History of the Empire

Meiji restoration to the Second Sino-Japanese war

The foundations of what would become the Empire of the Rising were layed during a period in Japanese history known as the Meiji Restoration, which took place between the years of 1868 and 1889. It abolished the old Tokogawa shogunate and with it the shogun system of government which had ruled Japan for over half a millennium, installing a new imperial rule under the Emperor Meiji, after whom the time period is known.

Above:The promulgation of the Meiji Constitution.

Following Commodore Perry's forceful opening of Japan to the world, ending the Sakoku "Locked country" period in Japanese history, during which no Japanese person was allowed to leave the country, nor was any forigner allowed to enter, apart from a tiny trading port off Nagasaki where some European countries were allowed to visit and trade. The Americans "Gunboat diplomacy" and subsequent forcing of the Shogunate to sign a series of "Unequal treaties" brought around the realisation of the Japanese that their two and a half centuries in isolation from the world had seen the rest of the world advance technologically and industrially in leaps and bounds, leaving Japan with the very technology and industry which it had possessed the very day the country closed its borders to the world. This very swiftly became one of the key objectives of the Meiji restoration, the industrialisation and modernisation of Japan. Anf this would be achieved, with the so called "Honourable restoration" becoming officially the fastest modernisation of any country to date.

The But not all in the land of the rising sun agreed with this change. With the modernisation came the effective abolishment of the old class system, including the so recently powerful, prestigious and respected Samuri class. The Samuri were understandably unhappy with this and that lead to a series of rebellions by the Samuri and other shogunte reformests. The largest of which were the Boshin war and the later Satsuma rebellion, the former of which was a full scale civil war accross the country, resulting in a victory of the Meiji government. The Satsuma rebellion could be considered the last effort by the Samuri, occuring nine years into the new imperial rule, it was to be in vain and the Samuri made a famed final stand Shiroyama under Saigō Takamori, who is widely considered the last true Samuri. In the end, all of the rebellions were eventually put down by the Emperors new Imperial Army, created with western assistance from the French through a number of French military missions. Although as time passed, the Japanese began to take more of an interest to the Prussian army after the famed Franco-Prussian war. An Imperial Navy was also consolidated out of what few ships the Japanese found at their disposal at the beginning of the Boshin war.

Above: Chikanobu - A painting of a scene during the Satsuma Rebellion.

The solidification of Imperial control over Japan saw the eyes of its leaders turn very quickly to the countries neighbours. The First Sino-Japanese war was the first real test of Japanese strength, with a victory resulting in the first forigen territories incoperated into the empire, the island of Formosa (Now Taiwan) and the Liaodong Peninsula, the later of which Japanese forces were pressured to withdraw from by Western powers before long. It also brought Korea under the Japanese sphere of influence, a state of affairs which would have great implications in the future. The empire had flexed its muscles, and it wan't stopping there.

During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the largest contingent of forces would be Japanese. But not until 1904 would Japan truely enter the world stage, because tensions between Russia and the Empire had been rising over the claims of both sides over Manchuria and Korea. It was in the following conflict, the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, that Japan shocked the world after doing something never thought possible, an Asian nation beating a European nation. The conflict saw the solidification of Japanese control over Korea, as well as the territories of Southern Sakhalin Island and part of the illusive Liaodong peninsula added to the Empire. In 1910, Korea was officially annexed by Japan, bringing yet more territory under the land of the Rising Sun.

Left: This map shows the boundaries and major cities of the Empire of Japan at the time it entered the First World War in 1914.

Not long after the annexation of Korea, Emperor Meiji died in 1912, his successor being Emperor Taisho, bringing an end to the glorious Meiji era, and the dawn of the Taisho era. Not long into this, the First World war began. Japan entered the war on the side of the Allies, seizing the opportunity of Germany's distraction with the European War to expand its sphere of influence in China and the Pacific. And thats exactly what they did. Japanese and allied British forces soon moved to occupy Tsingtao and other German bases in China's Shandong Province as well as the Marianas, Caroline, and Marshall Islands in the Pacific, of which the names of some of these tiny islands would become famous in another war, some 30 years into the future.

During the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, Japan was given a seat next to the big four; Italy, the United States, Britain and France. The big four dominated negotiations, with Japan gained the German territories in the Pacific, but upon making what it called the "Racial Equality Proposal", which did recive a majority of votes as well as no official opposition, it was swept under the carpet by President Theodore Roosevelt. This only served to further isolate Japan from the Western powers, with the Japanese media fully covered the progress of the conference, which led to the alienation of public opinion towards the US and would foreshadow later, broader conflicts.

Right: A 1936 children's yearbook or almanac used by children in colonial period in Taiwan, then Formosa. In the picture we can see the overseas territories of Japan outlined in red, with Korea, Taiwan, part of the Liaodong peninsula, South Sakhalin, the Kuril and Ryuku islands as well as all of the other island chains throughout the pacific present. Note also Manchukuo, the Japanese puppet state of Manchuria, depicted as an independent nation.

While this was happening, Japanese forces were becoming increasingly involved in the Siberian Invervention, with an eventual number in excess of 70,000 troops being involved in the Russian civil war. Emperor Yoshihito's death in 1926 brought an end to the Taisho era, with his son Hirohito taking the throne, beginning the Showa era, the era which would see the climax and eventual fall of the Empire of Japan.

The inter-war period in Japan was a time of political, social and military unrest. Both the Imperial Army and Navy saw their leadership ranks divided into factions, all of whom had diffrent ideas about which military direction was the correct path for their beloved nation. This division among the staff resulted in a number of military coups by different factions over the years leading up to 1936, in which a failed coup by radical young officers of the Kodoha (Imperial Way) faction, one of the two large factions of the Army at the time, and it saw the subsequent loss of influence of the faction, leaving the Tōseiha (Control) faction to dominate the Imperial Army's decisions over the critical coming years. But thats in the future. Let us head back to 1931 and the Mukden Incident.

The so called "Mukden Incident" was the excuse used by the Japanese to justify their invasion of Manchuria, northern China. It began in late 1931, when the Kwantung Army invaded Manchuria immediately following the Incident, when Japanese officers on the ground staged the bombing of the South Manchurian railway, to which Japan had rights. They used this to justify a full invasion and take over of the resource rich Chinese province. At the war's end in February 1932, the Japanese established the puppet state of Manchukuo. The Mukden incident was the final straw of the civillian government of Japan, as the operation was conducted by the Kwantung army officers on the ground, with no consultation was made to the military let along the civillian government, and the governent in Tokyo proved to have no power over the rouge army in Northern China.

Above: Japanese troops entering Shenyang during the Mukden Incident. Above: Japanese experts inspect the "sabotaged" South Manchurian Railway.

And that was only the beginning of Japanese expansion in China. Tensions between the two nations only grew, and in July 1937, Japan launched a full-scale military invasion of China. The beginning of the war is conventionally dated to the Marco Polo Bridge Incident on 7 July 1937, when a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops in Peking (Modern day Beijing) escalated into a full-scale invasion. This full-scale war between the Chinese and the Empire of Japan is by some regarded as the beginning of World War II in Asia. The conflict in China would very quickly prove that it would not be the short, decisive war desired by the Imperial Army, rather a drawn out war of attrition. It was in this style of warfare that the Japanese Army staff new they could not hope to achieve victory, pushing them to pursue more radical and expansionist options to end the conflict in China, such as the acquisition of vital war materials through expansion into South East Asia.

And there at last my friends, is a short history of the Empire of Japan leading up to the Pacific war, a history of how Japan was where it was 1936 and '39, the years during which one can take control of the Empire in Hearts of Iron IV.