Since 1603 Japan had been ruled by the Tokugawa family, its male leader holding the title of Shogun. Japan's emperor was a figurehead surrounded by a few advisors and bureaucrats at his palace. With more use of fertilizers and a greater variety of crops, Japan's agriculture improved, and this stimulated the country's money economy and increased the number and size of towns, while fishing remained an important industry, as was mining, forestry and the handicrafts.
Following the arrival of the Westerners in the mid-1800s, the shogunate's monopoly on gunpowder was at an end. Antagonism between territorial lords and centralized Tokugawa rule developed into a war. The lords with their Samurai warriors and support of wealthy merchants postured their legitimacy by calling on the nation to honor the Emperor Meiji. They also called for expelling "the barbarian." There were attacks on foreigners, but those leading the rebellion were looking forward to productive relations with the West. They were looking forward to Japan being a member in the world community of nations and eligible to participate in international power politics. They promised the West that their treaties with Japan would be scrupulously observed. Emperor Meiji approved a memo from the regime's leaders that expulsion was to be disavowed. The US, British, French and Dutch forces saw it in their interest to side with the rebellion, and their navies shelled coastal forts and sank the shogun's ships.
The successful rebellion put Emperor Meiji on a pedestal and associated him with Shintoism. Across the centuries, Shinto had fused with Buddhist worship, with Shinto shrines common on Buddhist temple grounds, but now an effort was underway to free Shinto from Buddhist domination. The Tokugawa family had been Buddhist, and Buddhism was associated with discredited Tokugawa rule. A network of Shinto shrines spread through the country. Incidents of violence and the breaking of images were committed against Buddhism. Buddhist temples were ransacked and destroyed and Buddhist temple lands confiscated. Within a decade nearly 18,000 Buddhist temples were closed.
Japan's government sent something like sixty students to study in the West, including five women, and with them went forty-eight administrators and scholars. They examined technology, banking systems, political systems, infrastructures, educational systems, zoos, agricultural techniques and considered what would work in Japan and what would not.
Japan was developing agriculturally with improved seed strains, an increase in use of fertilizers, improved pest control and irrigation systems. The increase in revenues from farmers the government invested in industrial development. The government encouraged the building of railroads across much of the nation and encouraged the creation of a telegraph network. A modern banking system was developed. The textile and silk industries expanded rapidly, and there was shipbuilding.
The Japanese viewed their country as the land favored by the Gods and a land that others should recognize as superior. This was expressed back in 1868 when Japan sent to Korea an announcement of the Meiji emperor's restoration. The announcement implied the superiority of Japan's monarch. Diplomacy would have been served by the Koreans just smiling at Japan's arrogance. Instead, the Koreans rejected the posturing, and in Japan were those who considered the Korean response an affront to Japan's dignity.
In 1875, Japanese warships and marines struck at Korea's port city of Pusan and at Ganghwa island. The Koreans suffered 35 killed and one of the Japanese was killed. The Japanese Navy blockaded the immediate area and requested an official apology. In February 1876 Korea signed a treaty, drafted by the Japanese, that granted the Japanese in Korea extraterritoriality (exemption from the jurisdiction of local law), exemption from tariffs and recognition of Japanese currency at ports of trade.
In 1878 a branch of Japan's Daiichi Bank was established in Pusan, which encouraged more Japanese merchants to do business in Korea. Japanese merchants purchased rice, soybeans, cattle hides and alluvial gold at low prices and sold these in Japan. Exports from Japan to Korea were mainly Japan's reselling of European, especially English, and American commodities.
In 1892 trouble arose for Korea's government in the form of impoverished peasants uniting into an army. It was the beginning of the Donghak rebellion, alarmed by the presence of Christianity, inspired by Confucianism mixed with Korean shamanism, favoring a return to the "Way of Heaven," and equality of all Koreans. The movement was growing, and in southern Korea they defeated government troops sent against them. The government called on China for assistance and China landed a force of 2,000 in Korea. Japan objected, claiming that this violated Korea's agreement (the Tianjin Convention). In Japan, patriots claimed that the nation's honor was at stake. Japan sent troops to Korea without being asked. In July 1894, modernized Japanese troops clashed with China's antiquated military — the beginning of First Sino-Japanese War.
Japanese soldiers took control of Korea's royal palace, and, by the end of September (1894), Japan's army was in control of most of Korea and its navy was in control of the Yellow Sea. The Dongkak rebels laid down their arms, and their leaders were executed. Korea's king, Min, found refuge in the Russian legation. Japanese were involved in the assassination of Queen Min, who had been making overtures to China and Russia, and the Japanese forced out of Korea's government those who favored China.
From Korea the Japanese army moved northward into Manchuria, and from there three divisions moved southward in Manchuria and captured a Chinese naval arsenal and fortress at the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula. And Japan's army was on the Shandong Peninsula.
In 1895, in Japan, China's Qing Empire and the Empire of Japan signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki. This ceded to Japan control over Lüshun (called Port Arthur by Westerners) and nearby Dalian on the Liaodong peninsula. It ceded to Japan the island of Taiwan and permitted the Japanese to live and trade in China.
A group of leading Taiwanese, aided by rebellious Chinese officials, defied the Japanese and declared Taiwan a republic – Asia's first independent republic. Japan sent in troops and within a few months crushed that independence.
Meanwhile, Britain welcomed Japan's power the Manchuria and Korean region. In the 1890s, British strategists were still concerned about the Russians, and they hoped that Japan's power would be a barrier against Russians.
CONTINUE READING: China and Its Boxer Rebellion