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New History Textbook for Middle School Students Chapter 5 Section 1


Chapter 5: Modern Japan and the World (Part 2)
– The Taisho Period and First Half of the Showa Period

Section 1 – World War I and its repercussions

Topic 67 – Japan’s participation in World War I
Why did World War I begin and how did Japan become involved in it?

The outbreak of World War I
After the Russo-Japanese War, Russia gave up its ambition of advancing into East Asia and again set its sights on Europe. Germany had already joined the Triple Alliance with Austria and Italy, and soon proceeded to build up its naval strength and expand overseas. Fearing Germany’s growing power, Great Britain drew closer to Russia and France. In 1907 (Meiji 40), Great Britain, Russia, and France concluded the Triple Entente in order to surround Germany. Tensions rose as the nations of Europe divided themselves between these two camps.

During this time, national independence movements gained strength in the Balkan Peninsula. The great powers with interests in the Balkans exploited this situation to increase their influence over the region. Because the Balkan Peninsula was continuously on the brink of war, it came to be known as “the powder keg of Europe”. Russia backed Serbia and the other Slavic nations against their neighboring rival, Austria.1

*1=Austria, which was then referred to as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was among five of Europe’s strongest countries. Since medieval times, it was ruled by the German House of Habsburg. Its eastern and southern territories were inhabited by a variety of ethnic groups, mainly Slavs.

While on an official visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1914 (Taisho 3), the heir to the Austrian throne and his wife were assassinated by a young, pro-Russian Serb. On the basis of their entangling alliances, the nations of Europe’s two camps responded by declaring war, one after another. World War I had begun.

Japan’s participation in the war and the Twenty-One Demands
As a party to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, Japan sided with the Triple Entente nations and declared war on Germany. Japan occupied Qingdao, a German concession in China’s Shandong Peninsula, as well as Germany’s island colonies in the Pacific Ocean north of the equator. When German submarines started to attack merchant ships without warning, Japan also deployed a fleet of destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea to defend shipping lanes.

China requested that Japan withdraw its troops from Qingdao, but Japan instead insisted in January 1915 that China transfer Germany’s interests in the Shandong Peninsula to Japan, one of the so-called Twenty-One Demands. Though discussion of the demands between China and Japan was supposed to be confidential, Chinese President Yuan Shikai publicized them with the expectation that the great powers would intervene. Great Britain and the United States immediately lodged protests. Though Japan adamantly maintained its policy of preserving and expanding its interests in China, it did shorten the list to sixteen demands, which China finally accepted.

Topic 67 Recap Challenge! – Using bullet points, list one reason why Japan entered World War I and two contributions that Japan made to the war effort.

Excerpts from the Twenty-One Demands

“-The Chinese Government engages to give full assent to all matters that the Japanese Government may hereafter agree with the German Government respecting the disposition of all the rights, interests and concessions, which, in virtue of treaties or otherwise, Germany possesses vis-à-vis China in relation to the province of Shantung.”

“-The two contracting Parties mutually agree that the term of the lease of Port Arthur and Dairen and the term respecting the South Manchuria Railway shall be extended to a further period of 99 years respectively.”

“-The Chinese Government grants to the Japanese subjects the right of mining in South Manchuria and Eastern Inner Mongolia.”

Topic 68 – The Russian Revolution and the conclusion of World War I
How did World War I change the world?

The Russian Revolution
In 1917 (Taisho 6), as World War I dragged on, the Russian Revolution broke out. Russian civilians in the cities rioted in protest of chronic food shortages, and they were soon joined by disaffected soldiers who overthrew Russia’s ruling Romanov dynasty. This was known as the February Revolution. It was followed by the October Revolution, in which Marxist revolutionaries1 led by Vladimir Lenin staged an armed takeover in order to form a government based on Russia’s councils of laborers and soldiers, referred to as the “soviets”. Later, Lenin eliminated the other political parties with military force and built a one-party communist dictatorship, of which he was the helmsman. In 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established.

*1=Marxism is the name of the political ideology proposed by German philosopher Karl Marx. Marx argued that the workers should start a revolution to overthrow the capitalist system and, after undergoing a phase of socialism, ultimately realize a classless, communist society. Nonetheless, the words “socialism” and “communism” are often used synonymously.

The Soviet government ceased hostilities with Germany and plunged headlong into civil war against internal forces opposed to the revolution. The communists executed Russia’s royal family as well as anyone else they perceived as enemies, including countless numbers of nobles, landowners, capitalists, clerics, and intellectuals. There was also a massive famine that killed millions of people in rural areas.

The Siberian Expedition
Having been threatened by southward Russian expansion for many years, Japan was even more apprehensive about the effects of the communist revolution than most other countries. The Western powers sent troops to Russia to quell the revolution.

In 1918 (Taisho 7), Japan and the United States launched their own joint excursion into Russia, known as the Siberian Expedition,2 to protect Japanese interests in Manchuria and relieve the anti-communist Czechoslovak Legion that was stranded deep within Russian territory.

*2=In 1920, four thousand communist guerrillas attacked the Siberian town of Nikolayevsk at the mouth of the Amur River and massacred about seven hundred Japanese people, including civilian residents and members of the town garrison. The total number of victims of the Nikolayevsk Incident was said to have reached six thousand. Outraged by this atrocity, Japan responded by extending its military mission in Siberia.

Total war
World War I, which lasted four years and was punctuated by the dramatic Russian Revolution, was unlike any conflict the world had seen up to that point in time.

It was a total war, marshalling all the economic might of the belligerents and exploiting the latest technologies. The new weapons of war caused unprecedented casualties on all sides. Civilians, too, were caught in the maelstrom of war, suffered shortages of daily necessities, and were mobilized to work in munitions factories. The combatant nations were compelled to exhaust their full national strength.

The end of World War I
Neutral United States eventually entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente, leading to the defeat of Germany and its allies in 1918. The German Empire collapsed and was replaced by the Weimar Republic. Europe had endured the horror of the first total war in human history.

By contrast, Japan joined the ranks of the victors relatively unscathed. World War I served to increase the international clout of both Japan and its fellow Pacific power, the United States.

Topic 68 Recap Challenge! – Use the phrases “total war” and “new weapons” to explain how World War I differed from previous wars.

Casualties of World War I
(according to a February 1924 report of the US Department of War)

Country Casualties (number killed in action)
Allied Powers
(Total of 24 nations) Russia 9,150,000 (1,700,000)
France 6,170,000 (1,360,000)
Great Britain 3,190,000 (910,000)
Italy 3,200,000 (650,000)
United States 360,000 (120,000)
Japan 1,210 (300)
Central Powers
(Total of 4 nations) Germany 7,140,000 (1,770,000)
Austria-Hungary 7,020,000 (1,200,000)
Ottoman Empire 980,000 (320,000)
Bulgaria 270,000 (90,000)
Total 37,910,000 (8,530,000)

Topic 69 – The Treaty of Versailles and postwar state of the world
How did the victor powers manage the aftermath of World War I?

The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations
In 1919 (Taisho 8), the Paris Peace Conference convened. Japan attended as one of the “Big Five” victor powers (Great Britain, the US, France, Italy, and Japan), and signed the Treaty of Versailles. According to the terms of this treaty, Germany was to accept responsibility for starting the war, surrender its colonies and parts of its own territory, and pay steep war reparations.1 Germany’s struggle to cope with the harsh reparations would later pave the road to World War II.

*1=The amount of reparations to be paid by Germany was subsequently set at 132 billion marks. Because Germany’s government revenue was only 5.2 billion in 1921, this amounted to twenty-five times Germany’s annual budget. That year, Germany was beset with devastating hyperinflation.

At the Paris Peace Conference, United States President Woodrow Wilson proposed the establishment of an international organization that would transcend national self-interest in pursuit of world peace and cooperation. In 1920, Wilson’s vision was realized in the form of the League of Nations, but his own country refused to join it due to opposition in the US Congress. The League of Nations never exercised significant international power over the international system.

Japan’s rejected racial equality proposal
Japan submitted a resolution at the Paris Peace Conference to include an article in the Covenant of the League of Nations forbidding discrimination on the basis of race. The non-white peoples of the world held high hopes for Japan’s proposal. With eleven votes in favor and five against, the resolution obtained majority support. Even so, President Wilson, who served as chairman, rejected the proposal on the ground that major amendments required unanimity. This decision deeply disappointed many Japanese people.

The rise of nationalism in Asia
The growing trend towards ethnic self-determination after World War I gave a boost to national independence movements throughout Asia.2 In India, Mahatma Gandhi used non-violent protests to pressure the British to keep their promise of granting self-rule to the Indian people. Britain cracked down hard on the Indian independence movement, but this only served to heighten its popularity.

*2=President Wilson’s blueprint for peace was a set of propositions that he called the “Fourteen Points”. Though the Fourteen Points enshrined the principle of ethnic self-determination, it was applied after the war only to the territories of the defeated nations of Germany and Austria, not to the colonies of the victor nations such as Great Britain and France. None of their Asian and African colonies were granted independence.

Closer to Europe, General Kemal Ataturk of the Ottoman Empire abolished the Ottoman monarchy and founded the Republic of Turkey.

In Japanese-ruled Korea, Koreans who had gathered in Seoul on March 1, 1919, for the funeral service of their former king read out a declaration of independence and marched through the streets. Before long, similar demonstrations were carried out throughout Korea. This was the March 1st Movement. The Government-General of Korea quickly suppressed the movement, but understood that the problem could not be resolved with violence alone. The Government-General gradually adopted more benevolent means of administering Korean affairs, and later promoted greater integration with Japan.

In China, the May 4th Movement arose on May 4, 1919, as a series of demonstrations in Beijing organized by students decrying the decision of the Paris Peace Conference to transfer Germany’s interests in China to Japan. The movement eventually spread to many other cities across China.

Japan’s wartime economic growth
During World War I, Japan enjoyed a surge in munitions exports, as well as rising exports to various parts of Asia. This situation brought about rapid development of heavy industry and an unprecedented economic expansion, called the “World War boom”.3

*3=Before World War I, Asian nations imported most of their industrial products from Europe and the United States. When the outbreak of the war caused these imports to grind to a halt, Japan found itself suddenly deluged with orders. Consequently, Japanese industries developed rapidly both in scale and in technology. Japan’s great business conglomerates, known as zaibatsu, benefited from diversified holdings, including in finance, trade, and shipbuilding. The conglomerates and the families controlling them, such as the Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and Sumitomo, used this opportunity to further expand their power.

On the other hand, because the war had caused Japan little hardship, the Japanese people failed to grasp that the wars of the future would be total wars. For this reason, Japan did not upgrade its military equipment or plan for total war to the same extent as the Western countries had.

Topic 69 Recap Challenge! – Describe two problems created by the post-World War I settlement laid down in the Treaty of Versailles.

Topic 70 – The rise of party politics and social movements
How did party politics evolve in Japan?

The birth of party cabinets
After the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese government alternated between cabinets formed by the Friends of Constitutional Government Party and those formed by officials from the so-called “domain clique” of Satsuma and Choshu.1 Following the death of Emperor Meiji and the beginning of the Taisho period in 1912, opponents of the political power of the “domain clique” became more vocal. They coalesced into the Movement to Protect the Constitution, demanding governments that reflected the will of the people in accordance with the spirit of the Meiji Constitution. Scholar Yoshino Sakuzo translated the word “democracy” into the Japanese language as minponshugi, which literally means “the people-centered principle”. Yoshino popularized the notion that the political party that won the most seats in the Diet in a popular election should have the right to form the government.

*1=Government officials hailing from the former domains of Choshu and Satsuma attempted to monopolize the most important government posts for people from their own domains. For this reason, they were dubbed the “domain clique”.

In 1918 (Taisho 7), the price of rice soared amidst rumors that some merchants were trying to corner the market in anticipation of a Japanese military expedition to Siberia. Furious mobs assaulted rice merchants, and soon the violence had spread across the entire country. This event is known as the Rice Riots. Before the end of the year, the Japanese cabinet had resigned en masse to make way for a new cabinet under Prime Minister Hara Takashi, the President of the Friends of Constitutional Government Party. With the exception of the Army, Navy, and Foreign Ministers, Hara filled every post in his cabinet with elected members of his own Friends of Constitutional Government Party, which at the time was the largest party in the Diet. This was Japan’s first, full-fledged party cabinet.

Taisho Democracy and social change
During the Taisho period, especially in the aftermath of World War I, constitutional, party-based politics took hold in the Diet. Many vigorous social movements also emerged, such as the campaign for universal suffrage, and public opinion grew increasingly favorable towards democratic development and international cooperation. These trends are collectively referred to as Taisho Democracy.

This period also saw the birth of many trade unions and farm tenancy disputes.2 In 1920 (Taisho 9), May Day was observed in Japan for the first time. Labor and agrarian movements gained momentum.

*2=Tenant farmers worked on land rented from a landowner. Farm tenancy disputes broke out over the high cost of rent.

In 1922 (Taisho 11), the National Levelers Association was founded to spearhead a campaign to eliminate discrimination against former members of the “untouchable” class. There was also a new feminist movement, which aimed to elevate the social status of women. Thanks to the tireless efforts of women like Hiratsuka Raicho, the issues of female suffrage and improvement of women’s higher education was brought to the public’s attention.3

*3=As a result of the Russian Revolution, this was also a time when many students and intellectuals fell under the influence of communist ideology.

“The normal course of constitutional government”
Hara Takashi was assassinated by a deranged man in 1921 (Taisho 10). The political parties were weakened by the loss of such a capable leader, and the next several cabinets to govern Japan were non-partisan. However, the parties staged their comeback in 1924 (Taisho 13) when Kato Takaaki became prime minister as head of the “Three-Party Cabinet to Protect the Constitution”.4 For the succeeding eight years, it was standard procedure that the cabinet be formed by the leader of the largest party in the Diet. Supporters of Japan’s democratic development hailed this approach as “the normal course of constitutional government”.

*4=The three parties in question were the Friends of Constitutional Government Party, the Constitutional Association, and the Reform Club.

In 1925 (Taisho 14), the Kato Cabinet passed the General Election Law5 granting universal suffrage to all men over the age of twenty-five regardless of the amount of taxes they paid. In one stroke, the size of the electorate rose by four times. In 1928 (Showa 3), Japan held its first election under the universal suffrage system, which was won by the Friends of Constitutional Government Party.

*5=At the same time as the General Election Law, the Kato Cabinet also passed the Peace Preservation Law, instituting repressive measures against anarchists and communists.

Topic 70 Recap Challenge! – Give three social changes that affected the political system of Taisho Japan.

Excerpt from the Founding Declaration of the National Levelers Association

“We must never again shame our ancestors and profane humanity through servile words and cowardly deeds. We, who know just how cold human society can be and who know what it is to be pitied, do fervently seek and adore the warmth and light of human life from the bottom of our hearts.

Thus, the National Levelers Association is born. Let there be warmth in human society, and let there be light in all human beings.”

Attainment of Universal Suffrage

Country Year (for men) Year (for women)
France 1848 1945
United States 1870 1920
Germany 1871 1919
Great Britain 1918 1928
Japan 1925 1945
India 1949 1949

Topic 71 – US-Japan relations and the Washington Conference
What shifts occurred in US-Japan relations between the end of the Russo-Japanese War and the mid-1920s?

The anti-Japanese exclusion movement
Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War had cemented its status as East Asia’s preeminent power. The US, which had colonized the Philippines, now had a rival in the Far East.

In the immediate aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War, America’s racially discriminatory policies caused friction in its relations with Japan. In America’s western states, there was an anti-Japanese “exclusion movement” with the stated objective of stopping Japanese immigrants, who were hardworking and skillful, from “stealing” the jobs of white American laborers. In 1913 (Taisho 2), the state of California enacted the Alien Land Law, forbidding Japanese people from purchasing farmland.

Finally, in 1924 (Taisho 13), the United States completely banned Japanese immigration through passage of the Asian Exclusion Act, a brazen move that incensed Japanese public opinion.

The Washington Conference and internationalism
Between 1921 and 1922, representatives of Japan and eight other nations assembled at the Washington Conference, mainly to discuss naval disarmament and their respective interests in China. The conference had been called at America’s suggestion for the purpose of constructing a stable order in East Asia by coordinating each nation’s interests in the region.

The participants at the Washington Conference committed themselves to reciprocal reductions in their total number of capital ships, and they agreed that the ratio of battleships between the United States, Great Britain, and Japan would be fixed at, respectively, 5:5:3. Japan backed arms reduction in the spirit of international cooperation amidst the postwar trend towards disarmament, but the agreement was also favorable to the Japanese government’s need to scale back its burdensome military budget. Nonetheless, many Japanese naval officers chaffed at the lower ratio imposed on Japan and adamantly insisted that the agreement imperiled national security.

In addition, the Washington Conference approved the Nine-Power Treaty, which reaffirmed China’s territorial integrity and the Open Door Policy, and ended the twenty-year-old Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The United States had insisted that the alliance be scrapped, in spite of both Japan and Great Britain desiring to continue it. With that, Japan lost its most dependable ally.

The Great Kanto Earthquake
On September 1, 1923 (Taisho 12), a tremendous earthquake ripped through the Kanto region of eastern Japan. Raging fires broke out across Tokyo and Yokohama, consuming thousands of private homes, government buildings, and cultural facilities. Over 100,000 people were killed or unaccounted for. This was known as the Great Kanto Earthquake.

Though the Great Kanto Earthquake dealt a huge blow to the Japanese economy, it also taught the Japanese people many lessons about how modern cities ought to be built in earthquake-prone Japan. Japan began designing earthquake-proof structures and researched urban fire prevention. The new Tokyo that was to rise out of the ashes of the old would have a network of highways, urban parks and green spaces, and public buildings made of reinforced concrete rather than brick.

Topic 71 Recap Challenge! – Using bullet points, list the controversies that emerged in US-Japan relations between the end of the Russo-Japanese War and the mid-1920s.

Goto Shimpei
(1857 – 1929)

Goto Shimpei was born in Iwate Prefecture. After serving as Mayor of Tokyo, he was appointed President of the Imperial Capital Reconstruction Agency in 1923. In this capacity, he drafted bold plans to rebuild Tokyo in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake and worked hard to implement them .

Why Was the Anglo-Japanese Alliance Abrogated?

After the Russo-Japanese War, Great Britain and Russia enjoyed increasingly close ties, and the importance of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance to Britain declined. Moreover, Anglo-Japanese relations were cooling due to Japan’s refusal of Britain’s request to send troops to Europe during World War I and their conflicting interests in China.

The United States, which was eager to make inroads into Chinese markets, plotted to terminate the Anglo-Japanese Alliance by driving a wedge between Japan and Great Britain. In place of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, the United States arranged for all three powers plus France to conclude the Four-Power Treaty. Unlike the bilateral alliance it replaced, the Four-Power Treaty was a nominal agreement which contained no obligation to participate in the conflicts of the other signatory states.

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance had been the cornerstone of Japan’s security policy. Once it was abrogated, Japan had to compete with the military might of the United States on its own.

Topic 72 – City life and the democratization of culture
What were the distinguishing characteristics of the culture of the Taisho period?

Taisho culture
During the Taisho period, secondary and higher education became widespread, women’s education expanded, and a passion for learning spread throughout Japanese society.

Yanagita Kunio established Japanese ethnology as an academic discipline. Yanagita wrote at length about the legends, customs, and lifestyles of the common people, who were rapidly submerging under the tide of Westernization.

In the field of literature, authors of the White Birch school such as Shiga Naoya and Mushakoji Saneatsu emphasized humanitarian ideals in their writings. Also influential were Tanizaki Junichiro, whose work is famous for its aesthetic sensibility, and Akutagawa Ryunosuke, known for his intellectual style.

In the late-Taisho and early-Showa periods, communist ideology exerted a strong influence on both literature and academics.

The birth of mass culture
During the Taisho period, some newspapers and general-interest magazines hit sales of over one million copies. Literary anthologies became popular items, as did cheap “one-yen books”. Magazines aimed at housewives and children also increased their circulation. In addition, this time marked the beginning of radio broadcasting, which soon rivaled newspapers as a source of information.

The rise of newspapers, magazines, and radio broadcasts that could instantaneously transmit the same news across the entire country was the start of mass media in Japan. This not only facilitated the democratization of culture, but also encouraged the masses to participate in politics, which left a huge impact on the burgeoning social and political movements of the period.

Both silent films and “talkies” made their appearance, and record players allowed people to enjoy recorded music. Other new forms of widespread, popular entertainment included pulp novels, pop songs, the performances of the Takarazuka women’s theater troupe, and sports such as the baseball matches of the Six University Baseball League. In addition, child-oriented entertainments, such as nursery rhymes, toys, zoos, and amusement parks, became more pervasive than ever before.

Life in the cities
In urban places, bus routes were extended and downtown areas were connected to their suburbs by private railways. Japan’s first subway line came into operation between the Tokyo districts of Ueno and Asakusa. As Japan’s cities developed, buildings came to be made of reinforced concrete. In private residences, wells began to be replaced with water pipes, lamps with electric lights, and wood-fueled cook stoves with gas kitchen ranges. The wealthier homes added nursery rooms and Western-style parlors with glass windows.

Many department stores opened up, giving Japanese people access to an unprecedented range of consumer products. Western foods also became increasingly common, including curry rice, croquettes, and pork cutlets, as well as treats such as caramel and cookies. Therefore, it was the Taisho period that set the standards of modern-day urban life in Japan.

Women were able to take on new jobs as bus conductors or telephone operators. It was also during the Taisho period that work and school uniforms became common sights, and more women began to wear Western clothing.

Topic 72 Recap Challenge! – Using bullet points, list three social changes that made the Taisho period into the prototype of contemporary urban life in Japan.