Shōwa period

Shōwa period

The nihongo|Shōwa period|昭和時代|Shōwa jidai|literally "period of enlightened peace", or Shōwa era, is the period of Japanese history corresponding to the reign of Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito), from December 25, 1926 to January 7, 1989. In his coronation message which was read to the people and to the army, the newly enthroned emperor referenced this Japanese era name or "nengō": "I have visited the battlefields of the Great War in France. In the presence of such devastation, I understand the blessing of peace and the necessity of concord among nations." [Durschmied, Erik. (2002). [,M1 "Blood of Revolution: From the Reign of Terror to the Rise of Khomeini," p. 254.] ] However, the early-mid Showa period was to be anything but peaceful.

The "Shōwa" period was the longest reign of all Japanese emperors. During this era, Japan descended into political chaos as the momentary collapse of capitalism and looming threat of communism gave rise to ultranationalism. In 1937, it engaged in war with China for a second time and in 1941, it entered the world-wide conflict of the Second World War by attacking the United States at Pearl Harbor. In early August 1945, it suffered the only two atomic bomb attacks in history.

Defeat in the Second World War brought about cataclysmic change. For the first and only time in its history, Japan was occupied by a foreign power—an occupation that lasted seven years. American occupation brought forth sweeping democratic reforms and in 1952, Japan became a sovereign nation once more (and a more peaceful one than before the Occupation). The 1960s and '70s brought about an economic miracle similar to that of West Germany's. Japan became the second largest economy in the world and it seemed for a time that Japan would ultimately overtake the United States as an economic superpower. Due to the nature of Japan's culture, landscape, and history during this period, it is useful to divide the period into at least three parts: the militarist period, the American occupation, and the post-occupation era. One might add to those three distinctive eras the period in which the Taishō democracy declined and fell, as well as the period in which Japan fought the Second Sino-Japanese and Pacific wars (which, however, can be considered part of the militarist period).

The end of “Taishō Democracy”

The election of Katō Kōmei as Prime Minister of Japan continued democratic reforms that had been advocated by influential individuals on the left. This culminated in the passage of universal manhood suffrage in March 1925. This bill gave all male subjects over the age of 25 the right to vote, provided they had lived in their electoral districts for at least one year and were not homeless. The electorate thereby greatly increased from 3.3 million to 12.5 million. [Hane, Mikiso, "Modern Japan: A Historical Survey" (Oxford: Westview Press, 1992) 234.]

Pressure from the conservative right, however, forced the passage of the Peace Preservation Law of 1925 along with other anti-radical legislation, only ten days before the passage of universal manhood suffrage. The Peace Preservation Act severely curtailed individual freedom in Japan. It outlawed groups that sought to alter the system of government or to abolish private ownership. The leftist movements that had been galvanized by the Russian Revolution were subsequently crushed and scattered. This was in part to do with the Peace Preservation Act, but also due to the general fragmentation of the left.

Conservatives forced the passage of the Peace Preservation Law because the party leaders and politicians of the Taishō era had felt that, after World War I, the state was in danger from revolutionary movements. The Japanese state never clearly defined a boundary between private and public matters and, thus, demanded loyalty in all spheres of society. Subsequently, any ideological attack, such as a proposal for socialist reforms, was seen as an attack on the very existence of the state.

After the passage of the Peace Preservation Law and related legislation, kokutai emerged as the symbol of the state. Kokutai was seen as the barrier against communist and anarchist movements in Japan. With the challenge of the Great Depression on the horizon, this would be the death knell for parliamentary democracy in Japan.

The rise of ultra-nationalism

Prior to 1868, most Japanese more readily identified with their feudal domain rather than the idea of "Japan" as a whole. When the Tokugawa bakufu was overthrown, the leaders of the revolt, Satsuma and Chōshū were ideologically opposed to the house of Tokugawa since the Battle of Sekigahara. The Meiji period changed all of that. With the introduction of mass education, conscription, industrialization, centralization, and successful foreign wars, Japanese nationalism began to foment itself as a powerful force in society. Mass education and conscription served as a means to indoctrinate the coming generation with "the idea of Japan" as a nation instead of a series of daimyō. In this way, loyalty to feudal domains was supplanted with loyalty to the state. Industrialization and centralization gave Japanese a strong sense that their country could rival Western powers technologically and socially. Moreover, successful foreign wars gave the populace a sense of martial pride in their nation.

With the rise of Japanese nationalism, which seemed to parallel the growth of nationalism in the West, came the growth of ultra-nationalism. Certain conservatives such as Gondō Seikei and Asahi Heigo saw the rapid industrialization of Japan as something that had to be tempered. It seemed, for a time, that Japan was becoming too "Westernized" and that if left unimpeded, something intrinsically Japanese would be lost. During the Meiji period, such nationalists railed against the unequal treaties, but in the years following the First World War, Western criticism of Japanese imperial ambitions and restrictions on Japanese immigration changed the focus of the nationalist movement in Japan. The ultra-nationalist movement became virulently xenophobic, emperor-centered, and Asia-centric.

Japanese nationalism was buoyed by a romantic concept of Bushidō and driven by a modern concern for rapid industrial development and strategic dominance in East Asia. It saw the Triple Intervention of 1895 as a threat to Japanese survival in East Asia and warned that the "ABCD Powers" (America, British, Chinese, and Dutch) were threatening the Empire of Japan. Their only solution was conquest and war.

From the Washington Conference to the Mukden Incident

After the Great War, the Western Powers, influenced by Wilsonian ideology, attempted an effort at general disarmament. At the Washington Naval Conference of 19211922, the Great Powers met to set limits on naval armament. The Five Power Naval Limitation Agreement worked out in Washington limited competition in battleships and aircraft carriers to a ratio of 5:5:3 for the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan respectively. Japanese ultra-nationalists viewed this as an attempt by Western powers to curb Japanese expansionism in an area of the globe over which they had no interest. But, those in power in Japan readily agreed to the disarmament, realizing that the global taste for war had been soured after the First World War and knowing that that ration was sufficient to maintain hegemony in the Pacific.

In 1924, however, U.S.-Japanese relations were soured by the passing of the Japanese Exclusion Act. The act, passed by Congress, in response to complaints from the Governor of California, closed off Japanese immigration to the United States and was symptomatic of the mutual misunderstanding that the two nations had for one another.

From 1928–1932, domestic crisis could no longer be avoided. As the left was vigorously put down by the state, the economic collapse brought a new hardship to the people of Japan. Silk and rice prices plummeted and exports decreased 50%. Unemployment in both the cities and the countryside skyrocketed and social agitation came to a head.Fact|date=February 2007

Meanwhile, the London Naval Conference was held in 1930. Its purpose was to extend the Washington Treaty System. The Japanese government had desired to raise their ratio to 10:10:7, but this proposal was swiftly countered by the United States. Thanks to back-room dealing and other intrigues, though, Japan walked away with a 5:4 "advantage" in heavy cruisers, [Tohmatsu, Haruo and H.P. Willmott, "A Gathering Darkness: The Coming of War to the Far East and the Pacific, 1921–1942", (Lanham, MD: SR Books, 2004) 26–27.] but this small gesture would not satisfy the populace of Japan which was gradually falling under the spell of the various ultra-nationalist groups spawning throughout the country. As a result of his failings regarding the London Naval Treaty, Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi was shot on November 14, 1930 by an ultranationalist and died in 1931.

By this time, the civilian government had lost control of the populace. A New York Times correspondent called Japan a country ruled by "government by assassination." [Pyle, Kenneth, "The Rise of Modern Japan" 189.] The army, moving independently of the proper government of Japan, took the opportunity to invade Manchuria in the Summer of 1931.

Since the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japan had had a military presence in Manchuria. After a small explosion on the tracks of a Japanese railway, north of Mukden, the Japanese army mobilized the Kwangtung Army and attacked Chinese troops. The Minseito government, headed by Hamaguchi's successor, Wakatsuki Reijiro was unable to curb the army's offensive. The Kwangtung Army conquered all of Manchuria and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo. The Diet, now dominated by army officials, voted to withdraw from the League of Nations. The first seeds of the coming conflict had been sown.

The military state

The withdrawal from the League of Nations meant that Japan was 'going in alone.' Japan had no strong allies and its actions had been internationally condemned, whilst internally popular nationalism was booming. Local leaders, such as mayors, teachers, and Shinto priests were recruited by the various movements to indoctrinate the populace with ultra-nationalist ideals. They had little time for the pragmatic ideas of the business elite and party politicians. Their loyalty lay to the Emperor and the military. In March 1932 the "League of Blood" assassination plot and the chaos surrounding the trial of its conspirators further eroded the rule of law in Showa Japan. In May of the same year a group of right-wing Army and Navy officers succeeded in assassinating the Prime Minister. The plot fell short of staging a complete coup d'état but it effectively ended rule by political parties in Japan.

From 1932–1936, the country was governed by admirals. Mounting ultra-nationalist sympathies led to chronic instability in government. Moderate policies were difficult to enforce. The crisis culminated on February 26, 1936. In what is known as the February 26 Incident, about 1,500 ultranationalist army troops marched upon central Tokyo. Their mission was to assassinate the government and promote a "Showa Restoration". Prime Minister Okada survived the attempted coup by hiding in a storage shed in his house, but the coup only ended when Emperor Hirohito personally ordered an end to the bloodshed.

Within the state, the idea of a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere began to foment itself. The ultra-nationalist believed that the "ABCD powers" were a threat to all Asians and that Asia could only survive by following the Japanese example. Japan had been the only Asian (and, indeed, non-Western power at the time) to successfully industrialize itself and rival great Western empires. While largely described by contemporary Western observers as a front for the expansion of the Japanese army, the idea behind the Co-Prosperity Sphere was that Asia would be united against the Western powers and Western Imperialism under the auspices of the Japanese. The idea drew influence in the paternalistic aspects of Confucianism and Koshitsu Shinto. Thus, the main goal of the Sphere was the hakko ichiu, the unification of the eight corners of the world under the rule (kôdô) of Emperor Showa.

The reality during this period differed significantly from the propaganda. Some nationalities and ethnic groups were marginalized, and during rapid military expansion into foreign countries, the Imperial General Headquarters, authorized, or at the very least tolerated, many atrocities against local populations such as the experimentations of unit 731, the sanko sakusen, the use of chemical and biological weapons and civilian massacres such as those in Nanjing, Singapore and Manila.

The Second Sino-Japanese War

In July 1937, Imperial Japan drew its populace into war once more. On July 7, 1937, at the Marco Polo Bridge, the Japanese Kwangtung army stationed there used explosions heard on the Chinese side of Manchuria as a pretext for invasion. The invasion led to a large scale war approved by Emperor Showa and called a "holy war" (Seisen) in Imperial propaganda.

At the time, though, China was divided internally between the Communist Party of China (CPC) which was under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Nationalist government of China, the Kuomintang (KMT) under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.

The years of 1937–38 were a time of rapid and remarkable success by the Japanese. They did, after all, have a number of advantages over the Chinese army. While the Japanese army possessed a smaller force of armour and artillery than the west, it was far ahead of China in this respect of these aspects, and was also in command of the world's third largest navy with 2,700 aircraft at its disposal. At first, the Japanese slaughtered the elite 29th Army at Kupeikou and soon occupied Peiping in late July 1937. From there, the Japanese advanced down south through the major railway lines (Peiping-Suiyan, Peiping-Hankow, and Tientsin-Pukow). These were easily conquered by the superior Japanese army.

By October, Chiang Kai-shek's best armies had been defeated at Shanghai. By the end of the year, the capital, Nanking had also been seized. The use of brutal scorched earth tactics by both sides, the Chinese as in 1938 Yellow River flood and later by the Japanese with the Three Alls Policy initiated in 1940, claimed millions of lives. The Chinese nationalists resorted to massive civilian guerrilla tactics, which fatigued and frustrated Japanese forces. Countless Chinese civilians were executed on the suspicion of being resistance fighters. Japanese atrocities at Nanking and other sites in China and Manchukuo have been well documented. ("See: Rape of Nanking, Sanko sakusen, Unit 731, Japanese war crimes")

By 1939, the Japanese war effort had become a stalemate. The Japanese army had seized most of the vital cities in China, possessing Shanghai, Nanking, Beijing, and Wuhan. The Nationalists and the Communists, however, fought on from Chongqing and Yenan respectively.

The Second World War

Negotiations for a German-Japanese alliance began in 1937 with the onset of hostilities between Japan and China. On September 27, 1940 the Tripartite Pact was signed, creating the Rome-Tokyo-Berlin Axis. The quagmire in China did not stall imperial ambitions for the creation of a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Indeed, the Second Sino-Japanese War fuelled the need for oil that could be found in the Dutch East Indies. After Imperial General Headquarters refused to remove its troops from China (excluding Manchukuo) and French Indochina, Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced in July 1941 an oil embargo on Japan. Using that as a justification for war, Imperial General Headquarters launched the Greater East Asia War which began by a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

For the next six months, the Japanese had the initiative and went on the offensive. Hong Kong was overrun on December 8, 1941. By the summer of 1942, the Japanese had conquered Burma, Siam, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines. The decisive naval/aerial Battle of Midway that took place in early June 1942, however, changed the momentum of the war. Japan was put on the defensive as the Americans pursued their policy of island hopping at their leisure. Tokyo was repeatedly firebombed in 1945 and in the early spring and summer of 1945, Iwojima and Okinawa were seized by the Americans.

Defeat came in August 1945. On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing approximately 200,000 people. On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria. On August 9, Nagasaki was the site of the second nuclear attack in the history of mankind. Japan ordered an end to all hostilities on August 15.

Defeat and American occupation

With the defeat of Japan, the Allied Powers occupied the Japanese empire. The Soviet Union was responsible for North Korea as well as islands that she had ceded to Japan during the Russo-Japanese war. The United States took responsibility for the rest of Japan's possessions in Oceania. China, meanwhile, plunged into civil war. General Douglas MacArthur was put in charge of the Allied Occupation of Japan as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.

Japan was disarmed completely. Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution prevented Japan from ever waging war on a foreign nation. The Emperor also renounced all claims to divinity and was forbidden in playing a role in politics. To this day, the Emperor remains a mere figurehead in society. A War Crimes Tribunal, similar to those at Nuremberg were set up in Tokyo. Several prominent members of the Japanese cabinet were executed, most notably, former Prime Minister Tojo Hideki. Hirohito was not tried at the Tokyo trials, nor any members of the imperial family such as Prince Chichibu, Prince Takeda, Prince Higashikuni and Prince Asaka, much to the ire of some Allies.

At the same time, the Allies also tried to break the power of the zaibatsu but were not entirely successful. Japan was democratized and liberalized along American lines. Parliamentary party politics were established. Old left wing organizations such as the Japan Socialist Party and the Japan Communist Party reasserted themselves. The two dominant parties at the time were Liberal Party and the Democratic Party. The first post-war elections were held in 1946. In that election, women were given the franchise for the first time.

Yoshida Shigeru was elected as Prime Minister of Japan. His policy, known as the "Yoshida Doctrine" emphasized military reliance on the United States and promoted unrestrained economic growth. As Cold War tensions asserted themselves, the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of San Francisco which came into force on April 28, 1952. Japan became a sovereign nation once more.

“The Japanese Miracle”

The Yoshida Doctrine, combined with U.S. foreign investment and the Japanese government's economic intervention spurred on an economic miracle on par with the wirtschaftswunder of West Germany. The Japanese government strove to spur industrial development through a mix of protectionism and trade expansion. The establishment of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) is widely thought to be instrumental in the Japanese post-war economic recovery.

By 1954, the MITI system was in full effect. Yoshida's successor, Ikeda Hayato began practicing economic policies which removed much of Japan's anti-monopoly laws. This led to the emergence of the keiretsu which were extremely similar to the pre-war zaibatsu. Foreign companies were locked out of the Japanese market and strict protectionist laws were enacted.

From 1954 and beyond the death of the Showa Emperor, Japan rebuilt itself politically and economically. Today, Japan's economy is second only to the United States and its economic power gives it far more dominance than it ever had militarily. But, it was not without its problems. Despite almost 40 years of continual economic growth, by 1993 (after the Showa period ended in 1989), the bubble economy had burst and Japan was thrown into a period of recession that lasted throughout the 1990s.

ee also

*Shōwa financial crisis



* Durschmied, Erik. (2002). [ "Blood of Revolution: From the Reign of Terror to the Rise of Khomeini."] New York: Arcade Publishing. 10-ISBN 1-559-70607-4; 13-ISBN 978-1-559-70607-0 (cloth)
* Hanneman, Mary L. "The Old Generation in (Mid) Showa Japan: Hasegawa Nyozekan, Maruyama Masao, and Postwar Thought", "The Historian" 69.3 (Fall, 2007): 479–510.
* Seki, Eiji. (2006). [,+Japan,+and+the+Second+World+War&client=firefox-a "Mrs. Ferguson's Tea-Set, Japan and the Second World War: The Global Consequences Following Germany's Sinking of the SS Automedon in 1940."] London: Global Oriental. 10-ISBN 1-905-24628-5; 13- ISBN 978-1-905-24628-1 (cloth) [reprinted by University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2007 -- [ previously announced as "Sinking of the SS Automedon and the Role of the Japanese Navy: A New Interpretation"] .]


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