Japan has its share of rivals in the world, but how many of you know about Japan’s greatest enemy – the tiny country of Montenegro? Did you know that Japan and Montenegro were at war for 100 years, from 1905-2006? It’s true. Despite losing its army after World War 2 and getting occupied by the US, somehow this 100 year war slipped under the radar of most of the world. How did this happen? Read on to find out.
The Russo-Japanese War
If you’re a history buff or a Japan fanatic, you probably already know all about the Russo-Japanese War. If not, let me get you up to speed: The name of the game at the beginning of the 20th century was imperialism. Every world power at the time had vast empires, conquering other countries. Japan and Russia wanted to be recognized as world powers too, so they decided to expand their empires. Unfortunately, both countries wanted the same territory – Korea and part of China.
Most of the world assumed that Russia was going to win because it had more troops than Japan and more battle experience. However, as the war unfolded Japan won more and more battles. The defining moment of the war was the long and arduous battle over Port Arthur, a strategic Russian port in northeastern China. Initially, the Japanese attempted to block the port entirely with sunken ships, but the situation escalated to a full out siege when the Russians easily overcame the Japanese blockade. After a 6-month Japanese siege of Port Arthur, a Russian general unexpectedly surrendered. In a year, Japan had won. A treaty was signed, Japan was named the victor and received territory from the losers.
Japan’s victory was a huge deal. It was a huge victory for a non-European country at a time when Europe ruled the world. Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese war meant that it had made it as a world power, and that the goals of the Meiji Restoration to modernize and westernize had finally been realized.
The Russian people were pretty upset that the motherland had been defeated by such a small country and later experienced a revolution at home. The Tsar (king) of Russia was overthrown, and a new government was set up, making countries and alliances and other things nice and confusing.
Even if you already knew all that and are a Japanese history know-it-all who can name every Japanese emperor, I bet you didn’t know this: one country involved in the war technically stayed at war with Japan for 100 years – Montenegro.
Montenegro is a tiny Eastern European country that hangs out next to Serbia and Albania, a little east of Italy. Now back in the day, at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War, Montenegro allied with Russia because Russia had helped out Montenegro with a war a few years earlier. This alliance was really more for moral support than actual military support, as Montenegro is thousands of miles away from Japan, and because of its size, couldn’t really provide that many troops in the first place.
The Russo-Japanese war came and went, and Japan won. Somehow though, the proper paperwork didn’t get filled out and when Japan and Russia signed a peace treaty, everybody forgot about poor Montenegro. To make things worse, Montenegro basically turned into five or six different countries in the next hundred years, turning into a kingdom, being absorbed into Yugoslavia, and finally gaining its independence. During all that time, paperwork got shuffled around and more important things were on people’s minds – little things like the World Wars, the Cold War, and Montenegro’s fight for independence.
Peace at Last
It wasn’t till 2006 that Montenegro gained it independence, and Japan normalized relations with the country. An ambassador was sent from Japan, and a formal peace treaty was signed. Now, Japan and Montenegro are best buds. The war of over 100 years is finally over, and there are a whole 11 Japanese people living in Montenegro. Japan even has a fairly substantial trade relationship with Montenegro – Japan exports over a million yen (less than $10,000) worth of goods to Montenegro every year, and there are even Japanese companies there. Japan also helps out the newly-independent Montenegro through aid – giving over 500 million yen to the country (around $5 million).
The great century-long war is probably not even a footnote in most history books, but I think it’s a pretty interesting little tidbit of knowledge. You can impress your friends with your awesome historical knowledge and like, show it off at parties, right? (Or at least write a Tofugu post about it.)