10. The Empire of Japan had a meteoric existence
When American Commodore Matthew Perry first demanded Japan open its ports to Western trade, he encountered a nation still engulfed in feudal practices. A little over a decade later Japan entered a period known as the Meiji Restoration. Beginning in 1868, Japan entered a time of industrial development and growth unmatched by any other nation in history. By 1900, the Japanese had a world-class modern navy, a powerful army, and a strong and flexible industrial base. Nationalism and militarism ensued. The Empire of Japan took its place on the world’s stage, defeating the Tsarist Russians in the Russo-Japanese War, and fighting on the side of the Allies in World War I.
In the 1920s and 1930s Japan’s military strength continued to expand, watched with growing concern by the United States Navy, its principal rival in the Pacific. The Empire expanded as well. When the Second Sino-Japanese War began, the United States used diplomatic and trade pressures to try to convince Japan to cease its aggression. Finally, in December, 1941, Japan attacked the United States Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and then ran riot across the Pacific. They seized the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Guam, and more. By mid-1942 the Empire of Japan achieved its peak in size, military power, and wealth.
Three years of hard fighting reduced them to occupying islands and fortresses they could no longer defend or resupply. Their fleet and air forces were all but destroyed. Their home islands were bombarded by ships and aircraft. After the surrender in 1945, American troops occupied the home islands, enforcing martial law, while a new constitution creating a democratic government came into being. The new constitution restricted the Japanese military to defense forces. Today, the Japanese Naval Defense Force is the fourth largest Navy in the world, based on tonnage afloat. The Empire of Japan officially dissolved in 1947, though its Showa Emperor, Hirohito, remained as a figurehead only.