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Why has Japan never been invaded?

Castle in Japan

Why has Japan never been invaded?

Why Japan has never been colonized

When you look at the world map and think about all the languages spoken, you will be reminded that European languages are spoken in many parts of the globe. English is spoken in North America, in Oceania, and on some Pacific islands such as Hawaii and Guam. Spanish and Portuguese are spoken in Latin America. French and English are still the official languages in some countries in Africa. In Southeast Asian countries (except Singapore and the Philippines), the official languages are not European languages; however, they use alphabets instead of the letters they originally used. Even a country with a large population like India was once a British colony. This indicates how countries worldwide have been colonized by European countries or by the US.

Perhaps the term invasion or colonization is not proper in the case of the US but from the viewpoint of the Native Americans, it was perhaps an invasion, although they did not have a unitary nation.

It is generally considered that the African continent was colonized by European countries but not by the US. However, some parts, such as Liberia, were once US colonies, and many locals on the African continent were forcefully taken to the US as slaves.

Japan is one of the countries today that has never been colonized. However, Japan could have been colonized on at least four occasions. Lets take a look at why Japan was not invaded or colonized in some of these cases.

When trying to find the answers to the question of why Japan has never been invaded or colonized, there should be some clues. What are unique points about Japan that might be related?

・Japan is an island country.

・Japan is sparse in natural resources.


Some background in Asia from 16 century

Europeans arrived in Southeast Asia in the early 16th century in search of spices, and were initially engaged in trading activities, then seeking to dominate the indigenous peoples in order to obtain more products and monopolize the trade.

As the industrial revolution progressed in the 19th century in Europe, the need for raw material supply and product markets increased, European countries began to acquire territory and manage colonies in Asia.

1543-1657 -occasion for possible invasion by Europeans

In 1543 the first Europeans arrived in Japan accidentally on a wrecked ship. This was when matchlock guns were introduced by Portuguese to Japan. Since the accidental discovery of Japan, several European countries established diplomatic relationships with Japan. After dissolving the matchlock gun and studied how the guns were made, Japanese feudal lords soon started to have a large number of guns produced in Japan.

In the 16th century, the Pope granted Portugal and Spain ownership of foreign land in exchange for proselytizing Christianity. This obliged both countries to send missionaries and build churches throughout the world in exchange for having colonies.

The Portuguese and Spanish trading ships also carried missionaries, and they always asked for permission to proselytize in the new lands they were to establish trade with. They began trading only with those areas that gave permission for missionary work.

Spain actually considered an invasion of Japan.

The reasons why Japan was not invade by Europeans

・Japan was in the Warring States period, and the war potential of the feudal lords was substantial, so countries like Spain simply abandoned the idea of invasion. In fact, feudal lords throughout Japan had a large number of troops and substantial number of fire-arms. Many of them were superior commanders of war whose names went down the history.  These lords would have been unified to repel the invaders, if there had been any coming from outside Japan. The military power of Japan could have overwhelmed European countries. Japan in the Warring States Period was by far stronger than countries in South East Asia or in South America.

・It was also impossible for European countries to send large troops to Japan all the way from Europe especially keeping them in good conditions in spite of the long journey.

・In addition, priority was given to colonizing South Eastern Asian countries as they were closer to Europe and had spices which worth almost equal to the value of gold.

・ In 1657 Japan took seclusion policy and banned the entry of Europeans except the Dutch. The purpose was to ban Christianity but this also prevented from Europeans to pave the way for invasion.

End of Edo Period to Meiji Period

In 1853, four American ships known as “Black Ships” entered Tokyo Bay. The U.S. wanted to force Japan to open its borders and trade with other countries after two centuries of seclusion.
The Shogunate relented and signed a so-called “unequal treaty”. Japan thus began to have a pressing need to modernize and be as strong as European countries and the US because otherwise it would be doomed to be colonized.

This was the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). In just a few decades of the Meiji era, Japan succeeded in acquiring nearly the same level of power as the West. They had a slogan “Catch up with them, surpass them”. In fact, Japan developed at an amazing pace. Perhaps this was attributable to the fact that the Japanese already had high intelligence and were diligent while they were trying hard to show that they were not inferior nor were they barbaric.
In late Edo Era, twenty years before the arrival of the Americans, nearly eighty-six percent of children in Tokyo went to school. It was a significantly high rate as only 20 to 25 percent of children went to school even in big cities in England back then. Japan had the fundamental to develop rapidly.

Commodore Perry, who came by black ships, had the map of Japan made by a Japanese and found the map in the book to be so accurate to his own measurements that he changed his strategy to contact the Japanese through diplomacy rather than attack.

Not only Japan required a military strong enough to keep themselves from being colonize, they ended up having a military strong enough to invade neighboring countries.

After World War II

Japan could have been colonized after the World War II . However, GHQ’s (General Headquarters of the Allied Forces) policy of full-fledged occupation and governance over Japan was quite surprising. They allowed the Japanese government to continue to exist.

General MacArthur, who was appointed to rebuild Japan after the war, chose to govern Japan by “democratization”. He declared that Japan would be “democratized” after the war.

The reason is because democratization would lead to “weakening” in terms of military.  This would make sense if you think what kind of countries are threats today. Take countries like Russia, China or North Korea for example. These countries are all ruled by dictators. However, the situation would be very different if democracies prevailed in these countries.

Democratization means making all the people the “protagonists” of the country and it would make it extremely difficult for a dictator to rule the country.  The government would listen to the voices of people.  Also, the U.S. wanted Japan to be a buffer zone between the capitalist camp and Soviet Union.


Feudal Lords


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