When Japan began to industrialize, the island nation needed more resources. In the late 1800s, Japan turned to conquering Korea, which offered the Japanese access to coal, a vital resource for industrializing nations. Korea was at that time a tributary state of China, and Japanese imperialist expansion in Korea sparked the Sino Japanese War of 1894-1895 (the first Sino Japanese War), which ended in Chinese defeat. The Japanese also gained control of the Liaodong Peninsula, which sparked the Russo Japanese War of 1905 and which also ended in a Japanese victory. By this point, Japan had become an imperial power. A second Sino Japanese War was fought in the 1930s through War World II as Japan sought to continue their control over Manchuria and over Chinese raw materials and labor.
By the 1920s, Japan had sunk into an economic depression from which it began to emerge in the 1930s. Japan tried to protect its economy through high tariffs, or taxes on imports, as well as by manipulating trade with other countries. To bolster their economy, they needed raw materials from their colonies in Korea, Manchuria, and elsewhere. However, two vital raw materials were not available in their colonial territories--oil and rubber. In order to gain access to these materials, Japan, using its powerful naval forces, eventually took over Indonesia (then controlled by the Dutch) to get oil and Malaya (controlled by the British) to gain access to rubber. Therefore, Japan's industrialization process led to imperialism.
There are four key ingredients that countries need when moving towards industrialization. These ingredients are raw materials for production, unskilled labor population, markets for finished product, and a strong military to protect its economic interests. While Japan had a sizable population of unskilled laborers from the rural population, the other three factors presented a problem for Japan. Like the European powers of the late 1800’s, Japan needed to look for these materials outside of its own borders.
By the mid-1930’s Japan was emerging from an economic depression that caused great harm to agrarian workers. The government was interested in investing in heavy industry and its military. Japan had a surplus of laborers, but lacked the natural resources to fuel industrialism. In an effort to secure resources, it looked beyond its islands.
Japan was able to secure natural resources through the conquest of Korea, Taiwan, and China.
Japan was also lacking in important military resources, primarily rubber and oil. It was able to secure these items from the United States and Britain until economic embargoes threatened to shut down Japan’s navy. As a result, Japan pursued an even more aggressive strategy of empire building to protect its industrial interests.