How did the Meiji Restoration in 1868 influence Japan towards imperialism?  

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In 1868, the Meiji Restoration signaled the birth of modern Japan. After centuries of isolationist policies put into place by the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan’s leaders recognized that Japan needed to make significant changes. These changes were a direct response to European and American imperialism in Asia. For example, since the...

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In 1868, the Meiji Restoration signaled the birth of modern Japan. After centuries of isolationist policies put into place by the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan’s leaders recognized that Japan needed to make significant changes. These changes were a direct response to European and American imperialism in Asia. For example, since the mid-1800s, China had been at the mercy of European powers, losing sovereignty of its major port cities. If Japan was going to avoid China’s fate, it had to both modernize and create an empire of its own.

By 1890 Japan had undergone a massive reorganization of its government and military. Though the Emperor was technically the head of state, government power rested with the Diet, a legislative body modeled after the British House of Lords and House of Commons. Japan’s army and navy were based off the Prussian and British models, respectively. Now that it had the tools to acquire territory, Japan needed to flex its muscle in order to catch up with the Western powers.

Japan’s first target was the weakest: China. The First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5 was an overwhelming victory for Japan. At the end of the war, Japan acquired Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula. Both territories provided natural resources and cheap labor which bolstered Japan’s manufacturing capability.

Japan became the leading power in Asia after defeating Russia in the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War. Japan’s navy, the flagship of which was purchased from Great Britain, destroyed the Imperial Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima. At war’s end, Russia ceded to Japan Port Arthur and the southern half of Sakhalin Island.

In fifty years Japan had transformed itself from one of the weakest countries on Earth to one of the strongest. The desire for empire was the catalyst that led to this astounding change.

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