Modern Japan: The Taisho Era

Question One

The Taisho era is a period in Japanese history dating from 30th July 1912 to 25th December 1926, thereby coinciding with Taisho Emperor’s reign. The new emperor was weak in terms of health, which impelled political power to shift from genrō (the old oligarchic group of elder statesmen) to the democratic parties and the Diet of Japan. Hence, the period is taken as the time of the liberal movement referred to as the “Taishō democracy” by the Japanese; it is normally distinguished from the previous Meiji era that was seen as chaotic and the subsequent first half of the Shōwa period that was militarism-driven.

The start of the Taishō era was characterized by the Taisho political crisis in 1912-13 that broke up the former politics of compromise. When Saionji Kinmochi attempted to reduce the military budget, the then army minister quit his job, a move that brought down the Rikken Seiyukai cabinet. Both Saionji and Yamagata refused to resume office, hence the genrō failed to find a solution. Public fury over manipulation of the cabinet by the military as well as Katsura Tarō comeback to serve for a third term fueled demands for an end to genrō politics. In 1913 the conservative forces formed Rikken Dōshikai, a party of their own despite old guard opposition. In late 1914 Rikken Dōshikai scooped a majority in the House over the Seiyūkai. (Helen, 2001)

It is in this era that the two-party political system which had been developing in Japan from the turn of the century lastly came of age (after World War I), thus showing some democracy.

It is in this period that the old political party network was dismantled. in 1919 and 1920, Journalists, university professors, and Students were supported by labor unions and inspired by various socialist, democratic, anarchist, and communist mounted well attended though orderly public demonstrations in support of worldwide male suffrage. This resulted in a proliferation of new parties, including communist and socialist parties.

In 1919 Japan went to Versailles for the peace conference as one of the great industrial and military powers of the globe thereby receiving the “Big Five” official recognition as one of the new international order. Japan also played part in the post-war Allied involvement in Russia and became the last Allied power to withdraw, the country surfaced as the main actor in international politics at end of the war.

The end of Taishō Democracy

During the 1920s Japan shifted its direction en route for a democratic system of government. Nevertheless, parliamentary government was not well established enough to endure the political and economic pressures of the 1930s, where the military leaders were becoming more and more influential. These changes in power were necessitated by the imprecision and ambiguity of the Meiji constitution, predominantly as regarded the Emperor’s position about the constitution.

Democratic changes supported by prominent individuals on the left were accelerated by the election of Prime Minister Katō Kōmei. This led to the March 1925 universal manhood suffrage passage. Increased pressure from the conservative right, culminated in the passage 1925 Peace Preservation Law as well as other anti-radical legislation, just ten days ahead of the universal manhood suffrage passage. Kokutai appeared as the symbol of the state after the passage of the Peace Preservation Law and associated legislation. (Helen, 2001)

Question Two

According to Helen (2001), Reverse Course is “the common (but controversial) labeling for the alteration in United States policy toward Japan during the reconstruction of post-World War II”.

It is often associated with the intensification of the Cold War, the “loss” of the Korean and China Wars. However, this does not denote an unraveling of democratization. Japan was weakly characterized by poverty and inflation with the leftist parties growing hence ready for communism. This change fits into the US containment policy and was comparable to Europe’s Marshall Plan. According to policies by George Kennan, the country would act as an industrial engine to the wider East Asia. A stable economy in Japan would stop Communism from spreading in East Asia. Workers from the Public sector lost their right to strike, ideological freedom received a blow (1950 Red Purge), a halt to Zaibatsu busting was stopped whereas anti-monopoly laws were loosened. (Helen, 2001)

Japan became the base of United States policy in Asia as a result of the ‘reverse course’. In addition, the ‘reverse course’ ensured that Japan’s foreign policy was based on its association with the US. Initially, scores of military leaders were trialed and killed after the war; however, in the 1950s most of the military leaders are given back positions of power in the government as the communism threat as well as the cold war in the Soviet Union and China forces in the US administration to espouse these policies.

The media attitude towards the war had shifted at the end of 1950; instead of criticizing the war and its perpetrators, the media was now depicting them as a faceless mask. The reverse course emphasized the suffering of the Japanese, and them as the victims. It stresses particular events, for instance, nuclear wars and how they all suffered for it with selective memory only on the situations where they were victims. (Helen, 2001)

Work Cited Source

Helen Hardacre, The postwar development of Japanese studies in the United States, New York, Prentice Hall, 2001.

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