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  • By the start of the 20th Century, Japan had turned  from a pre-industrialized isolationist state into  

  • a modernized regional power, defeating both the  Chinese and Russian Empires, annexing Korea and  

  • Taiwan, and expanding their sphere of influence  across East Asia. But after the death of Emperor  

  • Meiji, new problems would arise, opportunities  would be taken and Japan would continue to expand  

  • and develop itself as a rising great power. Todaywe're going to continue analyzing the evolution of  

  • the Japanese Empire during the Taishō and Early  Shōwa eras, covering its role in the Great War,  

  • subsequent expansionist developments, and  the start of its trajectory towards fascism  

  • and the Pacific War. Unfortunately, not every  event and fun detail can be told in a 20-minute  

  • video. And in order to alleviate that, we decided  to create a new podcast that will cover the events  

  • of the Pacific War every Tuesday for 4 years  to accompany these videos. You can find these  

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  • It is July 30, 1912. Emperor Meiji is deadhis family is mourning him, and his heir is  

  • preparing to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne  as Emperor Taishō. For the past four decades,  

  • Meiji had overseen the modernization and  industrialization of the Japanese Empire,  

  • which underwent an extensive political, economic  and social revolution. On his funeral, a massive  

  • procession gathered to pay homage to the Emperor  that had brought a new era for Japan. Of this  

  • event, the New York Times wrote thatthe contrast  between that which preceded the funeral car and  

  • that which followed it was striking indeed. Before  it went old Japan; after it came new Japan”.  

  • And in this new Japan, many differences could  be already noticed, such as a great economic  

  • growth in many sectors, aided by the financial  power of the Zaibatsu business conglomerates  

  • and by the introduction of electric power; a heavy  government investment in engineering, industry and  

  • railway building that resulted in the rapid  industrialization of Japan; the establishment  

  • of a Western-based education system; and the  complete modernization of the Army and Navy

  • Yet the death of Meiji would also sparkpolitical crisis in the Japanese Empire,  

  • as the Meiji Constitution was written in such  a way that the military had dominance over  

  • the civilian government: if the IJA or the IJN  refused to appoint a minister for the new cabinet,  

  • then the cabinet couldn't be formed and  the government would be interrupted.  

  • When this happened two times in 1912 and 1913,  the acting Prime Ministers were forced to resign.  

  • In response, the public was outraged due to  the military manipulation of the cabinet,  

  • and soon, demands against the oligarchic  system of the Japanese Empire began to emerge

  • But the political uprisings would  have to temporarily take a break,  

  • as in Europe, the First World War broke out in  1914 between the Central Powers and the Entente.  

  • As a consequence of the Anglo-Japanese TreatyJapan entered the war on the side of the Entente,  

  • seizing the opportunity to expand its sphere  of influence in China and the Pacific,  

  • where the German Empire had colonial possessionsWhile Australia and New Zealand launched invasions  

  • against German Samoa and German New GuineaVice-Admiral Sadakichi Kato of the 2nd Fleet  

  • started the blockade of the German colony  of Tsingtao and Vice-Admiral Yamaya Tanin  

  • of the South Seas Squadron started to pursue  the fleeing German East Asia Squadron towards  

  • the Marshall Islands. Quickly, the IJN seized the  Mariana, Caroline, Palau and Marshall Islands with  

  • virtually no resistance, and the IJA landed  on Shandong to start the Siege of Tsingtao.  

  • After two months, Tsingtao fell on November 7, and  the city was occupied by Japanese troops. The IJN  

  • would also continue to support naval operations  in the Pacific against German raiders and,  

  • eventually, it would even send squadrons into the  Mediterranean to help the Entente in the region

  • During the war, Japan increasingly filled orders  for needed war material for its European allies.  

  • The wartime boom helped to diversify the  country's industry, increase its exports,  

  • and transform Japan from a debtor tocreditor nation for the first time, although  

  • this industrial boom also led to a rapid inflation  and the outbreak of rice riots throughout Japan.  

  • Meanwhile in China, the Empire attempted  to consolidate its position in the region  

  • by presenting the Twenty-One Demands to Chinese  President Yuan Shikai in 1915. These demands  

  • essentially transformed China into a Japanese  protectorate, and in response, the Japanese earned  

  • the international condemnations of their alliesparticularly from the United States. In the end,  

  • Japan withdrew the demands, but it would  continue to extend its influence in China  

  • via more subtle means. The Fall of the Russian  Empire in 1917 also saw the Japanese wanting to  

  • increase their influence in the region with  an intervention in Siberia, landing almost  

  • 70000 men under the orders of General Otani  Kikuzo and penetrating as far west as Lake Baikal.  

  • In 1919, as the British and American expeditionary  forces withdrew, the Japanese decided to stay for  

  • three more years with the objective of creating  an anti-Bolshevik buffer state in Siberia;  

  • an enterprise that would fail, costinglot of money for the Empire. That same year,  

  • Japan's representative, Saionji Kinmochi, sat  alongside theBig Fourat the Paris Peace  

  • Conference. As a result of the peace treatiesthe Japanese Empire gained a permanent seat on  

  • the Council of the League of Nations, annexed  the German leased territories in Shandong  

  • and was granted the South Seas Mandate  over the Pacific islands they had occupied

  • After the war ended, the Japanese  Empire emerged as a naval powerhouse,  

  • having the third largest navy in the world  and learning important anti-submarine warfare  

  • techniques and technologies that contributed  to future Japanese submarine developments.  

  • Back home, the political strife ended with  the adoption of a two-party political system  

  • known as the Taishō Democracy. But the failure of  the Siberian Intervention and the termination of  

  • the Anglo-Japanese Treaty would leave Japan alone  and weakened, forcing the Empire to adopt a more  

  • neutral attitude towards China and to sign the  Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the subsequent  

  • London Naval Treaty of 1930, that established an  international capital ship ratio, limited the size  

  • and armaments of capital ships and forced Japan  to return the leased territories in Shandong.  

  • Furthermore, the national debt started to grow  again because of the renewed export competition,  

  • the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 devastated  the capital, a Communist Party dangerous to  

  • current regime was founded, and the rise of  the tenant farmer movement led to the outbreak  

  • of social unrest. Although the communists  and the tenants were brutally repressed,  

  • thus ending the threats they posed, economic  and political pressures forced the government  

  • to enact the Peace Preservation Law of 1925  that essentially criminalized socialism,  

  • communism, republicanism, and democracy. This  was the end of the Taishō Democracy, with Emperor  

  • Taishō dying himself the next year. Upon the  death of his father, Prince Hirohito ascended  

  • to the Chrysanthemum Throne on December 25, 1926. Hirohito would have a rough start as Emperor, with  

  • the outbreak of the Shōwa Financial Crisis in the  first year of rule. Many businesses went bankrupt,  

  • exports decreased, silk and rice prices plummetedand unemployment skyrocketed. The situation  

  • worsened with the Great Depression of 1929, but  Japan's Finance Minister, Takahashi Korekiyo,  

  • would start working to devalue the currency  and to provide economic relief, measures that  

  • would be very successful. The four major Zaibatsu  also managed to avoid great losses in the panic,  

  • leading to their domination over every field  of Japanese industry in the following years.  

  • In the countryside, the establishment of  nohonshugi organizations led to the emergence  

  • of emperor-centered ultranationalism and Japanese  fascism. The nohonshugi won increasing support  

  • because they offered solutions to the economic  problems of the rural countryside: it was their  

  • practical program of cooperatives and credit  associations, not their ideology, that accounted  

  • for their growing popularity and local influence. This new Japanese nationalism leaned on the  

  • Bushidō moral code and the idea of racial  superiority over other Asian nations.  

  • It was aimed against Western criticism and  restrictions on Japanese immigration. In the  

  • military itself, an ultranationalist faction known  as the Kōdōha was formed by General Sadao Araki,  

  • seeking to purge the corruption in the government  by establishing a militaristic administration run  

  • by Emperor Hirohito himself. Moreover, the Kōdōha  disliked modernization and the economic control of  

  • the Zaibatsu, and also wanted to crush communism  once and for all by attacking the Soviet Union  

  • and expanding into Siberia. Opposed to them was  the more moderateseiha faction, which was also  

  • right-wing, but acknowledged that the IJA needed  the support of the Zaibatsu and the continuation  

  • of a modernization process to wage global war. Meanwhile in Manchuria, the Kwantung Army had  

  • been established back in 1919 to defend the  Liaodong Peninsula and the South Manchurian  

  • Railway. In the following decade, this army would  become a stronghold for the Kōdōha, advocating for  

  • a more aggressive expansionist policy in mainland  Asia and going so far as to plot the assassination  

  • of the Manchurian warlord Zhang Zuolin. In 1931,  seeking the perfect excuse to expand into the  

  • rich region of Manchuria, the Kwantung leaders  purposely sabotaged the Japanese-controlled  

  • railway to blame the Chinese garrison nearby  and thus start a conflict in the region.  

  • On September 18, the plan of the Kwantung Army  was executed and the Mukden Incident soon sparked  

  • a full-blown Japanese Invasion of Manchuria. Soonevery city along the South Manchurian Railway fell  

  • into Japanese hands, and by October, the Kwantung  Army had occupied the Jilin, Taonan, Yanbian and  

  • Eastern Liaoning areas. Although initially shocked  by the insubordination, the government was now  

  • impressed by the quick victories in Manchuria and  was starting to send reinforcements on their way.  

  • In the following months, the Jiangqiao and  Jinzhou Campaigns secured the Western Liaoning  

  • and Qiqihar areas, and the fall of Harbin finally  destroyed the remaining resistance in the region.  

  • With Manchuria firmly under Japanese controlthe Kwantung army established the Manchukuo  

  • puppet state and started a pacification  campaign that allowed them to control the  

  • political administration of this new stateDespite its insubordination, the Kwantung  

  • Army would be rewarded for its great successestablishing a new era of gekokujo inside the IJA.  

  • In response to the Western condemnation  of the Japanese aggression, the League  

  • of Nations ordered the Lytton Commission to  investigate the incident, which prompted Japan  

  • to exit the League of Nations, a decision that was  influenced by the military and the nationalists

  • By 1933, Takahashi's policies had managed to bring  Japan to an economic recovery; but the next year,  

  • the Finance Minister reduced military  spending to avoid inflation, which resulted  

  • in a strong negative response from the strong  militaristic fascism that was rising in Japan.  

  • As the military's dominance over the government  continued to grow after the May 15 Incident,  

  • the country saw the emergence of right-wing  admirals that wanted unlimited naval growth  

  • and the Empire started to dream about a Greater  East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. From 1933 to 1936,  

  • the Japanese would use proxy armies in Inner  Mongolia with the objective of creating a  

  • Mongolian buffer state next to Manchukuo. The  successes in the provinces of Jehol and Chahar  

  • allowed for the establishment of the Inner  Mongolian Autonomous Government, a Japanese puppet  

  • state under the rule of Prince DemchugdongrubSince 1934, the retirement of General Araki led  

  • to the decline in influence of the Kōdōha factionculminating in the February 26 Incident of 1936,  

  • an attempted coup d'état by Kōdōha followers. The  coup resulted in the death of several government  

  • members andseiha followers, including  Minister Takahashi and Generaltarō Watanabe,  

  • yet Hirohito opposed the coup and the uprising was  crushed after two days. The following months saw  

  • the purging of the Kōdōha, the abandonment of  the London Naval Treaty and a rise of tensions  

  • with China that would inevitably lead to war. Next week our coverage of the prelude to the  

  • Pacific War will continue - we are going  to turn to the other side of the Pacific  

  • to look at the United States, its objectives in  East Asia and the consequences of World War I,  

  • so make sure you are subscribed and have pressed  the bell button to see the next video in the