Modern Japan

Defined as starting around 1850, modern Japan was the result of Western intrusion. The history of modern Japan is one of juggling Westernization with a selective preservation of tradition, transforming and renaming tradition in the process.  In some cases, we see parallels between modern Japan and modern China.  Reforms in both countries were planned by the state.   And both countries initially reacted against Western intrusion with the decision to empower themselves with Western science and technology while preserving their own cultures.  As time went on, both adopted substantial amounts of Western knowledge and transformed their respective cultures along Western lines to different extents.  But the two countries soon parted ways.  While China struggled under the wars and demands of the foreign powers, Japan quickly transformed itself into an imperial power, colonizing Korea, Taiwan, and finally, China.  Post-World War II Japanese history was marked by American occupation and then rapid economic development, so that by the 1980s, Japan was widely regarded as a miracle country with the no.2 largest economy in the world. 

Outline of modern Japanese history

The coming of the West (1800s).

Political reforms conducted in the name of the Meiji emperor (1868- 1890s).

Military triumphs and road to imperial power:

Under the American occupation (1945-52):

Japan’s economic takeoff (1950s-1990s).

Japan’s economic recession (1990s-now).

A history of paradoxes

Modern Japan has exemplified a history of paradoxes:

The origins of the Japanese state.

Japanese uniqueness

Every country has its own myth. Japan is no exception. Among its boasts, two stand out:

Tokugawa, the Shogunate and the feudal system

Tokugawa’s rule in comparison with European feudalism

The Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868) and the outside world

To consolidate its rule, the Tokugawa shogunate more and more closed Japan to the outside world, forbidding foreigners to come and visit or do business in Japan except for the Chinese and the Dutch, hence the term "Dutch Learning" for the Dutch translated Western books in Japan.

In the face of Western traders, especially after 1850, the shogunate regime was deeply divided. It often tried to fight the West, but the story of China served as a reminder that it was not the way out.

Tokugawa and the introduction of Chinese Confucian learning

To consolidate his rule, Tokugawa also introduced Chinese Confucian (c. 5th c.b.c.) learning that emphasized merit rather than birth, but deference and hierarchy.

Japanese religion

Shintoism: developed from animism that the world was alive with spirits, which were often from concrete, natural sources.

Buddhism: a negative outlook on life that treated life as the result of the reincarnation of the soul because of its material content, and the goal of life is to purge the material.

Christianity, a growing minority in the 20th century.