Terms for the Study of Japanese History

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Archipelago: An archipelago is a large group or chain of islands, and Japan is arranged in an archipelago. As a result of its close proximity to the sea, Japan learned to use the water for food and transportation. Its island formation also made Japan a target for many tsunamis, typhoons, and other natural disasters. In addition, the sea isolated Japan, allowing it to form a unique culture.

Shinto: Shinto translates in Japanese to “way of the kami”. Kamis are spirits that followers of Shinto believe reside in everything in nature. Shinto believers perform ceremonies to ask for blessings from the kamis. Shinto is a unique religion in that it does not have a sacred text or set structure, and it does not believe in an afterlife. Japan’s first emperor from the Yamato clan was considered the grandson of one of the most revered spirits of Shinto, so Shinto believers venerated the emperor.

Bushido: Bushido literally translates in Japanese to “way of the warrior”. It was a code of behavior that stressed bravery, loyalty, honor, and self-discipline. The samurai followed Bushido very closely, striving to follow it above all else. Many samurai adopted Zen Buddhism in an attempt to follow Bushido, because the religion requires great concentration and discipline.

Zen Buddhism: China greatly influenced religion in Japan, namely with Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is a form of Buddhism that spread from China to Japan. It stressed discipline and meditation as ways to focus and to achieve nirvana. Many samurai converted to Zen Buddhism in an attempt to follow Bushido and be self-disciplined. Zen Buddhism was also very influential in Japanese art.

Daimyo: A daimyo was a member of the ruling class in the Japanese feudal system. Daimyo were warrior lords who controlled vast amounts of land. Daimyo hired samurai to protect their lands from rivals. Peasants worked the land for the Daimyo. Like nobles in feudal Europe, the Daimyo built fortified castles with towns around them. For a significant amount of time when there was no strong, centralized government, the daimyo had great power. Then, during the Tokugawa Rule, the daimyo lost power to the shogun.

Tokugawa Rule: The Tokugawa Rule was established when Tokugawa Ieyasu was made shogun. During the Tokugawa rule, agriculture increased, the population and cities grew, and economic activity increased. The Five Highways were built, which were roads connecting some of the main cities of Japan. Initially, trade with the West increased, but then the shogun felt threatened by the foreign traders and Christian missionaries and expelled them from China. Japan was isolated from the rest of the world, which would continue for about two hundred years while the rest of the world developed newer, more advanced technologies.

Treaty of Kanagawa: The Treaty of Kanagawa was a trade treaty made between the United States and Japan. It forced Japan to open two of its ports to U.S. trade, ending its period of isolation from the Tokugawa rule. Japan only signed the treaty after a show of force by an American admiral named Matthew Perry. Another treaty afterwards opened up five more ports and gave extraterritoriality to Westerners. The Japanese people were disappointed that the shogun had given in so easily to Western demands, so the emperor took back control of the government and started the Meiji restoration.

Meiji Restoration: In 1868, the emperor of Japan, Mutsuhito, took back power over the government. He changed his name to Meiji, which translates to “enlightened rule”. Meiji knew that Japan needed to modernize and reform Japan to Western standards. After studying the United States and Europe, changes were made regarding Japanese education, military, and industry; all children were required to go to school, Western armed forces practices were adopted, and the government supported the construction of an infrastructure for a modern industrial economy. The Meiji Restoration also established telegraph lines, a postal service, a national currency, and a railroad system. This rapid series of changes made Japan a great industrial power, and it then turned its focus to becoming an imperial power, which led to the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War.

Sino-Japanese War: The Sino-Japanese War was fought between China and Japan for influence over Korea. A rebellion broke out in Korea, and China and Japan sent troops to Korea to fight. The war was fought quickly, and ended in a humiliating defeat for China. As a result, Japan gained control of Taiwan and received other benefits, like an end to extraterritoriality. It also established Japan as a powerful country, the most powerful in Asia, and a rival to several Western powers.

Pearl Harbor: The United States was concerned that Japan was gaining too much land and power, especially when Japan invaded French Indochina. To try to limit their growth, the U.S. banned the sale of oil to Japan, which seriously threatened Japan’s plans. Japan retaliated with a surprise attack on the American naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Many people, aircraft, and battleships were lost, and the American people were outraged. The United States had previously decided not to get involved in the war, but the attack on Pearl Harbor prompted them to get involved in World War II and join the Allies in fighting the Axis Powers.

Battle of Iwo Jima: The war in Europe was all but over, but the Allies were still fighting Japan in the Pacific. The United States landed on the Japanese island Iwo Jima in February of 1945. Japan lost around 20,000 of its soldiers defending the tiny island, almost all of the soldiers that had been stationed there. Many Japanese soldiers fought to the death, preferring to die in battle than to surrender and live. The Battle of Iwo Jima showed the United States that the Japanese had a very anti-surrender mentality.

Battle of Okinawa: The Battle of Okinawa took place after America’s win at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Okinawa is an island close to Japan, and more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers were stationed there. As in the Battle of Iwo Jima, America won, and almost the entirety of the Japanese defense was killed. The Battle of Okinawa gave the United States prime territory close to Japan. It also reinforced the idea that Japan would not surrender no matter its casualties.

Hiroshima: The United States had developed the technology for an atomic bomb. Harry Truman, the president at the time, decided to drop a bomb on the city of Hiroshima to end the war quickly and save American lives. The effects of the bomb were devastating, killing 70,000 people instantly and gruesomely disfiguring and crippling many others. Many people also died later on from exposure to the radiation. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima, as well as the one dropped on Nagasaki, convinced Japan to surrender the war. It also revealed the United States as technologically advanced to Russia and the rest of the world.

Nagasaki: Shortly after dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the United States dropped another bomb on Nagasaki. The effects of this bomb were destructive as well; around 75,000 people were killed. Many people also died later on from exposure to the radiation. The bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima persuaded the Japanese emperor Hirohito to surrender, ending World War II. It showed Russia that the United States was a superpower and had advanced technology, which later on prompted the Cold War.

Douglas MacArthur & American Occupation in Japan: During World War II, Douglas MacArthur commanded the American troops in the southwest Pacific. After the war ended, the United States was concerned that Japan would attack again in the future. Through Douglas MacArthur, America introduced reforms to Japan, building a democracy and destroying militarism. With MacArthur’s aid, Japan made a new, democratic constitution, similar to the constitution of the United States. The constitution also made it illegal for Japan to engage in war.

Imperialism: Imperialism is when a country extends authority over another country, or acquires colonies there. After the Sino-Japanese war, Japan gained territory in Taiwan. Then, after winning the Russo-Japanese war, Japan received territory in Manchuria and Korea. These colonies helped Japan grow in size and power. The West, however, soon grew concerned that Japan would misuse the resources it gained from its imperialism.

Militarism: Militarism is when a government is run mainly by the military or by armed forces. Japan had been militaristic during World War II. The United States worried that if Japan was run by the military, then it would soon start another war or attack another country. America sent Douglas MacArthur to reform the Japanese government. He abolished militarism and replaced it with a democratic government.

Economic Miracle: The Economic Miracle in Japan was a time after World War II when Japan attempted to rebuild its economy. The government stimulated basic industries, and then developed more advanced industries like electronics. Japan received aid from the United States during the Economic Miracle, and it was helped even further during the Korean War, when the United Nations bought four billion dollars worth of supplies from Japan. Factories were rebuilt with new technologies, soon eclipsing production of factories in the United States. Japan soon became a leader in international trade and industry.


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