Primary Documents - Baron Kato on Japan's Decision to go to War with Germany, 15 August 1914

Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Baron Kato Reproduced below is an explanation by Japan's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Baron Kato, for his country's decision to go to war with Germany to consequently seize control of the disputed territory of Tsingtao from German control.  Kato explained that Japan's action was taken following a British request for assistance (under the terms of a military alliance in place between the two countries); although it was certainly the case that Japan found the task of assisting Britain entirely congenial, giving Japan as it did a plausible reason for capturing the long sought after Tsingtao.

Click here to read the ultimatum sent by Japanese Prime Minister Okuma to Berlin shortly before war was declared between Japan and Germany.

Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Baron Kato's Explanation of Japan's Decision to go to War with Germany

Early in August the British Government asked the Imperial Government for assistance under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.  German men-of-war and armed vessels were prowling around the seas of Eastern Asia, menacing our commerce and that of our ally, while Kiao-Chau was carrying out operations apparently for the purpose of constituting abase for warlike operations in Eastern Asia.  Grave anxiety was thus felt for the maintenance of peace in the Far East.

As all are aware, the agreement and alliance between Japan and Great Britain has for its object the consolidation and maintenance of general peace in Eastern Asia and the maintenance of the independence and integrity of China as well as the principle of equal opportunities for commerce and industry for all nations in that country, and the maintenance and defence respectively of territorial rights and special interests of contracting parties in Eastern Asia.

Therefore, inasmuch as we were asked by our ally for assistance at a time when commerce in Eastern Asia, which Japan and Great Britain regard alike as one of their special interests, is subjected to a constant menace, Japan, who regards that alliance as a guiding principle of her foreign policy, could not but comply to the request to do her part.

Germany's possession of a base for powerful activities in one corner of the Far East was not only a serious obstacle to the maintenance of permanent peace but also threatened the immediate interests of the Japanese Empire.

The Japanese Government therefore resolved to comply with the British request and if necessary to open hostilities against Germany.  After the Imperial sanction had been obtained I communicated this resolution to the British Government and a full and frank exchange of views between the two governments followed and it was finally agreed between them to take such measures as were necessary to protect the general interests contemplated in the agreement and the alliance.

Japan had no desire or inclination to become involved in the present conflict, only she believed she owed it to herself to be faithful to the alliance and to strengthen its foundation by insuring permanent peace in the East and protecting the special interests of the two allied Powers.

Desiring, however, to solve the situation by pacific means, the Imperial Government on August 15th gave the following advice to the German Government. [Here the Minister quoted the text of the Japanese ultimatum.]  Until the last moment of the time allowed, namely, until August 23rd, the Imperial Government received no answer and in consequence the Imperial rescript declaring war was issued the next day.

With Austria-Hungary, as she had only the most limited interests in the Far East, Japan desired to maintain peaceful relations as long as possible.  At the same time it appeared that Austria-Hungary also desired to avoid complications.  In fact, as soon as Japan and Germany entered into a state of war, Austria-Hungary asked for the consent and good offices of the Imperial Government to permit the Kaiserin Elizabeth, the only Austrian man-of-war in the Far East likely to force a state of war, to go to Shanghai and there to disarm.

I was about to communicate to the Austrian Ambassador the fact that Great Britain and Japan did not entertain any objections to the disarming of the Kaiserin Elizabeth, when suddenly on August 27th the Austrian Ambassador informed me that in consideration of Japan's action against Germany his Government instructed him to leave his post, and diplomatic relations were broken off.

When the relations of Japan and Germany reached the point of rupture the Imperial Government asked the American Government if in case of need it would be good enough to undertake the protection of Japanese subjects and interests in Germany.

This request the American Government promptly complied with and subsequently upon the rupture of diplomatic relations between Japan and Austria-Hungary the Imperial Government again appealed for American protection for Japanese subjects and interests in Austria-Hungary, when the American Government gave the same willing consent.

I desire to avail myself of this opportunity to give expression to the sincere appreciation of the Imperial Government of the courtesy so kindly extended by the American Government.

While regretting that Japan has been compelled to take up arms against Germany, I am happy to believe that the army and navy of our illustrious sovereign will not fail to show the same loyalty and valour which distinguished them in the past, so that all may be blessed by early restoration of peace.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

The Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was the first ever delivered by telegram.

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