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.
back to top
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).
back to top
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.
back to top
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.
back to top
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.
back to top
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.
back to top

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.

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2023 WNET.ORG Properties LLC. All rights reserved.