Seeking a Model for Modernization: Ethiopia’s Japanizers


J. Calvitt Clarke III

Jacksonville University


Rise of a Progressive Educated Elite and the Japanizers


Origins of the Japanizer Movement

From the second half of the nineteenth century, mainly through European missionary activities, a smattering of young Ethiopians began receiving the rudiments of a modern education. Europe impressed these youths, even if many had never been there. Several, however, did have contacts with the colonial territories bordering on Ethiopia, and most studied foreign languages and other new subjects in mission schools or the new state schools. In the early twentieth century, these foreign-educated Ethiopians generally sought positions at court, and many of them refused to share the complacency of their countrymen after Ethiopia’s military victory over Italy at Adwa in 1896.


Called “Progressive Intellectuals,” “Young Ethiopians,” and “Japanizers,” their influence peaked in the 1920s and early 1930s. Each name emphasized something different about them. The first label simply expressed Ethiopia’s need to reform. The other two implied Ethiopia’s need to find an appropriate model for reform. European and American observers generally used the term, “Young Ethiopians,” which evoked parallels with reforming groups such as the Young Turks and Young Egypt. The third term highlighted the impact of Japan’s Meiji transformation on Ethiopia’s intellectuals. Japan’s dramatic metamorphosis by the end of the nineteenth century from a feudal society—like Ethiopia’s—into an industrial power attracted them. For these young, educated Ethiopians, Japanization was a means to an end—to solve the problem of underdevelopment. Japan’s rapid modernization, after all, had guaranteed its peace, prosperity, and independence, while Ethiopia’s continued backwardness threatened its very survival.[1]


Modern education was their mantra, as exemplified by one of the earliest and most important of Ethiopia’s new intellectuals was Gebre Heywet Baykedagn. He compared Ethiopian and Japanese attitudes toward education:


As for Japan, not only does the government not hunt someone who comes to serve it after having made his studies, but it helps that person financially who finds himself ready to leave to study in Europe. As for the Europeans who come to open a school there, not only does no one prevent him; but attracts him by contracts. The eyes of the Japanese people are thus opened up; Japan became richer, it became powerful, and it is respected. Asia and China begin to follow with perseverance the path of Japan.


Emperor Menilek should have done the same thing; but he did not do it.[2]


While passionately denouncing archaic feudalism, it was not bourgeois capitalism they sought as the alternative mode of production. Ethiopia’s backward commercial bourgeoisie could not accumulate the necessary capital, and the imperialist colonizers would not allow it to develop to such size and weight that it could eventually win the home market for itself. Given the threat from Western, capitalist imperialism, Ethiopia did not have the luxury of time for “natural” capitalist development. Rather, the capitalism the Japanizers envisaged would be developed with the resources available only through state power and “revolution from above.” The state had to undertake capital accumulation while giving the commercial bourgeoisie its active support to create conditions favorable for its development. With its poorly developed division of labor, only recently had Ethiopia emerged from a protracted period of feudal anarchy with the feudal barons still entrenched in the provinces. Japanization in Ethiopia therefore implied more drastic and more vigorous measures than had been needed in Japan itself.[3]


Further, Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905—a victory of “peoples of color” over “white” oppression—dramatized that European techniques and institutions could be learned and turned against European colonizers. Italy’s successful invasion of Libya in 1911 and 1912, in contrast, showed the failure of the Ottoman Empire to meet the new challenge.


Ironically, Europeans often reinforced the idea of a Japanese model for Ethiopia. In 1907, for example, a French plenipotentiary minister in Addis Ababa wrote about an interview he had had with Empress Taytu regarding Ethiopia’s progress. To her question, “What can we do?” he replied,


See the Japanese. I know them. In hardly fifteen years, from the beginning of their evolution did they not become, in a short time, as strong as their teachers? It is necessary to go to the front in progress and not to escape it. Send some young people to Europe, as well in England, or to France, perhaps to Germany or to Italy, and they will come back here to tell their countrymen what they have seen and learned.[4]


Blattengeta Heruy Welde Sellase (1878–1939)

Perhaps the most influential of the Japanizers in Ethiopia was Heruy Welde Sellassie.[5] He hailed from Merhabete district and went to Emperor Menilek II’s court at Entotto, where he served at Raguel Church and as secretary to the emperor. He authored and published in Amharic some twenty-eight of his own works, including stories, histories, and social philosophy. A linguist and after 1930 foreign minister, he also served in diplomatic missions to Paris, Geneva, Japan, and the United States. Additionally, Heruy edited Ethiopia’s civil and ecclesiastical codes.[6]


In 1932 after an official visit to Japan, he published Mahidere Birhan: Hagre Japan [The Document of Japan] in which he testified:


Ethiopia was not knowledgeable of the situation in the East until the [Russo-Japanese] war. Because of the war, we learned tremendous amount about Japan from Russians living in Ethiopia, and our Ethiopian people started to admire courageous Japan.”[7]


Of the Japanizers, he most elaborately compared Ethiopia and Japan. Both had been ruled by long and uninterrupted founding dynasties: Hirohito was the 124th monarch of the Jimu dynasty while Hayle Sellase was the 126th ruler of the Solomonic dynasty. He compared Emperor Menilek to the Meiji. In the entire world, only Ethiopia and Japan had preserved that long the title of “emperor” to designate the chief of state. Both countries had experienced roving capitals in their histories. He compared the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Zamana Masafent: the only difference was that while the overlordship of the Yajju lords had been confined to Bagemder, the Tokugawa exercised authority over all of Japan. The manners of the two peoples were similar. Heruy went on to conclude that, despite these similarities, the two countries had long lived in mutual ignorance of one another—much as do the two eyes of one person. Just as a mirror helps one eye to see the other, so too his visit to Japan had brought mutual awareness between the two countries.[8]


Given these similarities, if Japan had succeeded in modernizing itself in so short a time, Ethiopia could do as much. Both Heruy and Emperor Hayle Sellase sought the Japanese developmental model, and both understood that Japan’s rapid evolution had been due to European technicians who had acted as Japan’s educators. Speaking with the French chargé d’affaires in Ethiopia, Heruy praised Japan’s transformation and asserted, “You will see even more extraordinary things here than in Japan.”[9]


Ethiopia’s policy was to confide important business to those countries that did not have immediate interests in Ethiopia, for example, the United States, Germany, a few small countries of Europe, and Japan.[10] In the international political game, Heruy understood that Japan’s geographical position meant that the Japanese could not threaten Ethiopia’s sovereignty, and economic interests in Ethiopia might induce them to assist Ethiopia in case of an European invasion. A Japanese presence could weaken in Ethiopia the rights of England, France, and Italy, who held neighboring colonies.[11]


French diplomats thought well of Heruy, at least early in his career. In 1919, when he went to Europe, they saw him as leading Ethiopia’s intellectual party. At the request of the Quai d’Orsay, he received an insignia as an officer of public instruction. When he was named in 1922 as president of the Special Court in Addis Ababa, a special court designed to deal with foreigners, foreign diplomats were satisfied. The French minister in Ethiopia from 1917 to 1923, reported that Heruy was honest, intelligent, and educated and that all Europeans were counting on him to guarantee the smooth functioning of this court. Another French minister wrote on the occasion of Ras Teferi’s trip to Europe in 1924:


a man of great worth, completely devoted to Ras Teferi for whom he will probably become one of the principal ministers if the prince arrives to the throne. Full of common sense and open-minded. Understands well modern ideas and understands the necessity that his country come to know them. One of the government’s best heads although currently without official status.[12]                                                                           


Little-by-little, however, this positive opinion changed. In a letter of July 25, 1931 to the foreign minister, the French chargé d’affaires wrote that Heruy was not an intelligent man and that he took only superficial care of his job. The government, none-the-less, took no decision without consulting him. His influence on the sovereign remained so important that one French representative called him the “Rasputin” of Ethiopia, and another editorialized, “Blattengeta Heruy was consecrated emperor under the name of Hayle Sellase.” One wag called him “the wizard.”[13]


Why had Heruy’s reputation among French diplomats slipped so badly? Many Europeans blamed Heruy for Japan’s advances in Ethiopia. Not a Francophile, he did not trust Europeans in general, although he did wish to draw closer to the English and the Swedes. While the international press denounced the Japanese, the French criticized Heruy’s aggressive policies that, in their view, had isolated Ethiopia. In other words, the Japanizers played a role in isolating Ethiopia from Europe before the Italo-Ethiopian War.[14]


Always Hayle Sellase’s trusted adviser, he went into exile with the emperor in 1936 and died in England in 1939.


Bajerond Takle-Hawaryat Takla-Maryam and the Constitution of 1931

Ethiopia’s Constitution of 1931, modeled on Japan’s Meiji Constitution of 1889, best illustrates Ethiopia’s desire to follow in Japan’s progressive footsteps. As the emperor himself put it in a speech at its signing on July 16, 1931:


Everyone knows that laws bring the greatest benefits to mankind and that the honour and interest of everyone depend on the wisdom of the laws, while humiliation, shame, iniquity, and loss of rights arise from their absence or insufficiency.[15]


The constitution paid homage to the traditionally absolute, imperial power. The emperor held executive power over the central and provincial governments—the nobility and provincial governors receiving no independent authority. The newly instituted parliament, which had only powers of discussion, provided no check on the emperor, who could disregard the human rights provisions of the constitution in emergencies. For the most part, the constitution merely confirmed powers to the emperor, which he would have exercised in any case. In short, the constitution was an instrument of centralization under the emperor—such centralization was necessary for national unity and effective modernization. The constitution, however, merely echoed modernizing developments and did little to further them. Its only direct result was the founding of the parliament, but in no other field was there legal or administrative machinery available to implement it. The constitution was subject to no judicial interpretation, and the provisions on rights had little relevance to a people to whose traditions they were largely alien.[16]


The emperor had ordered the Russian-educated intellectual and “Japanizer,” Bejirond Tekle-Hawaryat to draft the constitution.[17] Tekle-Hawaryat examined copies of the English, German, Italian, and Japanese constitutions for their usefulness to Ethiopia. He also read works on Japanese history, politics, and economy. His guiding principles were to maintain the monarchy as the basis of Ethiopia’s unity and to protect the public from arbitrary rule. He and his advisers, Heruy and Ras Kasa Darge, wrote a draft, which the emperor modified.[18] Then the leading nobility and rulers of each region approved it.[19] In his capacity as finance minister, he introduced the constitution to Ethiopia’s Parliament.


With only a couple of exceptions, when comparing the 1889 Japanese constitution and the 1931 Ethiopian constitution, even the chapter divisions were identical, and in both cases, nullifiers such as “within the limits provided for by the law” or “except in cases provided for in the law” constrained the guarantees of civil liberties.[20]


The two constitutions were similar not only in content, but also somewhat in origins. Both were “granted” from above; both were intended as a foundation for strong monarchical government rather than for popular representation—that is, sovereignty represented in the emperor; both consciously borrowed from outside sources; and both were preceded by a period of deliberation to choose the type of constitution best suited to the two countries’ needs.[21]


In Japan, the period of deliberation was quite extensive. An Imperil edict in 1876 mandated the preparation of drafts of a national constitution, and the revision of drafts continued into 1887. The Meiji Constitution was finally promulgated on February 2, 1889.[22] Deliberation took much less time in Ethiopia. Hayle Sellase revealed in his memoirs that, although the idea of a constitution had first occurred to him while heir to the throne, he had had to abandon the idea in face of opposition from Empress Zawditu instigated by some of the nobility. Serious work in formulating the constitution could begin only after April 1930 when the empress died and Teferi had ascended to the throne. Thus, the constitutional writing process in Ethiopia lasted only slightly over a year.[23]


The two tables below points out some of the important similarities and differences between the 1889 Meiji and 1931 Ethiopian Constitutions[24]


                                                                  Table 1: Similarities






Chapter I, Article 3. The Emperor is sacred and inviolable.

 Chapter I, Article 5. By virtue of His Imperial Blood as well as by the anointing which He has received, the person of the Emperor is sacred, His dignity is inviolable and His power indisputable. Consequently, He is entitled to all the honours due to Him in accordance with tradition and the present Constitution. The Law decrees that anyone so bold as to injure the Majesty of the Emperor will be punished.


Chapter I, Article 4. The Emperor is the head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty, and exercises them according to the provisions of the present Constitutions.

 Chapter II, Article 6. In the Ethiopian Empire supreme power rests in the hands of the Emperor. He ensures the exercise thereof in conformity with the established law.


Chapter I, Article 7. The Emperor convokes the Imperial Diet, opens, closes and prorogues it, and dissolves the House of Representatives.

 Chapter II, Article 8. It is the Emperor’s right to convene the deliberative Chambers and to declare the opening and the close [sic] of their sessions. He may also order their convocation before or after the usual time. He may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies.


Chapter I, Article 12. The Emperor determines the organization and peace standing of the Army and Navy.

 Chapter II, Article 13. It is the Emperor’s right to determine the armed forces necessary to the Empire, both in time of peace and in time of war.


Chapter II, Article 25. Except in the cases provided for in the law, the house of no Japanese subject shall be entered or searched without his consent.

 Chapter III, Article 25. Except in the cases provided by law, no domiciliary searches may be made.


Chapter II, Article 26. Except in the cases mentioned in the law, the secrecy of the letters of every Japanese subject shall remain inviolate.

 Chapter III, Article 26. Except in the cases provided by law, no one shall have the right to violate the secrecy of the correspondence of Ethiopian subjects.


Chapter II, Article 27. The right of property of every Japanese subject shall remain inviolate.


Measures necessary to be taken for the public benefit shall be provided for by law.

 Chapter III, Article 27. Except in cases of public utility determined by law, no one shall be entitled to deprive an Ethiopian subject of the movable or landed property which he holds.


Chapter III, Article 40. Both Houses [of the Imperial Diet] can make representations to the Government, as to laws or upon any other subject. When, however, such representations are not accepted, they cannot be made a second time during the same session.

 Chapter IV, Article 36. Each of the two Chambers shall have the right to express separately to His Majesty the Emperor its opinion on a legislative question or any other matter whatsoever. If the Emperor does not accept its opinion, it may not, however, revert to the question during the same parliamentary session.


Article 57. The Judicature shall be exercised by the Courts .of Law, according to law, in the name of the Emperor.


The organization of the Courts of Law shall be determined by law.

 Chapter VI, Article 50. Judges, sitting regularly, shall administer justice in conformity with the laws, in the name of His Majesty the Emperor. The organization of the Courts shall be regulated by law.



                                                                  Table 2: Differences




Chapter I, Article 5. The Emperor exercises the legislative power with the consent of the Imperial Diet

 No such provision.


Chapter II, Article 28. Japanese subjects shall, within limits not prejudicial to peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, enjoy freedom of religious belief.

No such provision.


Chapter II, Article 29. Japanese subjects shall, within the limits of law, enjoy the liberty of speech, writing, publication, public meetings and associations.

No such provision.


Chapter III, Article 35. The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members elected by the people, according to the provisions of the Law of Election.

 Chapter IV, Article 32. Temporarily, and until the people are in a position to elect them themselves, the members of the Chamber of Deputies shall be chosen by the Nobility [Mekuanent] arid the local chiefs [Shumoch].


Chapter III, Article 37. Every law requires the consent of the Imperial Diet.

 Chapter IV, Article 34. No law may be put into force without having been discussed by [the] Chambers and having obtained the confirmation of the Emperor. 


Chapter III, Article 38. Both Houses shall vote upon projects of law submitted to it by the Government, and may respectively initiate projects of law.

 Chapter IV, Article 35. The members of the Chamber of Deputies shall be legally bound to receive and deliberate on the proposals transmitted to them by the Ministers of the respective Departments. However, when the Deputies have an idea which could be useful to the Empire or to the nation, the law reserves to them the right to communicate it to the Emperor through their President, and the Chamber shall deliberate on the subject if the Emperor consents thereto.


Chapter III, Article 51. Both Houses may enact, besides what is provided for in the present Constitution and in the Law of the Houses, rules necessary for the management of their internal affairs.

 Chapter IV, Article 44. The Emperor shall draw up, in the form of a law, the standing orders of the Senate and of the Chamber of Deputies.


Chapter III, Article 54. The Ministers of State and the Delegates of the Government may, at any time, take seats and speak in either House.

 Chapter IV, Article 47. The Chambers may not summon Ministers to their meetings even if they feel the need therefor, without having first obtained the consent of the Emperor. Ministers, on their part, may not attend meetings of the Chambers and take part in their deliberations without having obtained the consent of His Majesty.


There are a few other significant differences. Even the similar chapters differ in nuances and emphases. Particularly on the question of civil liberties and the power of the emperor vis-à-vis the legislative body, the two constitutions diverge with greater civil liberties and legislative power in the Japanese case. This, perhaps, suggests the political strength of the bourgeoisie in Japan compared to its virtual absence in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s constitution had only one clause of vague value on the budget while the Meiji model had ten relatively elaborate provisions—again indicating differing levels of fiscal development.[25]


Araya Abeba

A figure of underestimated importance in the Japanizer movement was Araya Abeba, a member of Hayle Sellase’s family. If he is remembered at all today, it is for his proposed marriage with a Japanese, Kuroda Masako, a subject of great mirth and greater fear among many European observers. A handsome young man in the 1930s, in truth he played an important part in Ethiopia’s relations with Japan, and he gives every appearance of being groomed for greater things until the Italo-Ethiopian War intervened.


Araya saw the Japanizers as “visionaries,” and he admired Japanese courtesy, development, and modernization. Even before his trip to Japan in 1931 with Foreign Minister Heruy, his friend and patron, Araya had already expressed his desire to marry a Japanese woman. This reflected the Japanizer in him as well as, by his own admission, his desire for a traditionally submissive woman. Heruy was aware of Araya’s interest, but restrained him for fear that any such marriage would cause adverse diplomatic consequences and might interfere with his mission to Japan.


The visit to Japan impressed Araya and other members of the party. The month-long sea voyage to Japan included stops in India, Singapore, Indo-China, and Shanghai. Everywhere along the way, the Ethiopians saw Asiatics under white, colonial rule. This made a profound impression. In contrast, Japan was modern, vibrant, strong—and independent. Araya and the others were particularly impressed at the opportunity to be wined and dined” with Japan’s emperor—at a time when he lived in god-like seclusion with few having the opportunity to meet with him.[26]


By the first half of the 1930s, Japan and Ethiopia were drawing closer together to the acute concern of all of Africa’s colonial powers, most especially Italy. To statesmen in London, Paris, Moscow, and elsewhere, the threat of Japanese political, commercial, and military intrusions into Ethiopia seemed sufficient to justify Italy’s military preparations against Ethiopia from 1934 on. In 1933 and 1934, Araya’s proposed marriage vexingly personified these intrusions. Mistakenly believing that this was to be a royal wedding, Europeans saw the genesis of the proposed marriage as lying in Ethiopia’s desire to model its modernization after Japan and in Japan’s romantic vision of Ethiopia.


While this sufficiently explains the motives of Araya and Kuroda for joining in an arranged marriage, other individuals were also involved. Most important were several Pan-Asian, nationalist Japanese who were promoting the marriage to leverage a prominent role for themselves in commercial exchanges between Japan and Ethiopia. Interestingly, neither government in Tokyo or Addis Ababa promoted the marriage idea; neither lamented when the proposal died sometime in 1934; and both suffered international complications because of it.[27]


The proposed marriage continued to rankle Italians long after the quasi-betrothal had been broken off.[28] Other enemies of either Ethiopia or Japan also continued to write about the implicit threat of the proposed union long after they had had every cause to know that it never carried the policy implications feared and had not come to pass in any case. One Communist book published in 1936, for example, echoed the thoughts and fears of many, when it thundered against Japanese imperialism and asserted: “Through the marriage of an Abyssinian prince to the daughter of a Japanese noble, the Japanese were enabled to equip airdromes in Ethiopian and to receive a cotton concession there.”[29] Clearly, for Moscow as for many others, the falseness of such statements was less important than was the need to draw upon any potential anti-Japanese and anti-Ethiopian arguments. One particularly hyperventilated account by Roman Procházka maintained that,


[P]lans have been made for effecting mixed marriages between the eligible Japanese settlers (estimated at about 2000 in number) and native Abyssinian women. This declared policy which is intended to produce a new race of leaders in the united revolt of the coloured peoples against the white races, was to have been inaugurated by the marriage of Princess Masako, a daughter of the Japanese prince Kurado [Kuroda], to the Ethiopian prince Lij Ayalé [Araya].[30]


 Teferi Makonnen (Hayle Sellase) (1892–1975)

The crucial force behind Ethiopia’s desire to use Japan as a model was the emperor himself. His father, Ras Makonnen, had studied foreign military literature, and Russia’s defeat by the Japanese Navy at Tsushima in 1905—following as it did in Ethiopia’s footsteps by defeating a European power—surely electrified him. By 1906 when Ras Makonnen died, the thirteen year-old Teferi apparently had already developed a mental blueprint for his goal. An essential part of it was to draw upon the Japanese model, that other empire, which had proved that a non-European nation could embrace modern civilization and stand culturally and technically on par with European countries.[31]


Once Teferi became emperor, with Heruy as his closest adviser, he imitated the “attitude of exclusiveness” of the Japanese emperor, because he thought it would help create “an imperial dignity lacking in Ethiopia.”[32]


On the eve of Heruy’s visit to Japan in 1931, America’s head of Legation in Addis Ababa, Addison Southard, mused on the emperor’s attitudes toward Japan. From his conversations over many years, Southard knew that he greatly admired Japan and believed that the country had brought about its influential world position by using foreign advisers. He toyed with the idea that Ethiopia might reasonably expect to accomplish similarly marvelous results the same way. Hayle Sellase was “unaware, of course,” said Southard, “of the vast differences between the two countries and peoples, and their qualifications and resources which place Japan far ahead of what Ethiopia is or ever could hope to be.” Southard had spent many years in the Far East before entering the foreign service and felt he knew Japan and the Japanese well. He, however, never thought it “discreet to attempt the probably impossible, and genuinely delicate, task of convincing His Imperial Majesty of the great difference between the two countries and their peoples.” Southard, however, did “informally and tactfully” suggest to Heruy some ways in which he could make practical comparisons during his visit to Japan.[33]


Tied in with Ethiopian admiration for the Japanese, were changing racial attitudes. Southard acknowledged that they and Hayle Sellase himself held complicated racial attitudes. By mid-1930, Southard had begun noting new views developing toward foreigners. Southard explained that the late empress and her immediate followers before then had regarded with some contempt those foreigners with other than white skins. They were, in fact, as contemptuous of foreign blacks as they were of their own black subjects. Attempts by foreign blacks to fraternize with Ethiopians as brother Africans always aroused resentment. The empress and many of her ruling class were proud of their Semitic blood, which in their opinion made them the equal to any white and distinctly superior to any black.[34]


Emperor Hayle Sellase had, in Southard’s opinion, perhaps even more Semitic blood than had some of his royal relatives. Yet, the emperor after 1930 became convinced that Ethiopia’s future was bound up with peoples “with at least dark skins.” Hence, he was “temporarily” losing existing prejudices—at least against those foreign blacks possessing western education and ability. Southard further commented that the emperor was encouraging advisers, teachers, and such “of the darker-skinned divisions of the human race” to work in Ethiopia.[35]


While Hayle Sellase wanted to avoid foreign influences from dominating in Ethiopia, he also understood that his country’s modernization required foreign advisers and teachers. The isolated attempts to introduce whites into these tasks had led to the white arrogance that so greatly restricted their usefulness. Additionally, white advisers retained their foreign nationality and their foreign prejudices. Hayle Sellase had discovered that advisers and teachers with dark skins could often be persuaded to opt for Ethiopian nationality and would not display the superior arrogance so typical of white advisers.[36]


The new emphasis on peoples of color encouraged many Ethiopians to want to model themselves after the Japanese. It also assisted the opening of Ethiopia to Japanese penetration to the detriment of the traditional, white, colonial powers. Reinforcing this Japanization, many Japanese were themselves seductively speaking of leading an alliance of the colored peoples of the world against white imperialism.[37]


Later, as the Italo-Ethiopian war was brewing, one British minister to Ethiopia echoed Southard’s observations:


the Emperor has always been interested in the achievements of Japan and his imagination sees similarities between the two countries which—however incredible it may seem to foreign observers—lead him to dream of Ethiopia as the Japan of Africa.[38]


Ultimate Failure of the Japanizer Movement

How successful were these and other Japanizers? Just before the war with Italy, Welde Giyorgis Welde-Yohannes, the emperor’s private secretary, told Ladislas Farago, the peripatetic journalist, that,


At last we have reached the point when we have officials who have the ability to govern the country in the European method, instead of oligarchies. I am convinced that we shall now develop more rapidly, but, we must be left alone, for all our efforts would be wasted if we fell back on the old ways, even if it were in defence of our very life and independence. On that day our evolution would stop, and a bloody revolution would take place. And the men who take it upon themselves to make a European country out of this backward African Empire, will be the first martyrs in the revolution, for the Conservatives rule the country, and conservative here means backward and pitiless. We of the younger generation are the friends of progress and humanism, while they are its enemies! And we do not want to work in vain![39]


Ladislas Farago concluded that this statement referred to the Japanizers and helped explain Ethiopia’s determination to resist Italy—to protect the work begun less than ten years earlier through its own strength and initiative.[40] The Marxist Addis Hiwet has added that it also demonstrated that the ideas advanced by the Japanizers were too radical for the other educated elements in Ethiopia.[41]


After the Second World War and Ethiopia’s liberation, Kabbada Mikael in his book, Japan Endamen Salatanach [How Japan Modernized], confidently and enthusiastically continued to prescribe the Japanese model. He wrote that Japan had charted its own course and had maintained its independence through education. As had the Japanizers before the Italian invasion, he hoped that Ethiopia would learn this lesson. He noted some similarities between Ethiopia and Japan: the Portuguese, for example, had visited both countries at about the same time and both had driven them out to preserve their religions; and both countries were subsequently isolated from the world for about 250 years. More significantly, Kabbada also pointed out the differences separating the two countries. Japan was relatively more developed than was Ethiopia even before its contact with the West, especially in shipbuilding and arms manufacture. Whereas Japan had adopted European ways with remarkable speed, Ethiopia was much slower. Further, what Ethiopia’s intellectuals had most feared—the loss of independence if Ethiopia failed to modernize—had already occurred, for five years, anyway.


The only country that has succeeded in safeguarding her independence and in charting her own path of educational progress is Japan. If we examine her history and follow her example, we can achieve a lot in a short period of time.[42]


Kabbada Mikael’s yearnings dramatize the point made by the historian, Bahru Zewde, that, ultimately, the Japanizer movement in Ethiopia failed. He argues that comparing the Adwa victory of 1896 with the Japanese victory of Russia in 1905 is not particularly useful. It would be better to compare Japan’s victory with Ethiopia’s defeat in 1935 and 1936. The former was the logical outcome of three decades of fundamental transformation of Japanese society, whereas the latter “was the penalty for the failure to modernize.”[43] Even before the Meiji reformation, Japan had attained a higher state of social development that had Ethiopia in the twentieth century. Japan’s agriculture before the Meiji period had already begun to undergo the process of commercialization with the emergence of sugar, cotton, tea, and tobacco plantations. The cash nexus had gone further in Japan than in Ethiopia, thereby entailing a higher degree of differentiation among the peasantry. Urbanization and the attendant emergence of a strong mercantile class in Japan had proceeded much further than in Ethiopia. Literacy in pre-reform Japan greatly exceeded that in Ethiopia.


In sum, the foreign threat to Japan, first made apparent by the visits of the American, Commodore Matthew Perry, in 1853 and 1854, had “acted as a sort of mid-wife in the delivery of capitalism from the womb of feudalism.” Ethiopia, on the other hand, was unable to muster the same energetic reaction to its foreign threat. To the contrary, Ethiopia’s victory of 1896 had instilled in Ethiopians “a false sense of self-sufficiency and [had] ill-prepared them for the greater danger of the 1930s.” And with fewer resources available to Ethiopia than Japan had at its command, the urgent and “impassioned pleas of the Japanizers remained only a ‘subjective urge unsupported by the objective reality.’” [44]




[1] Bahru Zewde, “The Concept of Japanization in the Intellectual History of Modern Ethiopia,” in Bahru Zewde, et al., eds., Proceedings of Fifth Seminar of the Department of History (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University, 1990): 1.


[2] Guebrè-Heywèt Baykedagne [Gabrahiwot Baykadagn], L’émpereur Ménélik et l’Éthiopie, trans. Beletou Kebede and Jacques Bureau, intro. Jacques Bureau (Addis Ababa: Maison des etudes ethiopiennes; Paris: Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales, 1993), 39. Also see Gabrahiwot Baykadagn [Gebre Heywet Baykedagn], State & Economy of Early 20th Century Ethiopia: Prefiguring Political Economy c. 1910, trans. and intro. Tenkir Bonger (London: Kamak House, 1995). Where possible, transliteration spellings will be used as found in Chris Prouty and Eugene Rosenfeld, Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia and Eritrea, 2nd ed. (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994).


[3] Addis Hiwet, Ethiopia: From Autocracy to Revolution (London: Review of African Political Economy, 1975), 68–70. This is an analysis by an Ethiopian Marxist soon after a Communist revolution had dethroned Hayle Sellase in 1974. Also see Bahru Zewde, “Concept of Japanization,” 8.


For another perspective on the problems of development and the need for state direction see J. Calvitt Clarke, Russia and Italy Against Hitler: the Bolshevik-Fascist Rapprochement of the 1930s (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991), Chapter 4. Here are reproduce the arguments of Anthony James Gregor as well as the former Sorelian syndicalists who joined Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party and wrote for Critica Fascista. In essence, they claimed that Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and Joseph Stalin’s Communist Russia faced similar problems and found similar solutions—all be it with different vocabularies. Gregor puts the point plainly:


Fascism was the heir of a long intellectual tradition that found its origins in the ambiguous legacy left to revolutionaries in the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Fascism was, in a clear and significant sense, a Marxist heresy. It was a Marxism creatively developed to respond to the particular and specific needs of an economically retarded national community condemned, as a proletarian nation, to compete with the more advanced plutocracies of its time for space, resources, and international stature.


See his Italian Fascism and Developmental Dictatorship (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), 123. In other words, necessity under conditions of chronic underdevelopment forms a nexus uniting Bolshevik—including Addis Hiwet’s—and fascist thought.


[4] Hidéko Faërber-Ishihara, “Heruy, le Japon et les “japonisants,” in Alain Rouaud, ed. Les orientalistes sont des aventuriers. Guirlande offerte à Joseph Tubiana par ses élèves et ses amis (Paris: Sépia, 1999), 146. Taytu Betul (empress 1889–1913) was born about 1850. Well-educated and energetic, she married Menilek in 1883 and strongly influenced him. After an increase of her personal power, in 1910 she was forced to confine herself to nursing Menilek. After his death in 1913, she retired to a semi-monastic life and died in 1918. Prouty and Rosenfeld, Historical Dictionary, 166–67. See Chris Prouty. Empress Taytu and Menilek II: Ethiopia, 1883–1910. Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1986.


[5] Richard Bradshaw, “Japan and European Colonialism in Africa 1800–1937” (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio University, 1992), 300; Aoki Sumio and Kurimoto Eisei, “Japanese Interest in Ethiopia (1868–1940): Chronology and Bibliography,” in Ethiopia in Broader Perspective: Papers of the XIIIth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, K. E. Fukui and M. Shigeta, eds., 3 vols. (Kyoto: Shokado Book Sellers, 1997): 1: 714; Adrien Zervos, L’Empire d’Ethiopie: Le Miroir de L’Ethiopie Moderne 1906–1935 (Alexandria, Egypt: Impr. de l’Ecole professionnelle des freres, 1936), 482; and Alain Rouaud, Le negus contre l’esclavage: Les édits abolitionnistes du ras Tafari (Paris: Aresae, 1997), 124.


[6] Prouty, Historical Dictionary, 82.


[7] Heruy Welde Sellase, Dai Nihon [Light of Japan] trans. Oreste Vaccari, Foreword by Baron Shidehara Kijuro (Tokyo: Eibunpo-Tsuron Shoji, 1933), 3–4 of Preface. Originally published in Amharic as Mahidere Birhan: Hagre Japan [The Document of Japan] (Addis Ababa: Gohi Tsiba, 1932). Also see Taura Masanori, “Nihon-Echiopia kankei ni miru 1930 nen tsusho gaiko no iso” [A Phase of the 1930 Commercial Diplomacy in the Japanese-Ethiopian Relations], Seifu to Minkan [Government and Civilians], Nenpo Kindai Nihon Kenkyu [Annual Report, Study of Modern Japan] 17 (1995): 148; Okakura Takashi and Kitagawa Katsuhiko, Nihon-Afurika Koryu-shi: Meiji-ki kara Dainiji Sekai Taisen-ki made [History of Japanese-African Relations: From the Meiji Period to the Second World War Period] (Tokyo: Dobun-kan, 1993), 31.


[8] Heruy, Dai Nihon, 6 of Preface, 21–23, 58–60, 114–16, 119; Faërber-Ishihara, “Heruy,” 145. For more on the similarities and differences, presumed and real, between Ethiopia and Japan, see the articles in Ethiopia in Broader Perspective: Papers of the XIIIth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, 3 vols., K. E. Fukui and M. Shigeta, eds. (Kyoto: Shokado Book Sellers, 1997): Messay Kebede, “Japan and Ethiopia: An Appraisal of Similarities and Divergent Courses,” 1: 639–51; Donald N. Levine, “Ethiopia and Japan in Comparative Civilization Perspective,” 1: 652–75; and Merid W. Aregay, “Japanese and Ethiopian Reactions to Jesuit Missionary Activities in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” 676–98.


[9] Faërber-Ishihara, “Heruy,” 145.


[10] As a small example of Italian fears of being displaced in Ethiopia, particularly by Japan and the United States, see Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Commissione per la Pubblicazione dei Documenti Diplomatici [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Commission for the Publication of Diplomatic Documents, I documenti diplomatici italiani [Italian Diplomatic Documents], 7th Series: 1922–1935 (Rome: La Libreria dello Stato, 1952), vol. 11: nos. 42, 148, 177, and 204.


[11] Faërber-Ishihara, “Heruy,” 145.


[12] Ibid., 147–48.


[13] Ibid., 148.


[14] Ibid.


[15] Haile Sellassie I [Hayle Sellase], “The Constitution of 1931,” Ethiopia Observer 5 (1962): 362.


[16] Paul and Clapham, Ethiopian Constitutional Development, 340–41.


[17] Richard Pankhurst, “History of Education, Printing and Literacy in Ethiopia. 8: Education Abroad—and at Home—in Menilek’s Day,” Addis Tribune, Sept. 25, 1993,–09–98/Hist-312.htm. In 1896, Menilek had sent to Russia six young men, including Takle-Hawaryat, who, between 1896 and 1902, studied military science in Russia, specializing in engineering and agriculture. The young Ethiopian attended the Mikailovskaia Artillery School in St. Petersburg, and received the rank of colonel in the Russian army. He stayed seventeen years in Russia. Upon his return to Ethiopia, he was employed by Ras Mekonnen in Harar and Jigjiga. He participated in the coup that deposed Lej Iyasu in September 1916. He became finance minister in 1930. Later he was minister to France and a delegate to the League of Nations. He left for work in Djibouti with Ethiopian refugees during the occupation and did not return until 1955. Prouty, Historical Dictionary, 169.


[18] Hideko Faëber-Ishihara, Les premiers contacts entre l’Éthiopie et le Japon (Paris: Aresae, 1998), 11–12. As the son of Darge Sahle Sellase, Ras Kasa Darge’s (1881–1956) claim to the throne was equal to Hayle Sellase’s, but he was loyal to his cousin. A devout churchman, he also participated in designed the constitution of 1955. Three of his sons were killed by the Italians, only one escaped that fate. Prouty, Historical Dictionary, 169.


[19] Interestingly, Hayle Sellase brought the nobility into the process but did not allow it to change those parts that limited their power. The emperor found it difficult to actually enforce the document on the recalcitrant nobility. James C. N. Paul and Christopher Clapham, Ethiopian Constitutional Development: A Sourcebook, vol. 1 (Addis Ababa: Haile Sellassie I University, 1967), 340.


[20] Bahru Zewde, “Concept of Japanization,” 9.


[21] Ibid.


[22] Yoshimitsu Khan, “Inoue Kowashi and the Dual Images of the Emperor of Japan,” Pacific Affairs 71 (Sum. 1998): 215–30; George M. Beckmann, The Making of the Meiji Constitution: The Oligarchs and the Constitutional Development of Japan, 1868–1991, Foreword by Harold S. Quigley (Lawrence, KA: University of Kansas Publications, 1957), 39–83.


[23] Bahru Zewde, “Concept of Japanization,” 9. For Hayle Selasse’s own extended commentary on the constitution and its origins, see Haile Selassie I [Hayle Sellase], Emperor of Ethiopia, 1892–1975, My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress, 1892–1937, trans. and annotated by Edward Ullendorff (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), 178–201. For more on his relationship with Zawditu, see 62–64.


[24] Beckman, Meiji Constitution, 151–56; Bahru Zewde, “Concept of Japanization,” 15–17; Paul and Clapham, Ethiopian Constitutional Development, 326–38; Haile Sellassie [Hayle Sellase], “The Constitution of 1931,” 363–65.


[25] Bahru Zewde, “Concept of Japanization,” 9–10; Prouty, Historical Dictionary, 38; Taura, “Nihon-Echiopia kankei,” 148; Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855–1974 (London: J. Currey, 1991), 92, 110; Furukawa Tetsushi, “Japan’s Political Relations with Ethiopia, 1920s–1960s: A Historical Overview,” unpublished paper presented to the 35th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Seattle, WA, Nov. 20–23, 1992, 5–6; Furukawa Tetsushi, “Japanese-Ethiopian Relations in the 1920–30s: The Rise and Fall of ‘Sentimental’ Relations,” unpublished paper presented at the 34th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, St. Louis, MO, Nov. 1991, 5–6.


[26] Interview with Amde Araya (son of Araya Abeba) and Araya Abeba, Fairfax Lakes Park, VA, and apartment of Araya Abeba, Alexandria, VA, July 7, 2001, 1:45–6:30 p.m. Araya took the notes that Heruy dictated that later formed the book, Mahidere Birhan: Hagre Japan.


[27] J. Calvitt Clarke III, “Marriage Alliance: The Union of Two Imperiums: Japan and Ethiopia?” Selected Annual Proceedings of the Florida Conference of Historians 7 (Dec. 1999): 105–16.


[28] Japan (Grene), 1/17/34: United States, National Archives (College Park, MD), Record Group 59, Decimal File [hereafter cited as NA (College Park)] 784.94/6.


[29] O. Tanin and E. Yohan, When Japan Goes to War (New York: International Publishers, 1936), 14. For the Soviet Union’s policies viz-à-viz Italy, Japan, and Ethiopia before the Italo-Ethiopian War, see J. Calvitt Clarke III, “Periphery and Crossroads: Ethiopia and World Diplomacy, 1934–36,” in Ethiopia in Broader Perspective: Papers of the XIIIth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, 3 vols., K. E. Fukui and M. Shigeta, eds. (Kyoto: Shokado Book Sellers, 1997), 1: 699–712.


[30] Roman Procházka, Abyssinia: The Powder Barrel (London: British International News Agency, 1936), 60. Translated from the German edition of 1935, this book was printed in Austria. Procházka had lived in Ethiopia—and had not much liked it there.


[31] Hans Wilhelm Lockot, The Mission: The Life, Reign and Character of Haile Sellassie I (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1989), 31–32, quote,

32; Furukawa, “Japan’s Political Relations with Ethiopia,” 4–5; Furukawa, “JapaneseEthiopian Relations,” 5; Furukawa Tetsushi, “Japanese Political and Economic Interests In Africa: The Prewar Period,” Network Africa 7 (1991): 7.


[32] Harold Marcus, Haile Sellassie I: The Formative Years, 1892–1936 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1987), 125–26; Bradshaw, “Japan and European Colonialism,” 300.


[33] Ethiopia (Southard), 10/5/31: NA (College Park) 033.8411/81.


[34] Ethiopia (Southard), 7/30/30: NA (College Park) 884.01 A/8.


[35] Ibid.


[36] Ibid. See additional documents in 884.01A, 884.4016, and 784.94.


[37] J. Calvitt Clarke III, “Japan and Italy Squabble Over Ethiopia: The Sugimura Affair of July 1935,” Selected Annual Proceedings of the Florida Conference of Historians 6 (Dec. 1999): 9–20; J. Calvitt Clarke III, “The Politics of Arms Not Given: Japan and Ethiopia in the 1930s,” Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Florida Conference of Historians, Tallahassee, FL, Mar. 2001, A longer version, with citations, of this article is forthcoming in Girding for Battle: Arms Sales in a Global Perspective, 1800–1950, to be published by Greenwood Press.


[38] Bahru Zewde, “The Concept of Japanization,” 7.


[39] Ladislas Farago, Abyssinia on the Eve (New York G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1935), 70–71. Welde Giyorgis Welde-Yohannes was born about 1902 in Bulga to a leather worker and church-educated. He shared Hayle Sellase’s exile and returned to become the most powerful man in the government from 1941–55.


[40] Farago, Abyssinia , 71.


[41] Hiwet, Ethiopia, 70.


[42] Bahru Zewde, “Concept of Japanization,” 2.


[43] Ibid., 10.


[44] Ibid., 11.