Japan’s sudden, speedy modernization after 1868 turned into a scramble for resources and influence on the Asian mainland. As foreign powers fought over the spoils of the dying Chinese empire, the Japanese became under-dogs, allies, and then rivals of the other imperial powers – first praised as the plucky ‘British of Asia’, then reviled as unwelcome upstarts and feared as savage foes.
Jonathan Clements chronicles the 80 pivotal years which set Japan on a course for world war, steered by a military clique that used assassination and coercion as political tools. He charts the evolution of a state dedicated to conquest, and the influence of military fanaticism on everything from Japanese culture to food and fashion – including the propaganda songs and anthems of a martial nation. He examines daily life in the Japanese Empire at its peak in 1940, and the grotesque colonial experiment of Manchukuo, a state funded by drug-dealing and supported by forced labor.
Looking beyond the polarized narrative of the Second World War, Clements examines the motivations and beliefs of Japan’s leaders, as well as policy decisions couched in terms of Pan-Asianism, the exclusion of the Japanese from immigration, and the effects of trade sanctions and embargos. A final chapter details the dismantling of the old order during the Allied Occupation, and its echoes in the present day.