Republic of Japan
Timeline: Cherry, Plum, and Chrysanthemum

OTL equivalent: Japan, Taiwan, Sakhalin Oblast, and Kuril Islands
Flag of Japan (Myomi Republic) National Emblem of Japan (Myomi)
National flag National emblem
Location of Japan (Myomi)
Location of Japan

瑞穂魂下 (Classical Japanese)
("Under the Spirit of Land of Abundant Ears of Rice")

Anthem "Wagakuni"
(and largest city)
  others Ainu languages; Chinese; Korean; Ryukyuan; Formosan languages
Religion Irreligion; Buddhism; Protestantism; Catholicism
Ethnic Group Japanese; Ryukyuan; Korean; Chinese; Ainu
Demonym Japanese
Government Unitary state; Presidential republic; Dominant-party system
  legislature National Congress of Japan
President Maehara Seiji
Prime Minister Sai Eibun
Population 151,021,689 
Currency Japanese yen (¥) (JPY)
Time Zone JST (UTC+9)
  summer not observed (UTC+9)
Calling Code 81
Internet TLD .jp
Japan (Japanese: ワコク (和國) Wakoku), officially known as the Republic of Japan (Japanese: ダイワミンコク (大和民國) Daiwa Minkoku), is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, the Soviet Union, Manchuria, Korea, and China, stretching from Karafuto Island in the north to Taiwan Island in the south.

Japan is an archipelago of about 6950 islands. The six largest islands are Karafuto, Ezo, Honshū, Kyūshū, Shikoku and Taiwan, together accounting for ninety-seven percent of Japan's land area. Japan has the world's eighth largest population, with over 153 million people. The Greater Tokyo Area, which includes the capital city of Tokyo and several surrounding provinces, is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 40 million residents.


The climate of Japan is predominantly temperate, but varies greatly from north to south. Japan's geographical features divide it into seven principal climatic zones: Northern Islands, Sea of Japan, Central Highland, Seto Inland Sea, Pacific Ocean, Ryūkyū Islands, and Taiwan. The northernmost zone, Northern Islands (Karafuto and Ezo), has a humid continental climate with long, cold winters and very warm to cool summers. Precipitation is not heavy, but the islands usually develop deep snowbanks in the winter.

In the Sea of Japan zone on Honshū's west coast, northwest winter winds bring heavy snowfall. In the summer, the region is cooler than the Pacific area, though it sometimes experiences extremely hot temperatures because of the foehn wind. The Central Highland has a typical inland humid continental climate, with large temperature differences between summer and winter, and between day and night; precipitation is light, though winters are usually snowy. The mountains of the Chūgoku and Shikoku regions shelter the Seto Inland Sea from seasonal winds, bringing mild weather year-round.

The Pacific Coast features a humid subtropical climate that experiences milder winters with occasional snowfall and hot, humid summers because of the southeast seasonal wind. The Ryukyu Islands have a subtropical climate, with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very heavy, especially during the rainy season. The generally humid, temperate climate exhibits marked seasonal variation such as the blooming of the spring cherry blossoms, the calls of the summer cicada and fall foliage colors that are celebrated in art and literature.

In Taiwan, the climate is generally marine and varies widely by season in the Northern part and the mountain areas. The Southern part of the island, however, belongs to the tropical belt and is warm and humid all year. Rainfall varies hugely from place to place throughout the year, but averaging 2600 mm for the island proper. During the winter (November to March), the northeast experiences steady rain, while the central and southern parts of the island are mostly sunny.

The average winter temperature in Japan is 5.1° C (41.2° F) and the average summer temperature is 25.2° C (77.4° F). The highest temperature ever measured in Japan - 40.9° C (105.6° F) - was recorded on August 16, 2007. The main rainy season begins in early January in Taiwan, and the rain front gradually moves north until reaching Ezo in late July. In most of Honshu, the rainy season begins before the middle of June and lasts about six weeks. In late summer and early autumn, typhoons often bring heavy rain.

Politics and Government


The National Congress Building of Japan

The government of Republic of Japan is founded according to the 1921 Constitution of the Republic of Japan, based on the principles of Five-Pointed Star Ideology (ゴボセイシソ, Gobōsei Shisō) and National Democracy.

The unicameral National Congress (コクミンダイヒョタイカイ Kokumin Daihyō Taikai) constitutionally is the highest organ of state authority and holds supreme powers in legislative, executive and judicial matters. The Congress has the powers to amend and interpret the Constitution. Its members are elected every four years through a rigid hierarchical electoral system. The members of the National Congress are elected by the prefectural councils that in turn are elected by the citizens.

Teien art museum

Teien Building, the official residence of the President of Japan

During the interim of its sessions, the National Congress elects the Legislative Council (リッポイン Rippō-in) from among its members for two-year term. The Legislative Council exercises the legislative powers and acts on the behalf of National Congress when the Congress is not in sessions. The Legislative Council may creates a constitutional commission to interpret the Constitution when the latter is not in sessions.

The President of the Republic (ソサイ Sōsai) is the head of state of Japan and the nominal commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Japan. Unlike other heads of state, the President of Japan is mostly a ceremonial office and can described only as an instrument of the Congress according the Constitution. However, by convention, the Presidency is actually the most powerful office as it is usually occupied by the leaders of ruling Japanese Nationalist Party. The President of the Republic is elected by the National Congress from among its members every four years and can be re-elected without any term limit. The President is assisted by the Ministers of State and the State Council.

State Guest-House Akasaka Palace, Main Entrance-1

Akasaka Palace, the seat of Council of Ministers

The Ministers of State (コクムブギョ Kokumu Bugyō) are appointed by the National Congress from among its members by the Presidential recommendation. The Ministers of State are presided by one presiding member who referred as the Prime Minister (ソSōri). With the President's approval, the Prime Minister appoints the ministers without portfolio, heads of state commissions and president of Central Bank which together with the Ministers of State form a single institution that called as the Council of Ministers (カクリョイギ Kakuryō Kaigi).

The State Council (コクムイン Kokumu-in) serves as the main advisory body both for the National Congress and the President of the Republic. The members of the State Council are elected for four-year terms through three types of constituencies: regional constituencies, functional constituencies and indigenous constituencies. The regional representatives are elected by the prefectural councils. The functional representatives are elected by the corporate and special interest groups. The indigenous representatives are elected by the designated indigenous peoples of Japan, like the Ainus or the Taiwanese aboriginal peoples.

The National Court (コクミンサイバンショ Kokumin Saibansho) is the supreme judicature of Japan. Its consists of one Chief Justice and 12 Associate Justices which are appointed by the Congress from among its members every four years. The court has the power to interpret the Constitution and laws on the behalf of the Congress as a court of last resort. The highest court of appeal, the Supreme Court (サイコサイバンショ Saikō Saibansho), is in charge of civil and criminal cases, with all of its judges are appointed for life by the National Court. The National Procuratorate (コクミンケンサツショ Kokumin Kensatsusho) responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crime at the national level.


Kofun period (250–522)


A depiction of Queen Himiko of Yamatai and her court

Japan first appears in written history in the Chinese Book of Han in 82 as the “Wakoku” (倭国), which means the land of dwarfs. At that time, Japan comprised by many smaller polities in Eastern Honshu and Kyushu which occasionally in conflicts with each other.

According to the records of the Three Kingdoms in 280, the most powerful kingdom on Japan during the third century was called Yamataikoku, by a shaman-queen named Himiko (183-248). Himiko unified the warring Wa states into a loose confederation. After the death of Himiko, Japan was succumbed into the period of disorder until Iyo, a 13-year old female relative of Himiko, became the new shaman-queen.

From the third to fifth century, many Wa kingdoms were continuously at war with each other as well as with several polities on the southern Korea. By the fourth century, the Kinai chiefdoms became more prominent among other Wa polities. To strengthen its position, the Kinai state allied with the Korean kingdom of Baekje and received many skilled Baekje immigrants who later helped to build Kinai society. The Kinai state later will transformed into the Yamato Dynasty which will ruled Japan for about 1600 years.

Early Medieval Japan (522-1282)

2010.10.07 - 27

Heijō-kyū, the royal palace of Japan during Nara period

Yamato was firmly established during the Asuka period (522-710) in the sixth century. The Soga clan which descended from Baekje assumed the control of Yamato court under Empress Suiko (554-628; r. 593-628) and her nephew Prince Shotoku (574-622). They established Asuka, now in the south of Nara, as the center of Yamato state, employed the Chinese writing system, adopted Buddhism as the state religion and established a Confucian-based centralized state to curb the opposition from the animistic rival clans and legitimize the new imperial line.

In 710, the new imperial capital was established in Heijō-kyō (modern Nara). The Nara period (710–784) of the eighth century is characterized by the appearance of a nascent literature as well as the development of Buddhist-inspired art and architecture. The smallpox epidemic of 735–737 is believed to have killed as much as one-third of Japan's population. In 784, Emperor Sudo moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō before relocating it to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto) in 794.


Re-enactments of Yamato royal guards at Heijō-kyū

In 1185, Minamoto no Yoritomo usurped the power from the imperial court and formed a military dictatorship called the Bakufu (幕府) in Kamakura in Kantō. During the Kamakura period (1185-1282), the warrior class called the buke (武家) dominated the country’s politics. After the death of Yoritomo in 1199, the Bakufu was soon dominated by the Hōjō clan, Yoritomo’s in-laws which hereditarily occupied the position of shikken (執権, "regent of the bakufu").

Kōwa period and Kemmu Restoration (1282–1368)

main page: History of Japan, 1282–1368

Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba 2

Mongol invasion to Japan (1282)

In 1274, the Mongols invaded Japan after the Japanese rulers refused to submit as a tributary. However, the invasion was failed after a great storm hit the Mongol vessels in the Hakata Bay. The Mongols, however, did not give up and invaded Japan for the second time in 1282. With the superiority of the Mongol forces, the noblemen launched a coup against the Kamakura Bakufu and Emperor Go-Uda then made peace with the Mongols. The warrior rule was ended and the Bakufu institution was marginalized into the so-called Kamei Bakufu (掛名幕府, “nominal bakufu”). Between 1282 and 1368, Japan became the tributary state to Yuan Dynasty.

Although the imperial rule was restored after the Mongol invasion, young Emperor Go-Daigo determined to increase his own legitimacy and eliminate his potential opponents from power. Go-Daigo was a very ambitious and assertive emperor; he wanted to unify all Japan under a single rule of the imperial court with a high degree of centralization. To consolidate his rule, Go-Daigo abolished the Kamei Bakufu in 1325 that led by Prince Masayasu whose descended from a Kubilai Khan's daughter and moved the capital from Kyoto to Ōtsu, near Lake Biwa. Several aristocrats and warrior clans opposed this policy, thus triggered a civil war between 1329 and 1333.

After Go-Daigo succeed in getting rid the Kamei Bakufu in 1333, one of his generals, Ashikaga Takauji, rebelled and re-established the Bakufu in Kamakura in 1338. Go-Daigo's son, Emperor Go-Murakami, and his advisor, Kitabatake Chikafusa, thus restored the Kamei Bakufu to sway the warriors' support from the Ashikaga to the court. Prince Masayasu's son, Prince Iemasa, was made the shogun in 1340. After ten years of warfare, the rebellion was able to be put down by the imperial forces in 1345. To prevent another strife, the Shōhei Code was adopted in 1346 which incorporated the Kamei Bakufu into the imperial government.

Ryukyu Kingdoms of Sanzan era

Map of the Three Kingdoms of Okinawa

In 1349, Japan ended its tributary relations with Yuan Dynasty following the dynastic succession which occurred in China. In 1351, the Kingdom of Hokuzan in the Ryukyu Islands became Japan’s first tributary state after Emperor Go-Murakami sent three imperial envoys before King Haniji. Two other Ryukyuan principalities, Chūzan and Nanzan, were granted similar commercial status shortly afterwards. From then on, the three kingdoms would send frequent tribute missions before the Japanese Emperor even until the islands were unified by Chūzan as the Kingdom of Ryukyu in 1429.

Following the decline of Yuan Dynasty, Japan started expand its hegemony farther to the south. The island of Taiwan (which was called "Takasago" at that time) which at that time was inhabited by native Austronesian aborigines became the first target of Japan’s military invasion. In 1358, Emperor Go-Murakami launched the invasion of the northern region of Takasago which unfortunately met a heavy resistance from Tayaru people. With the help from Ryukyuan and native Tagaramu forces, the Japanese successfully defeated the Tayaru people after two months of fighting. However, only in 1360, the entire island of Takasago can finally be subjugated under Japanese rule.

Late Medieval Japan (1368–1543)

main page: History of Japan, 1368–1543

In 1381, Japan launched a punitive expedition to the island of Ezo after its imperial envoys were killed by local Ainu villagers in Muroran. Emperor Chōkei used this opportunity to annex Ezo and Karafuto into the Japanese Realm. Despite being successful, the punitive expedition itself was a very bloody one due to the fierce opposition from Ainu peoples which were forced by Japanese troops to leave their settlements in the hilly areas in northeastern Ezo. The rise of the Ming Dynasty in China worried the inner circle of the Japanese imperial court about possible Chinese invasion of the islands, especially after pro-Ming Joseon Dynasty replaced pro-Yuan Goryeo Dynasty in Korea.

In 1394, Emperor Go-Kameyama reorganized the Japanese military from land-based armies to maritime-based fleets, in order to build the significant naval forces for Japan. As the Japanese naval forces grew stronger, Emperor Go-Kameyama and his advisers began to envision the prospect of more larger maritime hegemony which would rivaling directly against Ming Dynasty.

In 1395, Japan sent its envoys to the Kingdom of Tondo in Luzon, which today being part of Philippines, in hope to establish its influence in the island. However, Tondo refused the request as it was already entered a tributary relationship with Ming Dynasty, to masquerade its maritime trade in China which enforced the Hai jin laws at that time. Enraged by the refusal, Japan sent its armada to Tondo. However, the invasion was successfully defeated by Tondo and Emperor Go-Kameyama decided to call his armada back.

Traditional Whaling in Taiji

Traditional Japanese whaling

Only after the second invasion in 1400, Tondo finally accepted its dual subordination to both China and Japan wherein Tondo tributary relations were maintained with both the Japanese and Chinese court. After gained a subjugation from Tondo, Japan continued to expand its influence over the island and later to the Visayan Islands by fifteenth century. While neither had a similar significant presence as the Chinese, the large number of Japanese merchants did settle in the Philippines, especially in Manila, which later served as the base for a future Japanese-Pilipino community.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Japanese society was getting wealthier thanks to the maritime trade which not only limited around the water areas of Southeast Asia, but even reached the remote islands of Oceania as far south as Aotearoa for whaling and cabbage tree trade and as far as east as Hawaii for sandalwood trade. There are also some theories existed about a possibility of the Japanese sailors for already crossed the Pacific Ocean and landed in the coast of the Americas for trading with the native Americans during this period.


A 16th-century Japanese atakebune coastal warship.

While the kuge and the gakke continued as the influential forces around the Emperor and the government, the merchants and the traders emerged as new dominant class called shōnin (商人) or chōnin (町人) in the urban areas especially in the port-cities like Edo and Osaka. They were relatively independent from the rule of Kyoto aristocracy and increasingly powerful over the Japanese maritime trade around this era. The merchants also took over the position of the kuge on the field of arts in the port-cities such Edo, to support a new mass, urban culture.

Sakoku period (1543–1853)

main page: History of Japan, 1543–1853


Nanban ships arriving for trade in Japan

After the Japanese established a trading relation called "Nanban trade" with the Portuguese in 1543, the role of shōnin increasingly more powerful and the role of kuge within the government started to fade away. The Bureau of Trade which had its headquarters in Edo became more independent in action and regulated its own laws over the maritime trade. Personally, Emperor Go-Nara was very supportive to the shōnin and warmly welcomed the arrival of the Portuguese.

During this era, the Japanese adopted several of the technologies and cultural practices of their European visitors, whether in the military area (the arquebus, European-style cuirasses, European ships), religion (Christianity), decorative art, language (incorporation of Western loan words to Japanese vocabulary) and culinary: the Portuguese introduced the tempura and variety of refined confectioneries, called nanban-gashi (南蠻菓子), literally means "southern barbarian confectionery", such as castella, kompeito, and bisukauto.

The growing power of the shōnin and the increasing number of Catholic converts in southern Japan who mainly came from the shōnin class was viewed as a threat by the kuge, the gakke and the priests. These three ruling classes joined their forces against the shōnin and were successful in convincing Emperor Go-Konoe about how the Spanish and Portuguese were settling in the New World, and how Japan would also soon become one of the many countries in their possession.

In 1614, Emperor Go-Konoe issued an edict to close the headquarters of the Bureau of Trade in Edo and establish the new one in Kyoto. The Japanese Christians were also forced to denounce their belief as it was viewed as dishonoring the Emperor's divine reign and the kami. More restrictions came afterward, such as the restriction of foreign trade to Nagasaki and Hirado, an island northwest of Kyūshū in 1616, the execution of 120 missionaries and converts in 1622, the expulsion of the Spanish in 1624, and the persecution of the thousands of Japanese Christians in 1629.

In 1635, Emperor Go-Konoe regulated the trade relations to the Europeans can only be conducted through the ports in Nan'yo Islands (except to the Dutch who had a restricted privilege in Dejima, a small artificial island in Nagasaki's harbor). The Chinese were restricted to Takasago, Ryukyu Islands, and Dejima, while the Koreans only to Tsushima Island. The Europeans that entered Japan illegally would face the death penalty. Any practice of Christianity was also strictly forbidden and the missionaries were not allowed to enter the Japanese Realm, including the Ryukyu Islands and the Nan'yo Islands. However, the study of Western sciences, known as rangaku, was still continued through Dejima.

The seventeenth century saw the collapse of Japanese maritime empire in Asia and Oceania. After the Spanish conquered the Kingdom of Tondo in 1570, the Japanese hegemony started to falling down in the Philippine Islands. Japan lost most of its trading partners while at the same time partially isolated itself from outer world. The only contact between the Japanese and the foreigners only possibly occurred in Takasago and Nan'yo Islands which also slowly sunk into the Spanish influences. Japan, with its weakening naval forces, was unable to prevent the decline of its Empire.

Failed military campaign to invade the Joseon Dynasty in Korea between 1592 to 1598 only worsened the situation and many soldiers were rebelled against the government following the withdrawal of Japanese forces from Korean Peninsula. There also several attempts to re-establish the old bakufu government in early 1600s, which successfully suppressed by the government forces. After the size of military was reduced in 1621 and many of senior commanders was stripped from their rank, the Japanese navy was losing its prestige and no longer respected as the powerful maritime forces by the neighboring countries.

Takasago was claimed under the Spanish Crown in 1626 (which later renamed it "Formosa"), then under Ming pretender, Kingdom of Tungning, in 1662, and finally under Qing Dynasty in 1683. Nan'yo Islands were fallen under the British influence in 1700s until claimed by the Spanish and being incorporated into the Spanish East Indies in 1885. Many of the Japanese tributaries in the Pacific Ocean, such as Fiji, Aotearoa, and Tonga also fell under the Western powers between eighteenth and nineteenth century. The Kingdom of Hawaii remained the last Japanese tributary in Oceania until the French invasion to Honolulu in 1849 which made the islands fall under the British and American influences.

As the Emperor's power started to weaken, since 1691, Japan was collectively ruled by the state elders from the kuge and the gakke on the Council of the State. At this point, the Council was no longer the Emperor's Privy Council, but already assumed other military and administrative duties and served as the country's main policy-making body. With a limited contact to foreign nations, the teaching of Neo-Confucianism began to decline and the intellectual class began to study Japanese ancient literature instead.

The study of Japanese literature resulted to the rise of romantic nationalism and the resurgence in popularity of Japanese national mythology. The interactions between Japanese mythology and neo-Confucian rationalism and materialism then created an intellectual form of Japanese folk religion, called the kokugaku movement. Kokugaku contributed largely to the revival of Japanese mythology as a national creed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801)

The gakke was also no longer associated with the scholars who ever studied to China, but rather to the new generation of the Japanese scholars who studied kokugaku. The Motoori clan, which formed by prominent kokugake scholar, Motoori Norinaga, and his adopted son, Motoori Ōhira, was one of the prominent gakke clan and ruled the Council from 1795 until the re-opening of Japan in 1854

During his tenure as the Chancellor of the Realm (1800-1833), Motoori Ōhira backed the restoration of the Emperor's prerogative powers while at the same time retained the dominance of the Council generally and the gakke especially on Japanese politics. The restoration of Emperor's powers was necessary to avoid any resistances from other social classes to the Council's rule, especially the shōnin. The shōnin was seen by the elders being too friendly toward the European traders and can acted as possible agent of Western imperialism to take over the Japanese sovereignty.

Modern Imperial era (1853–1920)

Bakumatsu period (1853–1868)

Flag of the Empire of Japan (Myomi Republic)

First flag of the Empire of Japan (1381–1870)

After the victory of the British over the Chinese in the 1840 Opium War and the defeat of Japanese forces in 1849 French invasion to Honolulu which made Hawaii fall under the British and the American influences, many Japanese realized that traditional ways would not be sufficient enough to against the Western thread.

Reformist forces, mainly came from the shōnin, supported for the military modernization with the Western techniques and technology. Always suspicious toward the shōnin, the Daijō-kan, however, blatantly rejected this proposal. Only after Commodore Matthew C. Perry's four-ship squadron appeared in Edo Bay in July 1853 in order to force Japan to open the trade with the west, the imperial government was really plunged into turmoil. Although some of the councilors wanted to keep the foreigners out, the Emperor and the Daijō-kan, finally realized their weak position and through the Minister of the Left (左大臣), Abe Masahiro, agreed to compromise by accepting Perry's demands for opening Japan to foreign trade.

Prince Komatsu Akihito cropped

Emperor Taisei of Japan (1846–1903)

The Emperor himself now personally viewed the shōnin demand for the modernization of Japan and the constitutional reform was more favorable than the Daijō-kan's isolationist stance. A new imperial institution called the Genrō-in (元老院), known more as the Imperial Senate, was assembled by Emperor Ninkō in late 1853. The Genrō-in was composed mostly by the representations of the kuge, the gakke, the buke, and the shōnin, and functioned as non-political advisory body in order to reach a common consensus between four classes every time the Emperor need to solve a national problem.

The following year at the Convention of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854, Perry returned with seven ships and demanded that Japan to sign the Treaty of Peace and Amity, establishing formal diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States. The era of seclusion was brought to the end and an opposition movement against the rule of gakke class emerged.


The Edo clique troops during the Japanese Civil War in 1864

A coalition between the wealthy land-owners who belong to the ancient buke class and the wealthy merchants from shōnin class, called the "Edo clique", was formed in late 1850s for rebelled against the imperial government, to overthrow the gakke rule and to enforce far more radical reforms in Japan. The assassinations of several key figures of the gakke government, called the "Kyoto clique", by the Edo clique sympathizers became widespread in 1860s. This political and social crisis later culminated into the First Japanese Civil War between the Edo clique and Kyoto clique from 1865 to 1867.

Afraid of the disunity of Japanese society, newly-enthroned Emperor Taisei agreed for the dissolution of several old imperial institutions including the Council of the State and given the Imperial Senate more political power, substituting the former role of the Council. Four divisions of society formally abolished in 1871 and Western bureaucracy system officially implemented in 1875. All members of kuge and gakke merged and formed new aristocratic class called kazoku (華族), while the buke and shōnin merged into a bourgeoisie class called shinzoku (信族).

Taisei era (1868–1903)

After the old Confucian social division perished, the national capital moved from Kyoto to Edo (which renamed as Tokyo), and as the Emperor allowed ten seats of the Senate for getting elected although by limited male suffrage, the imperial government began to dominated by the shinzoku. The Charter of Tokyo, proto-constitution of Imperial Japan, was promulgated in 1877 as a compromise between the conservatives and the reformers within the Senate which adopting Western political, judicial and military institutions into Japanese political system.

Yōshū Chikanobu House of Peers

Emperor Taisei in a formal session of the House of Peers, 1890

In a few decades by reforming and modernizing social, educational, economic, military, political and industrial systems, Japan emerged from the transitional period as the first Asian industrialized nation. From the onset, the Taisei oligarchy embraced the concept of market economy and adopted British and North American forms of free enterprise capitalism. Japanese economy was transformed from the traditional agricultural based one into the modern industrial state. Transportation and communications are developed to sustain heavy industrial development.

After the end of seclusion era, Japan found itself defenseless against potential military threats from the Western powers. Modern Japanese army was quickly built up in 1870s, modeled after Prussian Army. With its modernized military, Japan soon assumed its position as new power in East Asia. The empire was expanded to Ezo in the north in 1869 and the Ryukyu islands in the south in 1879. The latter expansion, however, prompted objection from Qing China and led to the eventual conflicts between two countries. The conflict peaked in 1894 over control of Korea, resulted to the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895). Japan emerged victorious and gained control of Taiwan, Kwantung and the southern half of Korean Peninsula.

In 1881, Emperor Taisei and King David Kalākaua of Hawaii arranged marriage between Prince Komatsu Yorihito, the Emperor’s younger half-brother and later imperial heir, and Princess Kaʻiulani, Kalākaua’s niece. Although the marriage did not produce any heir and Princess Kaʻiulani later died in young age in 1902, the arrangement resulted to the closer alliance between Japan and Hawaii. In 1893, Japan played pivotal role during the overthrow attempt of the Kingdom of Hawaii by sending its armada to Hawaii, supporting Queen Liliuokalani against the rebels.

While Japan continued its growth as a regional power by the end of 19th century, another expansion effort proved disastrous. Japan’s ambition over the Philippine Islands as well as fear of growing influences of Spain's ally, Germany, in Asia led to the preemptive invasion to the Spanish East Indies, resulted in the Spanish-Japanese War (1898–1901). The war, however, proved to be not in favor of Japan. In 1901, the peace treaty was signed between two countries without any territorial gains for Japan. This military and diplomatic failures were seen as humiliating by the Japanese nationalists and prompted to the rise of anti-imperial sentiment.

Keishin era (1903–1920)

Prince Higashifushimi Yorihito

Emperor Keishin (1867–1922, r. 1903–1919)

In 1903, Emperor Taisei died and his brother, Prince Yorihito, succeeded him as Emperor Keishin; the nation, however, lost its unifying figure. Only a year after it, the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) occurred. Although Japan defeated the Russian Empire and surprised Western powers, its demands were not completely fulfilled on the Treaty of Portsmouth in September 1905. Japan only received southern half of Sakhalin and Korea, did not get indemnity and not acquired Manchuria. The Japanese public thus viewed the treaty as a national humiliation. Discontents over the government were shown a huge demonstration in Tokyo on September 5, 1905.

By 1910s, Japan has enjoyed economic growth and the steady rise of population. The cities grew in population due to industrialization and urbanization. Poor living and working conditions of industrial workers, however, led to several labour unrests during this period. Labour unions flourished and leftist ideologies began to enter the country. The revolutionary movements grew significantly after the Russo-Japanese War, advocating republican form of government. In 1906, the Konkikai was founded by Nagayama Yoshida dan Kita Ikki. The organization advocated republicanism and called for the “national restoration."

In 1910, the government uncovered radical leftists' plot to assassinate the Emperor in the Kōtoku Incident and started to curtail anti-monarchist activities. In avoiding the repression, the Konkikai officially abandoned its republicanism and merged to the Constitutional Nationalist Party led by Inukai Tsuyoshi. Nagayama entered mainstream politics and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1912. On other hand, Kita went to China to participate in the Xinhai Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen. Nevertheless, Nagayama and Kita remained to work in building a secret anti-imperial network during 1910s.

Japan entered World War I in 1914 as a part of the Allied Powers. The entry, however, was not entirely welcomed by several elements in Japan. Several veterans in the wars with the Spanish and the Russians criticized the entry as both “waste of time and waste of budgets”. Left-wing and Christian intellectuals criticized it as an aggressive act. Nagayama Yoshida in his capacity as a member of Diet warned the economic consequences of the war, a prophecy that will proven to be true. Thus, although gained control the Spanish East Indies, Japan’s economy was suffered due to large military spending on previous wars. Japan succumbed into deep economic crisis and general dissatisfaction emerged among the populace against the country's expansionist policies.

Japanese Revolution (1918–1920)

Rice Riots of 1918 (1918)


Demonstrators burning a rice store as a protest over government regulation of high rice prices, 1919

Japan's participation on World War I and Siberian Intervention brought the country into industrial booming. Exports quadrupled from 1913 to 1918. The massive capital influx into Japan and the subsequent industrial boom, however, led to rapid inflation. On July 1918, protests and disturbances against high prices of rice caused by this inflation erupted in villages and cities throughout Japan. This series of political disturbances then known as the Rice Riots of 1918.

By August 11, the riots had spread to the rest of the Kansai region; Osaka, Kobe, Kure and Hiroshima all experienced rioting, followed by Tokyo the next day. The largest cities in the industrial areas of Kansai and Kanto saw riots last up to a week, such as in Nagoya that lasted the longest at ten days. Beside the peasants and the urban population, the workers soon also involved on the disturbances by mounted strikes for better wages and working conditions. The country’s largest labour union, the Yuaikai, rapidly grew in membership during this time.


Nagayama Yoshida (1871–1952), founding father of modern Japan

The social unrest reached its climax on November 13, 1918. More than 5000 demonstrators gathered in the Hibiya Park, Tokyo, protested against the government's economic policy and overspending on the military investiture. When the demonstrators marched from the park and approached toward the Imperial Palace, the police opened fire on the masses, killed 50 individuals and injured 327 others. The revolutionary wave soon spread throughout Japan. Nagayama and fifty-one parliamentarians denounced the actions and demanded the formation of a coalition government.

Shortly after delivered a speech denouncing the misconducts in the Hibiya Park, Nagayama was arrested on November 5, 1918 and tortured for about two weeks by the police for his suspected anti-imperial activities. The arrest triggered a massive amount of protests by the citizens and the parliamentarians whose viewed it a breach of parliamentary immunity. Nagayama was released on November 20 with Inukai’s guarantee. Republican faction within the Constitutional Nationalist Party soon took over the party and renamed the party as the Japanese Nationalist Party on December 1, 1918. Nagayama became its first Party President.

In December 1918, the Nationalists revolted and launched a series of military uprisings throughout the islands. On January 13, 1919, the Council of National Salvation was formed by the Nationalists in Kyoto with Nagayama as the Political Commander of the Army and Navy. On February 16, 1919, the representatives of pro-revolution parties convened a National Congress in Kyoto and declared the establishment of Republic of Japan. Nagayama Yoshida and Kita Ikki were elected as the first President and Vice-President of the Republic, respectively. Inukai Tsuyoshi was appointed the first Prime Minister of the Republic on February 19, 1919.

Japanese Civil War (1919–1920)

Open conflicts between the government forces and the revolutionaries quickly erupted in every Japanese cities and a civil war can not be avoided. Southern prefectures like Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, were taken over by the revolutionaries between December 1918 and January 1919. First major battle between the revolutionaries and the loyalists was fought in Nagoya between January 4-9, 1919 after the loyalists tried to retake control of the city. The Revolutionary Army in Nagoya under the command of Takabatake Motoyuki was able to defend the city. Takabatake later appointed as the Minister of War in the first cabinet of the Republic on February 19, 1919.

By 1919, Japan was divided into two governments. The revolutionaries which based on Otsu controlled most of southern prefectures on eastern Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa while the loyalists controlled Greater Tokyo, western Chubu, Kanto, Tohoku, Ezo, and Karafuto. The revolutionaries gained control of Taiwan following the Battle of Taihoku on August 1-4, 1919. On October 12, 1919, the revolutionaries launched a large scale mobilization from Nagoya to Shizuoka and Nagano. Tokyo was captured by the revolutionaries following a major offensive on December 14, 1919; the Imperial Court and government evacuated farther north to Hakodate. A temporary truce was declared by the Imperial government on December 29, 1919.

The Imperial government, represented by Makino Nobuaki, attempted to open negotiation with the Republican government. However, the talks failed to meet any agreement for a peaceful transfer of power. However, a secret arrangement was agreed between two sides to have the Emperor and his family exiled in safety to Hawaii. On January 19, 1920, the war resumed. The revolutionaries launched its final major campaign to Hakodate on March 3, 1920. The civil war was ended following the capture of Hakodate on March 5, 1920.

Republic of Japan (1920–present)

Golden Decade era (1919–1929)


Washington Naval Conference, 1921

Shortly after the formal surrender of loyalist government, the Republic of Japan was recognized de facto by Great Britain and the United States on March 13 and March 24, 1920, respectively. On June 12, 1920, the Republic was internationally recognized by Czechoslovakia, which later followed by Colombia on December 11, 1920 and Chile on October 26, 1921. The League of Nations recognized the Republican government as the representative of Japanese people in 1921. In 1922, the League of Nations formally granted Japan the mandatory powers over the former Spanish East Indies.

The Washington Conference between November 1921 and February 1922 resulted in several agreements regarding a new order in the Pacific. Following the conference, the capital ships for the United States, Great Britain, Japan, France and Italy were limited to a 5:5:3:1.75:1.75 ratio, respectively. In return, the United States and Britain agreed to not build new fortification to ensure Japanese security in the Pacific. Under the agreements, Japan also ceased its occupation of Shandong to China. The agreements thus created a balance of power between the naval powers in the Pacific, especially the United States, Britain and Japan.


Suzuki Bunji (1885–1946)

The period between 1921 and 1931 was marked with the introduction of milestone social and economic reforms. In 1921, the Constitution of the Republic of Japan was promulgated. Although it was mostly based on the old Imperial Constitution, the new Constitution used the Constitution of Weimar Germany as its model. In 1922, the Trade Union Law was enacted with the supports of the Japanese Labour Federation that protecting the rights of workers to form or join union. In 1924, the Land Ownership Law placed many lands from the landlords under the state control. In 1926, the National Election Law introduced universal suffrage for all Japanese nationals. 

In 1924, Nagayama Yoshida formed the National Language Investigation Committee to initiate the reforms on the Japanese language. Okawa Shumei was appointed its chairman along with prominent linguists and writers, such Murakami Kijo, Otsuki Fumihiko, Kikuchi Kan and Samukawa Sokotsu, as its members. On May 6, 1927, the Law on Writing System strictly limited the use of Chinese characters (kanji/Shina-no-kaki) in official documents. The angular style of Japanese native syllabary (kana/Yamato-no-kaki) or katakana was selected to be the sole official writing system for the Japanese language. In 1931, the National Orthography Law reformed the kana orthography for Japanese language.

On September 1, 1923, a great earthquake devastated the Kanto region, including Tokyo and Yokohama. The government that remained seating in Otsu, however, was not affected by the disaster. Goto Shinpei was tasked by the government to organize the reconstruction of Tokyo into a modern metropolitan. In order to recover national economy after the civil war and the 1923 earthquake, Prime Minister Suzuki Bunji launched the First Economic Policy on January 13, 1924. It was the first state-sponsored national economic program in Japan. In 1925, the Central Bank of Japan was formed as a part of banking reform.

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The meeting venue of Central Committee of the Nationalist Party, ca. 1933

The Nationalists initially allied with the Japanese Communist Party and other left-wing groups during the civil war. However, by the end of 1920s, the rifts between the Nationalists and the Communists intensified. The massacre of pro-Communist workers in Shanghai in 1927 prompted the rightist faction with the Nationalist Party to suggest a similar “purification” from the Communist and leftist influences. Although the party left-wing did not agree with such idea, Suzuki Bunji, the leftist Nationalist leader, eventually purged the Japanese Labour Federation from the Communists in 1928.

The purge led to the open conflicts between pro-Nationalist and pro-Communist trade unions between 1928 and 1929, such as the March 19 Incident in Kyoto in 1928 and June 19 Incident in Nagoya in 1929. The police violently suppressed the Communists and arrested hundreds of suspected party members and sympathizers during this period. In 1929, the Peace Preservation Law was passed which marked the beginning of suppression of political opposition to the Nationalist rule. The Japanese Communist Party was officially banned. The law effectively crushed the Communist movement in Japan; the period of 1930s later saw many former Communists renounced their old ideology and announced supports to the Nationalists.

National Restoration era (1929–1941)

Seigo Nakano

Nakano Seigo (1886–1958)

A liberal tone of the first decade of the Republic was put into end by 1929 and the government started to take an authoritarian turn. By 1929, the party's First Secretary, Nakano Seigo, had toyed with the containment policy over China through Korea and Manchuria. Although denounced by the party moderates and leftists as well as the Navy leadership, this policy was supported by the Army leadership. In 1930, Japan sent reinforcements to the Korean nationalists to reunite the peninsula. However, the reunification campaign was used as a pretext for Japan to invade Manchuria. On September 18, 1931, the Tamiikusa Army independently crossed the Yalu River, leading the Second Sino-Japanese War (1931–1932).

The Army’s non-authorized action developed tensions between the military and the government. Prime Minister Suzuki Bunji and Foreign Minister Hayashi Kiroku publicly denounced the direct military action. Shortly after the invasion, Suzuki, Hayashi, Minister of the Realm Nitobe Inazo and Cabinet Secretary Kagawa Toyohiko resigned, prompted the creation of a presidential cabinet between 1931 and 1932. Within several months, the Japanese were able to take over the region from China. In 1933, Manchuria was declared as an independent state.

Mukden 1

Japanese troops marching into Qiqihar on November 19, 1931

The League of Nations adopted the Lytton Report in 1934, declaring that Manchuria remained rightfully part of China, leading Japan to resign its membership from the League. On February 9, 1932, ultranationalist Army soldiers staged a coup and attempted to assassinate Suzuki and several anti-militarist leaders. Suzuki and other politicians narrowly escaped the assassination. In response, Nagayama Yoshida ordered the coup participants to be executed. After 1932, Nagayama Yoshida started to take an active role as the country’s President to prevent the factional infighting, leading a de facto presidential government in the so-called “National Restoration” era until 1941.

In 1931, the Party Central Committee announced the Great Economic Plan. Modeled after the Soviet Union's Five-Year Plan, the plan established a centrally-planned economy. Under the plan, the government tried to increase the agricultural and industrial outputs by exploiting raw materials from Korea, Manchuria, and the Philippines and establishing state-owned corporations. To supply the needs of rice, the Komyo Agricultural Company was established in 1932 to purchase the lands from the farmers in Korea and the Philippines. By 1937, about 16% of farmed lands in Korea and 31% in the South Pacific Mandate were owned by this company. In 1931, the Taisho Rubber Company ran rubber plantations in Taiwan, the Philippines, British Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies.

Dainihon Seinento

A rally by the Japanese Nationalist Party youth, celebrated the 21st anniversary of the Republic of Japan, only one year before the war with China, 1940

During the 1930s, Japanese exterior commerce grew. The expansion of this trade was due in part to European difficulties in supplying their colonies, allowing Japan to expand into new markets. Before the war, crude silk represented one-third of exports and 10% of processed silk. Other products for export were cotton, processed silk, and others. In 1937, Japanese exports consisted of crude silk, cotton fabrics, and rayon. Japan imported cheap raw cotton, wool, and oil imported products from Manchuria, Korea, the Japanese South Pacific, and the Dutch East Indies.

After several minor border clashes between China and Manchuria, Japan and China signed a non-aggression pact in 1938, secured China to move into Indochina three years later. Japan stayed neutral during the early years of World War II but continued to give its own diplomatic pressure to the government of Dutch East Indies for exclusive access to oil supply on the islands. When China occupied French Indochina in February 1941, Japan decided to attack the Dutch East Indies from Luzon on March 1941. With this intense pressure, diplomatically and militarily, the Dutch finally allowed Japan to station its troops on the islands and get exclusive access for oil and raw materials.

World War II (1941–1945)

Korean War, train attack

Chinese Air Force attacking railroads south of Wonsan, Gangneung Prefecture, Korea, 1941

Influenced by the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, China renounced the non-aggression pact and declared war on Japan an hour before midnight on July 7, 1941. Full-scale battles soon broke out across Sino-Manchurian borders on July 8–23. With the Fall of Kwantung on August 4, 1941, the Chinese forces took control of Manchuria by October 1941. However, the Japanese Army was able to halt the Chinese military movement in the Korean Peninsula at the Battle of Hongcheon from January to February 1942.

Due to its vicinity with continental Asia, the Chinese air force, the Kungfong, bombarded Taiwan and heavily shelled Taihoku on October 25, 1941. Four massive bombings on Taiwan followed on March 1942, destroyed many Japanese military bases on the city and inflicted heavy civilian casualties. By the end of 1942, the Kungfong aircrafts had raided Osaka, Hiroshima and Kobe. Massive air raids were also launched by the Kungfong over Manila on April 1942, Busan on August 1943, Batavia on April 1944 and Kuching on August 1944.

By March 1942, Japan decided to renounce its nominal neutrality. Nagayama sent Prime Minister Nakano Seigo to Mayflower, D.C. on March 1, 1942, to endorse the Declaration by United Nations and join the war with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union and other Allied nations against the Axis Powers. On March 2, 1942, Japan officially declared war on Germany, Spain, and Italy. The exiled governments of Manchuria and Korea also followed Japan's move by joined the Allies and formally declared war on the Axis Powers.

Japanese mechanized forces marching towards Lo-yang

Japanese mechanized forces marching towards Luoyang, Henan Province, 1943

On March 15, 1942, after had drafted the large numbers of Koreans, Pilipinos, and Moros, Japan launched a counteroffensive to northern Korea and Manchuria. The Tamiikusa liberated Korea by December 1942 and Manchuria by April 1943. In June 1943, the Japanese launched an offensive from Manchuria and occupied Beiping on July 27, 1943. Advancing very aggressively, the Tamiikusa captured Nanjing by December 1943 and forced the Chinese government to move to Chengdu. With the aggressive offensive from northern China and the naval infantry landings and air raids in the southeastern coast of China from Formosa in April 1944, Japan had completely conquered eastern China by late 1944.

Japan sent its war vessels to subdue the Royal Thai Navy in the Thailand waters around February and April 1944 as well as helping the British in the battles against the Thai forces at northern Malaya. In January 1945, the Japanese divisions from Formosa and French divisions from French India launched a campaign to French Indochina, mainly to encircle China for the final time.

By mid-1945, Japan has occupied northern China and Inner Mongolia. The Interim Government of China (大漢過渡政府 Dàhàn Guòdù Zhèngfǔ) led by Zhou Fohai was proclaimed in Beiping on May 2, 1945. On August 9, 1945, the Soviet Union renounced its non-aggression pact with China and attacked the Chinese in Eastern Turkestan, fulfilling its Yalta Conference pledge. In less than three weeks, the Red Army and the Altishahri partisans had overrun Chinese Turkestan and western China. China officially capitulated to the Allies on August 25, 1945 and the official surrender was signed in Shanghai on September 2, 1945.

Post-war reconstruction (1945–1960)

Japanese economic miracle (1960–1991)

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