As most know, that isolation lasted until 1854 when a U.S. fleet under Commodore Matthew Perry sailed to Japan, pointed guns at them and forced them to join the rest of the international community. After some internal turmoil the Emperor was restored to power and Japan began to modernize, industrializing rapidly and learning from the countries of Europe and America. The Japanese method was to identify which country was the best in a particular field, study them and then adapt their methods to Japan, always endeavoring to do things better and more efficiently. So, in naval matters Great Britain was looked to, in army matters Prussia was looked to, for high fashion France was the example and for business it was the United States. Naturally, colonialism was not ignored either. In looking at the rest of the world, Japan saw that there were two kinds of countries; those which had colonies and those which were colonies and, naturally, Japan was determined to be one of the former. There was never any decision to “become” a colonial empire but it grew out of the rapid industrialization of Japan. This brought about a greatly increased need for resources Japan had never needed before and the prosperity that came with modernization also meant a rapidly growing population that had to be fed. One of the primary sources for raw materials and food stuffs for Japan was the Kingdom of Korea, at the time, a vassal of Imperial China.
The Japanese authorities cleaned up Taiwan and modernized it; quite literally. There was a massive sanitation campaign and a rapid development of infrastructure which had previously not existed. Roads and railways were built, ports were constructed, modern farming techniques were introduced and a health system based on widespread rural clinics was established that was so successful it remains in effect even today. Barbaric native practices were suppressed, mandatory universal education was introduced and agricultural production increased dramatically. The island became extremely prosperous and, in time, Taiwan became the seventh largest sugar producer in the world. Some animosity did arise, however, as time went on and Japan took steps to enforce a greater cultural uniformity on Taiwan as part of the effort to maintain the utmost in national social unity across the Empire of Japan. This meant a greater emphasis on the Japanese language and customs as well as a greater promotion of the Shinto religion. In this regard, as it concerns modern-day observers, Japan was in a no-win situation. Colonial powers which excluded subject peoples from their own customs and institutions, which endeavored to keep them strictly separate are condemned for being exclusionists, segregationists and holding themselves aloof from other people not deemed “worthy”. On the other hand, as is seen with Japan, colonial powers which do the opposite are condemned as well for forcing their ways and customs on others, destroying the uniqueness of the natives.
|Japanese enter Taipei|
A brief mention should be made of Manchuria which was never actually a Japanese colony but which is often classified as one (when not called a “puppet state” rather like the Mexican Empire). Regardless of how or why it came about the simple fact is that the Republic of China had no right whatsoever to Manchuria and the support provided by Japan in Manchuria declaring independence in 1932 and restoring the last Manchu Emperor to the throne was an action which corrected a gross historical injustice. Manchuria too benefited immensely from its restoration aided by Japan. There was rapid industrial growth so that, prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Empire of Manchuria was one of the most advanced and productive regions of Asia, eventually surpassing Japan in steel production. Coal mining, oil drilling and agriculture were major industries, ports and cities were modernized, trade and business boomed but, unfortunately, all of this infrastructure which was built up from 1932 to 1945 was stripped clean by the invading communist forces at the time of Japan’s defeat.