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July 8th, 2008
Japan's About-Face
Timeline: Japanese Military History

Click to jump to a specific era:

600-1854 1868-1910 1914-40 1940-45 1946-64 1992-2006 2007-present
600s Once Japan unified in 600, the country was ruled by a samurai class during the Heian period (794-1603) and a feudal military dictatorship.
794 Under the Heian Period, the samurai class of Japanese warriors erodes the emperor’s control. The samurai’s influence and power grows and the local feudal system endures for 700 years.
1603 The Tokugawa shogunate, a feudal military dictatorship, is established.
1854 Japan signs trade treaty with U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry, after Perry threatens to bombard coastal cities. The treaty ends two centuries of Japanese isolationism.
1868 Samurai establish new Meiji government, which restores power to the emperor.
1889 Japan adopts its first Western-style constitution, establishing a bicameral legislature, the Imperial Diet. The emperor remains in power, but does not possess full authority or direct rule.
1890 During the period of Westernization, industrialization and modernization, the Meiji government sets forth a document called the Imperial Rescript on Education based on Confucian philosophy and emphasizing Japanese nationalism and cultural commonality.
Japan defeats China in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895. Japan annexes Taiwan and sways Chinese influence in Korea. The strength of Japan’s modern and Western-styled military prepares Japan to dominate the region and shift power from China.
The Russo-Japanese War breaks out when Japan launches a surprise attack on Port Arthur, Manchuria. Japan and Russia vie for dominance of the region, specifically Manchuria and the Korean peninsula. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt mediates the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905, giving Japan control of Korea.
1910 Japan annexes Korea.
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1914 Japan enters World War I on the side of Great Britain.
Japan attends the WWI peace settlement at Versailles and is recognized as one of the “Big Five” great military and industrial world powers.
1924 Tensions rise when the U.S. passes the Immigration Act, which prohibits all Asian immigration.
1929 Worldwide depression ushers in a period of nationalism in Japan. Traditional Japanese values are emphasized.
1931 Japan violates the Treaty of Versailles, invading and conquering Chinese Manchuria.
1932 Ultra-nationalistic military troops assassinate the Japanese Prime Minister, Inukai Tsuyoshi. The military exerts its power in international and domestic politics.
1933 After the League of Nations condemns Japan for its military attack on Manchuria, Japan withdraws its membership.
1936 Japan signs anti-communist agreement with Nazi Germany.
Japan goes to war with China marking the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Japan captures the Chinese city of Nanjing and within four months, Japanese troops massacre 250,000 to 300,000, and rape an estimated 20,000 women. High-level Japanese officials deny the “Rape of Nanjing” and discredit the murderous accounts and wartime atrocities. It is considered one of the worst massacres in modern times. Japan also captures Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing.
1940 As France falls to Nazi Germany, Japan advances to occupy Vietnam (French Indochine).
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1940 Japan joins the Axis Powers with Germany and Italy.
1940 Japan bombs the Chinese city of Ningbo with fleas carrying the bubonic plague. A 1999 lawsuit claims that germ warfare killed at least 2,100 people.
1941 On December 7, 1941, Japan launches a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, killing 2,500 and sinking 12 ships. The U.S. and allies declare war on Japan.
1941 Japan invades Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Japan takes Guam and Wake Island.
1942 Japan conquers Indonesia (former Dutch East Indies), Malaysia, Solomon Islands, northern island of New Guinea, Singapore, Burma, and reaches India (under British rule).
1942 The U.S. rounds up 117,000 Japanese-Americans and relocates them to internment camps during the war.
1945 On May 7, 1945, Germany surrenders unconditionally to the Allied Powers (U.S., Great Britain and China).
1945 On July 26, 1945, the Allied Powers define the terms for Japan’s unconditional surrender in the Potsdam Declaration. In the event that Japan does not surrender, the Allied Powers threaten “prompt and utter destruction.”
1945 On August 6, 1945, the U.S. drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The bomb is known as “Little Boy” in reference to former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The final toll is estimated around 100,000, of Hiroshima’s 350,000 population. Two days later, the Soviet Union joins the Potsdam Declaration against Japan.
1945 On August 9, 1945, the U.S. drops a second atomic bomb, this time on Nagasaki. The bomb is known as “Fat Man” in a reference to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Approximately 30 percent of Nagasaki is destroyed and 74,000 people are killed. Japan is placed under U.S. military government rule.
1945 On September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrenders to the Allied Forces and WWII comes to a close. U.S. occupies Japan for the next seven years.
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Under the supervision of General Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers), the U.S. drafts a new constitution for Japan, abolishing and forbidding future military forces under Article 9, declaring the people’s sovereignty and stripping the emperor of political authority.
1950 Japan supplies materials to the U.S. during the Korean War. This begins to resuscitate the Japanese economy.
1951 Japan signs the Treaty of Peace with the U.S. and 48 other nations, officially ending WWII. The USSR, Czechoslovakia and Poland did not sign the treaty. Japan relinquishes all overseas territories.
1952 U.S. occupation ends and Japan regains its independence. The U.S. remains the military protector of a pacifist Japan.
1954 The Japanese Self-Defense Forces — preceded by the National Police Reserve — are established to protect the Japanese islands.
1954 The Japan Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement provides for the presence of U.S. armed forces in Japan “in the interest of peace and security.”
1956 Japan joins the U.N.
1960 Japan and the U.S. sign a new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which reaffirms common interest and alliance in the event that either country is attacked or in danger. However, it is understood that Japan, due to Article 9 of its Constitution, could offer little help in terms of military support abroad.
1964 Olympic Games held in Tokyo showcase Japan’s post-war economic boom.
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1992 The National Diet of Japan, Japan’s bicameral legislature, passes the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations Cooperation Bill allowing Japanese Self-Defense Forces to be sent outside Japan.
1992 For the first time, Japan deploys the Self Defense Force (SDF) to Cambodia. The 1,216 personnel monitor the cease-fire, repair infrastructure and supply food, facilities and medical care as part of the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia.
1993 North Korea provokes a crisis by withdrawing from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.
1996 Japan sends 1,000 SDF personnel to the Golan Heights to coordinate transport and perform maintenance as part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which supervises the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces on the Golan Heights.
1997 The revision of the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation increases Japan’s role in the event of crisis in the Asian region and creates an “effective, operational alliance” with the U.S.
1998 North Korea launches a missile over mainland Japan into the Pacific. Japan responds by planning to militarize space with spy satellites.
2001 The Japanese Maritime SDF sinks a North Korean spy ship believed to be carrying arms in Chinese waters, making it the first use of military force since WWII.
2001 After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Japan provides noncombat support for U.N.-sanctioned coalition against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
2002 North Korea admits to abducting 13 Japanese nationals in the late 1970s and early 1980s. North Korea returns five and says the remaining eight are dead.
2003 Japan launches spy satellites to improve its surveillance of the region.
2004 Japan sends 600 SDF personnel to Iraq to provide medical treatment, supply water and reconstruct public facilities, along with another 330 SDF personnel to the Persian Gulf to transport vehicles and other equipment.
2005 Japanese government-approved history textbooks spark controversy over Sino-Japanese historical accounts, angering China.
2005 China seeks to block Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
2005 Japan sends 925 SDF personnel to Indonesia after the earthquake in the Indian Ocean and the tsunami killed more than 150,000 people. SDF coordinates disaster relief efforts, transports medical supplies and disaster response teams, and provides medical treatment and disease control.
2005 Japan sends 346 SDF personnel to assist in the rescue of seven Russian sailors trapped in a disabled submarine on the Pacific Ocean floor near Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
2006 Japan imposes sanctions on North Korea after it conducted a nuclear test in October 2006 and has renewed them every six months since then.
2006 Japan passes bill to consolidate oversight of SDF operations, marking the first organizational change to the SDF since it was founded.
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2007 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe upgrades the Japan Defense Agency to a cabinet-level ministry called the Ministry of Defense.
2008 Japan plans to partially lift sanctions on North Korea after they agree to investigate abducted Japanese nationals.
2008 A Japanese warship docks in China for the first time since World War II. The exchange is symbolic of improving relations between the two rival Asian powers and former WWII enemies.
2008 North Korea declares its nuclear capabilities, programs and activities, but Japan remains cautious of North Korean direct nuclear threat.
2008 On June 30, 2008, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced that Japan would send SDF officials into Sudan as part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission. The Japanese government has yet to decide how many officials would be sent or when.
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Sources: AP, BBC, Council on Foreign Relations, Japan Rising by Kenneth B. Pyle, The Economist, The Guardian, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, PBS, Securing Japan by Richard J. Samuels, The Washington Post, and the U.S. Dept. of State.

  • CK Hay

    I didn’t think that there was enough exploration in to the feelings of the younger generation as to why all these constitutional restrictions exist.
    “How does it feel to be arming Japan in the shadow of Pearl Harbour and the Pacific War?”.
    “Does Japan have the right to arm itself?”
    Didn’t see those kinds of questions asked.
    On one had I would like to see the economic success provide leverage towards world peace, but after Hitler they inflicted the worst war crimes in modern military history.

  • Helen Hardacre

    Your viewers might find my project website on Constitutional Revision in Japan a useful reference; you can find a Chronology, Bibliography, and links to 70 websites in Japan that debate this issue. Perhaps it would be a good link: Feel free to use it!
    Helen Hardacre, project founder and director

  • paulx

    America’s encouragement of Japanese military build up is short sighted. Militarism is part of Japanese culture that does not go away in a generation or two. In the post-war years, that militaristic tendency was channeled into corporate expansion by the mini armies of Toyota and Honda. When that slowed down in the past decade, pressure started to build for a real military. More over, the opposition to war in Japan is invariably based on the self-pity brought by defeat, never was it based on a moral principle of humanity, not for the humanity outside Japan. As long as the Japanese youth are not taught about the true history of Japanese militarism, the rest of the world are not safe from it.

  • Liu Rui Qi

    Japanese militarization is only another step for America to channel it’s influence on Asia, as it needs to secure Asia. Otherwise, Asia’s many troubles will cause WWIII. Also, Japanese officials still pray at the Yakasuni shrine in Tokyo, the shrine where all of Japan’s soldiers are honored. Also, I cannot see why Japan needs a military. As long as it stays peaceful, no nation will attack it. Japanese aggressiveness should stay in technology.

  • nonnoboy

    Japan should have a full capable military, however it shouldn’t engage in wars. Nuclear submarines are needed to deter the PRC’s illegal actions into Japanese waters. Carriers are needed in case North Korea decides to aim their Taepo Dong II missiles over Tokyo (EVER AGAIN).

    Japan is a peaceful nation, however, the peaceful nations are surrounded by un-peaceful neighbours.

    America is known to trick other countries into doing their bidding. Philippines is a prime example during the Pacific war. They shouldn’t have armed and attack the Imperial Army, for it was a doomed and failed slaughter. Filipinos still resent that tactic today.

    America also pushed Iraq to arm and attack Iran. Not a very smart event, outside of securing oil with a the intent of having the muslims fight each other.

    America also is attempting to arm Japan and push them into bigger roles against China and even Iraq.

    This is where it stops. Japan’s Diet should have absolute right to declare war, no other body in parliament. And the SDF although should be ran freely to build up the MSDF and ASDF without restrictions, should not be allowed to engage in combat without the Diet.

    Call Japan’s Article 9 self-pity or moral principal of humanity, either way too many folks died. America, China, Korea are the countries that didn’t learn after the Pacific as they continued on with several more wars.

  • walter ko

    Tora! Tora! Tora!
    Japan attacked Pearl Harbor! A Day of Infamy!

    Japan WW II atrocities in Asia was over-simplified in your time-line. They killed, raped, burnt and looted, detailed in the book, The Gold Warriors. They built their wealth by enslaving American POWs in the book, Unjust Enrichment. They invaded China in a reign of terror by “Loot All, Burn All and Kill All” policy with the infamous Rape of Nanking, Comfort Women (kidnaped girls into forced military sex slaves, germ/biological warfare (books: Unit 731, Death Factory and A Plague upon Humanity), Slave Labor (American POWs, Lester Tenney), Military Notes.

    Japan Prime Minister visit annually Tokyo Yakasuni Shrine where housed convicted Class A war criminals to revive past glory and resurrect militarism.

    Does Japan Diet apologize and compensate the Asian & Dutch victims officially and promise to teach their younger generations not to repeat aggression again as Germany did? Instead, they whitewash, distort and even deny their war crime against humanity. ( Please check VHS tape titled Murder Under the Sun, Japanese War Crimes and atrocities, Lou Reda Production).

    Your show documented why Japanese people led by monks oppose to change Article 9.

    This is why Japan was defeated in the bid for UN Security Council member lately !

    This is why SDF oversea deployment was closely watched!

  • DEE

    I have read all your comments and I think all of you have some legitimate point or another. But I would like for us to look at Japan from this perspective that people even nations make mistakes and I think they can learn from it. If anyone denies that point I would like to point to the mistakes of the previous generations of Americans of wiping out the natives, enslaving people of other races and wiping Heroshima and Nagasaki off the face of the map. I believe these were mistakes made by the previous generations of American that is still had for us to admit to in this generation of Americans. But has the USA been a force for good in recent times (specifically, after WWII)? I believe the answer is resoundingly YES. Though we uses some questionable means to achieve our ends of winning the cold-war. This is what I want any American to think about when looking back to the issue of Pearl Harbor, however painful the memories may be. I would also wish that other Asians will look at the big picture of the present stategic map of Asia.
    1) Japan is a democratic country
    2) China is a Communist country
    3) Japan has substansial technological, industrial, and manufacturing capital
    4) China has some but not as much as it wants.
    5) China has shown that it would like to become a superpower one day (a communist country)
    6) The USA is the only country providing Nuclear deterrance for its allies in Asia.
    7) If for any reason the USA is no longer able to properly propect its allies, specifically Japan, S.Korea and Taiwan. Those countries can be blackmailed into a stategic alliance by either China, Russia or N.Korea

    This would mean that their technological, industrial, manufacturing and monitary infrastructure will go to strenghtening a peer-competitor (Russia or China) which is not democratic and may be hostile to the USA, its other neighbors and the world.

    Also, I think that many Japaneese haven’t truely considered the geopolitical picture and realized that their country may be in a precarious position not only visa-ve N.Korea, but with the issue of China and Russia.
    Their country is also not a member of NATO, so the nuclear deterrence provided by the USA is not as strong as the one provided for Western Europe. Where there was a policy of Nuclear sharing (if a war occurs the USA will transfer Tactical weapons to NATO countires). Even still, the UK and France still opted to build their own minimal nuclear deterrance.

    What I am saying is this, the Japanese people can not wish these problems away and the idea that if Japan remains peaceful it will not have enemies does not stand up to the test of history. Sweden, Norway and Finland were neutral at the onset of WWII and Hitler still attacked and occupies them because of their industrial infrastructure.

    Japan and the other East Asian powers should not allow themselves to become a case study of what a wealthy, economically powerful country should not do.

    I personally believe that the Democratic countries in Asia should be armed to the teeth, not because of the shortterm problem that south korea pose, but the longer term problem posed by China, Russia and in a small degree N. Korea

  • Frank

    A minor error in the timeline – the Maritime Self-Defense Force did not sink the North Korean spy ship in 2001. The Japan Coast Guard did, which is part of a different agency/ministry and operates under different rules of engagement.

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