Japan: Past and Present of Country


Modern Japan, which is the second in the world in economic power, after the United States developed as a nation-state through Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods. The period succeeded each other respectively. Each period had a different Emperor. The Meiji period had the original modernization characteristics, from which the other periods either followed or modified. Although Japan is currently rich, the wealth was achieved through challenges, problems, and even war throughout the three periods (Murdoch 1996).

Meiji Periods

Modern Japan has developed as a nation through Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods. The Meiji period was a 45-year reign of the Meiji Emperor, running concerning the Gregorian calendar, the period was between October 1868 and July 1912. The period marked the initiation of Japanese modernization and its rise to world power status. The Meiji period was characterized by enlightened rule. The period was proclaimed after Mutsuhito succeeded his father Emperor Komei. Immediately after the initiation of enlightenment rule, the Meiji restoration started. The restoration was a chain of events that resulted in enormous changes in Japan’s social and political structure. The Meiji restoration covered the last half of the 19th century, a period that spans the Late Tokugawa shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji period. The Meiji restoration was a response to the arrival of the Black Ships of Commodore Matthew which opened Japan and made Imperial Japan a great power. During the restoration, Tokugawa Shogunate was ended officially in November 1867 after the 15th Tokugawa Shogun disposed of his prerogative and resigned his position, what was referred to as the restoration of imperial rule, but considerable power was retained by Yoshinobu, until January 1868, when Emperor regained full power (Beasley 1995). The leaders of the Meiji restoration claimed to ensure restoration of imperial rule, but the political power moved from Tokugawa Shogun to their oligarchy. This shows their belief in the traditional practice of imperial rule, characterized by the Emperor, to perform priestly duties and ministers to govern Japan. Meiji restoration facilitated industrialization and subsequent raise of military power through the slogan ‘Japan enrichment, military strength’. The Meiji government, which was an oligarchy established measures to consolidate the power. The Meiji government monitored and heavily subsidized the modernization process. In 1868 a five-chapter oath was established to boost more and win financial support from the government the oath had several provisions such as establishing deliberative assemblies, replacement of evil custom, and just rules of nature, involvement in state affairs by all classes, and revocation of sumptuary laws and restricting classes on employment (Morton 2004)Through the chapter oath they aimed at ending exclusive political rule and starting a move to democratic participation in the government. The chapter oath was not implemented until an eleven-article constitution was drawn, which provided a new legislative body and council of states, limited office tenure to four years, allowed public balloting, established a new taxation system, and new local administrative rule (Jansen 2000). The government had assured foreign powers about their stand, as they considered acting in accordance with the international law, and following the old treaties negotiated in the previous ruling. With Mutsuhito as a ruler who was expected to rule up to 1912, Japan underwent a series of transformations. The name Edo was changed to Tokyo, and the capital, which had been located in Kyoto since 794 was relocated to Tokyo. The regime needed more consolidation, and a majority of Daimyo surrendered their land to the Emperor in the Abolition of the Han system. This was voluntary and symbolized that both the land and the people were under the jurisdiction of the Emperor (Beasley 1972).

The economy played a role in the modernization of Japan. This was a result of the employment of foreign experts in many fields, and the freedom of Japanese students to move overseas. The Zaibatsuin conjunction with the government ensured borrowing of technology from the West. This made Japan be dominant in the Asian market, with a mercantilistic economy, which was characterized by the importation of raw materials and export of processed products (Albert 2000). This shows how Japan was transformed from poverty associated with raw materials. During the Meiji period, Japan was the first industrialized Asian country, with limited foreign trade and a variety of domestic commercial activities. The end of this period was characterized by a lack of foreign reserves, exhausted credit, defense programs, and huge investments in both overseas and domestic levels (Thomas 2007, pp.147).

Taisho Period

Taisho Emperor succeeded Meiji Emperor after his death in 1912. the period was considered to be of great righteousness. The Taisho period was shorter than the Meiji period. It began in July 1912 to December 1926. The New Emperor’s health was weak, a factor that made the political power shift from the old oligarchic group to the Diet of Japan and the Democratic Party. This explains the reason why the period is considered as the time of the liberal movement or the Taisho democracy, and the difference between the period, the preceding chaotic Meiji period, and the Showa period which followed characterized by with militarism-driven (Beasley 2001, pp.193).

Most of the activities which facilitate the modernization of Japan were initiated during the Meiji period, so in the succeeding periods, the activities were either continued, or they took a different course. The Western culture continued in the Taisho period. The painting styles adopted from Western cultures became more dominant, and studies from the West introduced a modernized view of human life. The Meiji restoration in the preceding period, enhanced the fulfillment of the economical and political objectives of Japan without suffering the colonial fate (Shinbunsha 1954, pp.288).

During the Taisho period, there was a political crisis, which compromised and interrupted the politics of Japan. The army minister resigned after attempts to reduce the military budget. During this period, the first world war occurred, were by the Japanese aimed at stopping the opportunity of Berlin distraction, and expanding its sphere to China. Japan occupied many Chinese regions such as Shandong province and Marshall island through a German lease. Japan had created allies with Western countries in the preceding period, which supported the war (Davidann 1998, pp. 187). Japan consolidated its position in China through twenty-one demands. Its control over German holdings expanded and continued to seek ownership of major metallurgical and mining centers in China. Japan used international agreements to acquire territories.

By the end of the first world war, Japan had expanded its influence in Asia and created its prosperity. Japan was recognized as one of the Big Five of the international order with high military and industrial powers. Democracy dominated throughout the period (Arnason 2002). During this period especially after the first world war, prime and army ministers were included in the cabinet. The army minister appreciated civil-military. The prime minister who was the first in Japanese history encountered problems such as inflation, foreign ides influx, the need to adjust the country’s economy to postwar situations, and the emerging labor movement. The prime minister together with the cabinet applied the pre-war solutions to solve the postwar problems, with little reforms to the government. The prime minister enhanced electoral redirecting, new election laws, and government-funded public work programs. Public demonstrations took place in 1919 and 1920 favoring universal suffrage and dismantling of the political party. This led to the proliferation of new parties such as communists and socialist parties.

At the end of the Taisho period, Japan had a different direction towards democracy. The parliamentary government could not withstand the political and economical pressure. The Meiji constitution was ambiguous and not precise about the Emperor position in the constitution, a factor that increased the military influence in the government (Jansen & Gilbert 2000).

Showa Period

Showa period succeeded the Taisho period. The period is considered to be of enlightened peace. The period covered between December 1926 to January 1989. The period was the longest of all periods of Japanese emperors. During the Showa period, many events took place. This makes the period to be classified about the events. The period is classified as the militarist period, period of American occupation, and the period after American occupation (Waters 1999, pp. 533). The period was marked by political chaos. In 1937, Japan engaged in war with China, and in 1941, it engaged in a worldwide war where it attacked the United States, which responded with atomic bomb attacks. This resulted in seven years of occupation of foreign powers in Japan. The Americans who occupied the country cleared the democratic reforms, returning the original sovereignty of the country, and engage in economic activities. Japanese economy raised rapidly, and seconded the United States into economic power, with chances of becoming an economic superpower. Japan lost strong allies after it withdrew from the League of Nations. Its actions were condemned internationally. After the two nuclear bombs, Japan ordered an end of hostility. The Allied powers occupied Japan. The United States took the responsibility for Japanese’s possession, while the Soviet Union was responsible for North Korea. Japan was disarmed, and an Act of 1947 was established to limit, Japanese from engaging in war with foreign nations (CAAA 1960, pp.36).

The Japanese government made efforts to enhance industrial recovery, through trade expansion and protectionism. Ministry of International Trade and Industry was established as a way of treating the Japanese economy from the injuries caused by the war. Economic policies were established to remove anti-monopoly laws. Foreign companies were restricted from operating in Japan market. From 1954 throughout the Showa period, Japan reconstructed itself economically and politically, but in 1993 a financial bubble occurred in Japan and caused a recession period. Modern Japan (current Japan) is the second to the United States in economic power, and the economic power dominates the military power (Edstrom 2002, pp.141).


Japan has developed from a nation-state to modern Japan through series of events throughout the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods. Throughout the periods, Japan has been growing economically and politically though with various challenges and problems. Currently, Japan is second to the United States in economic power.


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