Japanese Imperialism: Territorial Acquisitions & Wars

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

The Empire of Japan was expanded through territorial acquisitions and wars during the early 20th century. Learn about the outcomes of the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Takeover of Korea, and how World War II led to the end of Imperial Japan. Updated: 10/29/2021

The Empire of Japan

December 7, 1941. You probably know this date. Dive bombers from the Empire of Japan cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This would prove to awaken a 'Sleeping Giant,' and ultimately bring about the destruction of Imperial Japan. But before Japan made this fateful move, they maintained one of the largest maritime empires in history. At the outbreak of World War II, Japan was an empire to be reckoned with. In this lesson, we will be learning about how Japan was able to build that empire. We will examine Japanese imperialism and learn about the territorial conquests made by the Empire of Japan.

The Empire of Japan officially came into existence on January 3, 1868 with the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji Restoration is the term for the series of events that led to Emperor Meiji's ascension to power. Before this, Japan was basically a feudal state with a confusing and ambiguous power structure. With the Meiji Restoration, Japan embarked on a meteoric rise as a regional and world power. Industrialization, Westernization, and militarization were central components of the new Imperial Japan. Racism (toward other groups, like the Chinese and Koreans) and nationalism ran strong among many Japanese during this time.

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  • 0:08 The Empire of Japan
  • 1:49 The First Sino-Japanese War
  • 2:41 The Russo-Japanese War
  • 4:31 20th Century Expansion…
  • 6:27 Lesson Summary
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The First Sino-Japanese War

Korea during this time was basically under the influence and control of the Chinese Qing dynasty. As Japan grew in power, it increasingly eyed Korea's natural resources, and sought to flex its military muscle by disrupting Chinese influence in Korea. This led to war. The First Sino-Japanese War was fought between China and Japan from 1894-1895 over control of Korea. Japan won the war and China was forced to sign a humiliating treaty, which ceded the island of Formosa (also called Taiwan) to Japan. After Japan won the war, Korea came under the Japanese sphere of influence, as well.

The Russo-Japanese War & the Takeover of Korea

Becoming more powerful every decade, Japanese imperialist ambitions now began to collide with Russian imperialist ambitions in Northeast Asia. This region of Asia was commonly called Manchuria, and for centuries was fought over by China, Japan, and Russia. All three countries had interests in this region, and throughout modern times it was periodically divided up in changing configurations between these powers.

After the Sino-Japanese War, Japan gained a critical port from the Chinese called Port Arthur. But the Western powers (like Germany, France, and Russia) did not go along with the idea, and basically overruled the treaty (hey, they were more powerful, right?). The Western powers basically stripped Port Arthur from the Japanese, and gave it to the Russians. Boom! This led to war between the two! The Russo-Japanese War was fought between Russia and Japan from 1904-1905 over control of portions of Manchuria and Korea. Japan won the war, which was a major surprise to the world - that an Asian force could defeat a European force was a huge shocker at this time in history!

Japan's victory against Russia paved the way for a complete takeover of Korea. After the war, in 1905, Korea basically became a protectorate of Japan. A few years later, the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910 resulted in the complete annexation of Korea to Imperial Japan. Korea was placed under Japanese police rule.

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