4.4.3 Japan

The diagram above
shows a comparison of how Italy, Germany, and Japan's pursuit of national self-interests led to the development of ultranationalism, both within each nation and as part of their foreign policies leading up to World War II. View the tabs below to learn about the factors that caused Japan to develop ultranationalism leading up to WWII, and continue to take notes using the 4.4 Notebook Organizer.

Japan and the Treaty of Versailles

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Although there was disagreement among Japanese leaders, Japan joined Britain in 1914 as an ally when World War I was declared. During WWI, Japan took control of Tsingtao, Germany's colony in China, by employing a naval blockade and then an attack on the colony by the Japanese army. Japan's successful control of Tsingtao removed Germany's influence from China during WWI.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Japan was given the remainder of German territory (Shandong concessions) held on mainland China. As well, the Treaty gave Japan the northern Marianas Islands in the North Pacific Ocean (just above the equator and to the northeast of Australia). These territorial gains served to expand the Japanese empire.

Japan and the Great Depression

Watch the video "History Brief: The Ride of Imperial Japan" (from 1:00 to 4:29) to view how the The Great Depression impacted Japan's economy, and led to ultranationalist actions in China. Add notes to your 4.4 Notebook Organizer.

Don't forget to read the resource page about the Great Depression to develop a better understanding of the economic factors that impact nations' pursuit of self-interests. Continue to take notes using the 4.4 Notebook Organizer.

Before World War I, Japan was having economic problems. The small island nation lacked natural resources, such as oil, iron, and rubber, and other basic products. Japan also lacked space for its growing population. But, the Japanese who wished to emigrate to other countries were denied. Racist restrictions in place in many countries limited the number of Japanese immigrants they would accept. The only answer seemed to be to follow a policy of expansionism overseas.

However, after WWI, Japan emerged as a powerful Asian nation for the following reasons.
  • During WWI, Japan’s industry had grown rapidly frommanufacturing weapons for the Allies.
  • Its overseas trade had increased after the war at the expense of the Allies (mostly Britain).
  • Its merchant fleet and navy grew larger.

As its industry expanded, the future looked bright for Japan. However, in 1929, the Great Depression began to undermine the Japanese economy. The decline in trade and the creation of tariff barriers by most countries worsened the problem for Japan. By 1931, the Japanese economy, like other industrial economies around the world, was in serious trouble. Millions of workers were unemployed. Japan could not afford to buy badly needed natural resources that it did not have itself.

One solution was to take land that did have the desired natural resources. The Manchurian region of China was such a place. In 1931, the Japanese military command ordered its soldiers to invade Manchuria. This militarism, the buildup and use of military force to achieve national interests, will be discussed in the Political Factors tab.

Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism, and read "Japan after World War I" on page 137. This page will further your understanding of how ultranationalism develops.

Japan's Military and Militarism

A strong military influence existed in the Japanese government before World War I. Japanese militarism was on the rise as admirals and generals dreamed of glory for Japan. They believed it was in Japan’s national interest to get rid of the British, European, and American presence in Asia. The Japanese armed forces wanted Japan to be strong, and the only way to be strong was to build up Japan’s military forces. Generals and admirals eventually took over the running of Japan’s government after World War I. General Tojo became Japan’s Prime Minister in 1941.

Japan was a small island nation with few natural resources of its own. If Japan’s industrial and military growth were to continue, new sources of natural resources would have to be found. Many army officers were conscious of the fact that without natural resources, military and imperialist expansion could not occur. While the Treaty of Versailles had provided some territory in China and the Marianas Islands, this was not enough for Japan’s ambitious military.
General Tojo

The military did not have to work hard to convince the Japanese people to support militarism and expansionism. The Great Depression brought economic hardship to Japan, which put large numbers of Japanese workers out of work. Trade for natural resources had significantly declined because of the Depression.

Japan’s militaristic answer to the miseries of unemployment brought about by the Depression was provided by the army. Their rationale was if one cannot trade for natural resources, the resources should be seized by force. For the military, Japan’s national interest of economic security was important for increased military spending. Increased military spending was important for another of Japan’s national interests, imperialist expansion.

To convince the Japanese people of Japan’s militaristic national interests, the military command instilled ultranationalistic values in Japan’s citizens.

Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism, and read "Hirohito and Tojo in Japan" on page 138, "Instilling Ultranationalist Values" on page 139, and "Ultranationalist Values in Japan" on page 140. Add notes to your 4.4 Notebook Organizer. These pages will further your understanding of how ultranationalism develops.

Japan's Road to War

1931: Japan invaded Chinese Manchuria. Japanese military commanders decided it was in Japan’s national interest to seize natural resources by force. Manchuria in China had the resources Japan needed. The Japanese military set up an excuse to invade Manchuria, saying Japan’s armed forces needed to be there to protect the peace. After planting a bomb on the Japanese-controlled South Manchurian railway, the Japanese military invaded China’s Manchuria region, which Japan turned into a Japanese colony.

1937: Japan invaded the rest of China. Using a small shooting incident between Chinese and Japanese soldiers as an excuse, Japan launched a full scale invasion of China.

Imperial Japanese Army invades China

1941: Japanese naval forces bombed United States' Pearl Harbor (December 7). Although not officially at war with the United States, the Japanese military decided on a surprise air attack on the American Pacific fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Japanese military authorities believed the United States needed to be put out of action in the Pacific region for Japan to continue its expansionist policy in Asia.

For the most part, the United States had been following a foreign policy of isolationism. The United States had stayed out of World War II in Europe, which had started in 1939. Caught off-guard by the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, many United States' Navy ships were sunk with a large number of casualties. American air bases on Hawaii were also attacked by the Japanese.

Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier to attack Pearl Harbour.
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A Japanese Navy "Zero" fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier, on its way to attack Pearl Harbour.
© Thinkstock

1941: The United States declared war on Japan. On December 8, 1942, the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy. This declaration of war officially entered the United States into World War II on the side of the Allies (Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia) against the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan). World War II had already begun in Europe in September, 1939. The United States, following an isolationist foreign policy, had stayed out of World War II until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Continue to take notes on Japan using the 4.4 Notebook Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc). You may want to review the tutorial How to Take Notes. As you move to the 4.4.4 Forum on the next page, ensure you have an understanding of the reasons Italy, Germany, and Japan moved towards ultranationalism.