During the late Meiji Era (1868-1912), author Roka Tokutomi (1868-1927) went on an overseas trip in 1906. It was the year after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and Tokutomi was received most warmly in Turkey where the public perceived Japan's triumph over Russia as a "humbling" of Caucasians by Orientals.

But in his travelogue, Tokutomi expressed unease. He feared that Japan, emboldened by the victory, would start relying on arms.

When he penned "Shori no Hiai" (Sadness of victory) upon his return to Japan, he addressed Japan in the archaic second person "nanji" (thou) and urged it to curb its militarism. He wrote, "One misstep, and thy victory will swiftly become the beginning of thy ruin, which then will lead to a major racial war the world has never experienced before."

Given what actually befell Japan and the world later, Tokutomi's insight was spot-on.

But his warning remained unheeded, and the nation rushed into a race for colonial acquisition. After getting itself into the veritable quagmire of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japan recklessly went to war with the United States, lost, and the rest is history.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Meiji Era. The government intends to add the suffix "150th year" to all state events throughout this year, for the purported reason of "learning from the Meiji spirit."

Already, an atmosphere is being created to glorify Japan's modernization as a means for protecting itself from the Great Powers.

But let us never forget that the Meiji Era was strongly oriented toward expansionism, right from the start.

In the final years of the preceding Edo Period (1603-1867), philosopher Shoin Yoshida (1830-1859), one of the foremost advocates of the Meiji Restoration, urged Japan in his writing to engage in overseas invasions.

"Develop the land of Ezo (present-day Hokkaido), re-occupy the Kamchatka Peninsula and Okhotsk, force Ryukyu (present-day Okinawa) to swear allegiance to the Bakufu (Japanese government), make Chosen (Korea) a tributary state, carve up Manchuria, control the islands of Taiwan and Luzon."

Yoshida died before the Meiji Restoration, but what he wrote foretold Japan's eventual path in a most uncanny way.

We certainly need to learn from the greatness of our forebears, but we must also scrutinize their limitations and dangerous aspirations.

I want this to remain our basic stance throughout this year.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 12

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.