To Adopt a Small or Large State Mentality

Special Issue: Race and Empire in Meiji Japan

The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 18 | Issue 20 | Number 3 | Article ID 5497 | Oct 15, 2020
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus.

To Adopt a Small or Large State Mentality:
The Iwakura Mission and Japan’s Meiji-era Foreign Policy Dilemma
Mark Caprio

Shortly after the Meiji governmentassumed administrative responsibilities in1868, the Iwakura Mission left Japan tocircumvent the globe, searching for informationon institutions that could centralize a dividedarchipelago. In so doing, it encountered aworld embarking on a new phase of imperialexpansion. While the majority of the Mission’sparticipants returned with visions of a large,expansion-oriented Japan, others saw theircountry’s future as a small, neutral state.Debates over the suitability of either visioncontinued throughout the Taisho period,especially as Japan incorporated territories atits peripheries, including Ezo (Hokkaidō), theRyūkyū Islands (Okinawa), Taiwan, and Korea.This paper examines the impact of the Missionparticipants’ perspectives, which wereinformed by their first- and second-handexperience of American and Europeanamalgamation of peoples of diverse cultural,ethnic, and racial origins. How did theparticipants’ experiences influence their viewson Japan’s future as an expansionist state?What did their experiences teach them aboutthe assimilation of peoples of diversebackgrounds? This paper identifies the legacyof these debates as extending to the present,where Japan seeks to rescind postwarrestrictions against extending military powersbeyond its borders.

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