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An Overview of the Japanese Industrial Revolution

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Haley is a professional nerd with a penchant for researching history.

The Governmental Yawata Iron & Steel Works was one of the many sites that brought on the Japanese Industrial Revolution.

The Governmental Yawata Iron & Steel Works was one of the many sites that brought on the Japanese Industrial Revolution.

When was the Japanese Industrial Revolution?

Japan's industrialization was due entirely to the influence of foreign technologies. The Japanese Industrial revolution The process first began during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1890). Prior to the Meiji Restoration, Japan had spent centuries in almost complete isolation from the world outside its borders due to the mandate of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Emperor Meiji himself was the single most influential political leader in terms of piloting Japan's industrial revolution. Though he was not a captain of the industry himself, it was by his imperial mandate, known today as the Meiji Restoration, that the modernization efforts, and by extension, the rapid industrialization even began in the first place. However, the Emperor was not the only political entity involved. The Iwakura Mission was a group of diplomats send on a world tour to amend the unequal treaties of Japan's past and to study the ways of the modern countries of the West. The former goal ended in universal failure, but the latter would become a great success.

The outcome of the Japanese Empire's industrial revolution is both multi-faceted and extremely well-documented by historians of all persuasions. In essence, the Meiji Emperor took hold of a country bound by the shackles of feudalism and isolationist traditions and forcibly drug it into the modern age, transforming Japan into a robust nation that was not only capable of resisting Western domination but was in fact able to compete with and overcome its Western peers.

The Japanese Industrial Revolution allowed Japan to expand its merchant routes.

In the same manner, as the Western nations that had previously undergone industrialization, the Japanese economy quickly shifted into a free-enterprise capitalist system. The process was not instantaneous, but due to their zealous focus, the Japanese managed industrialization and the economic shift that invariably followed in rapid time, quickly becoming mercantilist and establishing itself throughout Asian and international markets.

An 1868 photograph of Japanese Tokugawa Bakufu troops being trained by the French Military Mission to Japan.

An 1868 photograph of Japanese Tokugawa Bakufu troops being trained by the French Military Mission to Japan.

How did the Japanese Industrial Revolution affect the Japanese military?

Previously terrified by the ease with which the Western powers had come to viciously dominate and exploit China, long revered by the Japanese as a nation to be idolized and emulated, the Japanese knew that modernizing and fortifying their military needed to be given their highest priority. It is that military fortification that is perhaps the single most significant result of Japan's industrial revolution. After opening itself to the influx of Western powers that sought entry, the Japanese were quick to adapt themselves to industrialization, and by the fruits of those industrial labors were they able to afford the complete assembly of a new military, both powerful and on par with those of the West in so far as military technology was concerned. They were rapid in their adaptation of Western tactics, weaponry, strategies, often employing the aid of French and especially Prussian military leaders to serve as advisors to Japan's fledgling military commanders. The Japanese would prove to be quick learners, and in the years following the industrial revolution and military restoration, they would apply these newfound capacities to great and devastating effect.

The Japanese Imperial military, advised by the Prussian Major Klemens Meckel, would go on to seize Korea as a vassal state from the Qing Dynasty in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894. In achieving six months of consistent victories, post-industrialized Japan managed not only to come into the stewardship of the Korean peninsula and Taiwan but much more significantly did Japan become the undisputed dominant power within Asia. In 1905 the results of Japan's successful industrial revolution would further become evident following the unexpected Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War, the first occasion in which a Western nation had ever been overcome by an Asian force. The victory saw Japan's prestige rise to previously unimaginable heights and afforded the Japanese much greater influence throughout the greater political sphere of Asia. Not long thereafter would the world descend into World War I, affording Japan the opportunity to join the Allied Forces and seize Germany's political holdings in China and the Pacific, though their participation in the war was otherwise not noteworthy.

Jacob Clemens Meckel, one of the military men who helped to seize Korea from Japanese control.

Jacob Clemens Meckel, one of the military men who helped to seize Korea from Japanese control.

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Following World War I, the major European forces that had dominated the Asian market had all been severely enervated. Japan, alongside the United States, were swift to appropriate this newfound European absence in the greater Asian market, reaping the rewards of their industrialization in the process. The Japanese economy would expand rapidly whilst so much of the rest of the world succumbed to the Great Depression.

How did the Japanese Industrial Revolution affect Japan's international policies?

Japan's industrial revolution served as the catalyst for the single most significant transformation in the island nation's history. Prior to the Meiji Restoration, Japan was an isolated feudal nation possessed of a stagnant economy, an almost nonexistent industrial sector, and a system of political stability maintained only by the oppression of the Japanese people by a hierarchy that strangled social mobility. The policy of isolation and the iron fist of the Tokugawa eliminated the possibility of much advancement economically, technologically, and certainly industrially. It was not until their overthrow and the Meiji Restoration that followed, which would facilitate the rapid industrialization to come, that Japan was able to devote itself in earnest to its modernization.

Affects of the Industrial Revolution on the Lagging Economy

Prior to industrialization the economy of Japan had been on the decline for generations. With little opportunity for trade due to the severe restrictions of the Shogunate, the Japanese had not managed to accomplish much, economically. The technological situation was just as dismal. Without proper contact with the world beyond their borders, the Japanese seldom received any of the technological advances being made in Europe and America. The isolationist policy had effectively frozen Japan in time, denying generation after generation for hundreds of years the opportunity to move forward with the rest of the world. As an extension of this, Japan remained entirely unindustrialized long after the major nations of the West had all undergone the process of industrialization and come out as imperialistic powers. This steadfast refusal to progress into the future would serve to severely weaken Japan when the Western powers became interested in exerting their respective spheres of influence throughout Asia.

The Japanese observation of Western dominance throughout Asia, and the subsequent fears for their own sovereignty, would motivate the Japanese to pursue modernization and industrialization with fanaticism. When the Meiji government opened Japan to the outside world, rather than passively receiving the benefit of progressive Western thought, the Japanese invited professionals in fields including from science, mathematics, foreign languages, architecture, military studies and especially industry to educate them. The Japanese industrial sector soared, initially the textile industry before expanding into all other spheres. The Japanese understood the need for rapid industrialization at all costs, so as to be able to fortify their military and economic sectors to resist the influence of the Western powers that were conquering the rest of Asia and the Pacific.

The Japanese Industrial Revolution allowed Japan to become the power house of technological development that the country is now known for.

The Japanese Industrial Revolution allowed Japan to become the power house of technological development that the country is now known for.

How did the Japanese assimilate modern technology so quickly during the Industrial Revolution?

The Japanese assimilated Western technology and customs at a break-neck pace. The government itself was a staunch supporter of private enterprise and supported the conditions necessary to foster such an economic climate. This, alongside the rise in banking and the reliance upon banking loans to establish business, would serve to transform the Japanese feudal economic system into an advanced capitalist economy the likes of England's in record time. During the industrial revolution and as part of the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese sent thousands of students and diplomats on an international tour to study under the tutelage of Western professionals of every sort, learning trades of industry, science, mathematics and beyond. Furthermore, the Japanese eagerly assimilated Western weaponry and military technology into their arsenal for the purpose of modernizing their military for national defense.

To understand the influence of the Japan's industrial revolution upon the world one need only give the histories of China, Taiwan and Korea and cursory glance. The immediate effect of Japan's industrialization upon the other countries of the world was the sudden emergence of another player on the world scene. Most of the Western nations had scribed unequal treaties with Japan soon after the island nation opened itself to them, but the balance of power would not remain so one-sided for long. Japan proved itself to be the power of Asia when it crushed the Qing dynasty in the first Sino-Japanese war, occupying the Korean peninsula and island of Taiwan in the process. Not long thereafter would Japan prove itself to be not only the most powerful force in Asia but also an international power in its own right when the Imperial Japanese military bested the Russian Empire in the Russo-Japanese war. And the wartime actions of the Japanese military machine, empowered by Japan's industrialization, during World War II have still yet to be forgotten or forgiven in East and Southeast Asia to this day.

Many every day products that people use around the world, come from Japanese factories.

Many every day products that people use around the world, come from Japanese factories.

The effects from Japanese Industrial Revolution can still be felt internationally today.

Were it not for the industrialization efforts taken by the Meiji government to pull Japan from the archaic customs of the past into the modern age, Japan's militaristic behavior prior to the First World War until the end of the second would simply have been an utter impossibility. It is only by the sheer ferocity and tenacity of their pursuit of a power, industrialized economy that Japan was able to construct its military machine, by which it seized the land and resources necessary to further develop said military and construct about itself a protective buffer zone from the potential aggressive infringement by foreign nations upon Japan's sovereignty.

Beyond the history of belligerent expansion that was only made possible by the industrial revolution, the other results are plain to see to this day. One need only take inventory of their own home to understand this fact. How many Americans today own Japanese cars, play Japanese video games on Japanese game consoles, read Japanese manga, watch Japanese anime and indulgence in Japanese delicacies such as sushi or sashimi? It is next to impossible to go a day without observing in at least one incarnation or another Japan's influence upon the world, all of which is in fact an indirect result of Japan's nineteenth-century industrialization efforts.

Japan's present status as the third-largest economy in the world is a direct result of the Japanese industrial revolution's success. Everything that the Japanese nation is today it owes entirely to the Meiji Restoration, and the results thereof. It was through industrialization that Japan was able to develop its military, and it was through forceful military action that Japan was able to expand itself both in terms of territory, prestige, and economic strength.

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