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Japan in the Modern Age



Japan & Geography

  • Archipelago (a chain of islands)

  • Japan has been protected from invasion by the Sea of Japan (ex. Mongols tried to attach in the 13th century, however they were unsuccessful)

  • Limited Arable land (land that can be farmed)  - Japan is 85% mountainous

  • The Japanese rely on terrace farming and the sea for food

  • Japan lacks many natural resources.  This is why they fought for Korea in the 1905 Russo –Japanese War & invaded Manchuria in 1931)

  • Monsoons

  • “Ring of fire” (volcanoes & earthquakes in the Pacific).  Tsunami 2011


Korea was a bridge for Chinese ideas in Japan

·         Many fundamental aspects of Japanese life were borrowed from the Chinese via Korea (ex. Character Writing, architecture  {Pagoda}, Buddhism, Confucianism)

·         During the 300s-400s AD, Korea acted as a conduit for the transfer of culture from China to Japan. Archaeological discoveries indicate that new technologies, and materials, were arriving in Japan from the Korea Peninsula.

·         The Chinese writing system was introduced to Japan.  Writing opened Japan to the influence of Chinese literary, religious, and philosophical culture. Korean scholars introduced Confucianism and Buddhism to Japan.


Social Setting of Japan

Belief Systems

·         Confucianism

o   Filial Piety (respect for elders)

·         Buddhism

·         Shintoism

o   Japanese pray in Shinto Shrines

o   Shintoism (ancestor worship, Kami {spirit} & respect for nature)

o   Shintoism has been a unifying force in Japan

o   Selective Borrowing - The notion that the Japaneseborrowed foreign ideas that met their needs andblended these ideas with their own original traditions to create their unique culture (examples. Confucianism, language, tea ceremony) .


Early Traditions in Japan

·         Patriarchal (male dominated)

·         Heavily influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism

·         Early Japanese History & Feudalism - There has been only one imperial bloodline in Japan tracing its roots back to the Yamato clan prior to 500AD.




Political Setting of Japan

·         Japan had one ruling dynasty in its history


Heian Period - A “Golden Age” for Japan   700 – 1100 AD

·         A celebrated period in Japanese history where the imperial court lived in elegance.

·         The emperor ruled with real power.

·         Cultural advances during this time include haiku (Japanese poetry)


Shoguns (1192 – 1868)

·         Overtime the emperor lost real power to the military commanders

·         1185 – 1868 – Shogun held real power (Emperor was a figurehead)

·         A shogun was a top military commander who assumed actual power in Japan.  The emperor was a figurehead.


Social hierarchy in Japan  (Rigid Social Class System)

Samurai – followed the code of the bushido (code of conduct for warriors)



Merchants (the lowest class according to Confucian values)


Comparison to European Feudalism

·         Both societies had a rigid class structure with  the warriors as the upper class and an emphasis on social order.

·         Both societies had a code of conduct for warriors (Japanese Samurai – Bushido, European knights – Chivalry)

·         The nobility controlled the daily lives of those living on their property in exchange for providing protection for them.


Tokagawa Shogunate  (1600’s – 1868)

·         This family line ruled Japan in relative peace for 300 years.

·         Japan had a isolationist policy towards the west. (Japan was not opened to trade with the outside world again until the 1853 visit of American Commodore Matthew Perry).

·         All foreigners were expelled

·         1853 – Commodore Perry opens up trade with Japan


1868 – Meiji Restoration – Meiji emperor restored to throne

·         Emperor Meiji begins to modernize and industrialize Japan.

·         Up until 1868, Japan had a traditional economic system (farming (agrarian) and fishing)

·         After 1868 (Meiji Restoration) – Japan began to modernize and industrialize.

·         Foreign Policy of Japan

·         Japan begins its imperialistic policies to acquire natural resources so that it can industrialize (remember, Japan lacks natural resources).

·         1895 – Sino Japanese War – Japan acquires part of Korea

·         1905 – Russo Japanese War – Japan acquires more of Korea

Foreign Policy of Japan

1931- Japanese invasion of Manchuria - Oligarchy (top military commanders were running



1937 – Japanese invasion of China proper


1941 – Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor


1945 – Japanese surrender to U.S. after nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and

            Nagasaki (WWII ends)


Japan since WWII


General Douglas MacArthur - Supreme Command of the Allied Powers

  • SCAP governed Japan after the war.

  • The U.S. did not want to plant the seeds for another war, therefore the U.S. helped to rebuild Japan.

  • A new type of government is introduced.  This new government was based on Britain’s Parliamentary Democracy.

  • The new legislative branch is referred to as the Diet.

  • Japan’s New Constitution -1947

    • Imperial family was stripped of all power

    • Emperor no longer can claim divine power but remains as a symbol of state.

    • Article 9 - Section that forbids warfare


  • The U.S. protects Japan for the first 50 years after WWII.

  • Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party - A conservative, pro-business party dominating Japan from 1955 – 1993


How did Japan transform into an industrial Giant?

  • Economic, political & social reforms.

  • Innovation

  • U.S. aid & trade (especially during the Korean War)

  • U.S. business leaders training Japanese businessmen in the latest management practices


Japan as an Economic Superpower

·         Since the late 70’s Japan has emerged as a leading economic power.

·         Japan’s Dominance in  Consumer Electronics

·         This was the result of cooperation between government & industry in the area of research & development.

·         GDP: Goods & services produced 2.903 trillion (1998 est.)

·         While Japan tried to use force to expand its power before WWII, it finally succeeded in its goal after the war using a different means.

·         After the war, it became a superpower through exporting manufactured goods (automobiles, consumer electronics)

Government Regulations

·         Limits the ability of foreign companies to sell goods in Japan

·         Trade Issues -Economic Nationalism , “closed markets”

·         Threat of retaliatory quotas if Japan does not ease up restrictions on US companies trying to do business in Japan.  Currently there are voluntary quota’s in some industries.

·         Trade Deficit - United States has a negative trade balance. Source of tensions between U.S & Japan.