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How Japan Became a Modern Military Power Leading up to WWII

Updated on May 22, 2012

Japanese Castle

Japanese Castle Wall
Japanese Castle Wall | Source
Japanese Castle Wall
Japanese Castle Wall | Source
Japanese Castle Gate
Japanese Castle Gate | Source
Japanese Castle Gate
Japanese Castle Gate | Source

The Modernization of Japan

Why did the Japanese succeed in transforming themselves into a modern industrial and military power in the late 1800’s?

There are several different arguments for why the Japanese succeeded in modernizing themselves, but I believe it was a combination of factors that brought about industrial and military modernization.

It all began with Commodore Matthew Perry from the United States of America. Commodore Perry was sent by the US Government to open trade and relations with Japan. In 1853 He reached Japan and gave Japanese officials a letter from the President. Perry returned the next year to hear what the Japanese had to say. The Japanese realized that they were completely outmatched militarily, thus they necessarily agreed to the letter’s demands for trade. At this time the Japanese were awakened to the startling fact that they were still in feudal times while much of the world had become modern.

Domestic turmoil increased as the Bakufu (current ruling power) conceded to foreign demands and treaties. Most Japanese had a significant hatred for all foreigners and thought the Bakufu were weak for not resisting them. The cry went up to ‘expel the barbarians’ but nothing was done by the Bakufu. Eventually, after various struggles and conflicts, enough was enough and a war in 1866 broke out between the Choshu forces and the Bakufu. The Choshu forces were better trained and beat the Bakufu, ending their era.

The group of men who overthrew the Bakufu agreed to restore the emperor of Japan. However, the emperor did little more than act as a figure head. But the restoration of the emperor brought about a sense of change and renewing in all aspects of Japanese life. At this point in time the Japanese realized their need to catch up to the rest of the world and they began the slow and arduous task of modernization.

With the arrival of Perry and other foreigners, the Japanese realized and became motivated to modernize. However, during the Bakufu era, nothing serious was done to bring about modernization. Thus, when the Bakufu were overthrown, the Meiji Restoration was brought about because of the overall discontent the Japanese felt. With the Meiji Restoration came modernization.

Modernization came about through the Meiji restoration because of several key factors. First of all, the country was more or less united, and thus the military became more united and more important to the whole country. Military modernization took place because the Japanese wanted to be independent from foreign demands and the only way to do this was to have a military that other countries would notice. However, it was also because of Western influences that modernization occurred in political and economic areas. Without American and European influence, the Japanese would never have changed. They would never have needed to change; it was because of foreigners that they wanted change. Another factor in the change was the Japanese people; their culture, ideas, and values were all ready for modernization in a way that other East Asian nations were not.

In the end, Japan succeeded in transforming themselves before any of their neighbor, into a modern industrial and military nation by wholeheartedly pressing towards that goal in every aspect of life. In the 1920’s and ‘30’s, Japan began to use its newly developed military strength by invading Korea, China, the Philippines and finally America.

Want more on Japan? Check out my hub on McDonald's in Japan!


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  • profile image


    6 years ago

    thanks for the information i have a quiz on this soon and i go to an American school.... just saying

  • internpete profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter V 

    6 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

    brblog - quite right, the world is changing and any country that doesn't or didn't change, gets left behind. Thanks for your comment!

  • brblog profile image


    6 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

    Hey Internpete,

    Nice overview - Japan is/was not alone in changing because of outside influences. They might be an extreme example but most nations are forced, in one way or another, to change as a result of what is happening around them. Those that don’t (a good example would be the Spanish Empire) get left in the dust . . .

  • internpete profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter V 

    6 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

    midget38 7 -Yes, Japan sometimes got too greedy for their own good (WWII...) But they are a hardworking people! That is very interesting about how they renamed Singapore. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • midget38 profile image

    Michelle Liew 

    6 years ago from Singapore

    The Japanese have always been a hardworking people. The Meiji Restoration got them a little greedy for resources, though, and they came into Southeast Asia as a result. Singapore, where I come from, was occupied by them for three years and renamed "Syonanto." Nice to meet a fellow history lover!! A well researched, great hub. Votes up and away.

  • internpete profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter V 

    6 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

    Kertynb - Thanks for your interest! You're totally right, after WWII things were very rough in Japan; the country had been totally destroyed. (I used to live on Okinawa, Japan, and after the battle there it was said that not even one tree was left standing!) But because of the hard work of many Japanese, they got though it. Of course there were other factors including a lot of rebuilding done by the US, but in my experience living in Japan for 10 years, I have not met any people on earth who work harder or are more honest. Thanks for stopping by!

  • kerlynb profile image


    6 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

    Wow, thank you for sharing such a well-researched and well-written hub about Japan! I personally love the country, its culture, and its people. Have to vote your hub up, useful, and interesting! I'd like to add something, this time about Japan's economic rise, not military rise. I personally haven't done any research but most of the Japanese people I've spoken with (and I speak with tens of Japanese each day :) ) told me that Japan became a wealthy country after WWII out of the people's sheer hard work and luck. They said that right after the war, their parents were so poor they just worked very hard for hunger was an impetus for hard work. Their parents also saved a lot of money for that time the government encouraged the people to live below their means and save much of their income in the bank. They also said that at that time, the Korean war was starting and Japan became America's manufacturing base of military equipment because labor cost in Japan after the war was low. Manufacturing became a big industry in Japan and Japanese people tried to make it bigger by perfecting the quality of their output. Of course, there are many other factors for Japan's success but many Japanese people believe that these two were the main ones for Japan's extraordinary rise.

  • internpete profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter V 

    6 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

    Vinner - Thanks, I spent about 10 years in Japan, so I would hope I know something from all that time! Yes, in my experience they do tend to be very honest and hard working. Thanks for the comment!

  • vinner profile image


    6 years ago from India

    You have a good view about the history of JAPAN. The main thing I heard about them is that they are very much hard working. Thanks for the cool article. Waiting for more of your hubs.

  • internpete profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter V 

    6 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

    Happy to share a little of what I know! Probably the only reason I know much is I lived there for 10 years! Thanks for stopping by!

  • A M Werner profile image

    Allen Werner 

    6 years ago from West Allis

    It's a shame but American schools don't teach hardly anything about Japanese history. Much of what you presented here, I have never heard. Thanks for the enlightenment. Peace


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