Although it might seem obvious that Japan is an Asian country, the debate about whether Japan belongs with the West or with Asia has raged since the time of Japan’s Meiji Revolution of 1868. Many modernizers in Japan at this time thought Japan should completely remake itself along Euro-American lines, while others thought that Japan would be a strong country only by deepening its “Asian” roots. This class will explore this tension beginning with the intense history of interactions within Asia before 1868 and then follow the broad-based movement of Japanese Pan-Asianism which began in the 1880s, impelled by the First (1839-1842) and Second (1856-1860) Opium Wars. Pan-Asianism was, at its core, the idea that Asia should unite against white Euro-American imperialism, and many thought that, because Japan was the first Asian country to modernize, it alone was qualified to lead this battle again Euro-American hegemony in Asia.


The class will focus on both the First and Second Opium Wars as well as WW II in Asia and the Asia-Pacific and analyze the underlying causes for both wars. We will then look briefly at the Cold War, postcolonial period when the United States deliberately tried to separate capitalist Japan from an increasingly communist Asia.