How Japan Became a Modern Military Power Leading up to WWII
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.
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