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Industrialization and Democracy, Economic Depression and Right-Wing Terrorism
great Kanto earthquake, zaibatsu, party rule, partisan politics, cabinet members
In 1920 Japanís wartime economic boom collapsed, and the country suffered a series of recessions. Bad economic conditions were aggravated by the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, which devastated the Tokyo-Yokohama region. Agricultural prices plunged, and the rural economy stagnated. A major bank panic in 1927 set off alarm bells, but conditions grew much worse with the onset of the Great Depressionóthe global economic slump that began at the end of 1929. Japanís manufacturing production fell, workers were laid off, a new wave of strikes began, and the rural economy went into a tailspin.
These deteriorating economic conditions undercut the fragile growth of Japanís democracy. Public opinion laid blame for the countryís economic troubles at the door of the political party leaders, who reacted slowly and conservatively to the economic crisis. Public distrust of the parties was heightened by revelations of political scandals involving the bribery of Diet members, cabinet members, and other leading politicians. Tight links between political parties and big business firms, known as zaibatsu, also deepened public suspicions.
By the early 1930s radical right-wing groups had formed, seeking to end party rule through terrorism. Extreme nationalists, these radicals sought to preserve traditional Japanese values and culture and eradicate what they saw as Western influences: party government, big business, and recent cultural imports. Many junior military officers, often from conservative rural backgrounds, shared these ultranationalist views. To achieve their aims, the radicals, with their sympathizers in the military, plotted to assassinate leading business and political figures. In May 1932 the era of party cabinets ended when a terrorist group assassinated Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. From 1932 until 1945, Japan was governed by military and bureaucratic cabinets whose members claimed to stand above partisan politics.
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