Across the seas, a corpse in the wavesThe Dai Nippon Teikoku (Great Japanese Empire) was the political entity that ran Japan from 1868 to 1945. It was also known as "Dai-tou-a Kyoueiken" (Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere). The Greater Japanese Empire arose after the end of The Tokugawa Era, when Japan was wracked with two civil warsnote and casually battered by British ships after the murder of a businessman who failed to bow to a Samurai. The last Shogun of the House of Tokugawa was pressured to resign by the Domains of Satsuma and Chōshū, which first routed his armies and then declared their allegiance to the fifteen-year-old Emperor in preference to him. Crowned as the Emperor 'Meiji', the first years of his reign saw further conflict in the Boshin War of 1868-1869 - Satsuma-Choshu realized that the Tokugawa stepping down was not enough to ensure their control given that a third of the country's best land was the Tokugawa's private property. So they seized it and made it and the entire country - together with their own Domains - a single administrative unit under the Emperor. For the first time Japan was a nation-state in anything more than in name only. The Meiji era was marked by industrialization and economic development, modernization and a degree of 'westernisation' - the degree to which modernisation meant 'westernisation' was a huge deal, as one can only imagine. Culturally, Japan's earlier flirtations with Chinese culture had done something to prepare its people for this kind of change - but the radical restructuring of society that came with modernisation was something that no tradition of cultural assimilation could prepare them for, and left many people wondering what exactly it meant to be Japanese - thus, the fierce debates over 'Nipponjinron' - 'ideas of Japanese-ness'. The fairly sudden modernisation affected almost all areas of Japanese society - language, etiquette, clothing, laws and law enforcement, etc. The new Imperial administration expanded the Tokugawa's programme of sending observers and students to European nation-states (and the USA) to observe and learn their practices, and also hired foreign advisors - specialists in a plethora of technical fields - to staff their own colleges and universities. The new judicial system and constitution were largely modeled on those of Germany, for instance, because the formerly-of-Satsuma-and-Choshu ruling clique liked the idea of a strong Imperial Government and Military with rubber-stamp democratic assemblies. Also, their previous model—the French Second Empire—had had its ass thoroughly handed to it in the Franco-Prussian War at about the same time; obviously, the Prussian model was a winning one. Naturally, the government outlawed customs linked to Japan's feudal past - such as the bearing of weapons and top knot hairstyle, both of which were privileges of the nobility (think 'Samurai') - which was itself abolished along with the class system (of Nobles-Warriors, Artisans/Farmers and then Untouchables, in that order). Together with economic and administrative grievances, these policies saw the outbreak of Rebellion in the former Satsuma domain, led by Saigo Takamori; his last stand at the Battle of Shiroyama in 1877 effectively put the days of the Samurai to an end. It is during the Meiji era that Japan established itself as an international power and a colonial Empire. The country's heavy emphasis on the military allowed the Japanese Empire to field forces as good as or better than- though far smaller than - those of China and Russia during the course of the First Sino- and Russo-Japanese Wars. However, the Empire made good on her centralised command system, the abilities of her commanders, her slightly-better logistical situation and the internal political problems of her opponents, which saw her come out more-or-less on top in both engagements; though both her opponents had far larger forces, they could only deploy so many at a time due to a combination of internal politicking and simple logistics. At the strategic-tactical level, Japan's formations and flotillas were generally (far) better coordinated and more mobile than those of their more numerous foes. Sino-Japanese War saw relatively small but well-trained Japanese army and navy take on much larger, theoretically much better equipped (if only because China spent vast sums on buying up European weapons and ships, even if much funds were embezzled and their equipment were badly maintained), but rather poorly-trained Chinese forces. In principle, the Chinese intervened in Korea supposedly to prop up its government against peasant uprisings, contrary to previous agreement with the Japanese to mutually refrain from sending troops. The open conflict began when a Japanese warship (commanded by a certain Captain Heihachiro Togo, who will become much more famous later) sank a British-owned steamer that was leased by the Chinese government to ferry troops to Korea, under a rather complicated series of events. After a number of engagements in Korea and the Yellow Sea, the Chinese armies and fleets were in disarray and the Japanese were starting to invade Chinese mainland, forcing the Chinese to sue for peace. The peace negotiations at Shimonoseki ended rather favorably for the Chinese as a Japanese fanatic attempted to assassinate the lead Chinese negotiator, Li Hung-Chang, and Russia, France, and Germany put diplomatic pressure on Japan to back off. In the end, Japan gave up the territorial concessions on Chinese mainland that it had initially gained, but added Taiwan to its empire and increased political influence over Korea. Paying both the indemnities of the Sino-Japanese War and then the reparations from Boxer Rebellion on top of that were a huge drain upon the resources of the rather-weak and weakening central government of the Empire of the Qing - which, amazingly, continued to limp on for a few years yet until its final collapse and disintegration in the Revolution of 1911-12. On the other hand, the weakening and eventual disintegration of the Chinese central government established the unified nation-state of Japan as the new regional power in East Asia. There were a few ominous notes in all this, however. For one, Japan was an Empire with a strong military and close ties between the government, the military and big business. Second was the way Japan went about modernizing and responding to the interference of the colonial powers - via 'defensive Imperialism'. Take the Russo-Japanese war, for instance. Like the Sino-Japanese War, the war was basically fought over control of Korea; the Japanese claimed they were liberating it from foreign oppression. The Japanese started the war with a surprise-attack sea-based invasion of Russian Korea and China, which they launched without sea superiority. It was concluded when Japan made a negotiated peace with the Russian Empire, the negotiations being Theodore Roosevelt's personal initiative when it became clear that the War had ground to a stalemate that Russia could only win at a far higher cost than the Tsar was willing to pay. Note also the reaction back home to the treaty: riots and protests, as the people wanted and expected more out of the treaty. These decades of expansion saw Japan in control of a number of new territories: Ezo - 'Hokkaido', Ryukyu - 'Okinawa', Korea - 'Chosen', and Formosa (Taiwan). The unprecedented (conditional) defeat of a European Great Power by a non-European one startled many as Japan had been viewed as something of a backwater empire prior to that point. Prior to then, many had the impression that no matter how much Japan played copy-cat and styled herself after the Imperial powers, she would never truly be one of them because she was not of the same ("superior") European substance. However, the contest was not quite as uneven as it might appear at first glance. The Russian far east was at the end of a long and tenuous supply line. Far from the bright centers of St. Petersburg and Moscow it was properly viewed as a hardship and punishment post and its defenders were hardly numbered among their country's best soldiers. Also, the reinforcing Russian Baltic fleet had no choice but to try and fight their way through a Japanese blockade in a doomed attempt to reach their Pacific ports after sailing all the way around Africa (since Britain, Japan's ally in the West, refused to grant them passage through the Suez Canal). Still, few outside of Japan were prepared for just how quickly the Japanese were able to gain the upper hand; US President Theodore Roosevelt even publicly expressed admiration for them as "the plucky little guy" in the fight. To some extent the Russian Empire had also shot itself in the foot when, after using the unprovoked attack as a rallying point for imperialistic patriotism - to distract people from socio-economic problems - they appeared to have bungled the conduct of the war and then given in all too easily. Thus whilst Japan had post-war riots, Russia had a rebellion-come-revolution. The Russo-Japanese war also provided Europeans with their first proper glimpse of the (fanatical) bravery of the Imperial Japanese soldiery as well as their willingness to endure both grueling hardships and astonishingly heavy casualties in the frontal (infantry) assaults necessitated by their relative lack of artillery and machine guns. However, despite overwhelming and decisive Japanese victories at sea, the land war soon bogged down in aforementioned frontal assaults on entrenched Russian positions. Faced with a much more intractable conflict then they had bargained for, both sides accepted an American offer of mediation that culminated in the Treaty of Portsmouth. Under not-inconsiderable American-European pressure to give back most of the territory they had occupied, save Port Arthur (Lushun, the modern naval base at the southern tip of the Liaoning Peninsula that the Chinese had built in late 19th century, only to have lost it to Japan during the First Sino-Japanese War and to have the Russians take over as the price of diplomatically pressuring Japan to yield after that war) and its environs - it was a take-it-or-leave-it deal, as Russia was considering escalating (and quite probably winning) the War if the outcome looked particularly unfavourable - Japan acquiesced amidst nationalist protests and riots at home. In the long term the 'unfair' terms of the peace combined with the success of the military action - few within Japan knew how close the country had been to losing - to foster further anti-foreign sentiment and the feeling that the application of force was Japan's best foreign policy tool. The Meiji era was followed by the Taishō era (1912 - 1926) upon the establishment of the Taishō Emperor, Yoshihito, as ruler. The Taishō era is known as the "Taishō Democracy," as during this era that the lower house of the Diet (the House of Representatives) gained the upper hand in Japanese politics, and steps were made towards expanding the electorate (property qualifications were substantially reduced - although not eliminated - in 1925). Another significant event of the Taishō era was Japan's involvement in World War I where they, as allies of the British, seized many of the German-owned colonies in East Asia and Micronesia. (This time they were allowed to keep them under a League of Nations mandate.) The Japanese Empire was later invited by the United States to join the international force that was intervene in the Russian Civil War following the collapse of the Tsarist regime. The Japanese Expeditionary Force in Siberia was the largest single foreign force deployed, with Japan taking over the Russian concessions - including Port Arthur and key railway lines - in Chinese Manchuria. After the Allies withdrew from Vladivostok following the capture and execution of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, leader of the White Russian Army, the Japanese elected to stay on. This was essentially down to a fear of Communism effectively on their doorstep; some had hopes that they would be able to establish a Siberian puppet-state as a buffer to help protect the Empire. The continued Japanese presence concerned the USA, who were increasingly wary of what they saw as Japanese expansionism - which they considered a bad thing, even in the more-civilised European powers. Although Japan later withdrew due to risings costs and diplomatic pressure - amidst further rioting and public disorder back home, as the deployment of so many troops overseas had caused a domestic rice shortage which compounded the people's disappointment and anger at being ordered around by the foreign powers - the United States and Britain were much more wary about Japanese territorial ambitions after that point. Britain's chosen approach was to gradually disengage from the political side of Imperialism in the Far East, increasingly leaving 'formal Imperialism' (where you plant flags in places and call them yours) to Japan. France, whose interests in Asia were fewer but more formal - as per French Indochine - did much the same in its approach to China at least. The USA, which had always preferred to leave China open to trade from all countries,note settled for watching this business from afar and condemning it in increasingly more patronising and adversarial language. It should be noted that in many of these wars and conflicts, the European powers praised the Japanese for their conduct during the war. Many Russian and German prisoners found Japanese forces to be quite gentlemanly, and such prisoners were treated quite well until their release. Some German prisoners even emigrated to Japan after the First World War having become enamored with the Japanese due to the excellent treatment they received as prisoners. The Koreans and Manchurian Chinese, however, present a much more critical view of Japan during this time period, although it is agreed that, overall, the Japanese Imperial forces behaved with restraint—especially in comparison with how they behaved later. Note, however, that the reign of the Emperor Taisho saw no real changes to either the constitution or the structure of the government. The achievements of 'Taisho Democracy' were ultimately ephemeral, limited as they were by a system which strongly favoured - and saw a return to - a government dominated by the military and the bureaucracy. (It should be noted that historians also note that Yoshihito had to have his advisers make most of his decisions, since he was mentally deficient from being inbred.) With the accession of the Emperor 'Showa' in 1926, the Japanese Empire went through the Great Depression. The radicalising of politics met with military, government and big business interests - all of which overlapped because of the way the country had developed since the accession of the Emperor Meiji - to produce the kurai tanima (the Dark Valley), a dark era of militaristic fascist note Imperialism that lasted from around 1930 until 1945. The whole society was taken over by a militaristic frenzy—the traditional Japanese self-restraint seemed to shatter completely. This increasing militarization fueled imperial ambitions and resulted in massive conscription to rapidly inflate the size of the armed forces. Rapid modernization had also resulted in a population boom and considerable social upheaval, particularly in rural Japan. Conscription also presented a solution to popular unrest by drafting dispossessed, unemployed, and rootless younger sons—the most likely potential troublemakers— into the military. To compensate for these social forces a brutal disciplinary doctrine — ostensibly based on that of the samurai, in reality based on a very selective interpretation of samurai values — was adopted by the leaders. Historians usually point to the adoption of torture to 'toughen' soldiers up and keep them in-line as the ultimate source of Japanese brutality during the Second Sino-Japanese and Second World Wars as per the principle of 'knock-on aggression'note . Once a ready supply of 'logs' was made available thanks to the capture of Chinese troops and urban centers from 1937 onwards, it is worth noting that making new recruits murder civilians or PO Ws note to 'blood' them was made standard practice. The Second Sino-Japanese War was the result of Japanese gung-ho militarism - though not in the sense one might expect. It was actually Chinese nationalism, which had been incensed by Japan's actions in particular since the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 and the seizure of the warlord Zhang Xueliang's territorynote in 1931, that sparked the latest round of border-incidents in the summer of 1937 into a full-blown war. Ironically, figures within the Imperial General Staff and Army had in 1937 just begun to appreciate the fact that antagonising Chiang Kai-Shek's anti-socialist party-state was unproductive given the mutual threat posed by Soviet Russia. Do note that "The Manchurian Incident", an older and highly euphemistic Japanese name for the latter, is considered highly offensive by the Chinese and is subject to Kotobagari because: #1 it implies that the IJA's actions were in some way legitimate and #2 it implies that 'the Three Eastern/Northern Provinces' and their people have a claim to semi-autonomy/independence). This was followed up by such incidents as the Battle of Shanghai (1932) and ongoing economic warfare in Northern China, where the Japanese military tried to undermine the Chinese Nationalists' central government by supporting regional (separatist) warlords and smuggling huge quantities of goods either banned (i.e. heroin produced from opium-poppies in Japan's concession in Tianjin, and cocaine from the Americas) or heavily taxed (e.g. medium-quality cigarettes). After four years of brutal, seemingly-endless regular and partisan warfare, it eventually merged into the whole mess that was World War II. Japanese forces were involved in disgusting war crimes - primarily involving Prisoners of War and civilians - which in the space of two years blackened what had until then been a fairly good reputation. Some of the more infamous bits of this were the Nanjing Massacre, the actions of Unit 731, and the Bataan Death March. The Other Wiki has a page on it. However, it's worth noting that Japanese forces only directly killed half a million or so Chinese civilians and a couple of million combatants and PO Ws. The other 10-20 million merely died of starvation-related diseases due to the seizure of crops, displacement of populationsnote . Note also the USA's reaction to Japanese wartime atrocities - disapproval, and the placing of hard-hitting sanctions on strategic materials to bring the Japanese to heel (as the U.S. had already done thrice before - pressuring Japan, that is, not sanctioning her) directly led to them lashing out in an offensive to take all of south-east Asia, inclusive of the American Philippines. Caught up in this would be the day that has (together with the dropping of the Atomic Bombs) in most Americans' opinions defined most/all prior and subsequent US-Japanese relations: the day the Imperial Navy attacked the US Pacific Fleet at anchor in Hawaii. Mostly forgotten between the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II were the Soviet–Japanese Border Wars, a series of border conflicts between Japan and the Soviet Union between 1938 and 1939. While the Japanese Empire went into the conflicts with the confidence of their victory in the Russo-Japanese War, the relatively well-equipped Red Army of the USSR would prove to be a much tougher nut to crack. This conflict showed clearly how badly outdated and outclassed the Imperial Japanese Army was in terms of unit-organisation and equipment — especially when it came to armoured vehicles. Japan was not only without dedicated armoured-brigades, as per the French Army's example, but they were also short on tanks and moreover, what tanks they 'did' have were unbelievably rubbish even compared to the Soviet Union's shitty pre-T-34 and KV-1 models. The Soviet-Japanese border conflicts culminated in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, which resulted in a decisive Soviet victory and the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact. The latter would be the reason why there was little Soviet-Japanese conflict for most of World War II. The Soviets would later break the pact and invade Japanese-held Manchuria on August 9, 1945, less than a week before the Japanese surrender. Ironically, Imperial Japan actually managed to achieve one of its goals of the war because it effectively ended European domination over Asia. This excuses neither the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan nor its true intention, which was to supplant European imperialism with its own. "Asia for Asians" may have been the slogan that the Imperial Japanese government used throughout Asia, but in practice it was more often interpreted as "Asia for Ourselves", and local populations who may have welcomed the Japanese as liberators were quickly disabused of these notions by their so-called benefactors' predilections for exploitation, genocide, racism and cruelty. While the true toll can never be tallied, it's estimated that anywhere between 30 and 50 million people died under the "customary brutality" of Japanese military occupation and the associated famines and epidemics, most of the casualties being civilians. It was at this point that the Empire adopted the term "Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere" to collectively refer to those nations thus "freed" (albeit free in name only) and run by puppet governments. To prevent a second Treaty of Versailles, and because Japan was needed as an ally against the emerging communist regimes in Asia, America was very soft on Japan after the surrender. Additionally, several senior Japanese officers who weren't involved in war crimes were nonetheless tried, convicted, and executed on trumped-up charges primarily to avenge the humiliating defeats they had inflicted on U.S. and British forces during the early stages of the war, leading some Japanese to dismiss those war crimes trials that did occur as "victors' justice." It is sometimes claimed that unlike Germany, which as a nation apologized for the actions of the Nazis in Europe, Japan has never formally apologized to the Asian nations that were invaded by the Japanese armies. Though there have been several apologies from the country's (Prime) Ministers. Japan has also paid over 300 billion Yen in war reparations to the nation-states it occupied, with some formal apologizes to former POWs by a few Japanese ambassadors. However, the lack of a Japanese counterpart of "Denazification" and (extremely) cautious treatment of the mention of the subject in school textbooks makes Asians that lived through the Japanese occupation continue to see the Japanese as generally unrepentant and being possessed of a disgustingly cavalier attitude toward the actions of their grandparents' and great-grandparents' generation. It should however be noted that virtually all Japanese school history textbooks do describe Japanese war atrocities (and in particular, the Rape of Nanking), and despite the recent attempt by the right-wing Society for History Textbook Reform to introduce a textbook omitting/casting doubt on the Nanking Massacre, comfort women, and general colonial nastiness, widespread protests and denunciation by the Japanese Teachers' Union led to the book being introduced in a measly 18 of the country's 11,000+ junior high schools. There's plenty of controversy about post-war Japan, ranging from attempted whitewashing of history in some Japanese textbooks and a lack of focus on the country's actions during World War 2, and ultranationalist revisionist movements that claim Japan did nothing wrong and vehemently deny Japanese war crimes. All this has led to lingering resentments against Japan, particularly in China and Korea. These tensions flare up somewhat often, like in recent disputes over the resource-rich Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Note that Japan is the only country that still has an Emperor (but importantly, Japan itself post-1947 is no longer an empire; unlike the remaining European monarchs, the Emperor officially has no powers, and takes no role in government at all).
Across the mountains, a corpse in the fields
I shall die only for the Emperor
I shall never look back.
—"If I Go Away to Sea", a song of the Imperial Japanese armed forces.
Below are described the important figures of Showa Period Imperial Japan (up to 1945).
Imperial Japan in Anime
Imperial Japan in other media