In 1929, the Great Depression rippled across the Pacific, striking Japan with devastating force. Trade suffered as foreign buyers could no longer afford to purchase Japanese silks and other exports. Unemployment in the cities soared, while rural peasants were only a mouthful from starvation.
Economic disaster fed the discontent of the leading military officials and extreme nationalists, or ultranationalists. They condemned politicians for agreeing to Western demands to stop overseas expansion. Western industrial powers, they pointed out, had long ago grabbed huge empires. By comparison, Japan's empire was tiny.
Japanese nationalists were further outraged by racial policies in the United States, Canada, and Australia that shut out Japanese immigrants. The Japanese took great pride in their industrial achievements. They bitterly resented being treated as second-class citizens in other parts of the world.
As the economic crisis worsened, nationalists demanded renewed expansion. An empire in Asia, they argued, would provide much-needed raw materials as well as an outlet for Japan's rapidly growing population. They set their sights on the northern Chinese province of Manchuria. This region was rich in natural resources, and Japanese businesses had already invested heavily there.
In 1931, a group of Japanese army officers provoked an incident that provided an excuse to seize Manchuria. They set explosives and blew up tracks on a Japanese-owned railroad line. Then they claimed that the Chinese had committed the act. Claiming self-defense, the army attacked Chinese forces.
Without consulting their own government, the Japanese military forces conquered all of Manchuria and set up a puppet state there that they called Manzhouguo (man choo KWOO). They brought in Puyi, the last Chinese emperor, to head the puppet state.
Politicians in Tokyo objected to the army's highhanded actions, but public opinion sided with the military. When the League of Nations condemned Japanese aggression against China, Japan simply withdrew from the League. The League's member states failed to take military action against Japanese aggression.
Japan expanded its territory in Asia between 1918 and 1934. From the conquered lands, the Japanese acquired natural resources to fuel industry. Where were Japan's main manufacturing areas located?