Japan at War: An Encyclopedia

Japan at War: An Encyclopedia

Japan at War: An Encyclopedia

Japan at War: An Encyclopedia


This compelling reference focuses on the events, individuals, organizations, and ideas that shaped Japanese warfare from early times to the present day.

• Topic finder lists

• A comprehensive timeline

• 10 maps of key military theaters

• Essential primary source documents related to the military history of Japan


There are very few serious scholars living outside of countries ruled by authoritarian regimes (China, Iran, Cuba, Myanmar, Vietnam, North Korea) who still slavishly follow a single interpretative historical system. There are simply too many human exceptions to the hard-and-fast rules required by those systems. Yet all of those discredited systems can provide insights into history. The Marxists remind us that economic pressures do have power in determining historical outcomes. We do well to remember that the Post-Modernists have given us a valuable tool in understanding human power relationships. Feminism reminds us that the male ego is a powerful, yet fragile biological urge. The Freudians, Maoists, Trotskyites, and the various religious fundamentalists all give us an insight into the human condition that we would do well to remember— namely, that irrational ideas can often affect historical outcomes.

With that caveat in mind, we can safely say that there is no one overriding “secret system” to understanding Japanese history. There are, however, a few valuable interpretative hints.

First and foremost is that there was a continuing tension between central imperial power on the one hand, and the overweaning ambition of local warrior–land owners on the other hand. The so-called feudal period (1190–1868) of its history is filled with attempts by emperors to restore themselves to actual political power. Their champions were often merely opportunists, hoping to carve out more power for themselves by posing as “loyalists.” Nevertheless, a few of those warriors can properly be called royalists. A few probably truly believed that Japan would be better served by a centralized imperial regime than by the often ragtag coalition of self-interested military adventurers who only occasionally thought of the collective society.

Whether any loyalists actually believed that the emperor was semi-divine is a moot question, perhaps. The men who helped “restore” the Meiji Emperor to power in 1867 acted as if they really did. And they certainly instituted a philosophical educational system that convinced several generations that true patriotism required blind faith and loyalty, and that they become crusading evangelists, spreading State Shintō throughout the world—whether those Asians actually wanted to be “liberated” or not. The so-called shishi (“men of spirit”) at the end of the Tokugawa era (1860s) and the shishi of the Shōwa Restoration (1920s and 1930s) were prepared to kill anyone who stood in their way; both sets of terrorists were willing to die for their irrational beliefs.

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