Japan has an amazing density of history for a small nation; particularly in the 20th century.
I wouldn’t call all of it ‘amazing’, it is dark, but it is fascinating.
Japan faces a lot of possible change in the 21st century, and all these changes will affect the world.
There is no ‘short’ explanation..
There was an Emperor called Meiji….in the late 19th century. He pulled Japan up by the scruff of its neck, transforming their basic, agrarian economy into one with developing production and manufacturing sectors. Much like Hitler wanted to create for Germany, Emperor Meiji wanted to create a strong, resilient Japan; an assertive national and regional power. This was called the ‘Meiji Restoration’, and it started in the 1890s.
Japan was a colonial power, dominating Korea and clashing with China over hundreds of years. Japanese Emperors were considered omnipotent and omniscient, they were practically prophets in the eyes of their people.
A consequence (and intention) of the Meiji Restoration was the re-organisation of the military. So the intention to dominate was there from what you might call ‘the beginning’ for Japan…
In 1904, there was a War…. between then-Tsarist Russia and Japan. From February 8th 1904 until September 5th, 1905 they engaged in “the first Great War of the 20th century”. They essentially fought over control of the (then-unified) Korean Peninsula.**
**NB: Control and Ownership of the Korean Peninsula changed hands several times between China and Japan. The North was resource rich (coal, oil) and the swampy South was prime agricultural land. It also had the geographical inconvenience of being surrounded by Japan, (and attached to) China and Russia.
The Russians lost the War. They lost to little Japan!
It was the first time a European power had been defeated in conflict with a small Asian nation. A short war with huge ripple effects. This caught the eye of the major Western powers, Britain, the USA and France. In 1921/22 they attempted to constrain Japan’s military power through the Washington Treaty, which evidently failed in later years.
World War One detracted focus from Japan’s military development, as did the rise of Hitler in the 1920s and the succeeding Great Depression. In 1937 the Japanese invaded China, and were to remain its occupies until their surrender in 1945 at the end of the Second World War.
After the War ended, they were handed a ‘Peace Constitution’ by the Americans, Article 9 famously renouncing all acts of War and belligerency as a right of the Japanese state and forbidding the maintenance of any land, sea or air forces. Japan self-imposed capping military spending at 1% in the late 1970s, and that has not changed in the present day. In fact I would go so far as to say it has been a large contributor to its economic successes after 1945. The US pay Japan’s ‘Defence Burden’ as part of their alliance.
Japan was the second largest economy in the world for more than 30 years until 2010 when China overtook them.
There is huge pressure on Japan to remilitarise. They maintain a ‘self defence force’ for use in national emergencies and for UN peacekeeping , of about 250,000. The dispute over the Senkaku Islands could flare tensions between China and Japan, but a conflict is not beneficial for either. In wake of this, Japan have increased funding to their Coast Guard to patrol the islands. Moreover the helicopter destroyer Izumo that was revealed to the world in early August.
A remilitarised Japan could destabilise the East Asian region. Think about it, Japan are the third largest economy in the world, they have a solid alliance with the Americans and they are experiencing regional territorial tensions with China. Funnily enough, a war with each other isn’t in China or Japan’s immediate immediate interests. Japan have had bad experiences in wars, and they don’t want to compromise their economic strength; they don’t want to increase their defence spending. China want to focus on their own economic growth and maintain a calm, controlled veneer over their internal affairs.
Japan is weakened by their geography. little island(s) surrounded by ocean, far from its nearest ally, closest to its ‘enemy’.
Unless Japan decide to weigh into any escalation in the South China Sea (if!), I don’t foresee anything serious happening. Japan has a very serious nuclear spill to deal with at present. Not that anyone in Australia would have heard about it, we’ve all been so consumed with election jargon that this environmental crisis has gone under the radar. Never mind the hundreds and thousands of litres of radioactive water that have seeped into the ocean above our country! We’re going to need a Government with (something like) an environmental policy if this radioactive spill has any far reaching effects.
But because no-one is in Government, nobody cares.
Politics and self-interest, huh.
Some food for thought!
Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing!