History of Japan summary




History of Japan summary


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History of Japan summary




SUMMARY.  The peoples on China's borders naturally emulated their great neighbor.  Japan borrowed heavily from China during the 5th and 6th centuries when it began forming its own civilization.   To the north and west of China nomadic peoples and Tibet also received influence.  Vietnam and Korea were part of the Chinese sphere by the last centuries B.C.E.  The agrarian societies of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam blended Chinese influences blended with their indigenous cultures to produce distinctive patterns of civilized development.  In all three regions Buddhism was a key force in transmitting Chinese civilization.


JAPAN: THE IMPERIAL AGE.  During the Taika, Nara, and Heian periods, from the 7th to the 9th centuries, Japanese borrowing from China peaked, although Shinto views on the natural and supernatural world remained central.  The Taika reforms of 646 aimed at revamping the administration along Chinese lines.  Intellectuals and aristocrats absorbed Chinese influences.  The common people looked to Buddhist monks for spiritual and secular assistance, and meshed Buddhist beliefs with traditional religion.  The Taika reforms failed.  The aristocracy returned to Japanese traditions; the peasantry reworked Buddhism into a Japanese creed.  The emperor lost power to aristocrats and provincial lords.


Crisis at Nara and the Shift to Heian (Kyoto).  The Taika effort to remake the Japanese ruler into a Chinese-style absolutist monarch was frustrated by resistance from aristocratic families and Buddhist monks.  During the next century the Buddhists grew so powerful at court that one monk attempted to marry Empress Koken and claim the throne.  The emperor fled and established a new capital at Heian (Kyoto).  He abandoned the Taika reforms and restored the power of aristocratic families.  Despite following Chinese patterns, the Japanese determined aristocratic rank by birth, thus blocking social mobility.  The aristocrats dominated the central government and restored their position as landholders.  The emperor gave up plans for creating a peasant conscript army and ordered local leaders to form rural militias.


Ultracivilized: Court Life in the Heian Era.  Although the imperial court had lost power, court culture flourished at Heian.  Aristocratic males and females lived according to strict behavioral codes.  They lived in a complex of palaces and gardens; the basis of life was the pursuit of aesthetic enjoyment and the avoidance of common, distasteful elements of life.  Poetry was a valued art form, and the Japanese simplified the script taken from the Chinese to facilitate expression.  An outpouring of distinctively Japanese poetic and literary works followed.  At the court women were expected to be as cultured as men; they were involved in palace intrigues and power struggles.  Lady Murasaki's The Tale of Genji, the first novel in any language, vividly depicts courtly life.


The Decline of Imperial Power.  The pleasure-loving emperor lost control of policy to aristocratic court families.  By the 9th century the Fujiwara dominated the administration and married into the imperial family.  Aristocratic families used their wealth and influence to buy large estates.  Together with Buddhist monasteries, also estate owners, they whittled down imperial authority.  Large numbers of peasants and artisans fell under their control.  Cooperation between aristocrats and Buddhists was helped by secret texts and ceremonies of esoteric Buddhism, techniques to gain salvation through prayer and meditation.  Both groups failed to reckon with the rising power of local lords.


The Rise of the Provincial Warrior Elite.  The provincial aristocracy also had gained estates.  Some carved out regional states ruled from small fortresses housing the lord and his retainers.  The warrior leaders (bushi) governed and taxed for themselves, not the court.  The bushi created their own mounted and armed forces (samurai).  Imperial control kept declining; by the 11th and 12th centuries violence was so prevalent that monasteries, the court, and high officials all hired samurai for protection.  The disorder resulted in the emergence of a warrior class.  The bushi and samurai, supported by peasant dependents, devoted their lives to martial activity.  Their combats became man-to-man duels between champions.  The warriors developed a code that stressed family honor and death rather than defeat.  Disgraced warriors committed ritual suicide (seppuku, or hari-kiri).  The rise of the samurai blocked the development of a free peasantry; they became serfs bound to the land and treated as the lord's property.  Rigid class barriers separated them from the warrior elite.  To counter their degradation the peasantry turned to the Pure Lands salvationist Buddhism.  Artisans lived at the court and with some of the bushi; they also, despite their skills, possessed little social status.


THE ERA OF WARRIOR DOMINANCE.  By the 11th and 12h centuries provincial families dominated the declining imperial court.  The most powerful families, the Taira and Minamoto, fought for dominance during the 1180s in the Gempei wars.  The peasantry suffered serious losses.  The Minamoto was victorious in 1185 and established a military government (bakufu) centered at Kamakura.  The emperor and court were preserved, but all power rested with the Minamoto and their samurai.  Japanese feudalism was underway.


ANALYSIS: Comparing Feudalisms.  Fully developed feudal systems developed during the postclassical age in Japan and western Europe.  They did so when it was not possible to sustain more centralized political forms.  Many other societies had similar problems, but they did not develop feudalism.  The Japanese and western European feudal systems were set in political values that joined together most of the system’s participants.  They included the concept of mutual ties and obligations and embraced elite militaristic values.  There were differences between the two approaches to feudalism.  Western European stressed contractual ideas while the Japanese relied on group and individual bonds.  The shared feudal past may have assisted their successful industrial development and shaped their capacity for running capitalist economies.  It may also contribute to their tendencies for imperialist expansion, frequent resort to war, and the rise of right-wing militarist regimes.


The Declining Influence of China.  Chinese influence waned along with imperial power.  Principles of centralized government and a scholar-gentry bureaucracy had little place in a system where local military leaders predominated.  Chinese Buddhism also was transformed into a distinctly Japanese religion.  The political uncertainty accompanying the decline of the Tang made the Chinese model even less relevant.  By 838 the Japanese court discontinued its embassies to the Tang.


The Breakup of Bakufu Dominance and the Age of the Warlords.  The leader of the Minamoto, Yoritomo, because of fears of being overthrown by family members, weakened his regime by assassinating or exiling suspected relatives.  His death was followed by a struggle among bushi lords for regional power.  The Hojo family soon dominated the Kamaura regime.  The Minamoto and the emperor at Kyoto remained as powerless, formal rulers.  In the 14th century a Minamoto leader, Ashikaga Takuaji, overthrew the Kamakura regime and established the Ashikaga Shogunate.  When the emperor refused to recognize the new regime he was driven from Kyoto; with the support of warlords he and his heirs fought against the Ashikaga and their puppet emperors.  The Ashikaga finally won the struggle, but the contest had undermined imperial and shogunate authority.  Japan was divided into regional territories governed by competing warlords.  From 1467 to 1477) a civil war between Ashikaga factions contributed to the collapse of central authority.  Japan became divided into 300 small states ruled by warlords (daimyo).


Toward Barbarism? Military Division and Social Change.  The chivalrous qualities of the bushi era deteriorated during the 15th and 16th centuries.  Warfare became more scientific, while the presence of large numbers of armed peasants in daimyo armies added to the misery of the common people.  Despite the suffering of the warlord period there was economic and cultural growth.  Daimyos attempted to administer their domains through regular tax collection and support for public works.  Incentives were offered to settle unoccupied areas, and new crops, tools, and techniques contributed to local well-being.  Daimyos competed to attract merchants to their castle towns.  A new and wealthy commercial class emerged, and guilds were formed by artisans and merchants.  A minority of women found opportunities in commerce and handicraft industries, but the women of the warrior class lost status as primogeniture blocked their receiving inheritances.  Women became appendages of warrior fathers and husbands.  As part of this general trend, women lost ritual roles in religion and were replaced in theaters by males.


Artistic Solace for a Troubled Age.  Zen Buddhism had a key role in maintaining the arts among the elite.  Zen monasteries were key locations for renewed contacts with China.  Notable achievements were made in painting, architecture, gardens, and the tea ceremony.


Seeds of Unity and Japanese Nationhood.  The period of the daimyos provided the basis for the lasting unification of Japan.  The emerging regional commercial and artisan classes later transferred their wealth and skills to a national system.  The legal and administrative reforms made by daimyos supplied the infrastructure for a unified state.


Japan's Self-Imposed Isolation.  Official measures to restrict foreign influence were ordered from the late 1580s.  Christian missionaries were ordered to leave; persecution of Christians were underway during the mid-1590s.  Christianity was officially banned in 1614.  Continued persecution provoked unsuccessful rebellions and drove the few remaining Christians underground.  Ieyasu and his successors broadened the campaign to isolate Japan from outside influences.  From 1616 merchants were confined to a few cities; from 1630 Japanese ships could not sail overseas.  By the 1640s only Dutch and Chinese ships visited Japan to trade at Deshima island.  Western books were banned.  The retreat into isolation was almost total by the mid-17th century.  The Tokugawa continued expanding their authority.  During the 18th century the revival of neo-Confucian philosophy that had flourished under the early Tokugawas gave way to a school of "National Learning" based upon indigenous culture.  Some of the elite, in strong contrast to the Chinese scholar-gentry, continued to follow with avid interest Western developments through the Dutch at Deshima.


Conclusion: Asia and the First Phase of Europe's Global Expansion.  Western exploration and commercial expansion only touched most of Asia peripherally.  In east Asia Chinese and Japanese strength blocked European domination of their lands.  In south and southeast Asia, where European impact was stronger, most Asians retained control of their destinies.  Asian change came from indigenous factors which maintained old cultural and social influences.  Even in commerce and seafaring, where their influence was greatest, Europeans found it better to became part of existing networks.


Japan and the Pacific Rim


Summary.  An important aspect of the rebalancing of major societies in the 20th century was the rise to world importance of East Asian coastal areas.  The pacific Rim sates - Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong - generated economic growth that joined them to the West as the center of the world’s industrial strength.  All tried to blend industrial forms with their own traditional culture and produced an alternative to the Western version of a modern society.  Japan, the key, actor, began industrialization during the 19th century and, after defeat in World War II, emerged as a major competitor in the world trade network.  The other Asian industrial economies, after World War II, mirrored Japan's success.


Decades of Turmoil: The World Wars and their Consequences.  At the beginning of the 20th century Japan pushed for military and diplomatic gains as it struggled with new parliamentary forms.  Japan was an expansionist power - Korea was annexed in 1910 - extracting taxes and raw materials from its colonies in return for its industrial goods.


Japan's Ongoing Development.  Industrial advance continued, but Japan lagged behind the West since it relied upon cheap labor and a limited number of exports.  Agricultural productivity improved under the lead of progressive landlords.  A second phase of industrial advance occurred during the 1920s as zaibatsus, relying on close government ties, expanded into shipbuilding and metallurgy.  The Japanese gained a higher standard of living as an urban consumer society developed.  Education advanced rapidly at all levels.  Economic progress was vulnerable to foreign economic trends.  A soaring population hampered further growth in living standards and caused urban social distress.  Japan suffered only briefly from the Great Depression as exports boomed and military spending increased.  Finance minister Korekiyo Takahashi in the 1930s pushed state intervention in the economy to minimize depression problems.


Political Crisis and Growing Militarism.  Political problems became important and began a process ending in World War II.  Social tensions helped to produce a climate favorable to foreign aggression.  Military leaders took advantage of the oligarchic political structure to seize the lead in setting diplomatic policy in the 1920s.  They were contemptuous of civil authority and political parties, especially when military budgets declined.  They seized Manchuria in 1931 while politicians equivocated.  Nationalist groups emerged to support the military.  Unsuccessful coup attempts by younger officers in 1932 and 1936 that gave the military a stronger influence in government.  After 1936 a series of militarist prime ministers ruled under the influence of General Tojo Hideki.  Japan developed a regional empire that by the close of 1938 included Korea, Manchuria, and Taiwan.  Japan's leaders looked for wider conquests.


Change in Other Pacific Rim Areas.  In Korea Japanese control created nationalist resentments and did not develop the economy.  The Japanese abolished the Korean monarchy in 1909 and turned the country's focus away from China.  The Korean people were exploited economically and culturally by their colonial rulers.  Korean culture was suppressed in place of Japanese forms and the country's resources were put at the disposal of Japanese industrialists.  The peasantry had to produce rice for export to Japan.  Many Koreans were conscripted into labor gangs and troops during World War II.  Singapore, with a mostly Chinese population, was part of the British colony of Malaya.  The British developed it during the 1930s as a major naval base commercial seaport.  The city suffered greatly during World War II from Japanese occupation and emerged with massive unemployment and poverty.  World War II had increased pressures for change along the Pacific Rim because of Japanese dislodgment of European rule.


East Asia in the Postwar Settlements.  Allied victory and decolonization restructured East Asia.  Korea was divided into Russian and American occupation zones.  Taiwan was occupied by Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese government.  The Americans and Europeans reoccupied, temporally, their colonial possessions.  Japan was occupied by the United States.  The Pacific Rim states became stable noncommunist nations tied to the West.


New Divisions and the End of Empires.  The postwar tide of decolonization freed the Philippines from the United States, Indonesia from the Dutch, and Malaya from the British.  The Chinese communist victory in China drove Chiang's regime to Taiwan.  Korea remained divided after a war in which American intervention preserved South Korean independence.  Japan under its American occupiers peacefully evolved a new political structure.


Japanese Recovery.  Although Japan had been devastated by the war, it recovered quickly.  The American occupation, ending in 1952, altered Japan's political forms.  The military was disbanded and democratization measures introduced.  Women received the right to vote, unions were encouraged, and Shintoism was abolished as state religion.  Landed estates were divided among small farmers and zaibatsu holdings temporarily dissolved.  A new constitution established the parliament as the supreme governing body, guaranteed civil liberties, abolished the "war potential" of the military, and reduced the emperor to a symbolic figurehead.  The Japanese modified the constitution in 1963 to include social service obligations to the elderly, a recognition of traditional values.  Most Japanese accepted the new system, especially the reduction of the role of the military.  Defense responsibility for the region was left to the United States.  Two moderate political parties merged to form the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955.  It monopolized Japan's government into the 1990s.  The educational system became one of the most meritocratic in the world.


Korea: Intervention and War.  Cold war tensions kept Korea divided into Russian and American zones.  The north became a Stalinist-type communist state ruled until 1994 by Kim Il-Sung.  The south, under Syngman Rhee, developed parliamentary institutions under strongly authoritarian leadership.  The North Koreans, hoping to force national unity on communist terms, invaded the south in 1950.  The United States organized a United Nations defense of South Korea which drove back the invading forces.  China's communist government reacted by pushing the Americans southward.  The fighting stalemated and ended with a 1953 armistice recognizing a divided Korea.  In the following years North Korea became an isolated, dictatorial state.  South Korea, under authoritarian military officers, allied to the United States.  The South Korean economy flourished.


Emerging Stability in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.  When the Kuomintang regime was defeated in China by the communists it fell back on Taiwan.  The Chinese imposed authoritarian rule over the majority Taiwanese.  The United States supported Taiwan against China until tensions lessened in the 1960s.  By then Taiwan had achieved growing economic prosperity.  Hong Kong remained a British colony until returned to Chinese control in 1997.  Its peoples gained increasing autonomy from British rule.  Singapore won independence as a free port in 1959.  By the end of the 1950s there was stability among many smaller east Asian states; from the 1960s they blended Western and traditional ideas to achieve impressive economic gains.


Japan, Incorporated.  From the 1950s Japan concentrated upon economic growth and distinctive cultural and political forms.  The results demonstrated economic success did  not require  strictly following Western models.


The Distinctive Political and Cultural Style.  The Liberal Democrat party provided conservative stability during its rule between 1955 and 1993.  The political system revived oligarchic tendencies of the Japanese past as changes in parliamentary leadership was mediated by negotiations among the ruling elite.  Change came only in the late 1980s when corruption among Liberal Democratic leaders raised new questions.   Japan's distinctive political approach featured close cooperation between state and business interests.  Population growth slowed as the government supported birth control and abortion.  Most elements of traditional culture persisted in the new Japan.  Styles in poetry. painting, tea ceremonies, theater, and flower arrangements continued.  Films and novels recalled previous eras.  Music combined Western and Japanese forms.  Contributions to world culture were minimal.  Nationalist writers, as Hiraoka Kimitoke, dealt with controversial themes to protest change and the incorporation of Western ideas.


The Economic Surge.  By the 1980s Japan was one of the two or three top economic world powers.  The surge was made possible by government encouragement, educational expansion, and negligible military expenditures.  Workers organized in company unions that stressed labor-management cooperation.  Company policies provided important benefits to employees, including lifetime employment.  The labor force appeared to be less class-conscious and individualistic than in the West.  Management demonstrated group consciousness and followed a collective decision-making process that sacrificed quick personal profits.  Leisure life was very limited by Western standards.  Family life also showed Japanese distinctiveness.  Women's status, despite increased education and birthrate decline, remained subject to traditional influences.  Feminism was a minor force.  They concentrated on household tasks and child rearing, and did not share many leisure activities with husbands.  In child rearing, conformity to group standards was emphasized and shame was directed at nonconformists.  Group tensions were settled through mutual agreement, and individual alienation appeared lower than in the West.  Competitive situations produced stress that could be relieved by heavy drinking and recourse to geisha houses.  Popular culture incorporated foreign elements, such as baseball.  Many conservatives worried about the loss of traditions.  Pollution became a major problem and the government gave the environment more attention after 1970.  Political corruption led to the replacement of the Liberal democrats during the 1990s by unstable coalition governments.  Severe economic recession and unemployment disrupted former patterns.


The Pacific Rim: New Japans?   Other Asian Pacific coast states mirrored Japan's economic and political development.  Political authoritarian rule under parliamentary forms was common.  Governments fostered economic planning and technical education.  Economies flourished until the end of the 1990s.


The Korean Miracle.  The South Korean government normally rested in the hands of military strongmen.  One general, Chung-hee, held power from 1961 to 1979.  The military was pressured from power at the end of the 1980s and was succeeded by an elected conservative government.  Limited political activity and press freedom was allowed.  From the mid-1950s primary attention went to economic growth.  Huge firms were created by government aid joined to private entrepreneurship.  The Koreans exported a variety of consumer goods, plus steel and textiles.  The industrial groups resembled Japanese zaibatsus and had great political influence.  As Korea  industrialized, population soared to produce the highest national world population density.  Per capita income advanced, but was still far behind Japan's.


Advances in Taiwan and the City-States.  The Republic of China (Taiwan) experienced a rate of economic growth similar to that of Korea.  Agricultural and industrial production rapidly increased as the government concentrated on economic gains.  Education received massive investments.  The policies meant important economic and cultural progress for the people of Taiwan.  The government remained stable despite the recognition of the communists as the rulers of Chinas by the United States in 1978.  The Taiwanese built important regional contacts throughout eastern and southeastern Asia to facilitate commerce and opened links with the regime in Beijing which continued to claim the island was part of China.  After the death of Chiang Kai-shek in 1978 the gap between mainland-born Chinese and Taiwanese lessened as gradual reform went forward.  Singapore developed along lines roughly similar to those of Taiwan.  Prime minister Lee Kuan Yew held power for three decades after 1959.  Tight controls were maintained over many aspects of public and private life.  Authoritarian rule suppressed opposition movements.  Successful economic development eased the political strains; by the 1980s Singapore's people had the 2nd highest per capita income in Asia.  After its return to China in 1997, Hong Kong continued as a major world port and developed into an international banking center.  It linked China to the rest of the world.  Industrial development fueled high export levels.


Common Themes in the Pacific Rim.  The nations had more in common than economic success.  They all stressed group loyalty over individualism, emphasized hard work, and limited consumer demands.  Confucian morality played a part in the process.  All relied on government planning and limits on dissent.  Pacific Rim dynamism influenced other regions of southeast Asia.  By the 1980s Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia experienced rapid economic growth.  But the closing years of the 20th century showed weaknesses in the region as growth lessened, currencies declined, and unemployment rose.  Many Westerners thought that the nations had to adopt a Western industrial model.  The economic distress brought political difficulties.


In Depth: The Pacific Rim as a U. S. Policy Issue.  The rise of Pacific Rim economies raises important questions for the West, especially the United States because of its military role and world economic position.  The United States had promoted the region’s economic development as part of the contest with communism.  It did not want to end its influential position of military superiority.  The economic competition of the Pacific Rim states posed real threats.  Japan was a major contributor to the United States’ unfavorable trade balance, and it increased its holdings within the country.  During the 1980s many individuals urged Americans to imitate Pacific Rim patterns, and some firms did so.  Others wanted a more antagonistic American response: evacuation of military bases, imposition of tariffs.  No clear policies followed.  Pacific Rim nations similarly had to rethink their relationship with the West and the United States.  Access to Western markets and military assistance remained desired, but there was a strong wish to establish a more equal relationship.


Conclusion: Pacific Rim as Exception or Model.  The rise of the Pacific Rim was based upon several factors.  They shared a Confucian cultural and political heritage.  Interaction with the West, especially Britain and the United States, provided access to its political, technological, and cultural development.  Japan and the other nations were subject to 20th-century events that forced innovative reactions.  Chinese and Vietnamese experiments with new economic forms may join them to Pacific Rim ascendancy.  In world history terms the rise of the Pacific Rim nations, all without military might or missionary zeal, is an unusual development.




Korekiyo Takahashi: Japanese minister of finance during the 1930s; increased government spending to stimulate the economy.


Tojo Hideki: Japanese general who dominated internal politics from the mid-1930s;.gave the military dominance over civilian cabinets.


Singapore: part of the British colony of Malaya with a mostly Chinese population; after World War II emerged as a flourishing, independent city-state.


Douglas MacArthur: America commander during the war against Japan; headed American occupation government of Japan after the war; commanded United Nations forces during the Korean War.


Liberal Democratic Party: conservative political party that monopolized Japanese governments from 1955 into the 1990s.


Republic of Korea: southern half of Korea occupied by the United States after World War II; developed parliamentary institutions under authoritarian rulers; underwent major industrial and economic growth after the 1950s.


Democratic People's Republic of Korea: northern half of Korea dominated by USSR after Word War II; formed a communist dictatorship under Kim Il-Song; attacked South Korea to begin the Korean War.


Korean War: fought between 1950 and 1953 between North Korea and its Soviet and Chinese allies and South Korea and United Nations’ forces directed by the United States; ended in stalemate.


Taiwan: island off the Chinese mainland that became the refuge for Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomindang regime; maintained independence with United State support; rapidly industrialized after the 1950s.


Hong Kong: British colony in China; became a major commercial and industrial center; returned to China in 1997.


Hyundai: major Korean industrial giant; typical of firms producing Korea's economic miracle.


Lee Kuan Yew: authoritarian ruler of Singapore for three decades from 1959; presided over major economic development.





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