Restore The Emperor Expel Thebarbarians Essay, Research Paper
“Restore the Emperor Expel theBarbarians”:The Causes of the Showa Restoration Sonno joi, “Restore the Emperor and expelthe Barbarians,” was the battle cry that ushered in theShowa Restoration in Japan during the 1930’s.Footnote1 The ShowaRestoration was a combination of Japanese nationalism,Japanese expansionism, and Japanese militarism all carriedout in the name of the Showa Emperor, Hirohito. Unlike theMeiji Restoration, the Showa Restoration was not aresurrection of the Emperor’s powerFootnote2, instead it was aimed atrestoring Japan’s prestige. During the 1920’s, Japan appearedto be developing a democratic and peaceful government. It hada quasi-democratic governmental body, the Diet,Footnote3 and votingrights were extended to all male citizens.Footnote4 Yet, underneath this seeminglyplacid surface, lurked momentous problems that lead to theShowa Restoration. The transition that Japan made from itsparliamentary government of the 1920’s to the ShowaRestoration and military dictatorship of the late 1930s wasnot a sudden transformation. Liberal forces were not toppledby a coup overnight. Instead, it was gradual, feed by acomplex combination of internal and external factors. The history that links the constitutional settlement of1889 to the Showa Restoration in the 1930s is not an easystory to relate. The transformation in Japan’s governmentalstructure involved; the historical period between 1868 and1912 that preceded the Showa Restoration. This period ofdemocratic reforms was an underlying cause of the militaristreaction that lead to the Showa Restoration. Thetransformation was also feed by several immediate causes;such as, the downturn in the global economy in 1929Footnote5 and theinvasion of Manchuria in 1931.Footnote6 It was the convergence of theseexternal, internal, underlying and immediate causes that leadto the military dictatorship in the 1930’s. The historical period before the Showa Restoration,1868-1912, shaped the political climate in which Japan couldtransform itself from a democracy to a militaristic state.This period is known as the Meiji Restoration.Footnote7 The MeijiRestoration of 1868 completely dismantled the Tokugawapolitical order and replaced it with a centralized system ofgovernment headed by the Emperor who served as a figurehead.Footnote8However, the Emperor instead of being a source of power forthe Meiji Government, became its undoing. The Emperor wasplaced in the mystic position of demi-god by the leaders ofthe Meiji Restoration. Parliamentarians justified the newquasi-democratic government of Japan, as being the”Emperor’s Will.” The ultra-nationalist andmilitaristic groups took advantage of the Emperor’s statusand claimed to speak for the Emperor.Footnote9 These then groups turned thetables on the parliamentarians by claiming that they, not thecivil government, represented the “Imperial Will.”The parliamentarians, confronted with this perversion oftheir own policy, failed to unite against the militarists andnationalists. Instead, the parliamentarians compromised withthe nationalists and militarists groups and the generalpopulace took the nationalists’ claims of devotion to theEmperor at face value, further bolstering the popularity ofthe nationalists.Footnote10 The theory of “ImperialWill” in Japan’s quasi-democratic government became anunderlying flaw in the government’s democraticcomposition. It was also during the Meiji Restoration that theJapanese economy began to build up its industrial base. Itretooled, basing itself on the western model. The Japanesegovernment sent out investigators to learn the ways ofEuropean and American industries.Footnote11 In 1889, the Japanesegovernment adopted a constitution based on the British andGerman models of parliamentary democracy. During this sameperiod, railroads were constructed, a banking system wasstarted and the samurai system was disbanded.Footnote12 Indeed, itseemed as if Japan had successfully made the transition to awestern style industrialized state. Almost every othernon-western state failed to make this leap forward frompre-industrial nation to industrialized power. For example,China failed to make this leap. It collapsed during the 1840sand the European powers followed by Japan, sought to controlChina by expropriating its raw materials and exploiting itsmarkets. By 1889, when the Japanese ConstitutionFootnote13 wasadopted, Japan, with a few minor setbacks, had been able tomake the transition to a world power through its expansion ofcolonial holdings.Footnote14 During the first World War,Japan’s economy and colonial holdings continued to expand asthe western powers were forced to focus on the war raging inEurope. During the period 1912-1926, the government continuedon its democratic course. In 1925, Japan extended votingrights to all men and the growth of the merchant classcontinued.Footnote15 But these democratic trends,hid the fact that it was only the urban elite’s who werebenefiting from the growing industrialization. The peasants,who outnumbered the urban population were touched little bythe momentous changes this lead to discontent in a majorityof the populace. During the winter of 1921-1922, the Japanese governmentparticipated in a conference in Washington to limit the navalarms race. The Washington Conference successfully produced anagreement, the Five Power Treaty. Part of the Treatyestablished a ratio of British, American, Japanese, Italian,and French ships to the ratio respectively of5:5:3:1.75:1.75.Footnote16 Other parts of the Five PowerTreaty forced other naval powers to refrain from buildingfortifications in the Pacific and Asia. In return, Japanagreed to give up its colonial possessions in Siberia andChina.Footnote17 In1924, Japan cut its standing Army and further reduced thesize of the Japanese military budget. It appeared to all thatJapan was content to rely on expansion through trade insteadof military might.Footnote18 However, this agreementapplauded by the Western Powers, symbolized to many of thenationalists and militarists that the Japanese Government hadcapitulated to the West. During the Showa Restoration, tenyears later, these agreements were often cited as examples ofwhere the quasi-democratic Japanese government had goneastray.Footnote19 The time preceding the Showa Restoration appeared atfirst glance to be the image of a nation transforming itselfinto a full-fledged democracy. But this picture hid hugechasms that were about to open up with the end of the 1920’s.Three precipitating circumstances at the beginning of the1930’s shattered Japan’s democratic underpinnings, which hadbeen far from firm: the downturn in the world economy,Western shunning of Japan, and the independence of Japan’smilitary. Thus, the shaky democracy gave way to the ShowaRestoration. This Restoration sought to not only restore theShowa Emperor, Hirohito to power, but lead Japan into a newperiod of expansionism and eventually into World War II. The first event that put Japan on the path toward theShowa Restoration was the downturn in the world economy. Itwrecked havoc with Japan’s economy. World War I had permittedphenomenal industrial growth, but after the war ended, Japanresumed its competition with the other European powers. Thisrenewed competition proved economically painful. During the1920’s, Japan grew more slowly than at any other time sincethe Meiji Restoration.Footnote20 During this time the wholeworld was in an economic slump, Japan’s economy sufferedinordinately. Japan’s rural economy was particularly hard-hitby the slump in demand for its two key products, silk andrice. The sudden collapse of the purchasing power of thenations that imported Japanese silk such as America; and theworldwide rise in tariffs, combined to stagnate the Japaneseeconomy.Footnote21 In urban Japan, there were also serious economicproblems. A great gap in productivity and profitability hadappeared between the new industries that had emerged with theindustrialization of Japan and the older traditionalindustries. The Japanese leadership was not attuned to suchobstacles and thus was slow to pass legislation to deal withits problems.Footnote22 The Meiji government hadsupported its economic planning by claiming it would bebeneficial to the economy in the long-run. When Meijigovernment promises of economic growth evaporated, theJapanese turned toward non-democratic groups who now promisedthem a better economic future.Footnote23 The nationalist andmilitaristic groups promised that they would restore Japaneseeconomic wealth by expanding Japanese colonial holdings whichthe democratic leaders had given up. At the same time that Japan was struggling economically,and capitulating to the West in adopting democraticprincipals, many in Japan believed that western nations didnot fully accept Japan as an equal. It appeared to Japan,that the West had not yet accepted Japan into the exclusiveclub of the four conquering nations of World War I.Footnote24 Events suchas the Washington Conference, at which the Five Power Treatywas signed, seemed to many Japanese hostile to Japan. (Thisbelief was held because the Treaty forced Japan to have anumber of ships smaller than Britain and the United States bya factor of 3 to 5.) The Japanese Exclusion Act passed in1924 by America to exclude Japanese immigrants againingrained in the Japanese psyche that Japan was viewed asinferior by the West.Footnote25 This view became widelybelieved after the meetings at Versailles, where it appearedto Japan that Europe was not willing to relinquish itspossessions in Asia. Added to this perceived feeling of beingshunned was the Japanese military conception that war withthe west was inevitable. This looming confrontation wasthought to be the war to end all wars saishu senso. Footnote26 The third circumstance was the independent Japanesemilitary that capitalized on the economic downturn andcapitulation of the Japanese government to the West.Footnote27 TheJapanese military argued that the parliamentarian governmenthad capitulated to the west by making an unfavorableagreement about the size of the Japanese Navy (the WashingtonConference and the Five Powers Treaty) and by reducing thesize of the military in 1924. With the depression that struckJapan in 1929; the military increased their attack on thegovernment politicians for the failure of the MeijiRestoration. Throughout the 1920’s, they demanded change. Asthe Japanese economy worsened their advocacy for a secondrevolutionary restoration, a “Showa Restoration”began to be listened to.Footnote28 They argued that the ShowaRestoration would restore the grandeur of Japan. Leadingright-wing politicians joined the military clamor, callingfor a restoration not just of the Emperor but of Japan as aglobal power.Footnote29 1929 marked the world wide Great Depression.International trade was at a standstill and countriesresorted to nationalistic economic policies. 1929 became aJapanese turning point. The Japanese realized that they hadgovernmental control over only a small area compared to thelarge area they needed to support their industrializingeconomy.Footnote30Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands had huge overseaspossessions and the Russians and Americans both had vastcontinental holdings. In comparison, Japan had only a smallcontinental base. To many Japanese, it appeared they hadstarted their territorial acquisitions and colonization toolate and had been stopped too soon. The situation wascommonly described as a “population problem.”Footnote31 The whiteraces had already grabbed the most valuable lands and hadleft the less desirable for the Japanese. The Japanesenationalists argued that Japan had been discriminated againstby the western nations through immigration policies and bybeing forced to stop their expansion into Asia. The onlyanswer, the nationalists claimed, was military expansion ontothe nearby Asian continent. The nationalists and independent military became theforemost advocates of this new drive for land and colonies.Young army officers and nationalist civilians closelyidentified with the “Imperial Way Faction.”Footnote32 Therelative independence of the Japanese armed forces from theparliament, transformed this sense of a national crisis intoa total shift in foreign policy. These”restorationists” in the military and in the publicstepped up the crisis by convincing the nation that therewere two enemies, the foreign powers and people withinJapan.Footnote33The militarists identified the Japanese “BureaucraticElite” and the expanding merchant class, the”Zaibutsu” as responsible for Japan’s lossof grandeur. It was the Bureaucratic Elite who hadcapitulated to the Western powers in the WashingtonConference and in subsequent agreements, that decreased thesize of the Japanese military,Footnote34 and made Japan dependent oftrade with other nations.
The independence of the Japanese military allowed themto feed this nationalist sense of crisis and thus transformJapanese foreign policy. On September 18, 1931 a group ofarmy officers with the approval of their superiors who wereangry at the government for its passage of the Five PowersTreaty, bombed a section of the South Manchurian Railway andblamed it on unnamed Chinese terrorists.Footnote35 Citing the explosion as asecurity concern, the Japanese military invaded Manchuria andwithin six months had set up the Puppet State of Manchukuo inFebruary, 1932.Footnote36 Following the invasion of Manchuria, Japanesenationalism overwhelmed Japan. The Japanese public andmilitary continued to blame the former quasi-parliamentariansfor the economic woes and for capitulating to the Western.The Japanese populace saw the military and its nationalistleaders as strong, willing to stand up to Western power andrestore the grandeur of Japan. Unlike the parliamentarianleaders, these new nationalist leaders backed by themilitary, had a vision and the public flocked to theirside.Footnote37This new mood in Japan brought an end to party cabinets andthe authority of the quasi-democratic government. It seemednow that the parliamentary democracy of the TaishoFootnote38 and Meijieras had been fully usurped by the independent military.Nationalism swept through Japan after the invasion ofManchuria, thus further strengthening the hand of themilitary. In the invasion of Manchuria and its aftermath, allthe discontent with the Meiji system of government cometogether and combined with the military claim to leadershipordained by the power of the Emperor. With this convergenceof events, the shallow roots of democracy and the liberalreformism of the Meiji Restoration were uprooted and replacedwith a combination of nationalism and militarism embodiedunder the idea of the Showa Restoration. When League ofNations condemned Japan for the Manchurian invasion, Japan,now controlled by the military, simply walked out of theconference.Footnote39 The parliamentary cabinet of the 1930’s became known as”national unity” cabinets and the parliament tookon more and more of a symbolic role as the military graduallygained the upper hand over policies. The Japanese Parliamentcontinued in operation and the major democratic partiescontinued to win elections in 1932, 1936 and 1937. Butparliamentary control was waning as the military virtuallycontrolled foreign policy.Footnote40 Japan’s political journey from its nearly democraticgovernment of the 1920’s to its radical nationalism of themid 1930’s, the collapse of democratic institutions, and theeventual military state was not an overnight transformation.There was no coup d’etat, no march on Rome, no storming ofthe Bastille, no parliamentary vote whereby theanti-democratic militaristic elements overthrew thedemocratic institutions of the Meiji Era. Instead, it was apolitical journey that allowed a semi-democratic nation totransform itself into a military dictatorship. The forcesthat aided in this transformation were the failed promises ofthe Meiji Restoration that were represented in the stagnationof the Japanese economy, the perceived capitulation of theJapanese parliamentary leaders to the western powers, and anindependent military. Japanese militarism promised to restorethe grandeur of Japan, a Showa Restoration. ——————————————————————————–Footnote1 Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum And The Sword(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989) 76. Footnote2 Marius B. Jansen Sakamoto Ryoma and the MeijiRestoration (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971)147-164. Marius B. Jansen makes clear in this book that theMeiji Restoration (1868-1912) was a movement centered aroundreturning the Meiji Emperor to power. Only later did theMeiji Restoration come to embody liberal reformism. Footnote3 Frank Gibney Japan the Fragile Superpower (NewYork: Meridian, 1985) 158-159. Footnote4 Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 121. In 1925 universal male suffrage wasenacted. Footnote5Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 113. Footnote6 Edwin O. Reischauer Japan Past and Present(Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1987) 170-171. Footnote7 Karel van Wolferen The Enigma of Japanese Power(New York: Random House, 1990) 375-376. During the MeijiRestoration Japan saw its mission to be to catch up with thealready industrialized Western powers. Footnote8 Edwin O. Reischauer Japan Past and Present(Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1987)125. Footnote9 Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 115. Footnote10Edwin O. Reischauer The Japanese Today (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1988) 98. Footnote11Frank Gibney Japan the Fragile Superpower (NewYork: Meridian, 1985) 165-166. Footnote12 Edwin O. Reischauer Japan Past and Present(Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1987) 119. During the MeijiRestoration Samurais were stripped of their positions andeven prohibited from wearing the Samurai Sword in 1869. Footnote13 Frank K, Upham Law and Social Change in Japan(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987) 49. The Japaneseconstitution was adopted in 1889. It set up a British typeparliament. The constitution did not provide theparliamentary government with power over the militarybranch. Footnote14 Karel van Wolferen The Enigma of Japanese Power(New York: Random House, 1990) 38. At the turn of the centuryJapan had started its colonizing effort in China and otherparts of Asia. It was these efforts at Colonization thatdeveloped into the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Afterwinning the war Japan continued with even more gusto tosnatch up colonies in Asia. Footnote15Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 121. In 1925 universal male suffrage was enactedalthough in most elections ballots were only made availableto the urban elite. Footnote16Edwin O. Reischauer The Japanese Today (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1988) 96. Footnote17Edwin O. Reischauer Japan Past and Present (Tokyo:Charles Tuttle Company, 1987) 150. Footnote18James B. Crawley Japan’s Quest For Autonomy(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966) 270-280. Footnote19Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 128. Footnote20Karel van Wolferen The Enigma of Japanese Power(New York: Random House, 1990) 380-381. In her Book Karel vanWolferen writes, “The Success of the Meiji oligarchy instimulating economic development was followed by a furthergreat boost for Japanese industry deriving from the FirstWorld War. This good fortune came to an end in 1920, and a’chain of panics’ caused successive recessions and businessdislocation”. Footnote21 Edwin O. Reischauer Japan Past and Present(Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1987) 117. Reischauer makesthe point in his book that external factors significantlyhurt Japan’s economy. Unlike a nation like the United Stateswhich had vast reserves of natural resources whenprojectionist trade laws were implemented around the worldJapan suffered significantly because it lacked raw materialsand markets. Japan’s economy which was guided during theMeiji Era to be primarily an export based economy. Footnote22Nakamura Takafusa Economic Growth in Prewar Japan(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) 151-158. NakamuraTakafusa states that Japan was growing at vastly differentrates between the urban areas and rural areas. Footnote23 Frank Gibney Japan the Fragile Superpower (NewYork: Meridian, 1985) 165-166. Footnote24 James B. Crawley Japan’s Quest For Autonomy(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966) 270-280. Footnote25 David M. Reimers Still the Golden Door: The ThirdWorld Comes to America (New York: Columbia Press, 1992)27. Footnote26 Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 128. “The exclusion of JapaneseImmigrants by the United States in 1924 and the growth ofmechanized Soviet Power on the Asian continent all confirmedin the Japanese public eye the impending confrontation withthe west.” Testsuo views the rise of Japanesenationalism and militarization resulting in the ShowaRestoration to be to a large degree the fault of the west forits maltreatment of Japan diplomatically. Tetsuo also viewsthe Showa Restoration to be largely caused by externalfactors that in consequence unbalanced the fragile Japanesepolitical system. Footnote27 Robert Story The Double Patriots (London: Chattoand Windus, 1957) 138. Footnote28 Karel van Wolferen The Enigma of Japanese Power(New York: Random House, 1990) 380-381. Footnote29 Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 114. One of the famous political leaders of thetime Miyake Setsurei called for a new Japan that had”truth, goodness, and beauty”. Footnote30 James Morley Dilemmas of Growth in Prewar Japan(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971) 378-411. Footnote31 Peter Duus The Rise of Modern Japan (Boston:Houghton Mifflin, 1976). Many of the nationalists of thisperiod claimed the West had tricked Japan into giving up itscolonies in Asia so it could take them. The Nationalists alsoclaimed that renewed Japanese expansionism would liberate theAsians of their European Colonizers. Footnote32 Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 130. The Imperial Way Faction was a right wingpolitical party that called for the Showa Restoration. It waslead by Kita Ikki, Gondo Seikei, and Inoue Nissho. Footnote33 Karel van Wolferen The Enigma of Japanese Power(New York: Random House, 1990) 381-382. Footnote34 Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 128. Footnote35 Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 138. Historians such as Testuo Najita cite thisincident as the turning point in the military role in Japan.For after this incident the Military realized that theparliamentary government did not have the will or the powerto stop the military power. Footnote36 Edwin O. Reischauer The Japanese Today(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988) 96. Footnote37 Edwin O. Reischauer Japan Past and Present(Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1987) 171. Edwin O Reischauerwrites in his book, “There could be no doubt that theJapanese army in Manchuria had been eminently successful, Thepeople as a whole accepted this act of unauthorized andcertainly unjustified warfare with whole heartedadmiration”. Footnote38 Peter Duus The Rise of Modern Japan (Boston:Houghton Mifflin, 1976) 156. The period preceding the ShowaRestoration and coming after the Meiji Era is known as theTaisho Era. It is named after the Taisho Emperor who wasmentally incompetent and thus the parliamentarians duringthis time had control of the government. His reign lastedonly a decade compared to the Meiji Emperor’s 44 year reign. Footnote39 Edwin O. Reischauer Japan Past and Present(Tokyo: Charles Tuttle Company, 1987) 171. Footnote40 Tetsuo Najita Japan The Intellectual Foundations ofModern Japanese Politics (Chicago: Chicago UniversityPress, 1980) 138.