Throughout the history of Japan, one of the largest issues it has had in becoming a world power is its lack of foreign relations. Reischauer explains how the international relations are “Japan’s greatest weakness” (347). During the late 1800’s, this began to change, as Japan had more and more encounters with other cultures, both Eastern and Western. Japan’s involvement in world affairs became quite apparent as it became a major player in World War II. Since the early 1900’s, Japan has had many different types of contact with Western civilization. In every case, both parties have come away with varying affects, including everything from the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan to the emergence of Japan as a world economic superpower.
Many of the encounters that Japan has had with the Western world have resulted in negative affects carrying over to the Japanese people. Japan was occupied against its will by America post-World War II, as well as being used as an unwilling stepping off point for United States troops during the Cold War. There have been numerous protests over the years against US military actions, both peaceful and non-peaceful. There have been protests against many US actions in the region. In many cases where the US has been involved with the Japanese people, these interactions have bred only distrust.
Japan’s first major encounter with the west took place towards the end of the Tokugawa period. Prior to this, limited contact had been maintained through the Dutch trading on a southern island of Japan. However, in 1853, the United States forced its way into the country with a naval force great enough to intimidate Japan into opening its doors (Reishauer 78). Despite the popular opinion that Japan should remain closed, Japan was forced to become a part of the international community. As time went on, some Japanese realized that the only way to succeed in maintaining the Japanese people as such was to adopt the technology that the Westerners had brought to the region. (Reish 80) This period of unrest brought about the “Meiji restoration” (Reis 85). This change was not widely accepted by the Japanese people. Many longed for the stability and certainties which the Tokugawa system offered, and as such, this interaction with the West removed a stable government from power in Japan, only to be replaced by a less stable and less certain system, an effect not preferred by most Japanese people.
Another result of contact with Western culture and the opening of the country was that Japan began to make attempts to build its own empire to follow the lead of its Western role models. After defeating Chinese forces in Korea, Japan annexed Taiwan to be a part of its own country as well as taking empirical control over Korea (Reis 89). This was to prove a devastating affect on the economy of Japan later in the 20th century. During the post-World War I depression, Japan suffered heavy economic damage due to a falling prices of rice and silk due to competition from Korea and Taiwan (Reis 96). As this trend continued, more and more people longed for the stable times of Japan’s past. Reisc states that “Tradition-minded Japanese tended to regard parliamentary instructions, big businesses, individualism, and the liberal style of life emergin in the cities as related signs of the corrupting influence of the West” (97). The Japanese soon realized that their empirical holdings could not support their own population without the help of outside sources, and as the depression forced more and more countries to follow more nationalistic policies, the necessary support dried up (Reis 97). Japan was no longer able to support its own people, and this was largely as a result of policies formed solely because of interaction with the west.
Not all of Japan’s conflicts with the West happened in the early 20th century. Post World War II Japan has had just as many conflicts with the policies and people of the United States. Prior to 1942, the United States stayed out of the war, for the most part. However after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, another conflict had begun. After more than 3 years of intense fighting, much of Japan was left in shambles after this encounter with the West (Reis 350). The occupation of Japan by the United States was not looked upon kindly by the Japanese people. The United States Military forces were a symbol that Japan was no longer its own country, and was instead under rule by a foreign nation. “Occupied Japan: An Experiment in Democracy” showed that the soldiers who were carrying out the occupation were not looked upon kindly by the people of the country. The soldiers were feared by the people of Japan. They were looked upon with distrust and, in some cases, open hatred. From the Japanese perspective, the Americans were not friendly forces attempting to help rebuild their country: they were an invading force that was unwanted and unwarranted. As a result of this occupation, Japanese military capacity was reduced and destroyed, a fact that many Japanese resent to this day. (Lecture 3/6/03) The post-war occupation is yet another conflict between Japan and the West which has had negative affects on the Japanese people.
Although many of Japan’s interactions with the west have resulted in some type of conflict, this has not been the case in every situation. In many cases, a change in Japanese culture has been evoked by an encounter in the West which has improved the lives of the people. From a more democratic form of government to the emergence of Japan as a technological and economic world power in modern times, interaction with the West has enriched the Japanese culture and lifestyle in a variety of ways.
During the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s, Japan found itself in a completely new system of government. For the first several decades of the reign, there was very little stability. In order to correct this, the bureaucracy instituted the “Diet”, a parliamentary system similar to England’s House of Commons A constitution was written which included a “popular assembly [based] on the Western model” (Reis 87). As a result of this progress, Britain relinquished its extraterritorial privileges, a move followed by other nations around the world. (Reis 89) The new system of government proved to be a valuable and flexible asset both during this time period and in the time to come. The Diet is still the system of government used by the Japanese people; it was the first non-Western popular assembly in the world. The endurance of such a system stands as a powerful monument to the power of democratic government as well as to the perseverance of the Japanese people.
The occupation of Japan also had numerous positive affects for the people of the country. Although the people saw the United States soldiers as an invading force, the entire goal of General Douglas McArthur during the occupation seemed to be to recreate Japan in the image of the United States (Lecture 3/11/03). The Japanese industrial system was kept alive largely due to American aid in the region. (Reis 106) Another goal of the American occupation was to break up the Zaibatsu, a move which was designed to help the people of Japan to increase their quality of life as well as removing one of the primary “causes” of WWII. (Reis 108) In addition, the US helped to rewrite the Japanese constitution during the occupation. The new constitution included reforms in many social areas. Women were given full suffrage as well as full equality in the household, for the first time in history. Regarding occupation reforms, Reis states, “…the occupation reforms… were welcomed, and inevitably brought huge changes” (108). Additionally, the new constitution called for general elections, rather than the continued rule of the oligarchy. Overall, the occupation brought many positive changes to the people of Japan. From increased social rights to a more democratic governmental system, the occupation did succeed in its goal of making Japan more like the United States.
Another aspect of Japanese culture that was obviously affected by contact with the West is the exports and imports of the nation. The United States and Japan have had many different rules defining trade relations over the years. The technology of Japan was developed directly as a result of contact with the West. As early as the Meiji restoration, Western technological prowess has inspired Japanese design and creation. (Reis 88) Today, Japanese electronic products are some of the best in the world, and the drive to have the best, top of the line equipment and technology. Although it can be argued that Japan does not owe all this technical prowess to contact with Western culture, it is obvious that this has affected the production of such goods in the country.
Throughout its history, Japan has had numerous encounters with several western civilizations. The encounters have had both positive and negative effects which are both far-ranging and deep-reaching. From the rewriting of the Japanese constitution to the opening of the country to public trade, each encounter left both parties changed. With the two countries so closely intertwined, there can be no doubt that this trend will continue far into the future, as the two cultures continue to interact and affect each other on many different levels.