A Timeline

← Back to The “History Issue”

Below is a chronology of the key moments in the development of the international “history issue”. Useful open access publications putting flesh onto the skeleton outline below are:

Regarding the road to war:

Eckhardt Fuchs, Tokushi Kasahara and Sven Saaler (eds) A New Modern History of East Asia. 2018, V&R unipress GmbH, Göttingen (free pdf download).

Jeffrey Record, “Japan’s Decision for War in 1941”.

Richard J. Smethurst, “Japan, the United States, and the Road to World War II in the Pacific”.

Yoshizawa Tatsuhiko, “The Manchurian Incident, the League of Nations, and the Origins of the Pacific War”.

Regarding life in wartime Japan:

Philip Seaton, “Japanese Society at War: History and Memory”.

Regarding the postwar “history issue”:

Hatano Sumio, “History and the State in Postwar Japan”.

Hiro Saito, The History Problem: The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia. 2016, University of Hawaii Press.

Sven Saaler and Justin Aukema (eds) The Politics of Memory in Japan and East Asia. 2013, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Course Reader No. 7.


1840: First Opium War (aggressive intent of the Western Powers causes panic in “sakoku period” Japan).

1853: Perry’s “Black Ships” arrive; the “opening of Japan” begins in earnest.

1868: Overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate; beginning of the Boshin War (civil war of the Meiji Restoration).

1869: Completion of the Meiji Restoration; annexation of Yaunmosir (Hokkaido); establishment of Tokyo Shokonsha (from 1879 Yasukuni Shrine).

1879: Annexation of Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa).

1890: Promulgation of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan.

1894: First Sino-Japanese War.

1895: Treaty of Shimonoseki; Taiwan acquired as a colony.

1898: Triple Intervention (Japan forced to return Liaodong Peninsula).

1900: Boxer Rebellion.

1902: Anglo-Japanese Alliance signed.

1904: Russo-Japanese War begins.

1905: Victory in the Russo-Japanese War; Treaty of Portsmouth (Japan acquires Karafuto and the Kurils).

1910: Annexation of the Korean peninsula.

1915: The Twenty-One Demands against China.

1918: Beginning of the Siberian Intervention (to 1922).

1919: Japan sits with the victors at the Treaty of Versailles; 1 March uprising in colonial Korea.

1922: Washington Naval Treaty (hastens the demise of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance).

1925: Peace Preservation Law (persecution of leftists in Japan); discriminatory immigration policies introduced in America.

1929: Wall Street Crash and global depression.

War 1931-1945

1931: The Manchurian Incident (occupation of northern China).

1932: The Shanghai Incident.

1933: Japan withdraws from the League of Nations over the Lytton Report’s criticism of Japan’s occupation of Manchuria.

1936: 26 February incident (attempted military coup); Anti-Commintern Pact signed.

1937: Marco Polo Bridge Incident (beginning of the China War); occupation of Nanjing (and subsequent massacre).

1938: Japan defeated by the Soviet Union in the Nomonhan Incident.

1939: Beginning of the Second World War in Europe.

1940: The Tripartite Pact (signed with Germany and Italy); Japanese occupation of French Indochina.

1941: America imposes an oil and steel embargo; simultaneous attack on Pearl Harbor and the Malayan peninsula; beginning of the Pacific War.

1945: The events of 6 August (Hiroshima), 8 August (Soviet declaration of war) and 9 August (Nagasaki) combined with the hopeless war situation convinces Japan to accept the Potsdam Declaration; the emperor’s radio address announcing surrender on 15 August; occupation begins.

The following video is obviously told from an American perspective but gives a good visual impression of the timeline of the Asia-Pacific War.

WWII Pacific Timeline

Postwar/Post Empire

1946: The emperor renounces his divinity; start of the Tokyo Trials.

1947: Promulgation of the Constitution.

1951: Treaty of San Francisco signed.

1952: End of the occupation.

1956: Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration; completion of official postwar repatriation process.

1960: Japan-America Security Treaty signed (and associated Anpo protests).

1964: Tokyo Olympics; lifting of the ban on overseas travel by Japanese.

1965: Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea.

1972: Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the People’s Republic of China; return of Okinawa (occupied by America since 1945) to Japan.

1978: Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between Japan and China.

1982: Textbook crisis regarding “advanced into China” rather than “aggressed”.

1985: Prime Minister Nakasone’s official Yasukuni Shrine worship.

1989: Tiananmen Square Incident; Fall of the Berlin Wall; Death of Emperor Hirohito.

1991: First Gulf War (Japan criticized for only contributing money); 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor; lawsuit brought by Korean former “comfort women” and forced labourers.

1992: Eruption of the “comfort women” issue (Prime Minister Miyazawa apology; launch of official government investigation).

1993: Statement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the result of the study on the issue of “comfort women”; Fall of the LDP Government; Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro says he thinks the war was a war of aggression “shinryaku senso” and makes the first mention of Asian suffering at the Memorial Ceremony on 15 August.

1995: Hanshin Earthquake; Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack; Resolution to Renew the Determination for Peace on the Basis of Lessons Learned from History; Statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama “On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war’s end”; 50th anniversary of the end of WWII; establishment of the Asian Women’s Fund (payments to former “comfort women”).

1996: LDP returns to power; formation of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (Tsukurukai); Prime Minister Hashimoto’s Yasukuni Shrine visit.

1998: Japan-Republic of Korea Joint Declaration; Japan-China Joint Declaration On Building a Partnership of Friendship and Cooperation for Peace and Development.

2001: Approval of the Tsukurukai’s nationalistic textbook; Prime Minister Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine (and then once a year to 2006).

2002: Japan and Korea co-host the FIFA World Cup.

2003: Second Gulf War (Japan sends troops in non-combat roles).

2005: Major anti-Japanese protests in China; 60th anniversary of the end of WWII.

2006: Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine on 15 August.

2009: Democratic Party of Japan forms a government.

2010: No cabinet ministers visit Yasukuni Shrine during August; Centenary of the colonization of Korea; Statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan; arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain ignites the Senkaku Islands dispute.

2011: March 11 tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Power Station disaster; South Korean constitutional court rules it unconstitutional for the government to make no efforts resolve the “comfort women” issue with Japan.

2012: Purchase of the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese government further inflames Chinese-Japanese tensions.

2013: Prime Minister Abe ends the practice (since 1993) of mentioning Asian suffering in the Prime Ministerial Address on 15 August.

2015: 70th anniversary of the end of WWII; Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (a further agreement to settle the “comfort women” issue).

2020: Coronavirus pandemic; Tokyo Olympics postponed; 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.

Forward to Official Narratives