of alliance. Japanese troops occupied Burma, British Malaya, Borneo, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands East Indies. By May 1942 the Philippines were in Japanese hands. Striking toward Australia and New Zealand, Japanese forces landed in New Guinea, New Britain (now part of Papua New Guinea), and the Solomon Islands. A Japanese task force also invaded and occupied Attu, Agattu, and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast of North America. Ultimately, however, the war became a naval struggle for control of the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean.
The tide turns.
The tide of battle began to change in 1942, when an Allied naval and air force contained a Japanese invasion fleet in the Battle of the Coral Sea between New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. A month later a larger Japanese fleet was defeated in the Battle of Midway. Using combined operations of ground, naval, and air units under command of the American general Douglas MacArthur, Allied forces fought northward from island to island in the South Pacific, invading and driving out the Japanese. In July 1944, after the fall of Saipan, a major Japanese base in the Mariana Islands, the Japanese leaders realized that Japan had lost the war. Tojo was forced to resign, weakening the hold of the military oligarchy. In November 1944 the U.S. began a series of major air raids over Japan by B-29 Superfortress bombers based on Saipan. In early 1945 an air base even closer to Japan (about 1200 km/750 mi) was acquired with the conquest, after a fierce battle, of Iwo Jima. During the same period Allied forces under the British admiral Louis Mountbatten, 1st earl Mountbatten of Burma, defeated the Japanese armies in Southeast Asia. In the next four months, from May through August, bombing attacks devastated Japanese communications, industry, and what was left of the navy. These attacks were climaxed on Aug. 6, 1945, by the dropping of the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Two days later, on August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and on August 9 a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Soviet forces invaded Manchuria, northern Korea, and Karafuto. The Allied powers had agreed during the Potsdam Conference that only unconditional surrender would be acceptable from the Japanese government. On August 14 Japan accepted the Allied terms, signing the formal surrender aboard the American battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2.
Dissolution of Empire.
The U.S. Army was designated, by the Allied powers, as the army of occupation in the Japanese home islands. Japan was stripped of its empire. Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Taiwan, and Hainan were returned to China. The USSR, by virtue of occupation, held on to the Kuril Islands and Karafuto (which again became known as Sakhalin) and the control of Outer Mongolia; Port Arthur and the South Manchurian Railway were placed under the joint control of the USSR and China. All the former Japanese mandated islands in the South Pacific were occupied by the U.S. under a UN trusteeship.
On Aug. 11, 1945, after the Japanese offered to surrender, Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) occupying Japan. Representatives of China, the USSR, and Great Britain were named to an Allied Council for Japan, sitting in Tokyo, to assist MacArthur. Broad questions of occupation policy became the province of the Far Eastern Commission, sitting in Washington, D.C., representing the U.S., Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Australia, Canada, China, France, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the Philippines. A number of Japanese war-time leaders were tried for war crimes by an 11-nation tribunal that convened in Tokyo on May 3, 1946, and closed on Nov. 12, 1948.
The American occupation of the Japanese islands was in no way resisted. The objectives of the occupation policy were declared to be, basically, the democratization of the Japanese government and the reestablishment of a peacetime industrial economy sufficient for the Japanese population. MacArthur was directed to exercise his authority through the emperor and existing government machinery as far as possible. Among other Allied objectives were the dissolution of the great industrial and banking trusts, the assets of which were seized in 1946 and later liquidated through SCAP. A program of land reform, designed to give the tenant farmers an opportunity to purchase the land they worked, was in operation by 1947, and an education program along democratic lines was organized. Women were given the franchise in the first postwar Japanese general election in April 1946, and 38 women were elected to the Japanese diet. Subsequently the diet completed the draft of a new constitution, which became effective in May 1947.
The rehabilitation of the Japanese economy was more difficult than the reorganization of the government. The scarcity of food had to be offset by imports from the Allied powers and from the U.S. in particular. Severe bombings during the war had almost nullified Japanese industrial capacity. By the beginning of 1949 aid to Japan was costing the U.S. more than $1 million a day.
Beginning in May 1949 work stoppages took place in various Japanese industries, notably coal mining. The government accused the Communist party, which had polled 3 million votes in a recent national election, of instigating the strike movement for political purposes, and MacArthur concurred in this view. Subsequently the government launched a large-scale investigation of Communist activities. MacArthur’s labor policies were sharply criticized in June 1949 by the Soviet member of the Allied Control Council. In his reply, MacArthur accused the USSR of fomenting disorder in Japan through the Communist party and of “callous indifference” in repatriating Japanese prisoners of war. For the next year communism and repatriation were dominant issues in national politics. The Soviet Union announced in April 1950 that, excluding approximately 10,000 war criminals, all prisoners (94,973) had been returned to Japan, but according to Japanese records more than 300,000 prisoners were still in custody of the USSR.
Allied negotiations during 1950 relative to a Japanese peace treaty were marked by basic differences between the U.S. and the Soviet Union on several issues, especially whether China should participate in the drafting of the document. In May the American statesman John Foster Dulles, adviser to the U.S. secretary of state, was named to prepare the terms of the treaty. More than a year of consultations and negotiations with and among the Allied powers, Japan, and the Far Eastern nations that had fought against Japan culminated, on July 12, 1951, in the publication of the draft treaty. The USSR, which had been consulted also, maintained that the document was conducive to the resurgence of Japanese militarism. The U.S. government invited 55 countries to attend the peace conference. Nationalist China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China were not invited.
The peace conference opened in San Francisco in early September. Of the nations invited, India, Burma, and Yugoslavia refused to attend. During the conference discussion was limited to the previously prepared treaty text, a procedure that nullified Soviet attempts to reopen negotiations on its various provisions. Forty-nine countries, including Japan, signed the treaty; the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Poland refused to do so.
The Peace Treaty, 1951.
By the terms of the treaty Japan renounced all claims to Korea, Taiwan, the Kurils, Sakhalin, and former mandated islands and relinquished any special rights and interests in China and Korea; the right of Japan to defend itself and enter into collective security arrangements was recognized; and Japan accepted in principle the validity of reparations claims, to be paid in goods and services in view of the country’s insufficient financial resources.
At the same time, the U.S. and Japan signed a bilateral agreement providing for the maintenance of U.S. military bases and armed forces in and around Japan to protect the disarmed country from aggression or from large-scale internal disturbances.
Meanwhile, MacArthur had been relieved of his post as SCAP in April 1951. Lt. Gen. Matthew Bunker Ridgway (1895–1993), who was then commander of the UN forces in Korea, succeeded him. The U.S. terminated economic aid to Japan at the end of June, but the detrimental effect of this action on the Japanese economy was largely offset by American military procurement orders for the Korean War, then raging. The country’s economic problems stemmed mainly from the wartime loss of overseas markets, especially the Chinese mainland. Recognizing the importance of the Chinese market, the U.S. in October granted Japan the right to carry on limited trade with mainland China.
On April 28, 1952, the Japanese peace treaty became effective, and full sovereignty was restored to Japan. By the terms of the Japanese-American treaty of 1951, U.S. troops remained in Japan as security forces. The Japanese government concluded treaties of peace or renewed diplomatic relations during 1952 with Taiwan, Burma, India, and Yugoslavia.
The question of rearmament was widely debated throughout 1952. The government was reluctant to commit itself in favor of rebuilding the country’s defenses, mainly because of economic difficulties and legal obstacles (in the Japanese constitution of 1947 war is renounced “forever”).
After heated debate the diet in July 1952 approved a bill to suppress subversive activities of organized groups, including the Communists. The Communist party itself was not outlawed, however. In general elections on October 1, the first since the end of the occupation, Yoshida Shigeru, leader of the Liberal party, who had headed the cabinet since 1949, was again named premier.
Postwar Foreign Relations: U.S.
In March 1953, Premier Yoshida, after losing a vote of confidence on proposals for increased centralization of the school system and the police force, scheduled new elections. The electorate went to the polls in April and again returned the Liberals to power. Yoshida was then renamed premier.
During 1953 the U.S. government, seeking further to safeguard the country against possible Communist aggression, actively encouraged Japan to rearm. In August the two countries signed a military-aid treaty that contained provision for the manufacture of Japanese arms according to American specifications. In a joint statement in September, Premier Yoshida and Shigemitsu Mamoru (1887–1957), Progressive party leader, officially recommended that Japan rearm for self-defense. Negotiations with the U.S. government led to the signing of a mutual-defense pact by the two nations in March 1954.
Premier Yoshida’s policy of close collaboration with the U.S. was subjected to strong criticism by dissidents within the Liberal party during the second half of 1954. In late November the insurgent Liberals formed the Japan Democratic party. Premier Yoshida, who was removed as head of the Liberal party a few days later, resigned the premiership in early December after failing to muster a majority in the diet. Subsequently, by virtue of Socialist party support, the Democratic party leader Hatoyama Ichiro (1883–1959) was elected premier. He promised, in exchange for Socialist support, to dissolve the diet in January 1955 and hold national elections.
The Democratic party failed to win a majority in the diet in the election held in February 1955, but with Liberal support Hatoyama was returned to the premiership. The Democratic party and the Liberal party merged in November of that year, giving the government an absolute majority in the diet.
Postwar Foreign Relations: USSR.
In October 1956 the Soviet Union and Japan agreed to end the technical state of war that had existed between the two countries since August 1945. The agreement provided for the reestablishment of normal diplomatic relations, for the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war still remaining in the USSR, for the effectuation of fishing treaties negotiated earlier in the year, for Soviet support of Japanese entry into the UN, and for the return to Japan of certain small islands off its northern coasts on the conclusion of a formal Soviet-Japanese peace treaty. On December 18 the UN General Assembly voted unanimously to admit Japan to the UN. Two days later Ishibashi Tanzan (1884–1973), the minister of international trade and industry, succeeded Hatoyama as premier. While maintaining close relations with the U.S., Ishibashi sought to expand trade with the Soviet Union and China as a means of reducing unemployment.
In February 1957, Premier Ishibashi resigned from his post because of poor health. The diet elected his former foreign minister, Kishi Nobusuke, to succeed him. In the same month agreements were signed ending the state of war with Czechoslovakia and Poland. Japan agreed in November to pay $230 million to Indonesia as World War II reparations. In addition, the Indonesian trade debt of $177 million to Japan was canceled.
Japan became a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council in January 1958. The House of Representatives was dissolved by Premier Kishi in April, and elections were held the following month.
In October 1958 the Socialist party ordered a strike of its members in both chambers of the diet to protest a government bill providing for increased power for the police. By the beginning of November, about 4 million workers were also on a protest strike; subsequently, Premier Kishi agreed to withdraw the bill. Elections in June 1959 for half the seats in the House of Councillors proved a victory for the Liberal-Democratic party. Shortly afterward, the government was completely reorganized.
In November 1959 more than 500 people were injured when violent anti-U.S. riots broke out in Tokyo during a discussion in the diet of a new security pact with the U.S. The treaty was signed in Washington, D.C., in January 1960, and at the same time it was announced that President Dwight D. Eisenhower would visit Japan in June. By mid-June, however, anti-U.S. feelings in Japan had grown to the extent that the visit was canceled because of fears for Eisenhower’s safety.
Premier Kishi resigned on July 15 and was succeeded by Ikeda Hayato, the new president of the Liberal-Democratic party. In elections to the House of Representatives in October, the Liberal-Democrats won a major victory, and Ikeda formed a new cabinet in December.
In 1963 the governing Liberal-Democrats sought to amend a constitutional provision banning maintenance of military forces and other war potential in Japan. The amendment, necessary to legalize further increases in the Japanese armed forces, needed approval of a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives. Lacking such majority, Premier Ikeda dissolved the diet and scheduled elections for November 21. His party’s majority was reduced by 13 seats.
The Japanese economy continued to lead the world in its growth rate for 1964. In its drive to expand trade the Japanese government made an agreement with China that each would establish unofficial trade liaison offices in the other’s capital city. The usual 5-year limit on Soviet credit was exceeded when Japan arranged the sale of a fertilizer plant to the Soviet Union with payment extended over eight years. Premier Ikeda, who had been reelected president of the Liberal-Democrats in July, was incapacitated by illness in September and resigned as premier in late October. He was succeeded by former minister of state Sato Eisaku (brother of Kishi Nobusuke), also a Liberal-Democrat. The 18th Olympic Games were held in Tokyo in October. Japan had prepared for the event by investing $2 billion in city improvements, including new highways, subways, and buildings.
In March 1965 the South Korean foreign minister became the first Korean to have an audience with the Japanese emperor since World War II. During his visit the Japanese and South Korean governments reached far-ranging agreement on mutual relations. In the late 1960s Japan experienced widespread demonstrations by radical students protesting Japanese support of U.S. foreign policy. Japanese-U.S. relations were strained in 1971 by the U.S. failure to consult with Japan on China policy and the devaluation of the dollar, but the breach was partly healed by the return of Okinawa to Japan in 1972.
Japan in the 1960s surpassed every nation of Western Europe in terms of gross national product and ranked next to the U.S. as a world industrial power. The Japan World Exposition at Osaka in 1970 demonstrated the nation’s restored position in world affairs. By the early 1970s Japan was the world’s third largest exporter, after the U.S. and West Germany, and the world’s fifth largest importer.
Although the Liberal-Democratic party continued to hold the reins of government throughout the 1970s, the party’s cabinets frequently changed. In 1972 Tanaka Kakuei (1918–93), who succeeded Premier Sato in July, agreed on measures to alleviate the American trade imbalance. He also visited China and agreed to resume diplomatic relations with that country immediately; official ties with Taiwan were then severed. In November 1974 Tanaka resigned in favor of Miki Takeo (1907–88). Miki’s government had to endure the world economic recession that followed the Arab oil embargo of 1973; Japan’s economy, heavily dependent on oil and other raw materials, showed zero growth during the fiscal year 1974–75.
In 1975, the Liberal-Democrats were torn by factional strife and failed to pass most of their major bills in the diet. The party was further shaken in 1976 by revelations that the Lockheed Aircraft Corp., a U.S. firm, had paid at least $10 million in bribes and fees to Japanese politicians and industrialists since the 1950s. Miki called elections for December, in which the Liberal-Democrats lost their majority in the lower house for the first time. Miki resigned, and Fukuda Takeo (1905–95) was elected premier. He was replaced by Ohira Masayoshi (1910–80), another Liberal-Democrat, in December 1978. After Ohira died at the height of the 1980 election campaign, Suzuki Zenko (1911–2004) was chosen by the Liberal-Democrats to succeed him. Beset by factionalism within his own party, Suzuki unexpectedly resigned in November 1982. He was replaced both as premier and party leader by Nakasone Yasuhiro. The Liberal-Democrats, who had suffered a setback in 1983 diet elections, won their greatest landslide in 1986; to replace Nakasone, they chose Takeshita Noboru (1924–2000) in November 1987.
Japan in the 1980s faced urban overcrowding, pollution, and unproductive agriculture, but had the highest rate of economic growth and the lowest inflation rate of leading industrial nations. Growth began to slow in the mid-1980s, in part because the yen’s strength against the U.S. dollar had a dampening effect on exports. Hirohito died in January 1989, and his son Akihito succeeded as emperor, beginning the reign of Heisei (“achieving peace”). In April Takeshita resigned as premier, after a bribery and influence-peddling scandal; his successor, Uno Sosuke (1922–98), implicated in a scandal, resigned in July and was replaced by Kaifu Toshiki (1931– ).
Japan in the 1990s.
Liberal-Democrats won decisively in the parliamentary elections of February 1990, even though the Tokyo stock market had begun a decline that would last until mid-1992 and see the Nikkei average lose almost two-thirds of its value. Unable to cope with economic malaise and lacking the confidence of prominent party members, Kaifu was replaced in late 1991 by Miyazawa Kiichi (1919– ). National attention was diverted in June 1993 by the marriage of Crown Prince Naruhito (1960– ) to a commoner, Owada Masako (1964– ).
Confidence in the government continued to decline, culminating in the defection of many Liberal-Democrats and the party’s loss of its majority in the elections of 1993. The leader of the Japan New party, Hosokawa Morihiro (1938– ), a former Liberal-Democrat, was elected to head a seven-party coalition government.
The next 18 months brought continued political uncertainty. Forced to step down because of a fund-raising scandal, Hosokawa was succeeded as prime minister in April 1994 by Hata Tsutomu (1935– ) of the Japan Renewal party. His coalition fractured almost immediately, and in June an unusual alliance of Liberal-Democrats and Socialists took power, with Social Democratic party leader Murayama Tomiichi (1924– ) as prime minister. In January 1995, Japan suffered its worst natural disaster in more than 70 years when an earthquake struck the Kobe area, claiming some 5500 lives and causing extensive damage. Murayama resigned abruptly in January 1996 and was succeeded as prime minister by Hashimoto Ryutaro (1937– ), a Liberal-Democrat. At a summit conference in Tokyo in April, Hashimoto and U.S. President Bill Clinton signed a joint security declaration that would maintain some 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan. Hashimoto led the Liberal-Democrats to victory in October elections for the lower house of parliament.
The Liberal-Democrats’ inability to extricate Japan from recession cost the party dearly in elections for the upper house of parliament in July 1998, and Hashimoto resigned as soon as the results became known. To replace him the party named Obuchi Keizo (1937–2000), a veteran politician who had served as foreign minister in the Hashimoto government. In April 2000, Obuchi suffered a stroke. When he was unable to return to his position, Yoshiro Mori (1937– ) was named his successor. Within a year Mori resigned. On April 26, 2001, the Liberal Democrats returned to power, when Junichiro Koizumi (1942– ), in a landslide victory, became Japan’s 11th prime minister in the last 13 years. Although Koizumi had formerly served as minister in cabinets that had been blamed for causing Japan’s current financial problems, he is viewed as a reformer who may be able to revitalize the country’s economy.