In 1937, the Japanese Army invaded and captured most of the coastal Chinese cities such as Shanghai. Japan also forced France to relinquish (without combat) French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). After the raid on Pearl Harbor and the entry into the war of the Western Allies, Japan launched quick successful invasions of British Malaya (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore) as well as the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Thailand managed to stay independent by becoming a satellite state of Japan. In December 1941 to May 1942, Japan sank major elements of the American, British and Dutch pacific fleets, captured Hong Kong, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies, and reached the borders of India and Australia. Japan had achieved its primary objective of controlling the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
The ideology of Japan's colonial empire, as it expanded dramatically during the war, contained two somewhat contradictory impulses. On the one hand, it preached the unity of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a coalition of Asian races, directed by Japan, against the imperialism of Britain, France, the Netherlands, the United States, and European imperialism generally. This approach celebrated the spiritual values of the East in opposition to the crass materialism of the West. In practice, however, the Japanese installed organizationally-minded bureaucrats and engineers to run their new empire, and they believed in ideals of efficiency, modernization, and engineering solutions to social problems. It was fascism based on technology, and rejected Western norms of democracy. After 1945, the engineers and bureaucrats took over, and turned the wartime techno-fascism into entrepreneurial management skills.
Japan would end setting up puppet regimes in Manchuria and China for the duration of the war. The Army operated governments in most of the conquered areas, but paid more favorable attention to the Dutch East Indies. The main goal was to obtain oil, but Japan also sponsored an Indonesian nationalist movement underSukarno. Sukarno finally came to power in the late 1940s after several years of battling the Dutch. The extraction of resources from the Southeast Asian territories would be limited throughout the war primarily by difficulties in transporting them back to the Japanese home islands. This would be particularly true with regard to shipping oil from the Dutch East Indies.
Japan had a clear military advantage following the attack on Pearl Harbor, but as Admiral Yamamoto warned, this would prove to be only temporary. Six months after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy defeated the Japanese Navy in the Battle of Midway, crippling Japan's offensive capabilities, and firmly establishing America's own military advantage. The war became one of mass production and logistics, and the U.S. effectively funded a far stronger navy with more numerous warplanes, and superior communications and logistics systems. The Japanese had stretched too far and were unable to supply their forward bases, with many of their garrisons under-supplied for the duration of the war. American submarines destroyed a large portion of the Japanese merchant marine, causing a severe shortage of fuel oil for ships, aviation gasoline, and raw supplies for armament production. Japan built warplanes in large quantities but with constant threats necessitating a quick training program, the quality of its pilots continued to diminish. The Japanese Navy lost a series of major battles, from Midway (1942) to the Philippine Sea (1944) and Leyte Gulf (1945), which put American long-rangeB-29 bombers in range of the Japanese mainland. A series of massive air raids destroyed much of Tōkyō and other major industrial cities beginning in March 1945 while Operation Starvation seriously disrupted the nation's vital internal shipping lanes. Despite the situation, the Ministers in power generally continued to hold out for a final defence of the homeland that could inflict heavy casualties on the invading Allied troops, in hopes of attaining a negotiated surrender (as opposed to the unconditional surrender being demanded). In August, the two atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria demonstrated that a negotiated surrender would not be possible, and Japan agreed to the unconditional terms of the Potsdam Declaration.
Total Japanese military fatalities between 1937 and 1945 were 2.1 million; most occurring in the last year of the war. Starvation or malnutrition-related illness accounted for roughly 80 percent of Japanese military deaths in the Philippines, and 50 percent of military fatalities in China. The aerial bombardment by American airmen of a total of 69 Japanese cities appears to have taken a minimum of 400,000 and possibly closer to 600,000 civilian lives (over 100,000 in Tōkyō alone, over 200,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, and 80,000–150,000 civilian deaths in the Battle of Okinawa). During the winter of 1945, civilian deaths among settlers and others attempting to return to Japan from Manchuria probably approached 100,000. About 600,000 soldiers were held for two to four years in forced-labor camps in Siberia.
Postwar Japan (1945–present)
Late Shōwa period
After the collapse of the Empire of Japan, Japan was transformed into a democratic state with a revised democratic Constitution of Japan. During the postwar period, Japan became an economic power state. This period is characterized by the US-Japan Alliance such as the United States Forces Japan.
Occupation of Japan
Japan had never been occupied by a foreign power, and the arrival of the Americans with strong ideas about transforming Japan into a peaceful democracy had a major long-term impact. Japan came under the firm direction of American General Douglas MacArthur, The main American objective was to turn Japan into a peaceful nation and to establish democratic self-government. The occupation transformed the Japanese government into an engine of production, wealth redistribution, and social reform. Political reforms included a freely elected Japanese Diet (legislature) and universal adult suffrage. The Occupation emphasized land reform so that tenant farmers became owners of their rice paddies, and stimulated the formation of powerful labor unions that gave workers a say in industrial democracy. The great zaibatsu business conglomerates were broken up, consumer culture was encouraged, education was radically reformed and democratized, and the Shintō-basis of emperor worship was ended. Historian John Dower says the "visible hand" of New Deal-inspired state leadership, while keeping a capitalist economy, was welcomed by a battered and humiliated Japanese society that was eager to find a peaceful route forward into prosperity.
The reforms were implemented by Japanese officials under indirect American control, so that no Japanese institutions were directly controlled by Americans. While Emperor Hirohito was allowed to retain his throne as a symbol of national unity, actual power was held by complex interlocking networks of elites.
The Empire of Japan was dissolved. Japan was stripped of its overseas possessions and retained only the home islands. Manchukuo was dissolved, and Manchuria and Formosa were returned to China. Korea was occupied and divided by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The U.S. became the sole administering authority of the Ryūkyū, Bonin, and Volcano Islands, while the USSR took southern Sakhalin and the Kurile islands. Japan vehemently rejects Soviet control of the Kuriles, and diplomatic tension over the issue continued into the 21st century. Shutting down the empire meant that Japanese settlers and officials had leave. In all Japanese repatriation centers handled over 7 million expatriates returning to Japan.
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tōkyō Trial), an international war crimes tribunal, was held, in which seven politicians were executed. Emperor Hirohito was not convicted, but instead was turned into a figurehead emperor.
Shigeru Yoshida (1878–1967) played the central role as prime minister between 1946 and 1954 (with one interruption). His goal was rapid rebuilding Japan and cooperation with the American Occupation. He led Japan to adopt the “Yoshida Doctrine”, based on three tenets: economic growth as the primary national objective, no involvement in international political-strategic issues, and the provision of military bases to the United States. The Yoshida Doctrine proved immensely successful.
The historiography before 1980 was celebratory, and focused on the success of the American occupation in transforming Japan in terms of democracy and freedom. Since the 1980s historians more often stress the limitations of the occupation's reforms and argue that they partly reflected prewar and wartime Japanese innovations.
Dower explains the factors that promoted the success of the American occupation:
- "Discipline, moral legitimacy, well-defined and well-articulated objectives, a clear chain of command, tolerance and flexibility in policy formulation and implementation, confidence in the ability of the state to act constructively, the ability to operate abroad free of partisan politics back home, and the existence of a stable, resilient, sophisticated civil society on the receiving end of occupation policies—these political and civic virtues helped make it possible to move decisively during the brief window of a few years when defeated Japan itself was in flux and most receptive to radical change."
Entering the Cold War with the Korean War, Japan came to be seen as an important ally of the US government. Political, economic, and social reforms were introduced, such as an elected Japanese Diet (legislature) and expanded suffrage. The country's constitution took effect on May 3, 1947. The United States and 45 other Allied nations signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan in September 1951. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on March 20, 1952, and under the terms of the treaty, Japan regained full sovereignty on April 28, 1952.
Under the terms of the peace treaty and later agreements, the United States maintains naval bases at Sasebo, Okinawa and at Yokosuka. A portion of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, including one aircraft carrier (currently USS George Washington (CVN-73)), is based at Yokosuka. This arrangement is partially intended to provide for the defense of Japan, as the treaty and the new Japanese constitution imposed during the occupation severely restrict the size and purposes of Japan Self-Defense Forces in the modern period.
After a series of realignment of political parties, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the leftistSocial Democratic Party (SDP) were formed in 1955. The political map in Japan had been largely unaltered until early 1990s and LDP had been the largest political party in the national politics. LDP politicians and government bureaucrats focused on economic policy. From the 1950s to the 1980s, Japan experienced its rapid development into a major economic power, through a process often referred to as the Japanese post-war economic miracle.
Japan's biggest postwar political crisis took place in 1960 over the revision of the Japan-United States Mutual Security Assistance Pact. The new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which renewed the United States role as military protector of Japan, was pushed through the Diet by LDP Prime Minister Eisaku Sato through the Diet in 1960 against the strong opposition of minority parties. Opponents on the left responded with massive street protests and political upheaval occurred, and the cabinet resigned a month after the Diet's ratification of the treaty. Thereafter, political turmoil subsided. Japanese views of the United States, after years of mass protests over nuclear armaments and the mutual defense pact, improved by 1972 with the reversion of United States-occupied Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty and the winding down of the Vietnam War.
Japan had reestablished relations with the Republic of China after World War II, and cordial relations were maintained with the nationalist government when it was relocated to Taiwan, a policy that won Japan the enmity of the People's Republic of China, which was established in 1949. After the general warming of relations between China and Western countries, especially the United States, which shocked Japan with its sudden rapprochement with Beijing in 1971, Tōkyō established relations with Beijing in 1972. Close cooperation in the economic sphere followed. Japan's relations with the Soviet Union continued to be problematic after the war, but a Joint Declaration between Japan and the USSR ending the state of war and reestablishing diplomatic relations was signed October 19, 1956.] The main object of dispute was the Soviet occupation of what Japan calls its Northern Territories, the two most southerly islands in the Kurils (Etorofu and Kunashiri) andShikotan and the Habomai Islands, which were seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II.
Throughout the postwar period, Japan's economy continued to boom, with results far outstripping expectations. Given a massive boost by the Korean War, in which it acted as a major supplier to the UN force, Japan's economy embarked on a prolonged period of extremely rapid growth, led by the manufacturing sectors. Japan emerged as a significant power in many economic spheres, including steel working, car manufacturing and the manufacturing of electronic goods. Japan rapidly caught up with the West in foreign trade, GNP, and general quality of life. These achievements were underscored by the 1964 Tōkyō Olympic Games and the Ōsaka International Exposition in 1970. The high economic growth and political tranquility of the mid to late 1960s were tempered by the quadrupling of oil prices by the OPEC in 1973. Almost completely dependent on imports for petroleum, Japan experienced its first recession since World War II. Another serious problem was Japan's growing trade surplus, which reached record heights during Nakasone's first term. The United States pressured Japan to remedy the imbalance, demanding that Tōkyō raise the value of the yen and open its markets further to facilitate more imports from the United States.
The rise of the progressive movement
The Sixties and Seventies in Japan witnessed the rise of progressive local governments, concerned with enhancing the quality of life in urban areas. Men who were aligned with the progressive and centrist parties won office as governors in the most populous urban prefectures, and many Socialists took office as mayors in cities and suburbs. The progressive movement at its peak embraced about one-fourth of all city mayors, and unified under the League of Progressive Mayors, these one hundred or so officials promoted policies that appealed to the civic needs of the new urban and suburban residents. Some dedicated their efforts to special projects, such as one mayor who made sewer service to the entire city his top priority, while others devoted their attention to parks, civic centres, or new public libraries. For victims of environmental crimes, progressive cities established compensation legislation that covered health care and living expenses. The rise of progressive local government was highlighted by the fact that by mid-1973 half the Japanese people were living in areas where local government was led by socialists and communists.
Heisei period: 1989–present
Hirohito died on 7 January 1989, after a 63 year reign. His son Akihito ascended to the throne. In accordance with Japanese customs, Hirohito was posthumously renamed "Emperor Shōwa" on 31 January. The reign of Akihito is known as the Heisei period. Coincidentally, the year in which the Heisei period started also marked start of the revolutions of Eastern Europe, the fall of communism and the end of the Cold War.
1989 marked one of the most rapid economic growth spurts in Japanese history. With a strong yen and a favorable exchange rate with the dollar, the Bank of Japan kept interest rates low, sparking an investment boom that drove Tōkyō property values up sixty percent within the year. Shortly before New Year's Day, the Nikkei 225reached its record high of 39,000. By 1991, it had fallen to 15,000, signifying the end of Japan's famed bubble economy. Unemployment ran reasonably high, but not at crisis levels. Rather than suffer large-scale unemployment and lay-offs, Japan's labor market suffered in more subtle, yet no less profound effects that were nonetheless difficult to gauge statistically. During the prosperous times, jobs were seen as long term even to the point of being lifelong. In contrast, Japan during the lost decade saw a marked increase in temporary and part-time work which only promised employment for short periods and marginal benefits. This also created a generational gap, as those who had entered the labor market prior to the lost decade usually retained their employment and benefits, and were effectively insulated from the economic slowdown, whereas younger workers who entered the market a few years later suffered the brunt of its effects.
In a series of financial scandals of the LDP, a coalition led by Morihiro Hosokawa took power in 1993. Hosokawa succeeded to legislate a new plurality voting election law instead of the stalemated multi-member constituency election system. However, the coalition collapsed the next year as parties had gathered to simply overthrow LDP and lacked a unified position on almost every social issue. The LDP returned to the government in 1996, when it helped to elect Social Democrat Tomiichi Murayama as prime minister.
The Great Hanshin earthquake hit Kōbe on January 17, 1995. 6,000 people were killed and 44,000 were injured. 250,000 houses were destroyed or burned in a fire. The amount of damage totaled more than ten trillion yen. In March of the same year the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo attacked on the Tōkyō subway system withsarin gas, killing 12 and injuring hundreds more. An investigation later revealed that the cult was responsible for dozens of murders that occurred prior to the gas attacks.
Junichiro Koizumi was president of the LDP and Prime Minister of Japan from April 2001 to September 2006. Koizumi enjoyed high approval ratings. He was known as an economic reformer and he privatized the national postal system. Koizumi also had an active involvement in the War on Terrorism, sending 1,000 soldiers of theJapan Self-Defense Forces to help in Iraq's reconstruction after the Iraq War, the biggest overseas troop deployment since World War II. His conservative social and economic policies were, however, criticised for widening inequalities in Japanese society, with various people talking about the emergence of a “Kakusa shakai” (unequal society), a term symbolising discontent with neo-liberal reforms that have widened disparities in Japanese society and have created “winners” and “losers.”
The ruling coalition is formed by the liberal Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the leftist Social Democratic Partyand the conservative People's New Party. The opposition is formed by the liberal conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Other parties are the New Kōmeito Party, a Sōka Gakkai party and the Japanese Communist Party. On 2 June 2010 Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned from his position as leader of the DPJ, citing the failure to fulfill his campaign promise of removing a U.S. base from the island of Okinawa as his main reason for stepping down.
On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered the strongest earthquake in its recorded history, affecting the north-east area of Honshū. The magnitude 9.0 quake was aggravated by a tsunami and also caused numerous fires and damaged several nuclear reactors. Damage to Fukushima Nuclear Plant led to meltdown of three reactors and release of radioactive material, in the largest nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
One commonly accepted periodization of Japanese history:
|30,000–10,000 BC||Japanese Paleolithic||unknown|
|10,000–300 BC||Ancient Japan||Jōmon||local clans|
|900 BC – 250 AD (overlaps)||Yayoi|
|c. 250–538||Kofun||Yamato clans|
|710–794||Nara||Emperor of Japan|
|1185–1333||Feudal Japan||Kamakura||Kamakura shogunate|
|1333–1336||Kemmu Restoration||Emperor of Japan|
|1467–1573||Sengoku period||Ashikaga shogunate, daimyōs, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi|
|1603–1868||Early Modern Japan||Edo||Tokugawa shogunate|
|1868–1912||Modern Japan||Meiji||Pre-war||Emperor of Japan|
|1945–1952||Contemporary Japan||Shōwa (Occupied Post-war)||Post-war||Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers|
|1952–1989||Shōwa (Post-occupation)||Parliamentary democracy.|