Japan Industrialization

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Social Studies
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Japan Industrialization

Industrialization of Japan

Analyze reasons for Japan’s rapid industrialization and compare Japan and China in their response to Western imperialism and commerce in the 19th century. How was Japan able to pull off it’s economic “miracle” and avoid being colonized?

Prior to industrialization, Japan was what was known as the Tokugawa period. This period was characterized by semi-feudalism and agricultural society. The government was a shogunate, or military dictatorship, and provinces were ruled by diamyos, or domainal lords. Around 80% of the population were peasants, and they were forbidden from non-agricultural activities because class mobility was illegal and a large amount of farmers was needed to produce food. They were isolated economically from the rest of the world, but they continued to prosper for nearly 200 years. However as the 19th century progressed, Japan began to feel the pressures of the west. They became more commercial with proto-industrialization, and attempted to reform economically to keep up and remain isolated, but it soon became clear they could not.



China was not able to avoid european colonization like japan. Both countries were similar in that they were both isolated and had agricultural based economies, prior to western intervention. China however responded differently to a forced trade than Japan. China allowed the British to take their resources without reforming and meeting the industrial age. Instead the people of China became addicted to the opium that the British were importing and trading from India. China became so dependant on opium that they accepted opium as payment for their goods, rather than silver or gold. Because the British were able to get the opium from India so cheaply, this meant they were getting the chinese’s goods almost for free. The Chinese government saw this problem and tried to fight Britain, but because they were did not have an industrial military, they were easily defeated by the British. The Chinese and the British fought several opium wars, but each time the British won and gained territory. The British took control of many important ports and cities, including Hong Kong, virtually giving them control of the Chinese economy. They were able to tax Chinese products highly and imported Chinese goods cheaply. In this way, Britain was able to indirectly control China.

In 1853, American Naval officer, Commodore Matthew Perry led an expedition to Japan. He came with a fleet of modern steam powered warships. The Japanese had never seen anything like this and they realised they were not match to foreign invaders. Commodore Perry forced the emperor to sign a trade treaty. The terms included peace and friendship between the United States and Japan, the opening of two ports to American ships at Shimoda and Hakodate, and most importantly the permission for American ships to buy supplies, coal, water, and other necessary provisions in Japanese ports. Soon other European countries also made similar deals. Japan was now open to the world and needed new direction.The shogunate was now faced with the threat of westernization through colonization. With outside trade and cheap imports, the workers in the feudal system suffered and called for change. The shogunate depended on isolation and now became clear that it could not survive. Faced with internal and external pressure, the Shogun, Bakuru called to the daimyos for support. Eventually the merchants and even the daimyos opposed the shogunate because the bad economy was hurting them too. The final collapse of the Shogunate resulted from the alliance of two western clans, the Satsuma and the Choshu. The alliance worked out a proposal for a complete overthrow of the Shogunate. In 1868, the shogun was overthrown, and the emperor, Meiji, took supreme control of the country.During the Meiji period, Japan embraced westernization in order to beat european colonialism. The Meiji government enacted many progressive reforms and affirmed the rights of the individual. Religious freedom was granted to citizens, and in 1870, feudalism was abolished. The daimyos had to give back all their lands to the state and were replaced by nationally appointed prefects. Next the government went about reforming education, making education compulsory for all and basing the education system off of French and German models. Japan realized that if it wanted to stand up for itself, it would need a strong military. The warrior class, the samurai, was pushed aside and a new army was constructed. Universal conscription, meaning all able bodied men must be part of the army, was enacted and an army based on the prussian army was put together. They also constructed a navy so that they could stand up to the mighty british and American Navies. Next Japan began to copy European technology and industrialization. Large factories were made and the government supported big businesses. By modeling itself after different European nations, Japan was able to become a strong, modern world power. In the 1880’s banks and currency were reformed, and then in 1889 a formal constitution was written. Japan gained territory in Taiwan from China in the Sino-Japanese war. It continued to grow its military and it defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese war over territory, gaining more respect for Japan from the international community. The Meiji period eventually ended in 1912, but it forever transformed the country. Japan almost instantly (seemingly miraculously) went from an isolated, feudal, agrarian nation to an industrial military and economic power. Japan did what no other Eastern country was able to do; it overcame an unequal trade agreement and rose up to compete with the western powers, rather than become subject to some form of colonization.



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