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The mythological tale on the origin of Japan creates a background as to how the
notion of Japanese being a divine race primarily grew. The further development
of this belief is indeed backed by historical facts. It would not be wrong to say that
it was not just Japan but other countries also who believed that the Japanese are
directly connected to the divine world. The reason behind it was the continuous
success of Japanese be it in withstanding the Mongol invasion, Japan’s growing
influence on Korea, the great victory of Japan against the powerful and strong
Russia, the annexation of Korea or playing a vital role in the First World War. In
spite of being such a small country, it was very fortunate on the part of Japan to
achieve such great heights. The credit of the success is not just attributed to the
hard working and strong willed Japanese race but also to the natural
circumstances that were too strong to be mere coincidences. It is not just limited
to the formation of this belief but it also led to spread of the feeling of
nationalism among the Japanese race. Earlier Japanese used to be concerned with
only their island; there was no as such contact with the people living on other
islands of Japan. It led to the believe that Japan as a whole is a divine race and
thus inculcated patriotism in the people. However, the rise of this belief did not
continue forever, gradually Japan started facing the downfall. This in turn led to
the atomic bombing over Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of world war first.
There was a radio announcement by Emperor Hirohito in which he stated that
Japan surrenders and the Japanese are not a divine race but common people.
Many reasons are given as to fall of Japan as a divine race but the fundamental
one was the growing belief of Japanese considering them superior and thus
treating other countries indifferently. It is quite obvious for a small country like
Japan to become mighty under such circumstances, but it is also essential to
remain grounded. Colonization was at its peak during that time, so every country
was just focusing on increasing their territory and so does Japan. In addition to
that, when nature favored them, it became easier to fulfill their dream. Thus, I will
be discussing in detail about the rise of this notion.
The mythology of Japan is an account which establishes a direct link between the
divine power and the Japanese race. The imperial family is said to be directly
linked with the heavenly creatures. It is through Kojiki(712) and Nihon Shoki(720)
that the mythological creation of Japan became widely known. However, the
veracity of this account is highly questionable as it is not backed by historical
facts. Moreover, the myths and legends mentioned in these chronicles are passed
through oral tradition which further doubts the authenticity. But it does not
necessarily mean that people do not have belief in the mythology. It is the
mythology indeed which created the notion of Japanese considering themselves a
divine race. Apart from that, the mythology has some similarities with the Chinese
and Polynesian mythology. The mythological accounts begin with the Gods
coming down to the earth through a heavenly bridge which connected the heaven
and the earth. It is believed that these Gods, Izanagi (male god) and Izanami
(female god) , were given the task of creation of Japan. At first, they created the
four major island of Japan viz. Hokkaido, Shikoku, Honshu, Kyushu by dropping
four drops of molten lava present on the earth. They married and thus gave birth
to a large number of Gods and Goddesses. They created mountains, seas, ocean,
rivers and other natural objects and thus it led to the creation of whole universe.
After that it is stated that while giving birth to the fire God, Izanami died and went
to the land of darkness. Thus, from this the concept of hell and heaven has also
come into light. Her lord, however, could not live without her, and he too went
into the Land of Yomi. But as her body was decayed, he became frightened and
returned back. It is then that he took bath in the river and created many Gods out
of his body parts. The three main being Amaterasu (The Sun Goddess), Tsukiyomi
no Mikhoto (The moon God) and Sussano no Mikhoto (The storm God). They
were assigned to rule the heaven, the night and the earth respectively. Sussano,
owing to his cruel and ungenerous nature fought with Amaterasu as he wanted to
rule the heaven. A lot of legends are there describing the ways Sussano troubled
her sister. However, finally he was sent to earth and landed in Silla. He was
ascended by his grandson, Onomichi. It was at that time that Amaterasu sent his
grandson, Ninigi no mikhoto to the earth in order to maintain law and order. But,
they fought for power and finally it was decided that Ninigi will look after the
administrative matters whereas Onomichi will look after the divine matters. Both
of them represented the divine power. They were far away from the cycle of life
and death. In 660 BC, the first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jinmu who was the
direct descendant of the Sun Goddess and Storm God started to rule Japan. The
only difference between the divine God and Emperor was that the emperor had
to go through the cycle of life and death which means he was not immortal. Thus,
this mythology successfully establishes a relation between the divine power and
the imperial household which made Japanese believe that they are a divine race.
This notion furthers develops with other instances in which surprising victory of
Japan is described. After knowing about this linkage, it was quite obvious for the
Japanese to consider them a superior race and even made them think highly of
themselves. It basically creates the foundation which was indeed the first step
towards this belief. Though there is no proof backing this mythology, the notion
was still having doubtful nature as far as the other countries are concerned. It can
be easily said that till this time, it was only Japan that started having this belief
and not any other country. The next stepping stone of this belief was the
unsuccessful Mongol invasion on Japan.


This account is crucial for Japanese as far as strengthening of that notion is
concerned. During 13th century AD, Mongols were conquering the world. This
conquest was not just limited to Asia, it even reached to the Eastern Europe.
Kublai Khan was the leader of the Mongol Empire during that time. He, being an
excellent ruler, dreamt of conquering the whole world. The Mongol Empire was
at its zenith during that time and the empire was flourishing at a speedy rate.
Mongols reached East Asia starting with the conquest of Korea through a series of
campaigns between 1231 and 1259. It was around this time that the Mongols
reached Europe and conquered Russia. Kublai Khan annexed China also and
established his own empire in China known as Yang dynasty in 1279. The fear of
invasion by Kublai Khan instilled in the mind Japanese people. They thought that
even the powerful and big countries like Russia and China could not fight against
the Mongol rulers, then how will Japanese face them. As Japanese missionaries
were sent to China during that time, the Japanese came to know about the Kublai
Khan’s plan of invasion of Japan. As a result of which Japanese prepared
themselves to fight against the Mongol forces, but was it sufficient? The answer is
a big no; the reason being how such a small country like Japan having limited
number of military troops will win against the strong and powerful Mongol army
which now included the Korean and Chinese forces too. In 1268, a letter was sent
from the Mongol Chief to the Japanese Emperor warning them to allow amicable
communication between China and Japan in order to avoid the war. One more
factor was the topography which made it easier for Mongol forces to enter Japan
as it was connected to Korea geographically. In 1274, Mongol army entered
Japan via Korea. Japanese authorities differ as to the size of fleet and the number
of men it carried, but a possible figure is 450 ships and 15,000 Mongol troops,
besides 15,000 Koreans seamen and auxiliaries. As a matter of fact, Mongol army
started capturing islands and they were gradually moving southwards of Japan.
Japanese army, on the other hand was fighting very bravely. However, given the
weapons and large number of troops, they were not able to overthrow. What
came shocking to Japan were the Korean soldiers whom they considered to be
weak. As the war was progressing, it was becoming difficult to Japan to sustain it.
There were prayers all over the country and for the first time they felt the
national unity. Each person was contributing in every way possible. However, it
was somewhere in the mind of Japanese that God will save them. And finally, a
devastating storm called kamikaze came destroying the ships and troops of the
enemy. So, the Mongols ran away to save themselves. Japanese felt that the God
helped them. It deepens the belief of being a divine race. It came as a proof to
support the mythology. It was now when Japanese became sure that they cannot
be defeated by anyone as they are the direct descendants of God. Though Kublai
Khan went away but he was not satisfied. Knowing Kublai Khan, Japanese were
sure that we will again try to make Japan a vassal state. Moreover, after that
Kublai Khan sent letters to Japan asking them to surrender but Japan did not
agree because their belief was now strong enough. In retrospect, Japan became
more prepared to handle the invasion. It was then again in 1281, that Kublai Khan
tried to annex Japan again with more powerful warfare tactics. This time they
entered through Kyushu and after just fifty days of the war, the Kamikaze came
once again devastating the Mongol troops and giving hopes to the Japanese who
were losing at that time. This gave a message to the world that indeed it is
impossible to Japan because nature and divine powers are at their side. The faith
of considering themselves of divine race now started embedding in the minds of
other countries too. This incident is the real reason of strengthening of the belief
because it is backed by historical facts.


First Sino-Japanese war is another milestone as far as the strengthening of the
divine belief is concerned. It made much stronger not only militarily but also
mentally. This war was one of its kinds and result left everyone in shock. It would
be not legit to just give the credit of success in the war to the divine power
because the Japanese really worked hard for this war. Throwing light on the origin
of war is important to know about the nature of war which made Japanese stand
out in the world. This war broke out in 1894 due to Japanese wanting the end of
power of China on Korea. It was considered anserine on Japan’s part to take up a
fight against China having such large number of troop, ships and sufficient
artillery. Their defeat was indeed a matter of fact for the world. Even great
powers such as USA and Russia were supporting China. 1China in taking defensive
measures to protect her national interests will have the sympathy of all nations.
The war started in September 1894 and within six months, in 1895, Japan was
successful in defeating China. The defeat of China came as a shock for everyone.
Though many reasons like mixture of four different ethnicity in the army due to
which they could not fight as the same army, the inferior training, poor
organization and underestimating Japan’s strength. However, Japan performed
unexpectedly well in the war. The world noticed Japan and builds a strong opinion
about Japan. As Japan’s moral was very high at that time, they became
imperialistic. At the end of the war, Japan took control over Taiwan and other
parts. Imperialism was at its height during that period. Japanese considering them
a divine entered the race. Along with the divine belief what backed Japan was the
army which was strong enough to fight powerful countries and the excelling ships
and armaments. With the win in this battle, the Japanese became over confident
and dream of conquering the world. Japan was now seen as a regional power and
a very important state as far as the politics of East Asia is concerned. It gave
courage to Japan to fight against countries which were densely populated, had
strong economy and powerful military forces. This war aroused the interest of
Britain, Russia and Germany in Far East. They now thought of increasing their
territories. Looking at this war from Japan’s point of view, they gained many
crucial things. The prominent ones being the confidence to defeat any
superpower, strengthening of imperialistic nature, becoming a major power in
Asia and thus in the world and most importantly the fortifying belief that divine
power will support it and therefore it can win against any country.


Russo- Japanese war further develops the Japanese notion of being a superior
race. Russia was a superpower and defeating Russia led the world to believe in
Japanese connection with the divine world. Japan developed to such an extent
that starting as such a small country; it has now defeated countries which rule the
world. This now was far more than a coincidence. Japan’s imperialistic model
became widely known in the world. However, taking the war into consideration, it
basically was the result of support that Russia had extended to China during the
Sino Japanese war. Russia and Japan had the dispute over the islands that Japan
acquired during the Sino Japanese war in Korea and Manchuria. Particularly the
dispute was over Liaodong Peninsula, Mukden, Yellow Sea. This war broke out on
8th February, 1904 and ended on 5th September, 1905. This war concluded with
the signing of peace treaty in 1905. This war had an intense impact on Russia.
Russia not only lost its image of a strong nation in the world but domestic
problems within the country came up. The Russian perception of Asia as a weak
and inferior continent felled apart. The war expenses were paid by Russia to
Japan. Until now, Russia planned to expand their empire by capturing Asian
nations. But this war broke Russia’s overconfidence and the heavy war
compensation burdened them to a great extent. Keeping Korea out of foreign
hands was very important as far as the security of Japan is concerned. The shift of
power was clearly visible. However, the third party role cannot be ignored. The
Anglo- Japanese alliance and the Anglo- Russian dispute over Asia provided
physical as well as psychological support to Japan. Moreover the French neutrality
added to it. The above mentioned reasons are the political reasons behind the
success of Japan. But there is an insight to it. The political reasons were not
enough for the success in the war but there were other psychological, societal
reasons for the success. The earned glory in the Sino- Japanese war made
Japanese confident to fight the superpower Russia. Furthermore, the new
nationalism which was strongly embedded in the Japanese mindsets, the display
of the power of unity, the support from different nations was the intrinsic factors
of the glorious success in the war. The belief of being a divine race elevated to
such an extent that they thought nothing was impossible for them. The incident is
mentioned in the history which further developed this notion. It was the
circulation of the Russo- Japanese war to the common people not only in Japan
but also in the world. At that time, everyone was speaking of Japanese glory. This
success was proclaimed to such an extent that the Sino- Japanese war was
forgotten. Thus, the strengthening of the belief kept on developing and Japan was
on the way to become a superpower. Strong nations started seeing Japan as a
threat. It was a great deal for a small country like Japan to attain this position.
Japan now had the strong military, great position and most importantly the divine
support which was unique to them.

This annexation of Korea is very important to the belief of Japanese as divine race.
Because, Japan did not fought to capture Korea but it was Korea who surrendered
itself. This raised Japanese confidence to whole another level. The Japan- Korea
treaty was signed in August 29th, 1910 between the empire of Japan and Korea.
The surrender by Korean Emperor was not supported by the Korean people. So
the treaty was not published in the newspaper. However, the reasons for the
annexation of Korea mainly are ensuring security of Japan, maintaining peace in
the Far East Asia, to promote prosperity and welfare of the Korean citizens, to
abolish the dual system of government that is the administrative and the financial
system, to unite the two countries as they cultural similarity and thus fight the
imperialism together. Though at first Korea was not able to accept Japanese
influence, so there was a rise of non-Japanese feelings in the Korean. Officially it is
said to be a peaceful relation between Korea and Japan but actually Japan derived
Korea of its sovereignty. However whatever it was, the world started seeing Japan
as a growing imperialistic Japan. The doubt in Japanese superior was long gone.
Other countries were friendly towards Japan because they did not want to spoil
their relation with the imperialistic Japan. This give hope to other countries which
were aiming for freedom like India. The territory expansion was increasing and
this indeed strengthen the position of Asia in the whole world. The slogan
Naeseon Ilche was given which means Korea and Japan are single entity. Till this
time, Japanese were boasting with pride. They were unfair to Korea. Although the
above slogan was given, but the Japanese considered them superior because they
were divine race. What they showed the world was indeed very different from the
actual condition. The territory expansion was increasing and these indeed
strengthen the position of Asia in the whole world. Although the thirty five years
rule of Japan over Korea developed Korea’s infrastructure, agriculture, education
and economy but the discrimination and the sufferings of the Korean people
cannot be justifiable anyhow.2 As is well known, Japan’s victory in the Sino-
Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War provided a huge momentum for its
expansionist project, catapulting it into the position of a new East Asian
imperialist power. Thus, the annexation of Korea provided Japan with the excess
amount of pride on the belief of their divine origin. This event marked a crucial
role in the fortification of the belief.


Imperialism led to the First World War. The war was between the allied powers
and the central powers. Japan’s role in the First World War cannot be ignored. It
was during the first world war that world realized that Japan along with becoming
imperialistic and also over confident. Japan sided the allied powers which
basically included Serbia, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Italy,
The Characteristics of Japanese Colonial Rule in Korea
Belgium and the United States. The reason of Japan participation in the war is
the Anglo- Japan treaty from 1914 to 1918. In August 1914, with the outbreak of
war in 1914, Japan citing the reason to help Britain, declared war on Germany. At
that time, as the world was busy with the First world war, Japan kept on
increasing its territory. Japan was fully making use of the world war. And then
Japan thought of capturing Germany. As Germany was involved in the war
representing Central power, it was not having enough troops in Germany to fight
against Japan. Though it was not that Germany was not powerful enough, the
mere reason was that Germany could not leave the world war in between so they
surrendered to Japan and let them capture some region. One more reason was
that Germany knew that as Japan had won the Sino- Japanese war, Russo-
Japanese war and annexed Korea, therefore they will need big troops to fight
them and sending their troops to Germany at the prime time of the war was not
possible. This further boost Japan’s confidence and they thought it was that they
captured Germany which was such a superpower at that time. At the end of the
war, when allied powers won, Japan demanded war compensation. The
imperialistic Japan reached its zenith and the belief was now a well proven fact
that Japan was a divine race.

It can be seen that how Japan developed its belief of divine power. The belief
which started with the mythology, developed further with the Mongol failed
invasion, Sino- Japanese war, Russo- Japanese war, annexation of Korea and
finally the win over Germany in The First World War. After this, the downfall
started with the second Sino- Japanese war and finally the defeat in the Second
World War. The thing of divinity that started as a belief was now a well proven
fact and nobody in the world doubted that. There are many things that can be
learned from Japan’s notion. The nationalism, unity and belief in themselves. This
is the account of the development of the Japan as a superpower. This even gave
strength to other countries to fight and attain freedom. The model of growth of
Japan is helpful in the study of development from scratch. What made them
developed is the high spirit amongst the Japanese. They used the notion to
develop themselves. Though the notion went away with their defeat in the
Second World War after when the emperor declared that they are no more a
divine race but it did helped a lot with the growth of Japan. This belief was very
important as it led the foundation of growth model of Japan. Without this,
Japanese would not be able to have the trust they had in themselves and thus
could not fight the superpower. For a small country like Japan, it was a hard thing
to accomplish but the strength that the notion gave them was indeed the
necessary thing. I would like to conclude with saying that though the Japanese
were in fact not a divine race but they made themselves a divine race through
hard work and courage.

1. BEASELEY, WILLIAM G Japanese Imperialism 1894–1945. Oxford University Press, 1991.
3. JOHN ALBERT WHITE, Diplomacy of Russo- Japanese war, Princeton University Press,
4. MAKI, JOHN M. Japanese Militarism, Past and Present. Thomspon Press. 2007


1. TOYOKICHI IYENAGA, Japan's Annexation of Korea. The Journal of Race Development

vol. 3 pg 201-223
2. Jon M. Van Dyke, Reconciliation between Korea and Japan. Oxford University Press 2006
3. S.C.M Paine,  The First Sino- Japanese War (1894– 1895). Cambridge University Press