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Alliances between countries have been crucial to global growth.

The following is a guest post from Kyle Song.

The signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact (1939) and the Tripartite Act (1940) marked the origins of a seemingly unlikely alliance between Japan and Nazi-Germany that would further define the two sides of World War II, the Axis alliances, and the Allied powers. The Tripartite Pact, signed in 1940 by Japan, Italy, and Germany, signified the official formation of the Axis Powers and provided all three signatories with mutual military protection and aid.  The Anti-Comintern Pact was signed in 1939, and although it was disguised to combat the influence of Communism, it served as a military alliance to oppose the Soviet Union. This pact served as the basis for the initial Japanese and German military connection. The reasons behind the unexpected alliance between Germany and Japan have left room for debate amongst World War II historians, however, it was ultimately Germany’s cultural impact on Japan that prompted them to become allies and America’s restrictions on Japanese and American trade and Japan’s territorial expansion that strengthened the ties amongst the Axis alliance. This relationship highlights the crucial role trade and economic affiliation played in shaping international relations and alliances during the height of World War II modernization.

Germany began an alliance with Japan, in part, because Germany already had cultural influence within the state of Japan engendered by the aid in modernization they provided. German-Japanese relations date back to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which restored the imperialistic rule of Japan upon other nations, such as Korea and China. Under the rule of the emperor Meiji, Japan underwent a series of developmental stages to modernize that were intended to allow Japan to rise among the ranks of powerful nations, like Great Britain and the United States. The Meiji Restoration was revolutionary in that it altered almost every aspect of Japan’s society. The Charter Oath of April 1868 stressed the importance of establishing a new government that abolished all vestiges of feudalism and customs of a past-Japanese society that were deemed evil. In addition to the change in government, the country was greatly affected by industrialism and began the creation of a formidable military force. Although Japan was motivated to rise to the ranks of globally renowned powers such as Great Britain and the United States, they decided to model the basis of their country on an alternative rising power, which was Germany. This inspiration of modernization took form in the Japanese desire to not only model their constitution (of the Meiji period) off of German ideals and principles, but to replicate nascent Japanese military and medical fields off of German innovations. According to Rolf-Harald Wippich and Charles W. Spang, Professors of German History: 

Slowly but steadily, German models and instructors from a variety of fields, such as medicine, constitutional law, education, and the military, were introduced to Japan. In the 1880’s, Germany’s outstanding cultural impact on Japan was obvious.

Because Germany aided Japan’s modernization, Japan’s society reflected German values, rather than the values of Great Britain or the United States, who had originally inspired them to modernize. This is one of the reasons Japan would eventually ally itself with Germany and form the Axis Alliance, alongside Italy, to fight against the Allied forces of the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union

In addition to aiding in modernization through cultural impact, the American embargo on Japanese-American trade and their restrictions on Japan’s territorial expansion caused tension between both nations, which strengthened the ties between the Axis alliance and stirred feelings of contempt towards the United States. Much of Japan’s military efforts in China had been heavily reliant on American oil and metals. Cutting off these resources restricted Japanese efforts and was harmful to Japanese motives. The United States would continue expanding the embargos, first on aviation, gasoline, and scrap iron—which only impacted a fraction of exports to Japan—then on tools, iron, bronze, steel, and copper. The embargo and halt of Japanese-American trade, as a whole, caused tensions to rise which eventually led to the devastating Attack on Pearl Harbor, in 1941. According to Irvine H. Anderson, a member of the History Department in Raymond Walters College, 


The American government responded to the Japanese occupation of northern Indochina with a “freeze” on Japanese funds in the United States, terminating all trade with Japan and setting in motion the final chain of events leading to Pearl Harbor.” 

The halt of Japanese-American trade was the result of the last resort plan to hinder Japan’s plans of expansion. When Roosevelt issued an order stopping all Japanese assets in the United States, Japan was left with two choices: either give up the war in China or become a self-reliant resource, both of which were dangerous and difficult pursuits for the Japanese. With diplomatic negotiations between Japan and the United States failing, the declaration of war on the United States commenced. This declaration of war caused by rising tensions due to opposing motives ultimately strengthened ties between the Axis alliances and solidified their opposition to the United States. 

In conclusion, the alliance between Japan and Germany was a result of the strong cultural impact Germany had on Japan, which influenced the overall structure of their society. Because Japan had culturally become more similar to Germany, they began to have conflicting interests with the United States, which took shape in restrictions of Japanese expansion and embargos, which only further aggravated the relationships. While Japan’s relationship with the United States suffered, Japan’s relationship with Germany was strengthened. The alliance between the Japanese and the Germans shows that alliances are formed through mutual interests and also influenced by amiable or hostile relations with other nations. The historical events that spurred this relationship between the Axis alliance not only show the significance of cultural impact, whereby the structures of nations can be heavily altered but also sparks questions on how alliances are formed in the first place. As the world watches the economic consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine unfold, similar questions about trade, investment, and international diplomacy will continue to shape international alliances.


Anderson, Irvine H. “The 1941 De Facto Embargo on Oil to Japan: A Bureaucratic Reflex.” Pacific Historical Review 44, no. 2 (1975): 201–31. https://doi.org/10.2307/3638003.

Combs, Jerald A. “Embargoes and Sanctions.” In Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, 2nd ed., edited by Richard Dean Burns, Alexander DeConde, and Fredrik Logevall, 33-48. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002. Gale eBooks (accessed May 15, 2022). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3402300061/GVRL?u=s0936&sid=bookmark-GVRL&xid=1e33b93

Combs, Jerald A. “Embargoes and Sanctions.” In Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, 2nd ed., edited by Richard Dean Burns, Alexander DeConde, and Fredrik Logevall, 33-48. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002. Gale eBooks (accessed May 15, 2022). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3402300061/GVRL?u=s0936&sid=bookmark-GVRL&xid=1e33b93

Japanese-German Relations, 1895-1945: War, Diplomacy and Public Opinion. N.p.: Taylor & Francis, 2006.

“The Meiji Restoration.” In Era 7: The Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914, edited by Alfred J. Andrea and Carolyn Neel, 536-538. Vol. 15 of World History Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Gale eBooks (accessed May 9, 2022). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX2458802963/GVRL?u=s0936&sid=bookmark-GVRL&xid=ca25eb2f.

Murphy, John F., Jr. “Meiji Restoration and the Meiji era.” In World History: A Comprehensive Reference Set, edited by Facts on File. Facts On File, 2016. https://search-credoreference-com.hopkins.idm.oclc.org/content/entry/fofworld/meiji_restoration_and_the_meiji_era/0?institutionId=5589


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