Russo-Japanese War 1904-05

For over two centuries Japan had been closed to all foreigners until American warships forced Japan, in 1854, to open her ports to foreign trade.

The infuriated Japanese blamed the Tokugawa shogun - the military leader who had ruled Japan in place of the emperor - for the humiliation. (The Tokugawa line of shoguns had ruled Japan for 250 years and had enforced the seclusion of Japan.) The shogun was forced to resign and Emperor Mutsuhito announced that he had taken his traditional powers back from the shogun. The Emperor moved the capital from ancient Kyoto to Edo, which he renamed Tokyo and he assumed the name Meji meaning "enlightened rule".

During the Meji period (1868-1912) the feudal system was abolished, and Western ideas and business contacts gained wide acceptance.

An important objective of the Meji leaders was to establish Japan as a political equal of the European powers and the U.S. In the 1890's, Japan began to adopt a strong foreign policy. At that time Japan and China became rivals in Korea, which led to the Chinese-Japanese War of 1894-95 resulting in a Japanese victory. China gave up its claims to Korea and handed over Taiwan to Japan.

The war proved that Japan had beome a military power and it felt itself strong enough to object when Russia expanded its claims to rights in Korea and Manchuria. In 1904 Japanese forces pushed the Russians deep into Manchuria and Japanese ships attacked and defeated the Russian fleet at Port Arthur without declaring war. Russia sent its Baltic and Black Sea fleets around Africa to the Far East to relieve the troops, but the Japanese fleet caught the Russians in the straits between Japan and Korea and annihilated the entire fleet. Russia had to accept Japan's rights in Korea and had to give up the southern half of Sachalin.

Japan's victory over Russia proved to other Asian nations that a European power could be defeated by an Asian country and Japan emerged as the dominant force in the Far East.