Taisho Period 大正時代 1912 - 1926
Emperor Taisho, Empress Teimei, and sons
The emperor Meiji was succeeded by his son Yoshihito, Prince Yoshihito contracted meningitis within three weeks of his birth, leaving him in poor health both physically and mentally. On July 30, 1912, upon the death of his father, Emperor Meiji, Prince Yoshihito succeeded him on the throne. The Meiji era ended at once and a new era was immediately proclaimed: the Taishō era.
The health of the new emperor was weak, which prompted the shift in political power from the old oligarchic group of "elder statesmen" (元老 genrō) to the Diet (国会) and the democratic parties. Thus, the era is considered the time of the liberal movement known as the "Taishō democracy" in Japan; it is usually distinguished from the preceding chaotic Meiji period and the following militarism-driven first half of the Shōwa Era
The Far East In The Roaring Twenties
The beginning of the Taishō period was marked by The Taisho political crisis in 1912/1913 that interrupted the earlier politics of compromise. When Saionji Kinmochi (西園寺 公望) tried to cut the military budget, the army minister resigned, bringing down the Seiyūkai Party (立憲政友会 Rikken-Seiyūkai, "Association of Friends of Constitutional Government party") cabinet. Both Yamagata Aritomo (山県 有朋) and Saionji refused to resume office, and the genro were unable to find a solution. Public outrage over the military manipulation of the cabinet and the recall of Katsura Tarō (桂 太郎) for a third term led to still more demands for an end to genro politics. Despite old guard opposition, the conservative forces formed a party of their own in 1913, the Rikken Doshikai (立憲同志会, "Constitutional Association of Friends"), a party that won a majority in the House over the Seiyūkai in late 1914.
Japanese troops firing on German positions in
Qingdao, China during WW1
Seizing the opportunity of Berlin's distraction with the European War (World War I, 第一次世界大戦) and wanting to expand its sphere of influence in China, Japan declared war on Germany on August 23, 1914 and quickly occupied German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province and the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall Islands in the Pacific. On November 7, Jiaozhou Bay was surrendered to Japan.
With its Western allies heavily involved in the war in Europe, Japan sought further to consolidate its position in China by presenting the Twenty-One Demands (Japanese: 対華21ヶ条要求; Chinese: 二十一条) to China in January, 1915.
The Great Kanto Earthquake of Sept 1, 1923
This earthquake devastated Tokyo, the port city of Yokohama, and the surrounding prefectures
of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Shizuoka, and caused widespread damage throughout the Kantō region.
Estimated casualties totaled about 142,800 deaths, including about 40,000 who went missing and were presumed dead. The damage from this natural disaster was the greatest sustained by prewar Japan. In 1960, the government declared September 1, the anniversary of the quake, as an annual "Disaster Prevention Day".
Japanese footage of the earthquake
Besides expanding its control over the German holdings, Manchuria, and Inner Mongolia, Japan also sought joint ownership of a major mining and metallurgical complex in central China, prohibitions on China's ceding or leasing any coastal areas to a third power, and miscellaneous other political, economic, and military controls, which, if achieved, would have reduced China to a Japanese protectorate. In the face of slow negotiations with the Chinese government, widespread anti-Japanese sentiments in China, and international condemnation, Japan withdrew the final group of demands, and treaties were signed in May, 1915.
The postwar era brought Japan unprecedented prosperity. Japan went to the peace conference at Versailles in 1919 as one of the great military and industrial powers of the world and received official recognition as one of the "Big Five" of the new international order. Tokyo was granted a permanent seat on the Council of the League of Nations, and the peace treaty confirmed the transfer to Japan of Germany's rights in Shandong (山東), a provision that led to anti-Japanese riots and a mass political movement throughout China. Similarly, Germany's former Pacific islands were put under a Japanese mandate. Japan was also involved in the post-war Allied intervention in Russia, and was the last Allied power to withdraw (doing so in 1925). Despite its small role in World War I (and the Western powers' rejection of its bid for a racial equality clause in the peace treaty), Japan emerged as a major actor in international politics at the close of the war.
The two-party political system that had been developing in Japan since the turn of the century finally came of age after World War I. This period has sometimes been called that of "Taishō Democracy," after the reign title of the emperor. In 1918 Hara Takashi (原 敬, 1856-1921), a protege of Saionji and a major influence in the prewar Seiyūkai cabinets, had become the first commoner to serve as prime minister. He took advantage of long-standing relationships he had throughout the government, won the support of the surviving genrō and the House of Peers, and brought into his cabinet as army minister Tanaka Giichi (田中 義一, 1864-1929), who had a greater appreciation of favorable civil-military relations than his predecessors. Nevertheless, major problems confronted Hara: inflation, the need to adjust the Japanese economy to postwar circumstances, the influx of foreign ideas, and an emerging labor movement. Prewar solutions were applied by the cabinet to these postwar problems, and little was done to reform the government. Hara worked to ensure a Seiyūkai majority through time-tested methods, such as new election laws and electoral redistricting, and embarked on major government-funded public works programs.
The public grew disillusioned with the growing national debt and the new election laws, which retained the old minimum tax qualifications for voters. Calls were raised for universal suffrage and the dismantling of the old political party network. Students, university professors, and journalists, bolstered by labor unions and inspired by a variety of democratic, socialist, communist, anarchist, and other Western schools of thought, mounted large but orderly public demonstrations in favor of universal male suffrage in 1919 and 1920. New elections brought still another Seiyūkai majority, but barely so. In the political milieu of the day, there was a proliferation of new parties, including socialist and communist parties.
In the midst of this political ferment, Hara was assassinated by a disenchanted railroad worker in 1921 (see Diplomacy, this ch.). Hara was followed by a succession of nonparty prime ministers and coalition cabinets. Fear of a broader electorate, left-wing power, and the growing social change engendered by the influx of Western popular culture (illustrated in the popular 1970s manga and anime Haikara-san ga Tōru) together led to the passage of the Peace Preservation Law (治安維持法, 1925), which forbade any change in the political structure or the abolition of private property.
Unstable coalitions and divisiveness in the Diet (国会) led the Kenseikai (憲政会, "Constitutional Government Association") and the Seiyū Hontō (政友本党 , "True Seiyūkai") to merge as the Rikken Minseitō (立憲民政党, "Constitutional Democratic Party") in 1927. The Rikken Minseitō platform was committed to the parliamentary system, democratic politics, and world peace. Thereafter, until 1932, the Seiyūkai and the Rikken Minseitō alternated in power.
Despite the political realignments and hope for more orderly government, domestic economic crises plagued whichever party held power. Fiscal austerity programs and appeals for public support of such conservative government policies as the Peace Preservation Law--including reminders of the moral obligation to make sacrifices for the emperor and the state--were attempted as solutions. Although the world depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s had minimal effects on Japan--indeed, Japanese exports grew substantially during this period--there was a sense of rising discontent that was heightened with the assault upon Rikken Minseitō prime minister Hamaguchi Osachi (浜口 雄幸, 1870-1931) in 1930. (Hamaguchi survived the attack, and tried to continue in office despite the severity of his wounds, but was forced to resign the following year. He died not long afterwards.)
An international turning point in military diplomacy was the Washington Conference of 1921–1922, which produced a series of agreements that effected a new order in the Pacific region. Japan's economic problems made a naval buildup nearly impossible and, realizing the need to compete with the United States on an economic rather than a military basis, rapprochement became inevitable. Japan adopted a more neutral attitude toward the civil war in China, dropped efforts to expand its hegemony into China proper, and joined the United States, Britain, and France in encouraging Chinese self-development.
In the Four Power Treaty on Insular Possessions (December 13, 1921), Japan, the United States, Britain, and France agreed to recognize the status quo in the Pacific, and Japan and Britain agreed to terminate formally their Treaty of Alliance. The Five Power Naval Disarmament Treaty (February 6, 1922) established an international capital ship ratio (5, 5, 3, 1.75, and 1.75, respectively, for the United States, Britain, Japan, France, and Italy) and limited the size and armaments of capital ships already built or under construction. In a move that gave the Japanese Imperial Navy greater freedom in the Pacific, Washington and London agreed not to build any new military bases between Singapore and Hawaii.
The goal of the Nine Power Treaty (February 6, 1922), signed by Belgium, China, the Netherlands, and Portugal, along with the original five powers, was the prevention of war in the Pacific. The signatories agreed to respect China's independence and integrity, not to interfere in Chinese attempts to establish a stable government, to refrain from seeking special privileges in China or threatening the positions of other nations there, to support a policy of equal opportunity for commerce and industry of all nations in China, and to reexamine extraterritoriality and tariff autonomy policies. Japan also agreed to withdraw its troops from Shandong, relinquishing all but purely economic rights there, and to evacuate its troops from Siberia.
The 1923 Great Kantō earthquake (関東大震災, Kantō
daishinsai) struck the Kantō plain on the Japanese main island of Honshū at 11:58 on the morning of September 1, 1923. The phrase "Great Kanto earthquake" usually means this earthquake, but is sometimes used to refer to the Ansei-Edo Earthquake of 1855 (安政の大地震). The quake was later estimated to have had a magnitude between 7.9 and 8.4 on the Richter scale, with its epicenter under Sagami Bay. Varied accounts hold that the duration was between 4 and 10 minutes.
footage of the Kanto earthquake
It devastated Tokyo, the port city of Yokohama, surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Shizuoka, and caused widespread damage throughout the Kantō region.
Casualty estimates range from about 100,000 to 142,000 deaths, the latter figure including approximately 37,000 who went missing and were presumed dead