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WITHIN the recollection of men still alive, Japan has evolved from a small feudal principality voluntarily shut off from the rest of the world to the status of a Great Power whose influence is felt in every quarter of the globe. Seventy years ago Japan had a population of 33 million. The present Japanese Empire, excluding Manchuria, has 92 million subjects, a total surpassed only by the United States, the British Empire, Russia and China.
The Consolidation of Japan Proper. At the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868 Japan consisted of the four large islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, and a peripheral zone of 4,068 islets. The total land area was 146,689 square miles. The country was economically self-sufficient; and the population, some 30 million, had been stationary for a century and a half.
The first instances of expansion should be regarded as the realization of nominal claims of sovereignty. In 1875 the Kuriles, a chain of thirty islands lying to the northeast, were formally annexed (see map). The islands had and still have a primitive economy, furs and fish being the principal exports. Two years later Japan acquired the Bonin Islands after a period of contested ownership with the United States. These are a group of 27 islands, with a population of 5,000 souls; they have a vegetation of tropical luxuriance and possess many valuable woods. (The adjoining Volcano Islands were annexed in 1891.) In 1879 the LuChus were annexed by virtue of Japan's position as feudal overlord. The LuChus form an archipelago of 55 islands. The soil is fertile, and crops are fairly diversified, sugar cane being the most important. The people are of the same racial stock as the Japanese.
Formosa (Taiwan) was acquired from China in 1895 as a result of the Sino-Japanese War. This is a tropical island situated a hundred miles off the Asiatic coast, with a land area of 13,840 square miles. It is Japan's tropical storehouse par excellence. Tea, rice, lumber and sugar are produced in abundance, sugar being considered the most important for the future development of the island. Camphor woods are extensive and the world output of camphor is virtually controlled by Japan. Formosa and the neighboring Pescadores have a population (1932) of 4.6 million, of which 94 percent are Chinese. The Japanese, though only 5 percent of the total population, control the island's political and economic life.
Korea (Chosen). Economic preponderance in the independent kingdom of Korea (85,613 square miles) was granted to Japan in 1905 as a result of the Russo-Japanese War. Formal annexation came in 1910. Korea is mainly agricultural, the chief crops being wheat, barley, rice and the soya bean. In 1910 the population was 13.3 million; in 1932 it was 20.5 million, of whom only 2.5 percent were Japanese. Here, too, the Japanese colonists dominate the political and economic life.
Sakhalin. By the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 Russia gave all the island south of the fiftieth parallel to Japan. The Japanese part, Karafuto, has a land area of 14,000 square miles. The island has a cold, foggy climate with only one hundred days suitable for crops. Fisheries, forests and mines constitute the basis of the economic life. Small but rich coal deposits are being actively developed. Of a total population of 295,000, nearly 98 percent are Japanese.
The Mandated Islands. One of Japan's few gains at Versailles was a mandate over the formerly German-owned islands in the Pacific comprising the Marianne, Caroline, and Marshall groups. The Mandated Islands are a salient dividing the United States possession of the Hawaiians in the east from the Philippines in the west, and making Guam an isolated American colony in a Japanese sea. The Mariannes have a fertile soil adapted to the raising of sugar cane, and Japan has done much to promote this crop. The Carolines, with valuable phosphate mines, are the administrative and naval center for the entire mandated zone. The Marshalls are rich in coconut palms and copra. The three archipelagoes as a group are highly valuable to Japan. They are valuable for strategic reasons, for their products, and as an outlet for Japanese emigration. As a result of government policy, the population of the islands has increased from 52,000 in 1920 to 80,500 in 1933. Of this gain of 28,500 all but 1,500 were emigrants from Japan. It is these Mandated Islands that Japan has been accused of fortifying in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
Manchukuo (including the Kwantung Leased Territory and the South Manchuria Railway Zone). Territorially this is the largest of the areas controlled by Japan. It comprises some 548,000 square miles, an area more than twice the size of Texas, and has a population of 31 million, of whom 2.7 percent are Japanese. Of all the areas under Japanese control, Manchukuo is by far the most valuable. The soil is fertile and gives Japan a supply of many food products. The amount of cotton which is raised can be increased, though never to the point of supplying the mother country with all its needs. There are extensive mines of coal and iron, key minerals in which Japan is very deficient. As an outlet for population and as a source of raw materials, Manchukuo is invaluable to overcrowded, industrialized Japan.
This brief sketch of the growth of the Japanese Empire reveals several significant facts. In the first place, the expansion of the Empire was not an affair of logic. It had begun even before Japan was mistress of her own household. Expansion into the Pacific and over the Asiatic continent was simultaneous, forcing Japan to become both a naval and a land power. In the second place, many of the Japanese gains have been made at the expense of China, and this despite the fact that the two Powers have been formally at war for only a few months in a sixty-year period. Thirdly, the number of Japanese in the colonies is not large. Only 5 percent of the population of Formosa is Japanese; in Korea the proportion is only 2.5 percent; and in Manchukuo 2.7 percent.
Lastly -- and this is a strategic consideration -- the Japanese possessions are so situated as to form two cordons of defense against any approach to Eastern Asia by sea. The inner defense lies along the line of the islands of Japan proper, extending northeast to the Kuriles and southwest to Formosa. The outer cordon is a great arc, beginning on the Japanese mainland behind Tokyo, reaching east and south to the Bonin Islands, passing through Yap, and terminating south of the Philippines. Inside these two strategic lines, Tokyo can exercise its naval strength as it chooses. Japan is, indeed, free to become a continental power because she is already a Pacific power.