Japanese militarism

Antoine Destutt de Tracy (1754–1836)

Equal to the strength of a nation.

- Japanese militarism

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Empire of Japan

Historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 until the enactment of the post-World War II 1947 constitution and subsequent formation of modern Japan.

The Empire of Japan at its peak in 1942:
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The Naval Battle of Hakodate, May 1869; in the foreground, and of the Imperial Japanese Navy
The Empire of Japan at its peak in 1942:
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Prominent members of the Iwakura mission. Left to right: Kido Takayoshi, Yamaguchi Masuka, Iwakura Tomomi, Itō Hirobumi, Ōkubo Toshimichi
Emperor Meiji, the 122nd emperor of Japan
Ōura Church, Nagasaki
Interior of the Japanese Parliament, showing the Prime Minister speaking addressing the House of Peers, 1915
Prince Aritomo Yamagata, who was twice Prime Minister of Japan. He was one of the main architects of the military and political foundations of early modern Japan.
Baron Masuda Tarokaja, a member of the House of Peers (Kazoku). His father, Baron Masuda Takashi, was responsible for transforming Mitsui into a zaibatsu.
The Tokyo Industrial Exhibition, 1907 (Mitsubishi pavilion and Exhibition halls)
Marunouchi District in 1920, looking towards the Imperial Palace
A 1-yen banknote, 1881
Thomas Blake Glover was a Scottish merchant in Bakumatsu and received Japan's second highest order from Emperor Meiji in recognition of his contributions to Japan's industrialization.
Prince Katsura Tarō, thrice Prime Minister and the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan. Katsura commanded the IJA 3rd Division under his mentor, Field Marshal Yamagata Aritomo, during the First Sino-Japanese War.
Map of the Japanese Empire in 1895. This map was issued shortly after the Japanese invasion of Taiwan and is consequently one of the first Japanese maps to include Taiwan as a possession of Imperial Japan.
Marquess Komura Jutaro, 1911. Komura became Minister for Foreign Affairs under the first Katsura administration, and signed the Boxer Protocol on behalf of Japan.
French illustration of a Japanese assault on entrenched Russian troops during the Russo-Japanese War
Japanese riflemen during the Russo-Japanese War
Count Tadasu Hayashi was the resident minister to the United Kingdom. While serving in London from 1900, he worked to successfully conclude the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and signed on behalf of the government of Japan on January 30, 1902.
Port Arthur viewed from the Top of Gold Hill, after its capitulation in 1905. From left are the wrecks of Russian pre-dreadnought battleships Peresvet, Poltava, Retvizan, Pobeda and the protected cruisers Pallada
Emperor Taishō, the 123rd emperor of Japan
Topographic map of the Empire of Japan in November, 1918
Native Micronesian constables of Truk Island, circa 1930. Truk became a possession of the Empire of Japan under a mandate from the League of Nations following Germany's defeat in World War I.
Commanding Officers and Chiefs of Staff of the Allied Military Mission to Siberia, Vladivostok during the Allied Intervention
Groundbreaking ceremony of Ginza Line, the oldest subway line in Asia, 1925. Front row, right to left: Rudolf Briske, Noritsugu Hayakawa, Furuichi Kōi, Ryutaro Nomura.
Count Itagaki Taisuke is credited as being the first Japanese party leader and an important force for liberalism in Meiji Japan.
Count Katō Komei, the 14th Prime Minister of Japan from June 11, 1924, until his death on January 28, 1926
Emperor Shōwa during an Army inspection on January 8, 1938
Tokyo Kaikan was requisitioned as the meeting place for members of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (Taisei Yokusankai) in the early days.
Japanese Pan-Asian writer Shūmei Ōkawa
Rebel troops assembling at police headquarters during the February 26 Incident
A bank run during the Shōwa financial crisis, March 1927
National Diet Building, 1930
Political map of the Asia-Pacific region, 1939
Japanese troops entering Shenyang, Northeast China during the Mukden Incident, 1931
The Japanese occupation of Peiping (Beijing) in China, on August 13, 1937. Japanese troops are shown passing from Peiping into the Tartar City through Zhengyangmen, the main gate leading onward to the palaces in the Forbidden City.
IJN Special Naval Landing Forces armed with the Type 11 Light Machine Gun during the Battle of Shanghai, 1937
Signing ceremony for the Axis Powers Tripartite Pact
Founding ceremony of the Hakkō ichiu (All the world under one roof) monument in 1940
A map of the Japanese advance from 1937 to 1942
Victorious Japanese troops march through the city center of Singapore following the city's capture in February 1942 (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)
Imperial Japanese Army paratroopers are landing during the Battle of Palembang, February 13, 1942.
A model representing the attack by dive bombers from USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) on the Japanese aircraft carriers, and in the morning of June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway
Group of Type 2 Ka-Mi tanks on board of 2nd class transporter of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1944–1945
The rebuilt battlecruiser sank at her moorings in the naval base of Kure on July 24 during a series of bombings.
The Japanese archipelago and the Korean Peninsula in 1945 (National Geographic)
A drawing depicting a speech in the Imperial Japanese Diet on November 1, 1945, the end of the Second World War. In the foreground there are several Allied soldiers watching the proceedings from the back of the balcony.
From left to right: Marshal Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō (1848–1934), Field Marshal Oku Yasukata (1847–1930), Marshal Admiral Yoshika Inoue (1845–1929), Field Marshal Kageaki Kawamura (1850–1926), at the unveiling ceremony of bronze statue of Field Marshal Iwao Ōyama
Population density map of the Empire of Japan (1920).
Population density map of the Empire of Japan (1940).
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan
Flag of the Japanese Emperor

Economic and political turmoil in the 1920s, including the Great Depression, led to the rise of militarism, nationalism and totalitarianism as embodied in the Showa Statism ideology, eventually culminating in Japan's membership in the Axis alliance and the conquest of a large part of the Asia-Pacific in World War II.

Yamagata Aritomo

Senior-ranking Japanese military commander, twice-elected Prime Minister of Japan, and a leading member of the genrō, an élite group of senior statesmen who dominated Japan after the Meiji Restoration.

Yamagata in his early years
Field Marshal Yamagata (c.1898).
Yamagata during his years as Prime Minister
Prince Katsura Tarō, thrice Prime Minister of Japan. He was Yamagata's protégé and close ally.
Prince Yamagata Aritomo in his later years.

For this reason, some historians consider Yamagata to be the “father” of Japanese militarism.


Period in the history of Japan dating from 30 July 1912 to 25 December 1926, coinciding with the reign of the Emperor Taishō.

Emperor Taisho (1900)
Emperor Taishō in 1912
The Japan Times front page about the coronation of Emperor Taishō and Empress Teimei (15 September 1915)
Map of the Empire of Japan in November 1918
Japanese occupation of the Russian city of Khabarovsk during the Russian Civil War, 1919
1920 photo with a view of the Mitsubishi headquarters in Marunouchi, looking towards the Imperial Palace
Kofu city hall building of the second. Taken in 1918.

Thus, the era is considered the time of the liberal movement known as Taisho Democracy; it is usually distinguished from the preceding chaotic Meiji period and the following militaristic-driven first part of the Shōwa period.

Ministry of the Army

The cabinet-level ministry in the Empire of Japan charged with the administrative affairs of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA).

The ability of the Imperial Japanese Army to refuse to nominate an Army Minister gave it effective veto power over the formation (or continuation) of any civilian administration, and was a key factor in the erosion of representative democracy and the rise of Japanese militarism.

Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff

The highest organ within the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Imperial Japanese Navy HQ, 1930s

However the Navy General Staff came to be dominated by the Fleet faction, and gradually gained ascendancy in the 1930s with increasing Japanese militarism.

Shōwa (1926–1989)

The Shōwa era (昭和) refers to the period of Japanese history corresponding to the reign of Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) from December 25, 1926 until his death on January 7, 1989.

Emperor Shōwa (1928)
The National Diet Building, where both houses of the National Diet of Japan meet, was completed in early Shōwa era (1936).
Maximum extent of the Japanese colonial empire
Japanese Emperor Hirohito as head of the Imperial General Headquarters on 29 April 1943
A map of the Japanese advance from 1937 to 1942
Hideki Tōjō (right) and Nobusuke Kishi, October 1943
Japanese Emperor Hirohito and U.S. President Ronald Reagan

Japanese ultra-nationalists viewed this as an attempt by Western powers to curb Japanese expansionism in an area of the globe over which they had no interest.

Mukden Incident

False flag event staged by Japanese military personnel as a pretext for the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

FT-17 tanks captured by the Japanese after the September 18th Incident, September 19, 1931.
Japanese soldiers of 29th Regiment on the Mukden West Gate
Japanese experts inspect the "sabotaged" South Manchurian Railway.
A section of the Liǔtiáo Railway. The caption reads "railway fragment".
Chinese delegate addresses the League of Nations after the Mukden Incident in 1932.
The September 18th History Museum in Shenyang

However, after the Japanese Minister of War Jirō Minami dispatched Major General Yoshitsugu Tatekawa to Manchuria for the specific purpose of curbing the insubordination and militarist behavior of the Kwantung Army, Itagaki and Ishiwara knew that they no longer had the luxury of waiting for the Chinese to respond to provocations, but had to stage their own.


Concept in the Japanese language translatable as "system of government", "sovereignty", "national identity, essence and character", "national polity; body politic; national entity; basis for the Emperor's sovereignty; Japanese constitution" or nation.

The nationalistic essence of kokutai is thought of as the uniqueness of the Japanese polity as issuing from a leader of divine origin.

Many conservatives supported these principles as central to Nihon shugi (Nihon gunkoku shugi, Japanese militarism), "Japanism", as an alternative to rapid Westernization.

Japanese war crimes

Bodies of victims along the Qinhuai River, out of Nanjing's west gate during the Nanking Massacre
Chinese civilians being buried alive by Japanese troops.
Japanese bayonet practice against a dead Chinese prisoner near Tianjin.
Samurai warriors of the Chosyu clan, during the Boshin War period of the 1860s.
Japanese illustration depicting the beheading of Chinese captives during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.
Two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda competing to see who could kill (with a sword) one hundred people first. The headline reads, "'Incredible Record' (in the Contest to Decapitate 100 People)—Mukai 106 – 105 Noda—Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings".
An Australian POW, Sgt. Leonard Siffleet, captured in New Guinea, about to be beheaded by a Japanese officer with a guntō, 1943.
The USS Arizona burning during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hsuchow, China, 1938. A mass grave filled with bodies of Chinese civilians, murdered by Japanese soldiers.
A hypothermia experiment, using Chinese prisoners as subjects under surveillance by Japanese soldiers in 731.
Shirō Ishii, commander of Unit 731.
Unit 731 members spraying a noxious substance onto a victim as part of their research.
A burial detail of American and Filipino POWs killed during the Bataan Death March, 1942.
A blindfolded Doolittle Raider taken captive in 1942.
Australian and Dutch prisoners of war at Tarsau in Thailand, 1943.
Japanese soldiers escorting Chinese forced-labour farm workers, 1937.
General Tomoyuki Yamashita (2nd right) on trial in 1945 by a U.S. military commission for the Manila massacre and other violations in Singapore. He was sentenced to death. The case set a precedent (the "Yamashita Standard") on the responsibility of commanders for war crimes.
Sergeant Hosotani Naoji of the Kempeitai unit at Sandakan (North Borneo), is interrogated on 26 October 1945, by Squadron Leader F.G. Birchall of the Royal Australian Air Force, and Sergeant Mamo (a Nisei interpreter). Naoji confessed to shooting two Australian POWs and five ethnic Chinese civilians.
In Singapore, a hooded Lieutenant Nakamura is led to the scaffold after being found guilty of beheading an Indian soldier on the Palau Islands, March 1946.
Hideki Tōjō and Nobusuke Kishi, who was imprisoned as a war criminal.
Member of the right-wing revisionist group "Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform" putting up a banner reading "[Give] the children correct history textbooks" in front of the Yasukuni Jinja.

War crimes were committed by the Empire of Japan in many Asian-Pacific countries during the period of Japanese imperialism, primarily during the Second Sino-Japanese and Pacific Wars.


The 124th emperor of Japan, ruling from 25 December 1926 until his death in 1989.

The Emperor in 1935
Hirohito in 1902 as an infant
Emperor Taishō's four sons in 1921: Hirohito, Takahito, Nobuhito and Yasuhito
The Crown Prince watches a boat race at Oxford University in the UK in 1921
In May 1921, he visited Edinburgh, Scotland
Prince Hirohito and British Prime Minister Lloyd George, 1921
Prince Hirohito and his wife, Princess Nagako, in 1924
Imperial Standard as Emperor
Emperor Hirohito after his enthronement ceremony in 1928, dressed in sokutai
The Emperor on his favorite white horse Shirayuki (lit. 'white-snow')
Emperor Hirohito riding Shirayuki during an Army inspection on 8 January 1938
The Emperor as head of the Imperial General Headquarters on 29 April 1943
The Emperor with his wife Empress Kōjun and their children on 7 December 1941
Emperor Hirohito on the battleship Musashi, 24 June 1943.
Gaetano Faillace's photograph of General MacArthur and the Emperor at Allied General Headquarters in Tokyo, 27 September 1945
Emperor Hirohito visiting Hiroshima in 1947. The domed Hiroshima Peace Memorial can be seen in the background.
US President Richard Nixon with Emperor Shōwa and Empress Kōjun in Anchorage (27 September 1971)
Emperor Shōwa and Empress Kōjun arriving in the Netherlands (8 October 1971).
The Empress, First Lady Betty Ford, the Emperor, and President Gerald Ford at the White House before a state dinner held in honor of the Japanese head of state for the first time. 2 October 1975.
Emperor Shōwa in his laboratory (1950)
Hirohito's tomb in the Musashi Imperial Graveyard, Hachiōji, Tokyo

Hirohito was the head of state under the Meiji Constitution during Japan's imperial expansion, militarization, and involvement in World War II.