In short – No. An unlikely turn of fate had a Chinese boat carrying Portuguese arm dealers wash up shipwrecked upon a Japanese shore, which led to the first guns being sold to Japan. These guns were then disassembled, analysed and mass reproduced. Early Japan had guns. Lots of guns.
Ownership of Foreign Land and Missionary Work In the 16th century, the Pope granted Portugal and Spain ownership of foreign land in exchange for spreading Christianity through missionaries and building churches around the world. The Portuguese and Spanish trading ships carried these missionaries, and they only established trade with areas that allowed them to travel and preach.
Spain Almost Colonized Japan
Spain’s Consideration of Invasion Spain considered invading Japan but did not follow through with the idea due to several reasons. During the Warring States period, Japan was far stronger than Southeast Asian or South American countries and the potential for war among the feudal lords was substantial. Additionally, the long journey to Japan would not allow for the Europeans to send a large number of troops in good condition. The priority was given to colonizing Southeastern Asian countries, which were closer and had spices worth almost as much as gold. In 1657, Japan adopted a seclusion policy, banning Europeans except for the Dutch, to prevent Christianity and also to prevent Europeans from paving the way for an invasion.
America Almost Colonized Japan
End of Edo Period and the Meiji Era In 1853, four American ships known as the “Black Ships” entered Tokyo Bay, forcing Japan to open its borders and trade with other countries. The Shogunate signed an “unequal treaty,” leading to Japan’s pressing need to modernize and be as strong as European countries and the US to prevent colonization. This marked the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), where Japan rapidly developed and succeeded in acquiring nearly the same level of power as the West. At the end of the Edo Era, 20 years before the arrival of the Americans, nearly 86 percent of children in Tokyo went to school, providing the foundation for Japan’s rapid development.
Commodore Perry and the Black Ships Commodore Perry, who arrived with the Black Ships, had a Japanese citizen make a map of Japan, which was so accurate that he changed his strategy to confront the Japanese through diplomacy instead of attack.
The New World
Post-World War II After World War II, Japan could have been colonized, but GHQ’s policy of full-fledged occupation and governance over Japan was surprising. General MacArthur, who was appointed to rebuild Japan, chose to govern Japan through democratization, which would weaken the military. The goal of democratization was to make all the people the “protagonists” of the country, making it difficult for a dictator to rule and allowing the government to listen to the voices of the people. The US wanted Japan to act as a buffer zone between the capitalist camp and the Soviet Union.
Understanding Japan’s History
In the feudal era, Japan was divided into several autonomous regions, each ruled by a powerful warlord. Over time, these warlords consolidated their power and established a centralized government, known as the shogunate. The shogunates ruled Japan for nearly 700 years, from the 12th to the 19th century.
In the 16th century, European powers began to make their way to the East. Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries were among the first to arrive in Japan, followed by the Dutch and the British. However, the shogunates maintained a strict policy of isolation, allowing only limited trade with the Dutch and the Chinese.
In the mid-19th century, the shogunates were overthrown in a coup d’état, marking the beginning of the Meiji period. The new Meiji government adopted a policy of modernization and opened Japan to the rest of the world. During this time, Japan rapidly transformed into a modern industrial power.
During the Meiji period, Japan was forced to sign a series of unequal treaties with foreign powers. These treaties granted foreign powers extraterritorial rights and gave them control over certain economic and political matters in Japan.
In its efforts to modernize, the Meiji government turned to the West for guidance. The government sent delegations to study abroad and invited Western experts to teach in Japan. As a result, the Meiji government adopted many Western institutions and practices, leading some to argue that Japan was indeed ‘soft’ colonized by the West.
Japan’s Colonization Ambitions
By the late 1800s, Japan had become a powerful, industrialized nation. Its success inspired a sense of nationalism and a desire for expansion. Japan began to seek colonies of its own, and in 1895, it gained control of Taiwan. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea, solidifying its status as a colonial power.
These events marked the beginning of Japan’s expansionist era and its transformation into a colonial power. However, Japan’s colonial rule was short-lived. The defeat of Japan in World War II and the subsequent Allied occupation brought an end to Japan’s colonial ambitions and marked a new era in its history.