The Pursuit of Power in Modern Japan, 1825-1995

The Pursuit of Power in Modern Japan, 1825-1995

The Pursuit of Power in Modern Japan, 1825-1995

The Pursuit of Power in Modern Japan, 1825-1995

Synopsis

This new history of modern Japan covers its remarkable transformation from a small country on the fringe of international politics to the major world power it is today. Professor Tsuzuki traces Japan's pursuit of power, first by military and then by economic means, in a fascinating and original history of the fastest-growing economic power of the twentieth century.

Excerpt

It is a commonplace, even a little musty, to say that Japan is a country of consensus and unanimity, not one of differences and debate. Harmonious but essentially conservative human relationships, though remaining mostly on the surface, are sustained by institutional and cultural restrainsts that have made the people generally refrain from asking questions. As a result they have only recently begun enquiring as a matter of historical knowledge where their ancestors (and by implication their imperial family) came from and when their settlement on the Japanese Isles took place, issues that had long been relegated to mythology. In this new orientation of interest archaeologists are making valuable contributions, though they still fail to agree on the location of the first identifiable political state.

Japan’s modern history is perhaps more controversial than that of her earlier periods, as it involves achievements, failures, and disasters, for which the credit and the blame have been apportioned in the most various ways. Its beginnings, too, are problematic. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 is a convenient starting-point for modernization and a modern Japan, though efforts in that direction had begun earlier under the threat from the West. Domestic reforms undertaken spasmodically by the Edo Bakufu to cope with economic distress and dislocation in the insular country are sometimes regarded as the harbingers of the great reform of Meiji, but their importance is apt to be overestimated.

Probably power is the key concept in understanding the emergence of Japan as a modern state. A modern Japan was born of power struggles both within and without. The pursuit of power, especially on the international scene, became a compelling theme throughout her history.

Japan’s modern history can be said to have started in the second quarter of the nineteenth century when her isolationism became strained to the utmost under the threat from western powers to force her open as a junior agent in international trade. In other words, the western ‘barbarians’ were to exert pressures to make Japan a ‘tributary’ or dependent country in the new, expanding international relations centred around the European colonial powers. Japan’s response to this threat was similar to the one she had shown when threatened by Chinese supremacy: she attempted to learn enough from the West to enable her to become its equal or even its superior. To learn from the ‘barbarians’ would require a switch from the Confucian to the western system of international order, and this would involve divisions and conflicts in all spheres of the nation’s life. Japan’s . . .

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