From the beginning of the Meiji period, Japan work feverishly on improving its status in the modern world and focused heavily on removing the restrictions of the unequal treaties, which were imposed by the West during the mid 1800s. These treaties presented an obstacle in Japan’s future success and were viewed as a great shame by the Japanese people. In an effort to remove these treaties Japan heavily adopted Western cultural aspects such as fashion and architecture in the hopes that this would gain the respect of the West. For similar reasons, the Japanese government also restructured its legal system “adopting a new criminal and civil code modeled after those of France and Germany” (Modern History: The Meiji Restoration and Modernization, n.d.). However, despite the accomplishments and growth of the Meiji government, Japan had yet to receive recognition for these achievements from the West. In fact, it would only be Japan’s military victories over the nations of China and Russia that would catch the attention of the West and effectively highlight the momentous change Japan had gone through.
The first of these two history changing wars is called the Sino-Japanese War. It was a battle between “Qing China and Meiji Japan” over the territory of Korea which lasted less than a year from mid 1894 to early 1895. Japan’s initiation of war with China was viewed by outside observers as a foolish move and China was heavily predicted to crush the Japanese (“Overview of Sino-Japanese War”). After all, Japan was still viewed as a newly emerging state with little experience in international warfare; especially with a nation as large as China. However, the actual outcome of the battle was far from what was predicted. Japan was more prepared than anyone had expected and defeated Chinese forces on both land and sea (McClain, 2002, p. 297). The end result of the war was a decisive and much needed victory for Japan that yielded an impressive list of concessions to be made by China in order to avoid any further Japanese aggression; this agreement was called the Treaty of Shimonoseki, and represented a great triumph for Japan (McClain, 2002, p. 299).
Japan’s victory over Chinese forces represented more than just a military victory; the success “stirred up a swelling wave of patriotic feeling in Japan” and recognition of Japan’s growing military might abroad (McClain, 2002, p. 299). Likewise, the importance of Japan’s military prowess was not overlooked by prominent Western nations and spurred the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Commercial Treaty of 1894, an agreement that was completed prior to Japan’s decisive victory and “abolished the segregated enclave-like British settlements within Japanese cities and provided for the abolition of extraterritoriality in five years” (McClain, 2002, p. 299). It did not take long until other treaty nations followed suit for similar reasons and by 1897, Japan had successfully entered into similar agreements with all other nations who once held a vested interest in the unequal treaties. Thus, the Sino-Japanese war had a significant impact in furthering the main goal of the Meiji Japanese government and provided the country with the much desired international respect they craved.
Nevertheless, despite Japan’s obvious growth and its newly gained respect, the country was stilled viewed as an outsider and inferior to leading Western powers. This ideal of inferiority was communicated clearly to the Japanese following Japan’s acquisition of the Liaodong Peninsula under the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Within only days of taking control of the Peninsula, Japan received pressure from Russia, France, and Germany to return the land to China (McClain, 2002, p. 301). Reluctantly, Japan complied with these requests but the anguish over loosing the peninsula due to foreign pressure lingered.
Finally, in 1904, in an effort to protect its interests in Korea and further its international reputation, Japan declared war on an unsuspecting Russia (“Bushi Wa Kuwanedo TakaYoji, 2002”). Again, Japan had picked a seemingly difficult opponent. Russia, like China was a significantly large land mass and said to have one of the most powerful armies in the world. Japan’s goal however was not to fight the battle on land and use to its advantage its well developed navy (something that Russia lacked) and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 to bring a brutal naval battle to a stalemate and encourage the Russians to mediate a settlement with the aid of the President of the United States (McClain, 2002, p. 306); the Russians agreed. The result of the Russo-Japanese War, aside from the loss of life, signified another great victory for Japan and solidified its prominence on the world stage (McClain, 2002, p. 307). Its military might and political strength could no longer be disregarded as an inferior power.
Meiji Japan went through some significant changes during the Meiji Restoration and emerged as a modern and powerful nation. However, it also emerged with a heavy burden to bear, the disrespect of powerful Western nations and the continued victim of the unequal treaties. The simple adoption of Western cultural aspects and ideals proved to be too little to free Japan of popular Western misconceptions and unfair treatment. However, as it is demonstrated above the importance of the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War cannot be overlooked. These wars provided Japan to demonstrate its power and capability to the West and highlight the level of change it had really undergone. For Japan, the Sino-Japanese War allowed Japan to realize a long held goal, the abolition of the unequal treaties, while the Russo-Japanese War gave Japan the recognition and international respect it deserved while solidifying its military and political prominence among powerful Western states; a matter that could have taken years had these wars not been fought. Essentially, these wars allowed Japan to progress further into the modern world at an alarmingly fast rate.
“Bushi Wa Kuwanedo Taka Yoji.” (2002). The Russo-Japanese War Research Society. Retrieved October 16, 2009, from http://www.russojapanesewar.com/intro.html.
McClain, J. L. (2002). “Japan: A Modern History.” N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company.
“Overview of the Sino-Japanese War.” (n.d.) Sino-Japanese War.com. Retrieved October 16, 2009, from http://sinojapanesewar.com/.
“The Meiji Restoration and Modernization.” (n.d.) Modern History: The Meiji Restoration and Modernization. Retrieved October 15, 2009, from http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/japan/japanworkbook/modernhist/meiji.html.