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Meiji Military

Japan's geography -- particularly its insular character, its limited endowment of natural resources, and its exposed location near potentially hostile giant neighbors -- played an important role in the development of its foreign policy. In premodern times, Japan's semi-isolated position on the periphery of the Asian mainland was an asset. It permitted the Japanese to exist as a self-sufficient society in a secure environment. It also allowed them to borrow selectively from the rich civilization of China while maintaining their own cultural identity. Insularity promoted a strong cultural and ethnic unity, which underlay the early development of a national consciousness that has influenced Japan's relations with outside peoples and cultures throughout its history.

During the early part of the 17th century, Japan's shogunate suspected that the traders and missionaries were actually forerunners of a military conquest by European powers. This caused the shogunate to place foreigners under progressively tighter restrictions. Ultimately, Japan forced all foreigners to leave and barred all relations with the outside world except for severely restricted commercial contacts with Dutch and Chinese merchants at Nagasaki. This isolation lasted for 200 years, until Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy achieved the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

When the Tokugawa seclusion was forcibly breached in 1853-54 by Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States Navy, Japan found that geography no longer ensured security -- the country was defenseless against military pressures and economic exploitation by the Western powers. After Perry's naval squadron had compelled Japan to enter into relations with the Western world, the first foreign policy debate was over whether Japan should embark on an extensive modernization to cope with the threat of the "eastward advance of Western power," which had already violated the independence of China, or expel the "barbarians" and return to seclusion. The latter alternative -- although it appealed to many -- was never seriously considered. Beginning with the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which ushered in a new, centralized regime, Japan set out to "gather wisdom from all over the world" and embarked on an ambitious program of military, social, political, and economic reforms that transformed it within a generation into a modern nation-state and major world power.

Revering the emperor as a symbol of unity, in the 1860s extremists wrought violence and death against the authorities and foreigners. The Mito school -- based on neo-Confucian and Shinto principles -- had as its goal the restoration of the imperial institution, the turning back of the West, and the founding of a world empire under the divine Yamato Dynasty.

Much concerned about national security, the leaders made significant efforts at military modernization, which included establishing a small standing army, a large reserve system, and compulsory militia service for all men. Foreign military systems were studied, foreign advisers were brought in, and Japanese cadets sent abroad to European and United States military and naval schools. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the Japanese carried out a policy of "Arming the Nation," with the objective of overseas expansion, placing military development at the top of their agendas, further pushing for the general goal of a national "rise through military means" targeted directly at invading the Asia mainland.

The policy of seclusion adopted by the Tokugawa administration after the Shimabara insurrection included an order that no samurai should acquire foreign learning. Nevertheless some knowledge could not fail to filter in through the Dutch factory at Deshima, and thus, a few years before the advent of the American ships, Takashima Shahan, governor of Nagasaki, becoming persuaded of the fate his country must invite if she remained oblivious of the world's progress, memorialized the Yedo government in the sense that, unless Japan improved her weapons of war and reformed her military system, she could not escape humiliation such as had just overtaken China. He obtained small arms and field-guns of modern type from Holland, and, repairing to Yedo with a company of men trained according to the new tactics, he offered an object lesson for the consideration of the conservative officials. They answered by throwing him into prison. But Egawa, one of his retainers, proved a still more zealous reformer, and his foresight being vindicated by the appearance of the American war-vessels in 1853, he won the government's confidence and was entrusted with the work of planning and building forts at Shinagawa and Shimoda.

At Egawa's instance rifles and cannon were imported largely from Europe, and their manufacture was commenced in Japan, a powder-mill also being established with machinery obtained from Holland. Finally, in 1862, the shogun's government adopted the military system of the West, and organized three divisions of all arms, with a total strength of 13,600 officers and men. Disbanded at the fall of the shogunate in 1867, this force nevertheless served as a model for a similar organization under the imperial government, and in the meanwhile the principal fiefs had not been idle, some-as Satsuma-adopting English tactics, others following France or Germany, and a few choosing Dutch. There appeared upon the stage at this juncture a great figure in the person of Omura Masujiro, a samurai of the Choshu clan. He established Japan's first military school at Kioto in 1868; he attempted to substitute for the hereditary soldier conscripts taken from all classes of the people, and he conceived the plan of dividing the whole empire into six military districts. An assassin's dagger removed him on the threshold of these great reforms, but his statue now stands in Tokyo and his name is spoken with reverence by all his countrymen.

In 1870 Yamagata Aritomo (afterwards Field-Marshal Prince Yamagata) and Saigo Tsugumichi (after-wards Field-Marshal Marquis Saigo) returned from a tour of military inspection in Europe, and in 1872 they organized a corps of Imperial guards, taken from the three clans which had been conspicuous in the work of restoring the administrative power to the sovereign, namely, the clans of Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa. They also established garrisons in Tokyo, Sendai, Osaka and Kumamoto, thus placing the military authority in the hands of the central government. Reforms followed quickly. In 1872, the hyobusho, an office which controlled all matters relating to war, was replaced by two departments, one of war and one of the navy, and, in 1873, an imperial decree substituted universal conscription for the system of hereditary militarism.

Many persons viewed this experiment with deep misgiving. They feared that it would not only alienate the samurai, but also entrust the duty of defending the country to men unfitted by tradition and custom for such a task, namely, the farmers, artisans and tradespeople, who, after centuries of exclusion from the military pale, might be expected to have lost all martial spirit. The government, however, was not deterred by these apprehensions. It argued that since the distinction of samurai and commoner had not originally existed, and since the former was a product simply of accidental conditions, there was no valid reason to doubt the military capacity of the people at large. The justice of this reasoning was put to a conclusive test a few years later.

Originally the period of service with the colors was fixed at 3 years, that of service with the first and second reserves being 2 years each. One of the serious difficulties encountered at the outset was that samurai conscripts were too proud to stand in the ranks with common rustics or artisans, and above all to obey the commands of plebeian officers. But patriotism soon overcame this obstacle. The whole country-with the exception of the northern island, Yezo-was parcelled out into six military districts (headquarters Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sendai, Hiroshima and Kumamoto) each furnishing a division of all arms and services. There was also from 1876 a guards division in Tokyo. The total strength on a peace footing was 31,680 of all arms, and on a war footing, 46,350. The defence of Yezo was entrusted to a colonial militia.

It may well be supposed that to find competent officers for this army greatly perplexed its organizers. The military school - originally founded by Omura in Kyoto - had to turn out graduates at high pressure, and private soldiers who showed any special aptitude were rapidly promoted to positions of command. French military instructors were engaged, and the work of translating manuals was carried out with all celerity. In 1877, this new army of conscripts had to endure a crucial test: it had to take the field against the Satsuma samurai, the very flower of their class, who in that year openly rebelled against the Tokyo government. The campaign lasted eight months; as there had not yet been time to form the reserves, the Imperial forces were soon seriously reduced in number by casualties in the field and by disease, the latter claiming many victims owing to defective commissariat. It thus became necessary to have recourse to volunteers, but as these were for the most part samurai, the expectation was that their hereditary instinct of fighting would compensate for lack of training. That expectation was not fulfilled. Serving side by side in the field, the samurai volunteer and the regulars were found to differ by precisely the degree of their respective training. The fact was thus finally established that the fighting qualities of the farmer and artisan reached as high a standard as those of the bushi. The Meiji Emperor cut off pensions to the disbanded samurai, the exalted warrior caste, leaving large numbers of men without livelihood.

Thenceforth the story of the Japanese army is one of steady progress and development. In 1878, the military duties of the empire were divided among three offices: namely, the army department, the general staff and the inspection department, while the six divisions of troops were organized into three army corps. In 1879, the total period of colour and reserve service became to years. In 1883 the period was extended to 12 years, the list of exemptions was abbreviated, and above all substitution was no longer allowed. Great care was devoted to the training of officers; promotion went by merit, and at least ten of the most promising officers were sent abroad every year to study.

A comprehensive system of education for the rank and file was organized. Great difficulty was experienced in procuring horses suitable for cavalry, and indeed the Japanese army long remained weak in this arm. In 1886, the whole littoral of the empire was divided into five districts, each with its admiralty and its naval port, and the army being made responsible for coast defence, a battery construction corps was formed. Moreover, an exhaustive scheme was elaborated to secure full co-operation between the army and navy. In 1888 the seven divisions of the army first found themselves prepared to take the field, and, in 1893, a revised system of mobilization was sanctioned, to be put into operation the following year, for the Chino-Japanese War.

At this period the division, mobilized for service in the field, consisted of 12 battalions of infantry, 3 troops of cavalry, 4 batteries of field and 2 of mountain artillery, 2 companies of sappers and train, totalling 18,492 of all arms with 5633 horses. The guards had only 8 battalions and 4 batteries (field). The field army aggregated over 120,000, with 168 field and 72 mountain guns, and the total of all forces, field, garrison and depot, was 220,580 of all arms, with 47,220 horses and 294 guns. Owing, however, to various modifications necessitated by circumstances, the numbers actually on duty were over 240,000, with 6495 non-combatant employees and about 100,000 coolies who acted as carriers. The infantry were armed with the Murata single-loader rifle, but the field artillery was inferior, and the only two divisions equipped with magazine rifles and smokeless powder never came into action.

The experiences gained in this war bore large fruit. The total term of service with the colours and the reserves was slightly increased; the colonial militia of Yezo (Hokkaido) was organized as a seventh line division; 5 new divisions were added, bringing the whole number of divisions to 13 (including the guards); a mixed brigade was stationed in Formosa (then newly added to Japan's dominions) ; a high military council composed of field-marshals was created; the cavalry was brigaded ; the garrison artillery was increased ; strenuous efforts were made to improve the education of officers.

An arsenal had been established in Tokyo, in 1868, for the manufacture of small arms and small-arm ammunition; this was followed by an arsenal in Osaka for the manufacture of guns and gun-ammunition; four powder factories were opened, and in later years big-gun factories at Kure and Mororan. Japan was able to make 12-inch guns in 1902, and her capacity for this kind of work was in 1909 second to none. She has her own patterns of rifle and field gun, so that she is independent of foreign aid so far as armaments are concerned. In 1900, she sent a force to North China to assist in the campaign for the relief of the foreign legations in Peking, and on that occasion her troops were able to observe at first hand the qualities and methods of European soldiers.

In 1904 took place the great war with Russia. After the war important changes were made in the direction of augmenting and improving the armed forces. The number of divisions was increased to 19 (including the guards), of which one division is for service in Korea and one for service in Manchuria. Various technical corps were organized, as well as horse artillery, heavy field artillery and machine-gun units. The field-gun was replaced by a quick-firer manufactured at Osaka, and much attention was given to the question of remounts-for, both in the war with China and in that with Russia, the horsing of the cavalry had been poor. Perhaps the most far-reaching change in all armies in the early years of the 20th Century ws the shortening of the term of service with the colors to 2 years for the infantry, 3 years remaining the rule for other arms. This was adopted by Japan after the 1904 war, the infantry period of service with the reserves being extended, and of course has the effect of greatly augmenting the potential war strength.

Rough estimates of Japan's war strength were made before World War I, giving 550,000 as the war strength of the first line army, plus 34,000 for garrisons overseas and 150,000 special reserves (hoji) ; 370,000 second line or kobi, and 110,000 for the fully trained portion of the territorial forces, or Kokumin-hei. All these branches ccould further draw upon half-trained elements to the number of about 800,000 to replace losses. Japan's available strength in the last resort for home defence was stated in 1909 by the Russian Novoye Vremya at 3,000,000. By 1930, when the system had produced its full effect, the first line would be 740,000 strong, the second line 780,000, and the third line about 3,850,000 (3,000,000 untrained and 850,000 partly trained). At 20 years of age every Japanese subject, of whatever status, became liable for military service. But the difficulty of making service universal in the case of a growing population was felt, and practically the system had elements of the old-fashioned conscription. The minimum height is 5.2 ft. (artillery and engineers, 5.4 ft.).

There were four principal kinds of service, namely, service with the colors (genyeki), for two years; service with the first reserves (yobi), for 7 years; service with the second reserves (kobi), for 7 years; and service with the territorial troops (ko kumin-hei) up to the age of 40. Special reserve (hoju) takes up men who, though liable for conscription and medically qualified, have escaped the lot for service with the colors. It consisted of two classes, one of men remaining in the category of hoju for 7 years, the other for 13 year, before passing into the territorial army. "heir purpose is similar to that of special or ersatz reserves elsewhere. The first class receives the usual short initial training. Men of the second class, in ordinary circumstances, pass, after their 13 year's inability, to the territorial army untrained. As for the first and second general reserves (yobi and kobi), each is called out twice during its full term for short refresher courses. After reaching the territorial army a man was relieved from all further training. The total number of youths eligible for conscription each year [as of 1910] was about 435,000, but the annual contingent for full service was not much more than 100,000. Conscripts in the active army may be discharged before the expiration of two years if their conduct and aptitude are exceptional.

A youth was exempted if it be clearly established that his family was dependent upon his earnings. Except for permanent deformities men were put back for one year before being finally rejected on medical grounds. Men who have been convicted of crime were disqualified, but those who have been temporarily deprived of civil rights must present themselves for conscription at the termination of their sentence. Educated men may enrol themselves as one-year volunteers instead of drawing lots, this privilege of entry enduring up to the age of 28, after which, service for the full term without drawing lots is imposed. Residence in a foreign country secured exemption up to the age of 32-provided that official permission to go abroad has been obtained. A man returning after the age of 32 was drafted into the territorial army, but if he returns before that age he must volunteer to receive training, otherwise he was taken without lot for service with the colours. The system of volunteering was largely resorted to by persons of the better classes. The privilege at first led to great abuses. It became a common thing to employ some aged and indigent person, set him up as the head of a "branch family," and give him for adopted son a youth liable to conscription. Any youth who possessed certain educational qualifications was entitled to volunteer for training. If accepted after medical inspection, he served with the colors for one year, during three months of which time he must live in barracks-unless a special permit be granted by his commanding officer. A volunteer had to contribute to his maintenance and equipment, although youths who cannot afford the full expense, if otherwise qualified, were assisted by the state. At the conclusion of a year's training the volunteer was drafted into the first reserve for 6 years, and then into the second reserve for 5 years, so that his total period of service before passing into the territorial army is the same as that of an ordinary conscript. The main purpose of the one-year voluntariat, as in Germany, is to provide officers for the reserves to territorial troops.

Qualified teachers in the public service were only liable to a very short initial training, after which they pass at once into the territorial army. But if a teacher abandons that calling before the age of 28, he becomes liable, without lot,' to two years with the colours, unless he adopts the alternative of volunteering. Officers are obtained in two ways prior to World War I. At that time there were six local preparatory schools (yonen-gakko) in various parts of the empire, for Officers. boys of from 13 to 15. After 3 years at one of these schools graduate spent 21 months at the central preparatory school (chuo-yonen-gakko), Tokyo, and if he graduated with sufficient credit at the latter institution, he became eligible for admission to the officers' college (shikan-gakko) without further test of proficiency. The second method of obtaining officers was by competitive examination for direct admission to the officers' college. In either case the cadet is sent to serve with the colors for 6 to 12 months as a private and non-commissioned officer, before commencing his course at the officers' college. The period of study at the officers' college was one year, and after graduating successfully the cadet served with troops for 6 months on probation. If at the end of that time he was favorably reported on, he was commissioned as alieutenant. Young officers of engineers and artillery receive a year's further training at a special college.

Officers' ranks were the same as in the British army, but the nomenclature was more simple. The terms, with their English equivalents, were shoi (second lieutenant), chui (first lieutenant), tai (captain), shosa (major), chusa (lieut.-colonel), taisa (colonel), shosho (major-general), chujo (lieut.-general), taisho (general), gensui (field-marshal). All these except the last applied to the same relative ranks in the navy. Promotion of officers in the junior grades was by seniority or merit, but after the rank of captain all promotion was by merit, and thus many officers never rose higher than captain, in which case retirement was compulsory at the age of 48. Except in the highest ranks, a certain minimum period had to be spent in each rank before promotion to the next. There were three grades of privates: upper soldiers (jolo-hei), first-class soldiers (itto-sotsu), and second-class soldiers (nito-sotsu). A private on joining is a second-class soldier. For proficiency and good conduct he was raised to the rank of first-class soldier, and ultimately to that of upper soldier. Non-commissioned officers were obtained from the ranks, or from those who wish to make soldiering a profession, as in European armies. The grades were corporal (gocho), sergeant (gunso), sergeant-major (socho) and special sergeant-major (tokumu-socho). The pay of the conscript was, as everywhere, a trifle. The professional non-commissioned officers are better paid, the lowest grade receiving three times as much as an upper soldier. Officers' pay was roughly at about three-quarters of the rates prevailing in Germany, sub-lieutenants receiving about 34, captains 71, colonels 238 per annum, &c. Pensions for officers and non-commissioned officers, according to scale, can be claimed after 11 years' color service.

The emperor was the commander-in-chief of the army, and theoretically the sole source of military authority, which he exercises through a general staff and a war department, with the assistance of a board of field-marshals (gensuifu). The general staff has for chief a field-marshal, and for vice-chief a general or lieutenant-general. It includes besides the usual general staff departments, various survey and topographical officers, and the military college is under its direction. The war department was presided over by a general officer on the active list, who was a member of the cabinet without being necessarily affected by ministerial changes. There were, further, artillery and engineer committees, and a remount bureau. The headquarters of coast defences under general officers are Tokyo, Yokohama, Shimonoseki and Yura. The whole empire was divided into three military districts-eastern, central and western-each under the command of a general or lieutenant-general. The divisional headquarters were as follows: Guard Tokyo, I. Tokyo, II. Sendai, III. Nagoya, IV. Wakayama, V. Hiroshima, VI. Kumamoto, VII. Asahikawa, VIII. Hirosaki, IX. Kasanava, X. Himeji, XI. Senzui, XII. Kokura, XIII. Takata, XIV. Utsonomia, XV. Fushimi, XVI. Kioto, XVII. Okayama, XVIII. Kurume.

Some of these divisions were permanently on foreign service, but their recruiting areas in Japan were maintained. There were also four cavalry brigades, and a number of unassigned regiments of field and mountain artillery, as well as garrison artillery and army technical troops. The organization of the active army by regiments is 176 infantry regiments of 3 battalions; 27 cavalry regiments; 30 field artillery regiments each of 6 and 3 mountain artillery regiments each of 3 batteries; 6 regiments and 6 battalions of siege, heavy field and fortress artillery; 20 battalions engineers; 19 supply and transport battalions. The medical service is exceptionally well organized. It received unstinted praise from European and American experts who observed it closely during the wars of 1900 and 1904-5. The Medical establishment of surgeons to each division is approxi- Service. mately too, and arrangements complete in every detail are made for all lines of medical assistance.

The staple article of commissariat for a Japanese army in the field is hoshii (dried rice), of which three days' supply can easily be carried in a bag by the soldier. When required for use the rice, being placed in water, swells to its original bulk, and is eaten with a relish of salted fish, dried sea-weed or pickled plums. The task of provisioning an army on these lines is comparatively simple. The Japanese soldier, though low in stature, was well set up, muscular and hardy. He had great powers of endurance, and manoeuvres with remarkable celerity, doing everything at the run, if necessary, and continuing to run without distress for a length of time astonishing to European observers. He was greatly subject, however, to attacks of kakke (beri-beri), and if he had recourse to meat diet, which appeared to be the best preventive, he would probably lose something of his capacity for prolonged rapid movement. He attacked with apparent indifference to danger, preserving his cheerfulness amid hardships, was splendidly patriotic and has always shown himself thoroughly amenable to discipline.

Of the many educational and training establishments, the most important was the rikugun daigakko, or army college, where officers, (generally subalterns), are prepared for service in the Military upper ranks and for staff appointments, the course of Schools. study extending over three years. The Toyama school stood next in importance. The courses pursued there are attended chiefly by subaltern officers of dismounted branches, non-commissioned officers also being allowed to take the musketry course. The term of training was five months. Young officers of the scientific branches are instructed at the hokogakko (school of artillery and engineers). There were, further, two special schools of gunnery - one for field, the other for garrison artillery, attended chiefly by captains and senior subalterns of the two branches.

The Japanese officer's pay is small and his mode of life frugal. He lives out of barracks, frequently with his own family. His uniform is plain and inexpensive, and he has no desire to exchange it for mufti. The uniform does not vary according to regiments or divisions. There was only one type for the whole of the infantry, one for the cavalry, and so on. Officers largely obtain their uniforms and equipment, as well as their books and technical literature through the Kai-ko-sha, which is a combined officers' club, benefit society and co-operative trading association to which nearly all belong. He has no mess expenses, contribution to a band, or luxuries of any kind, and as he is nearly always without private means to supplement his pay, his habits are thoroughly economical. He devotes himself absolutely to his profession, living for nothing else, and since he is strongly imbued with an effective conception of the honor of his cloth, instances of his incurring disgrace by debt or dissipation are exceptional.

The samurai may be said to have been revived in the officers of the army of the early 20th Century, who preserved and acted up to all the old traditions. The system of promotion had evidently much to do with this good result, for no Japanese officer can hope to rise above the rank of captain unless, by showing himself really zealous and capable, he obtains from his commanding officer the recommendation without which all higher educational opportunities are closed to him. Yet promotion by merit had not degenerated into promotion by favor, and corruption appeared to be virtually absent. In the stormiest days of parliamentary warfare, when charges of dishonesty were freely preferred by party politicians against all departments of officialdom, no whisper ever impeached the integrity of army officers.

The training of the troops was thorough and strictly progressive, the responsibility of the company, squadron and battery commanders for the training of their commands, and the latitude granted them in choice of means being, as in Germany, the keystone of the system. Originally the government engaged French officers to assist in organizing the army and elaborating its system of tactics and strategy, and during several years a military mission of French Foreign officers resided in Tokyo and rendered valuable aid to the Assistance. Japanese. Afterwards German officers were employed, with Jakob Meckel at their head, and they left a perpetually grateful memory. But ultimately the services of foreigners were dispensed with altogether, and Japan now adopts the plan of sending picked men to complete their studies in Europe. Up to 1904 she followed Germany in military matters almost implicitly, but since then, having the experience of her own great war to guide her, she had, instead of modelling herself on any one foreign system, chosen from each whatever seemed most desirable, and also, in many points, taken the initiative herself.

When the power of the sword was nominally restored to the Imperial government in 1868, the latter planned to devote one-fourth of the state's ordinary revenue to the army and navy. Had the estimated revenue accrued, this would have given a sum of about 3 millions sterling for the two services. But not until 1871, when the troops of the fiefs were finally disbanded, did.the government find itself in a position to include in the annual budgets an adequate appropriation on account of armaments. Thenceforth, from 1872 to 1896, the ordinary expenditures of the army varied from three-quarters of a million sterling to 11 millions, and the extraordinary outlays ranged from a few thousands of pounds to a quarter of a million. Not once in the whole period of 25 years - if 1877 (the year of the Satsuma rebellion) be excepted - did the state's total expenditures on account of the army exceed 11 millions sterling, and it redounds to the credit of Japan's financial management that she was able to organize, equip and maintain such a force at such a small cost.

In 1896, she virtually doubled her army, and a proportionate increase of jumping at once from an average of about 11 millions sterling to 24 millions, and growing thenceforth with the organization of the new army, until in the year (1903) preceding the outbreak of war with Russia, they reached the figure of 4 millions. Then again, in 1906, six divisions were added, and additional expenses had to be incurred on account of the new over-seas garrisons, so that, in 1909, the ordinary outlays reached a total of 7 millions, or about one-seventh of the ordinary revenue of the state. This takes no account of extraordinary outlays incurred for building forts and barracks, providing new patterns of equipment, &c. In 1909 the latter, owing to the necessity of replacing the weapons used in the Russian War, and in particular the field artillery gun (which was in 1905 only a semi-quickfirer), involved a relatively large outlay.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:24:26 ZULU