Key areas of focus of this chapter:
  • what is Fascism ?
  • the climate of post-WWI- and pre-WWII- Japan
  • the causes and circumstances for the rise of Fascism in Japan
  • the reasons behind the uneasy relationship with the West

What is Fascism?

Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers individual and other societal interests subordinate to the needs of the state, and seeks to forge a type of national unity, usually based on, but not limited to, ethnic, cultural, or racial attributes. Various scholars attribute different characteristics to fascism, but the following elements are usually seen as its integral parts: nationalism, authoritarianism, statism, militarism, corporatism, populism, totalitarianism, anti-communism, racism and opposition to economic and political liberalism. Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, racism is not a requirement of Fascism.

Fascism is also typified by totalitarian attempts to impose state control over all aspects of life: political, social, cultural, and economic, by way of a strong, single-party government for enacting laws and a strong, sometimes brutal militia or police force for enforcing them..[11] Fascism exalts the nation, state, or group of people as superior to the individuals composing it. Fascism uses explicit populist rhetoric; calls for a heroic mass effort to restore past greatness; and demands loyalty to a single leader, leading to a cult of personality and unquestioned obedience to orders (Führerprinzip). Fascism is also considered to be a form of collectivism.

The governments and parties most often considered to have been fascist include Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, Spain's Falange, Portugal's Estado Novo, Hungary's Arrow Cross Party, Romania's Iron Guard, and other similar movements that existed across Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Fascism had a strong base of support among the working classes and extremely poor peasants. Other supports have included members of big business, farmers and landowners, nationalists, and reactionaries, disaffected World War I veterans, intellectuals such as Gabriele D'Annunzio, Curzio Malaparte, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger, conservatives and small businessmen

- information taken from the wikipedia

Causes for the Rise of Fascism in Japan

  1. The Impact of Great Depression

    • The Wall Street Crash in 1929 and its economic impacts spiralled worldwide; Japan was not spared.
    • Other countries could no longer afford Japanese goods.
    • Silk industry, which was Japan main export, was badly affected when the demand for Japanese Silk fall drastically. This decline in silk trade created a chain-reaction:
    • external image scan0004.jpg
      - diagram taken from Conflict and Crisis
    • The economic woes soon spilt over into the social lives of the Japanese. Unemployment was up, so did the hardship bore by the Japanese people. The farmers in the country side were particularly affected by the economic depression.
    • [Expl.] They blamed their hardship on the incompetent government and their contact with the West. Many Japanese also believed that democracy, which was what the government represented, was not doing much for them. They started to buy into that Nationalistic patriotic societies were espousing - reconstruction, military strength and respect for authority - and began to join the army and these patriotic societies. Hence, contributed to the rise of Fascism in Japan.
  2. The Weak Diet

    • It had limited power - cannot control ministers and had no power to make decisions.
    • Its corrupted, and damaged Democracy's reputation
      • Its weakness was exploited by the rich Zaibutsus (wealthy companies), which in the name of aiding the government, was in fact trying build close relations with the government, thus able to exert certain influences over the policy making process.
      • Due to its corruptive nature and its close relationship with the Zaibutsus, the Diet had little support from the Japanese people.
    • Unable to solve economic problems led to:
      • Farmers' difficult living conditions - resulted from the high rent of the landlords and poor harvest.
      • Workers' difficult conditions - poor hygiene; overcrowded housing; crowded working environment. Impatient with the government, many joined unions ran by communist.
      • Many workers felt that the government did not care about them.
    • The Diet failed to address the trade imbalance resulted from its earlier prosperity from global trading.
      • Textiles, china and porcelain were some of the major export of Japan. However, Japan needed to import raw material for all its major industries as well as food needed to feed its growing population. So when the Great Depression hit, the problem with trade imbalance was amplified; the revenue earned from export was significantly reduced, to a point where it was unable to support the demand of imported material and food.
      • Soon, this trade imbalance added more hardship (e.g. shortage of food) to the Japanese people.
    • Great Depression was another reason that accentuated the imcompetence of the Diet.
      (refer to Point 1.)
    • [Expl.]The incompetence of the weak Diet and its inability to address social and economic problems faced by the Japanese people pushed the Japanese people into supporting the Nationalist movement, thus contributed to the rise of Fascism in Japan.
  3. The Worsening Relationship with the West

    • Unfair treatment from the West:
      • After WWI, Japan was involved in Treaty of Versailles talks and did benefitted from the Treaty; Japan managed to make some territorial gains from the Germans. However, Japan was not comfortable that the League did not have a clause about racial equality.
      • American expansion in the Asia-Pacific region threatened Japanese plans to control the region.
      • Paris Peace conference 1919: The League refused to accept the Japanese request for it to formally recognised that all races were equal. The outcome made the Japanese people very unhappy.
      • Washington Naval Conference 1921-22: Japan felt that the disarmament request made in the conference was an attempt to restrict Japanese power, thus saw the treaty signed as unfair.
      • London Disarmament Conference, 1930: Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi agreement to reduce the numbers of smaller battleships and to end the Great Depression by reducing military spending, angered the Japanese Army. They felt he was too soft and accused him of betrayal.
      • The immigration law in the USA in mid-1920s: Asian immigrants, including Japanese were marginalised due to the discriminatory immigration law passed due to USA's isolationist and protectionist policy. This new law angered Japanese who saw it as a sign that the Americans considered them to be inferior.
    • [Expl.]These events combined with the protectionist policies of the West during the Great Depression, caused many Japanese to turn awayfrom Democracy and support Fascism and its expansion of Japan's empire.
  4. The Rise of Japanese Nationalism

    • The emergence of Patriotic Societies
      • Since the 1920s, there had been a growing number of patriotic societies in Japan. Members of these societies had close connections with the Army and some were even members of the Army and Navy. They were extremely nationalistic and believed that Japan was superior to other nations. They wanted to make their nation great by adopting an aggressive foreign policy. Some patriotic societies like the Black Dragon Society and the Cherry Blossom Society wanted to get rid of the democratic leaders and set up a military dictatorship on behalf of the Emperor.
    • Showa Restoration
      • From the 1890s, the education system of Iapan emphasised nationalism, loyalty to the Emperor, self-sacrifice and obedience. Japan's response to the effects of the Great Depression and foreign opposition to Japan's growing empire, was the inauguration of the Showa Restoration which meant 'Bright Harmony'. This movement characterised Western values as being selfish, greedy and individualistic. The Emperor was glorified and Japanese virtues such as self-sacrifice in service of the nation were promoted. The slogan Sanna loi or 'restore the Emperor and expel the barbarian' was often used. The movement produced youths who were blindly loyal to the Emperor and nation. They also believed in militarism and an aggressive foreign policy.
  5. The Rise of Militarism

    • Wanting to follow the West and acquire more colonies in China and Manchuria. These military success made the Navy and Army even more popular and helped them gain even more influence over the government. Leaders who did not support the military's ambitions were often the subject of assasination attempts (e.g. Prime Minister Ki Inukai; he was assassinated for criticising the actions of Japanese army in Manchuria)
    • Succeeding Prime Ministers either felt pressured to support the Army's action in Manchuria or were already strong supports of the Army.
    • [Expl.] It was from 1932, after the Manchuria Incident, that the Japanese government began to follow closely the Nationalistic aims of the Army. Hence, over time, contributed to the rise of Fascism in Japan.

Why did the relationship between Japan and the Western powers soured?

The strong anti-imperialism and Nationalistic feeling among the Japan
  • saw Anglo-American values and capitalist ways as decadent and morally wrong.
  • viewed the Japanese policy of maintaining peace with the West as weak.
  • did not want Japan to depend on the West for trade esp. raw materials and yearned to be like other colonial masters such as Italy and Germany, which took over land that had raw material.
  • The nationalists then used propaganda to try to convince the Japanese people that Westernization was wrong.
  • Result = strain in their relations with the West.

Great Depression

  • The Great Wall Street crash in the 1930s led to a significant decline in trade, especially in the trade of silk.
  • With a decline in trade, contact with the West was no longer viewed necessary so Japan no longer wished to maintain good ties with them.

Discriminatory treatment by the West
  • the 1919 Paris Peace Conference
  • The Washington Naval Conference in 1921
  • The London Disarmament Conference,
  • The new immigration law in the USA in the mid-1920s further strained the relationship between Japan and the West. The new law aimed to prevent Asian immigration as part of its isolationist and protectionist policy. It forbade entry of all Asian immigrants and segregated those Asians who were living in America. The Japanese saw this new law as a sign that the Americans considered the Japanese to be inferior to Americans.
  • All these discriminatory treatment of the Japanese by the West inevitably strained their relationship.

Corrupt government

  • The Japanese government was disorganized and corrupted.
  • Many of these politicians were more interested in building up their personal wealth and accepted bribes from Zaibatsu. Most of these influential Zaibatsu groups had increasingly taken on very nationalistic outlooks. These groups believed that the Japanese should follow Japan’s traditional way of life, and actively propagated these values
  • Such moves had a great impact on the Japanese people, who inevitably rejected the West and put more strain on their ties with the West.

Aggressive Japanese Expansion
  • Japan’s shortage of land and resources made them turn to Manchuria for a solution to their problems.
  • After the Manchurian “incident” and their aggressive occupation of Manchukuo, the American became very concerned about Japan’s aggressive attitude.
  • These events, coupled with the protectionist policies of the West during the Great Depression, caused many Japanese to turn away from democracy and instead, support an expansion of Japan’s empire.
  • In short: Japan tried to expand, the West tried to contain Japan = Friction! Therefore, further strained Japan's relationship with the West.