Turmoil, Political Play and Rifts – Taisho and Showa Periods
A serious student of Japanese history would certainly make a question: “Will the glory of the Meiji period last, reshape the future?”
There is a clear answer to both questions, but the nature of those answers could differ. You can ironically say “yes” to both questions, knowing that the Meiji period planted the seeds of fascism that only continued to grow in the future and thereby reshaped the fortune of Japan, making it immortal. I vouch for this one.
Then again, you can say “no” and “yes”. Meiji revolution gave modern Japan new institutions and a reorganized army, but also an unstable framework that militaristic parties exploited. This could be classified as the general opinion.
To summarize, you can say “no” and “no” if you have a romantic connection with Japan. No, sadly, the glory did not last thanks to the rotten malcontents and that it didn’t reshape the coming future because it was changed by the militarists before it could do so. This is an unorthodox view and the faultiest one in my opinion.
Let’s count the most important elements in the Taisho and Showa periods:
1. Political parties dominate the scene: “Rikken Seiyukai” (Friends of Constitutional Government) and “Rikken Minseito” (Constitutional Democratic Party).
2. Seiyukai was conservative, liberal and encouraged a more important place for the parliament in Japan. Minseito was truly democratic and tried to defy the militaristic tension.
3. Both parties disappeared when they were merged into “Taisei Yokusankai” (Imperial Aid Association) a para-fascist party, that aimed to create a totalitarian single-party state.
4. The political parties mostly enjoyed the support from Zaibatsu, the big business or industrial conglomerates.
This politicking couldn’t had led to a good conclusion – both periods were periods of great tension, difference between the rich and the poor, low worker status despite the Confucian ethics, fights among the political and military supporters.
1. Workers in Zaibatsu firms had good pay and social status.
2. Workers in the heavy industry had less, but a decent pay.
3. Workers in every other industrial branch were very poorly paid and lived their
lives in extreme misery and poverty.
These differences haven’t healed in time. They only boosted the growing radical feelings that grew into fascism and sympathy towards the military. You can say in short that capitalism in Japan gave birth to fascism and imperialism.
The nation-wide disappointment started to escalate and manifest itself soon enough – the animosity between the military and the political parties turned into open warfare: street fights, riots, lynching and beating in blind alleys, assassinations and extortion. Then, “police brutality” was an understatement, wouldn’t you agree?
This had only one logical, inevitable and natural result – birth of state Shinto and imperialism. Of course there are many fine, piquant details that acted as a poignant dagger aimed towards the Japanese heart at that time, but they were a product of the above mentioned. I will address them in time, making this an acceptable overview.
So, my dear student, do you see the resemblance?