Edited by Chris Wrigley
Chapter 5: The impact of the First World War on Japan
Kenneth D. Brown By the time the First World War began in 1914, Japan was already on the way to becoming the ﬁrst modern nation in Asia. Over the half-century following the restoration of imperial power in 1868 a country which appeared, in Western terms at least, to be relatively backward, acquired many of the characteristics of more developed contemporary societies. The background to this was the positive role played by the state in determining broad national goals and in establishing the economic and social infrastructures conducive to modernization. In a comparatively short space of time the system of landholding was reformed, educational provision extended, local government reorganized, the armed forces modernized, national government democratized and industrialization fostered. There was still a long way to go, however, as one of Japan’s most perceptive Western residents, Lafcadio Hearn, acknowledged. ‘Nearly all the phases of modern life,’ he wrote in 1904, ‘yield evidence that the disintegration of the old society has been superﬁcial rather than fundamental’.1 Another Westerner, Clive Holland, agreed, observing in 1913 that: Although modern Japan is so changed from what it was even twenty-ﬁve or thirty years ago, and although ‘modernity’ and all that the word may be held to imply, has so great and apparently irresistible an attraction for the more highly educated and ofﬁcial classes, the workaday life of the countryside, of the shops, ﬁelds and factories has little to do with … Western civilization.2 Furthermore the juxtaposition of the old and the new...
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