A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present

By Andrew Gordon | Go to book overview

8
Empire and Domestic Order

The Meiji revolution transformed the domestic space of Japan. Railroads linked the countryside in newly intimate fashion to ports and urban centers such as Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and Kobe. The Meiji revolution also transformed the relationship between Japan and the world. By the end of the nineteenth century, Japan had shifted from a relatively marginal position to a dominant place in Asia. It was seeking control over Korea and had won colonial control over Taiwan. It gained formal equality with the Western powers by revising the unequal treaties, and it established a strategic position as junior partner to the British. It both absorbed and exported products and people, importing grain from Korea, selling textiles to China, and both sending and receiving men and women to and from Asia and the Americas as laborers and students. People in Japan were making themselves an integral part of a broader East Asian and global system.

Just as Japan's domestic transformation had global causes and consequences, its drive for empire had domestic roots and ramifications. The nation-building projects described in the previous chapters inspired a new patriotism among masses of Japanese people. This bolstered the assertive external agenda of the government. Nationbuilding projects also sparked calls for participation and reform, which struck the same rulers as threatening or even subversive. They responded with programs to shore up the domestic social and political order. They also made empire a potent symbol of the identity and unity of the Japanese people. 1 In these ways, imperialism reflected and also contributed to a changed relationship of Japanese subjects to their state.


THE TRAJECTORY TO EMPIRE

The most important focus of Japanese overseas activity in the 1870s and 1880s was the Korean peninsula. In 1876, Japan employed gunboat diplomacy to force the Treaty of Kanghwa on Korea. This opened three ports to trade with Japan and gave the Japanese extraterritorial jurisdiction. Both the process and the result were little different from those pursued by Commodore Perry in Japan two decades before. Japanese traders used this opening to economic advantage. They sharply expanded exports to Korea, primarily by reselling European manufactured goods first imported to Japan.

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