Early Showa Conservatism and Militarism, 1925-1937

Early Showa Conservatism and Militarism, 1925-1937

Background Information.

The years leading up to war with China were a time of mounting domestic and foreign crises.  Japan’s maturing political system, freed from its Meiji moorings, struggled to find solutions and strained to achieve a balance between its elitist democracy and demands by the masses for increased political participation.

Learning Goals.

  1. Students will comment on the importance of Japanese intervention in Manchuria in the shift toward military governance of the nation;
  2. Students will identify specific justifications for the shift in the balance of political power from the political parties to the military by 1937; and
  3. Students will identify specific steps that Japan’s political leadership took to deal with the international and domestic issues facing the country.


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 1.  Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. 
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 40Understands the search for peace and stability throughout the world in the 1920s and 1930s.
  2. Mcrel Standard 42Understands major global trends from 1900 to the end of World War II.
  3. McRelStandard 46Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history.

Key Concept.

The complex relationship between external and internal political and social pressures shaped governmental policy during this period.

Essential Question.

How did the end of the Meiji leadership eventually lead to the political decisions made during the mid-1920s through the mid-1930s?

Primary Source.  

Thought Questions.

What were the various international and domestic problems besetting the Japanese political leadership during these years, and how did Japan’s political leadership respond to these problems?



Focus Activity Ideas.

At the beginning of the lesson or as a homework assignment, ask students to read the chapter “The Depression Crisis and Responses,” from Andrew Gordon’s textbook A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, (or a different reading that introduces Japanese political and economic history between 1929 and 1931) and to identify, on their own, some sources of governmental disorder.

Main Lesson Activity Ideas.

  1. Secondary source discussion: (10-15 minutes)
    Discuss Andrew Gordon’s chapter “The Depression Crisis and Responses” in his textbook A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present.  Identify the main sources of turmoil for the Japanese government and then divide them under the International and Domestic headings.  Next, further subdivide the lists under the headings of Military, Diplomacy, Economy, Society, and Culture under both the International and Domestic headings.  Finally, ask students to put themselves in the shoes of the Japanese citizenry and the Japanese political elites.

    Discussion Topics:
    1. What were the different groups affected by the turmoil in Japanese society after 1929? 
    2. What way forward did each of them advocate? How does Gordon characterize the 1930s overall?  Why?  Do you agree or disagree?  Why?
  2. Alternative secondary source:  Kenneth Pyle, The Making of Modern Japan, (pages 184-192)

    Discussion or writing topics:
    1. What were the various elements of Shidehara Diplomacy?
    2. What factors and trends in domestic politics and society and overseas undermined it?
    3. Why would extreme nationalist groups have a strong appeal to many Japanese citizens?
    4. What made the Manchurian Incident a "critical moment for party government in Japan?"
  3. Video clip viewing and discussion:
    View and discuss a clip from the ending sections of Men of Action (Directed and Produced by Smokey Forester.  30 minutes.  Japan: The Changing Tradition.  Vol. 19. 1978.  Videocassette).  This film clip provides the orthodox interpretation that Japan was on its way to becoming a democratic nation during the late 1920s and early 1930s when the attempted coups, assassinations, and military uprisings in the 1930s resulted in the downfall of civilian rule and the rise of militarism.

    Discussion Topics:
    1. How does this video clip present the shift to militarism in the early 1930s?
    2. Whom does the video clip blame for this turn to authoritarian rule?
    3. What reasons does the video clip give for the move to militarism and why did the Army in particular appear to have the answers for the crises Japan faced?
    4. What alternative explanations are there for Japan’s shift to militarist authoritarianism?
  4. Analyzing a Literary Source (alternative to video clip):
    Briefly remind students of the historical background to the February 26th incident.  Ask students to read and annotate Yukio Mishima's story, "Patriotism."  (Mishima, Yukio, “Patriotism” (trans: Geoffrey W. Sargent) from Death in Midsummer and Other Stories.  New York: New Directions Press, 1966.)  This task can be begun in class and completed as a homework assignment.

    Discussion or writing topics:
    1. What does this story tell us about the pervasiveness of imperial militarist values?
    2. The story includes some intimate scenes. What is Mishima’s purpose for including these scenes?
    3. What motivates the suicide? 
    4. How does the couple view their suicides?
    5. What is Mishima's attitude toward the suppression of the February 26th plotters?
    6. How would you characterize Mishima's political position?
    7. Based on what you know of the Taisho period, how representative do you think Mishima's political views were?
  5. Lecture: (7-10 minutes)
    Based on Kenneth B. Pyle’s chapter “Crisis of Political Community” in his The Making of Modern Japan, 2nd edition, prepare a lecture on the subsections entitled “The Elitist Nature of the Taisho Political System” and “Vulnerability of the Political Parties.”  Provide an overview of the elitism and pluralistic nature of Japan’s political system and emphasize that it was a fluid work-in-progress, its leadership defined by Japan’s social and political culture of cooperation and compromise, as well as historical contingency.

Summative Activity Ideas.

  1. Ask students to describe some of the positive and negative aspects of an overall trend toward Westernization in Japan during the Taisho transition.
  2. Discussion or essay topic:  Given all you've learned so far, does it make sense to say that the Japanese Military "hijacked" the Civilian Government from 1931 on?



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