The failure of democracy in Japan

Despite successes in the 1920s as Japan moved towards a international democracy, problems faced by Japan by the end of the 1920s led to the formation of a military dictatorship in the early 1930s.

What problems did Japan face in the 1920s?

  1. A fragile democracy

  • Financial scandals and violations in election law reduced support for political parties

  • Each party was also heavily connected with big businesses in the cities and landlords in the countryside and people became more suspicious.

  • People no longer respected the government.

  • Fear of left-wing radicalism

    • Via the Peace Preservation Law, the government clamped down on those who opposed the changes and the new political structure of Japan. One of the parties targeted the most was the Communist Party, which had been formed in 1920.

    • This showed that there was not complete political freedom as promoted by the Meiji Government.

  1. Opposition to Shidehara's internationalism and the growing influence of the military on foreign policy

  • Conservative governments opposed the Shidehara's international policies, believing they betrayed the Japanese interests.

    • The Washington Treaty was seen as an "Anglo-Saxon 'iron ring' preventing Japan from expanding abroad. They believed it was Japan's right and destiny to lead Asia and control areas, such as China.

  • Conservatives were angered by the USA when they limited immigration from all countries to 150,000 each year and excluded 'Asiatics' from the 150,000 person quota. The Japanese were heavily offended, and protest from the media was strong.

  • Japan had also proposed a "racial equality clause" to be added to the League of Nations during the Paris Peace Conferences. However, the Western powers refused, including the USA. Many Japanese saw this as hypocritical as President Wilson believed in "self-determination"– basically equality for all nationalities in Eastern Europe.

    • The Japanese saw these actions as a provocation by the West.

  • People began to increasingly criticise the Shidehara. Politicians were pro-west and the emperor and military were largely conservative and pro-Japanese nationalism.

  • When emperor Taisho died, the new Emperor Hirohito was celebrated with the revival of the idea that the Emperor was a 'living God'. As a result, nationalism and the idea of Japan's destiny increased.

  1. A growing economic crisis

  • Japan filled the trade gap during the first world war, leading them to experience an economic boom. This lasted only until mid-1921 as Europe recovered from the effects of the war and took back the markets which Japan had been using while the Europeans were fighting in the War.

    • At this time, unemployment and industrial unrest developed and a strike paralysed Japan's docks.

    • There was a large divide between cities and rural areas.

    • Farmers were the hardest hit by the crisis as the demand for crops decreased as Europeans traded their cheaper crops and the price of rice fell due to good harvests.

      • This further increased negative sentiment towards the government who appeared to be so closely connected with the big business companies (known as zaibatsu) and the landlords.

  • The largest economic crisis broke out during the Great Depression of the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

By the end of the 1920s, the Japanese government emerged with the appearance of repression and lacked democracy.