Japan had allied itself with Great Britain in 1902 (to counteract the Russian push into Manchuria). In the early days of WWI, Japan resisted pleas from England for naval help in the Pacific and South China Seas. They offered to help if England agreed that Japan could take possession of German territories in the Pacific.
As the war progressed, Japan did help Great Britain on numerous occasions, including sending a task force of ships to the Mediterranean for convoy escort assistance. (British ships in and around Malta were getting clobbered by German U-boats.) During this time, the rest of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked and quickly overwhelmed the German occupied Micronesian island nations: the Carolines, the Marshalls, and the Marianas (except for Guam, which the United States won in the Spanish American War of 1894.) (Don’t forget that we also bought the Philippines from Spain – a sore spot for Japan.)
Japan had gained international recognition as a world power for her roles in the War. She joined the League of Nations, which was created by the Allies’ Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty was mostly about punishing Germany and her allies, redrawing political borders, forcing Germany to reduce her military capabilities, and demanding reparations. Japan was awarded by “Mandate” the Pacific Island groups she captured from Germany. All those islands were to become the bloody battlegrounds of the Pacific War just a few decades later.
I’d like to quickly touch upon a complicated (and hot button) issue: Race and Religion played a very touchy role in Japanese and Western (European) relations. Neither the U.S. or Japan is blameless in this on-going, long, slow burn. I could spend a couple of blogs walking us through this, but I think that would be counter-productive. Suffice it to say that the issues of race and religion and immigration helped fan the flames that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Next up: we’ll take a peek at the Turbulent 20’s and 30’s and deterioriating relations between America and Japan.