Chapter 2: Imperial Japan that Emerged Against the West

From the 16th Century Spain and Portugal has begun to send Christian missionaries to various parts of the world, but there was no denial that these missionaries represented the first leg of 3 step approach- religious proliferation, trade development, and military expansion-to their goals of colonization.    Japanese people at the time were well aware of the design and intentions of these Spanish and Portuguese Asian expansion. In 1549 Francis Xavier attempted to convert Japan to Christianity as Spain concluded Japan was too strong militarily to be converted by force.  (p.37)

In 1596 Japan began its ban on Christianity and in 1639 the 220 year self-imposed isolationism from the rest of the world to defend itself from foreign encroachment.  The Dutch were the only foreign country allowed to trade with Japan-through Nagasaki-as they were unlike Catholic countries, i.e. Spain and Portugal, who had clear intention to proliferate Christianity.  The isolation lasted until 1853 with the arrival Matthew Perry on American gunships.  (p.37)

Russia was another country that was encroaching Japan from about mid-16th Century.   In a quest to search for warm seaport Russia’s expansion reached near the northern Sea of Japan by l639; (p.39)

The Russian expansionism became an existential issue for Japan since the end of 18th Century.  It felt threatened by the Russia from the North, Europeans (Spain, Portuguese, French, and British) from the South, and the US from the East.  (p.42)

Japan was given a profound rude awakening when the enormity of Western military might was proven during the Opium War (1839-42), and Japan’s posture began to shift from “isolationism” from the Western encroachers to “conflict avoidance” with the Western encroachers.(p.44)

Since its founding in 1776 America has engaged in the relentless expansion of territories, some righteously and some unfairly, from the original eastern colonies to westward, a movement termed as “Manifest Destiny” ; in 1803 acquired the Louisiana Territory from France; in 1819 acquired Florida from Spain; the expansion into the West began in 1820s; in 1836 American settlers revolted against the Mexicans and created Texas, which it acquired in l845.   From 1846 to 1848 it allured Mexico into a war and acquired southwestern regions including California, reaching the Pacific Ocean; in 1867 it purchased Alaska from Russia.  By 1869 transcontinental railroad was completed and by 1890 acquisition of territories from the native Indians were complete. (p.45)

Now at the Pacific coast, it began to eye expansion into the Pacific. Already in l840, before the start of the Opium War, American traders in China were requesting the US Government back at home to coordinate its activities with the British Navy to open China. (p.45)

In 1853 the US Naval battleships commandeered by Matthew Perry arrived in Japan to display a formidable power of Western military and demanded an opening Japan. In 1854 a diplomatic treaty between Japan and the US was signed and other Western countries followed suit, thus Japan’s isolation from the world was ended after nearly 220 years.  (P.45)

After the opening of Japan 1854, in l893 the US conquered Hawaii and in 1898 made it into its territory.  In 1898 at the victory of Spanish American War it acquired Philippines and Guam from Spain, thus gained a foothold in Asia/Pacific of its own, a long cherished goal for the ‘ late-comer’ Western nation, the US,  in the colony grab in Asia, thus began to eye its expansion further into China. (p.46)

This colonial expansion by the Americans into Asia has wrought a seedling of eventual conflict with a rapidly modernizing and emerging power in Asia, Japan; the geo-political stage for the World War II has thus begun to emerge.  On the date of surrender ceremony on the battleship of USS Missouri , September 2nd, 1945, it is symbolic that an American flag that once flew on the battleship commandeered by Matthew Perry when he came to force an end to Japan’s isolation in l854 was flown.(p.46)

The “Opening of Japan”-the induction of a pristine and isolated nation into a desperate struggle for the ‘survival of fittest’ versus the  world outside-does not mean it has done so with its own capitalistic avarice and exploitation at the core. The prevailing thinking at the time was “avoid all conflicts, stay out of  raging outside battles of ‘survival of the fittest’ and maintain peace”.  In another words, maintain stable international relationships.  Japan was not trying to mimic nor engage in  the Western style hegemonic survival wars, but to avoid it. Japan was able to maintain peace for more than 2 centuries through isolationism and it wanted to see if it can continue to pursue peace after its Opening; The conceptual foundation of Japan’s forthcoming  foreign policies-‘Pan-Asiaism’ and ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’-were nothing but grounded expressions of these Japanese philosophical foundations.( p.48)

Even at the initial stages of the new Meiji Government they knew that in the realm of ‘survival of the fittest’ outside world, the prevailing realm of  international relationships at the time,  the overriding power lay in the hands of military might, not in the hands of international law.  Japan, however, stood rigidly in adherence to ‘international laws’ because it knew it must prove and gain the recognition  of the Western nations that it was a civilized and regimented nation that upheld the principles and conventions of ‘international law’ .  The excessive adherence to this obedient and orderly posture was often criticized within and outside of Japan, but this national character, modus operandi, was rigidly maintained, even after gaining the global recognition as the ‘world power’, a developed nation, after defeating the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, despite being ridiculed by the Western nations and China for being overzealously adherent and righteous.  (p.49)

After the Meiji Restoration (1868) Japan moved rapidly to modernize and westernize its political, economic, social  industrial and defense infrastructure; To view this rapid transformation of a nation negatively as a ‘ march toward Imperialism’ is the prevailing thinking about Japan after WWII.  However, if Japan had failed its endeavor to modernize and westernize it national foundations it would inevitably have become a colony of a Western nation.  Furthermore, the entire Asia , including China, Korea, Taiwan would have been under the colonial rule of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Netherlands, and the United States. (p.53)

China had lost the Opium War, but could not do its ‘Meiji Restoration’, a national make-over.  It had tried to adopt Western social customs, military modernization, etc.  through various programs, but since they failed to eradicate the antiquated political regime they all failed.  After they lost the Sino-French War in 1889 and Sino-Japanese War in 1895 China attempted a Meiji Restoration-like reform in 1898-Wuxu Reform, Hundred Days’ Reform- a sweeping national, cultural, political and educational reform to change from antiquated dynastic regime to democratic parliamentarian regime- but it was quashed by the Qing court.  (p.53)

China has always viewed Japan condescendingly as an inferior nation and with hubris China refused to learn from an inferior nation the steps needed to modernize a nation, most importantly dismantle the antiquated dynastic court regime system which has ruled for more than 4000 years.  In contrast, the Meiji Restoration incorporated a universal reform that included: education reform, military reform, land reform, a complete eradication of former government regime into new constitutional democratic regime.   Japan was not afraid to question an old ‘teaching’ and did not embrace ancient teachings beyond its useful life, which is a diametric opposite of China which refused to take the drastic action to part with the ancient governing regime.  (p.57)

Meiji Restoration was described by the venerable founder of Japanese education system Yukichi Fukuzawa:

“Chinese continues to be haughty with hubris full of self-confidence, still embracing ancient fable like teachings without scientific foundation. Same is true with Korea who still dearly embraces neo-Confucianism. The geographical location of Japan is in the farthest end of Asia and our spirits have already left Asia behind and are rapidly shifting toward that of Western civilization.” (p. 57)