Between Bushido and Black Humour

Stewart Lone looks beyond the idea of the impassive, self-sacrificing citizen to discover how ordinary Japanese people really reacted to the war with Russia in 1904-05.

On September 5th, 1905, the treaty of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, brought to a close the nineteen-month war between imperial Japan and Tsarist Russia. Japan had started the war to prevent Korea falling under Russian hegemony. To this extent, it was successful. The war, however, was immensely expensive and had been fought on a vast scale: in March 1905, the last major land engagement at Mukden, northeast China, saw nearly half a million men confront each other over ten days in one of history’s largest battles to date. The war also had extraordinary consequences for the modern world. For Russia, the unbroken series of military reverses, notably the catastrophic destruction of the Baltic fleet at Tsushima in May 1905, dealt a long-term blow to the authority of the monarchy and military. For Japan, the unintended result of its military successes was to make it the hero, albeit an ambiguous one, of anti-colonial nationalists from Africa to Asia. The dangerous and troubling flipside of this new status was that Western observers and military planners, especially in North America and Australasia, began predicting a race war with Japan and preparing their armies and navies accordingly.

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