Becoming World Citizens, 1912-1925

Becoming World Citizens, 1912-1925

Background Information.

1912-1925 marked a time when Japan worked with the great powers at Versailles, at the Washington Conference, and other international venues in pursuit of a policy of cooperative imperialism in Asia.  At home, Japanese domestic society reached a level of maturity and plurality that forced its elite groups to formulate a response to the outpouring of social unrest among its have-nots, and to the emergence of an urban, distinctly Western-influenced popular culture for those with money and leisure time.

On the one hand, the Japanese government used World War One as a means to continue its imperialist activities on the Asian continent, yet finally gave in to a more cooperative approach by the mid-1920s to secure its strategic interests.  On the other hand, Japanese elites were forced to come to grips with the reality that the masses wanted more say in the administration of the government, and they responded with both progressive political reform and authoritarian control of political behavior and radical thought.

Learning Goals.

  1. Students will articulate the relationship between public demand and governmental action with regard to the increasingly pluralistic Japanese society of the period immediately following WWI;
  2. Students will articulate the tactical shift in Japanese imperialist activities through the mid-1920s; and
  3. Students will enumerate reasons for the deepening of class distinctions in Japanese society during this era.


Common Core Standards
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

  • Standard 1.  Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Standard 7.  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

  • Standard 2.  Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

  • Standard 4.  Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
McRel Standards
Language Arts


  1. McRel Standard 4Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
  2. McRel Standard 5Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
  3. McRel Standard 7Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.
  4. McRel Standard 8Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.

World History

  1. McRel Standard 39Understands the causes and global consequences of World War I.
  2. McRel Standard 40Understands the search for peace and stability throughout the world in the 1920s and 1930s.
  3. Mcrel Standard 42Understands major global trends from 1900 to the end of World War II.
  4. McRel Standard 46.  Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history.

Key Concept.

The events of this era demonstrate the complex interdependence between class systems, social structure, and governmental policy.

Essential Question.

What types of circumstances contribute to the development of widespread popular rights movements within a nation?

Primary Source.  

Thought Questions.

  1. As the Japanese social structure matured during these years, what options did Japan’s political leadership have to reply to the populace’s demands for increased participation in political decisions?
  2. What set of factors influenced the Japanese government’s response to the demands of this increasingly pluralistic society in the early 1920s?



Focus Activity Ideas.

Using a map (such as this map of Asia <file: CIA World Factbook Map of Asia>), ask students to imagine both the specific areas that would have been affected and the broader outcomes had Yamagata's Line of Advantage policy been continued through the 1920s.

Main Lesson Activity Ideas.

  1. Lecture: (10-12 minutes)
    In accordance with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance signed in 1902, Japan entered World War One on the side of Great Britain and used the opportunity to advance its national objectives of empire and industry.  First seizing German holdings on the Shandong peninsula and in the Pacific, Japan proceeded to take advantage of the European withdrawal in three ways: (1) by replacing European manufacturers in Asia and feed consumer demand with Japanese goods; (2) by issuing its Twenty-One Demands to the Chinese government, essentially making China a protectorate of Japan in an attempt to ensure Japanese dominance over China; and (3) taking advantage of the Russian civil war in an attempt to wrest control of Siberia and its natural resources away from the new Soviet Union.  (Peter Duus’ chapter “The Empire Between the Wars” in his Modern Japan, 2nd edition, pages 200-13, provides an accessible overview of these events.)
  2. Video clip viewing and discussion: (10-15 minutes plus discussion):
    View clip from Men of Action (Directed and Produced by Smokey Forester.  30 minutes.  Japan: The Changing Tradition.  Vol. 19. 1978.  Videocassette) and discuss, focusing students’ attention on the Rice Riots of 1918 and on the explosion of social movements, including the Labor Movement, Agrarian Movement, Women’s Movement, the Burakumin (Japan’s outcasts), as well as on radical political movements of the time, including the Japan Socialist League in 1920 and the Japan Communist Party in 1922.  Also discuss the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 in this larger political context.  Conclude with an overview of the rise of popular culture and the three S’s (sport, sex, and screen).

    Discussion topics:
    1. What does the contrast between social unrest and the formation of radical social and political movements and the growth of a new group of middle-class consumers, who pursued leisure activities and Western styles and trends, tell us about Japanese society during the Taisho years?
    2. During the Taisho period, is an emerging divide apparent between the haves and the have-nots and if so, in what ways did the have-nots attempt to bridge that divide and demand access to the same opportunities of the haves?
    3. During the Taisho period, are there indications of a transition to a mass society, which replaced the aristocratic society that developed during the Meiji years?  If so, what were the signs of this societal change?
  3. Reading and writing:
    Read Kenneth Pyle’s, The Making of Modern Japan, on Taisho Democracy (pages 159 through 178)

    Discussion or writing topics:
    1. Characterize the role played by political parties during the Taisho period.
    2. What were the causes and effects the Rice Riots of 1918?
    3. What generalizations can you make about the situation of tenant farmers in the late 10s and early 20s?
    4. What were the various aspects of the social impact of the Great Kanto Earthquake?
    5. What new ideologies arose to challenge the political and social status quo?  What was the appeal of each of them?
    6. What were the zaibatsu?
    7. What is meant by "the dual structure of the economy?"
  4. Analyzing visual images:
    Ask students to read, or summarize for them, the introduction to Maggie Kinser Hohle’s Matchibako, Japanese Matchbook Art of the 20s and 30s.

    1. Ask students to create a gallery or slideshow of selected images.
    2. Ask students to work individually or in groups to analyze a chosen image and write a description of it, focusing on the ways that it reflects the spirit of the modern urban leisure world of the Taisho period.
    3. In class discussion, ask students to share their responses to the images and guide to consider the other side of Taisho society: How would the world shown in these images have looked to the poor tenant farmer, the woman working in a textile mill, or a small provincial shopkeeper?
  5. Research activity:
    1. Divide the students into three groups.  Ask the first group to research the Versailles Conference and the fate of the anti-racism clause in the League of Nations Charter; ask the second group to research the Washington and London Naval Conferences; and ask the third group to review US legislation restricting immigration from Japan, such as the Immigration Act of 1924.
    2. Ask each group to answer the question: What were the effects of these events on Japanese pubic opinion?
  6. Analyzing primary sources: (10-15 minutes)
    Hand out copies of the Universal Male Suffrage Law, which was passed on March 29, 1925 and of the Peace Preservation Law, which was passed on April 22, 1925.  (Both documents can be found in David Lu’s Japan: A Documentary History, Vol. II, pages 394-98).  Ask students to compare and contrast the two documents in order to understand the two sides of the Japanese elites’ responses to the reform of political and social institutions demanded by its citizenry.

    Discussion topics:
    1. What parts of Japanese society does the Universal Male Suffrage Law hope to appease?
    2. Which radical groups in particular does the Peace Preservation Law target?  Whose interests are left unanswered with these laws?
    3. In what ways do you think that the gradual economic stagnation of the latter 1920s as well as the social unrest in the both urban and rural areas influenced opinions both among the general Japanese populace and the elites toward Party government?  How was the government’s ability to build up the economy and alleviate the gap between the haves and the have-nots perceived?

Summative Activity Ideas.

Ask students to describe some of the positive and negative aspects of the overall trend toward Westernization during the Taisho transition.



Topic,Art; Theme,Culture; Topic,History-Modern; Theme,Imperial Japan; Unit,Imperial Japan 1890-1945; Type,Lesson Plan; Topic,Politics; Topic,Popular Culture; Grade Level,Secondary; Subject Area,Social Studies; Topic,War & Conflict;
imperial Japan, government