Shōwa period

From Kaiserreich

The 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 present time.


Contents

The end of “Taishō Democracy”

The election of Kato Komei 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.

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 Taisho era had felt that, after the Weltkrieg, 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 forment 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 daimyo. 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 Gondo 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 Weltkrieg, Western criticism of Japanese imperial ambitions and restrictions on Japanese immigration changed the focus of the nationalist movement in Japan. Ultra-nationalist movement became virulently xenophobic, emperor-centered, and Asia-centric.

Japanese nationalism was buoyed by a romantic concept of Bushido 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 Weltkrieg, the Western Powers, influenced by Wilsonian ideology, attempted an effort at general disarmament. At the Washington Naval Conference of 1921–1922, 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.[citation needed]

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,[2] 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 assassinated on November 14, 1930.

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."[3] 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

After the Weltkrieg Japan was 'going it 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 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 of 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'etat 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.

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