History The Jomon Period (13,000 BC to 300 BC) fostered human development, who were gatherers, fishermen and hunters who inhabit the Japanese islands. This period is named after pottery from this era, which had a bead pattern (Jomon) design.
In the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD), the cultivation of rice and the use of iron and bronze were introduced to Japan. With the introduction of agriculture and modern ideas, social classes began to evolve. A Chinese historical document noted in the 3rd century that a powerful chief named Himiko ruled Yamatai in Japan.
During the Kofun Period (300 – 538), the emergence of a highly aristocratic society with militaristic rulers developed. Large mounted tombs (kofun) were built for the political elite, hence the name of this period. An imperial family established the first unified state of Japan in the 4th century, known as the Yamato clan. Yamato’s Japan stretched from Kyushu to the Kinai Plain, where an emperor ruled.
However, the Soga clan soon took over political power, resulting in a system in which most emperors remained only as a symbol of the state.
The Asuka Period (538 – 710) marked the beginning of Buddhism in Japan. Until that time, the religion of Japan was based on the Shinto religion, which is still practiced today. However, the fundamental changes during this period were not just religious beliefs, but other important foreign concepts and practices that had a profound impact on Japanese society.
Prince Shotoku wrote the seventeen-principle Constitution which consisted of moral and political principles. It is also said to have played an important role in promoting Chinese beliefs.
The Taika Reform was also established, which involved a system of government and administration based on the Chinese model. The Nara Period (710 – 794) highlights the establishment of the first permanent capital in Nara. The Japanese capital was moved from Fujiwara-kyo to Heijokyo (modern Nara) in 710.
It was during this time that the Great Daibutsu Buddha was built at the Todiji Temple in Nara. Buddhist art and architecture flourished, and Buddhism became a predominant religion.
Literary works such as Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (stories of Japan) were compiled. An imperial poetry anthology called Manyoshu was also held.
In the Heian Period (794-1185), there was a great flowering of classical Japanese culture. The period is named after the capital that moved to Heian-kyo (now Kyoto), Heian meaning “peace and quiet”.
The Fujiwara family took control of the political scene for several centuries, ruling on behalf of the emperors. After the clan’s power reached its peak in 1016, the downfall began when the ability of the Fujiwara leaders began to decline and public order could not be maintained. This led landowners to hire samurai for their protection, resulting in a much more influential military class.
In the 12th century, two military families named Minamoto (or Genji) and Taira (or Heike) gained a lot of power. Rival clans fought a decisive war for supremacy, the Gempei War, which lasted from 1180 to 1185. The Minamoto defeated the Taira control, and Minamoto Yoritomo succeeded as the leader of Japan. He was appointed shogun and established a new government in Kamakura.
The Kamakura Period (1192-1333) began with the shogun Minamoto Yoritomo establishing a new feudal government called Kamakura Bakufu. It was simpler and more efficient than the one in Kyoto under Japanese conditions.
After Yoritomo’s death in 1199, a power dispute began between the Bakufu of Kamakura and the imperial court in Kyoto. When the Kamakura defeated the imperial army during the Jokyu Disturbance (1221), the Hojo rulers gained full control over Japan.
The Hojo clan maintained tight control and brought several decades of peace and economic expansion until an outside power threatened Japan. There were attempted invasions of Mongolia in 1274 and 1281 which the Honjo family successfully defeated.
However, when the warriors were not properly rewarded for their efforts, they withdrew their loyalty from the Kamakura government. In turn, imperial power was restored and the Kamakura Bakufu was overthrown in 1333.
The beginning of the Muromachi Period (1333 – 1573) was dominated by a political confrontation between the Emperor Go-Daigo, who briefly restored imperial power and overthrew the Kamakura Bakufu, and the former supporter Ashikaga Takauji. Ashikaga Takauji, who once fought for the emperor, challenged and managed to capture Kyoto.
Takauji appointed himself a shogun in 1338. The government buildings in Kyoto (from 1378) were located in the Muromachi district, giving the period its name.
Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1368 – 1408) established good trade relations with Ming China leading to improved economic change.
As a result, there was a development of markets, various cities and new social classes.
The Ashikaga shoguns and the Kyoto government declined during the 15th and 16th centuries. The new feudal lords, known as daimyo, continually fought each other to exert control over different parts of Japan. This occurred for several decades known as the Sengoku period, a complicated time of civil wars.
In the 16th century, powerful warlords vied with each other for control of the entire country. One of them was Oda Nobunaga, who began the unification of Japan by capturing Kyoto in 1568 and overthrew the Muromachi Bakufu in 1573.
During the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573 – 1603), Oda Nobunaga continued to eliminate his enemies after settling in Kyoto. In 1575, Nobunaga defeated the Takeda clan at the Battle of Nagashino.
In 1582, General Akechi assassinated Nobunaga and seized his Azuchi castle. A general fight for Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi reacted quickly and defeated Akechi while gaining control.
Hideyoshi conquered the northern provinces, Shikoku in 1583 and Kyushu in 1587. In 1590, Japan finally reunited after defeating the Hojo family at Odawara. Hideyoshi’s huge castle, Osaka Castle, was built the same year.
A command was issued by Hideyoshi to expel the Christian missionaries. The Franciscans entered the country anyway (1593) and the Jesuits were active. Hideyoshi intensified the persecution of Christian monasteries and executed 26 Franciscans as a warning.
After uniting Japan, Hideyoshi made an unsuccessful attempt to conquer China. Hideyoshi stubbornly did not give up and failed once again until 1598, the same year he died.
A man named Tokugawa Ieyasu, a former associate of Hideyoshi and Nobunaga, succeeded Hideyoshi as the most powerful ruler of Japan. The Edo Period (1603 – 1867) began when Tokugawa Ieyasu was appointed shogun by the emperor and founded his government in Edo (now Tokyo). The Tokugawa shoguns ruled and maintained an isolated peace for more than 250 years.
In 1615, Ieyasu eliminated the Toyotomi clan and captured Osaka Castle. Peace prevailed throughout the Edo period, as he and his successors no longer had rivals.
Poetry, music, Kabuki and bunraku (puppet theater), geisha, folk stories, rich literature, and art were among the culture that flourished during this time.
In the late 18th century, external pressure became a deeply important issue in Japan. Unsuccessfully, the Russians first tried to develop trade contacts with Japan, followed by Europeans and Americans in the 19th century. Finally, Commodore Perry forced the Tokugawa government to open international commercial ports in 1854.
The Tokugawa government fell in 1867-68 due to great political pressure, and the power of the Meiji Emperor was restored. The Meiji Period (1868 – 1912) was introduced when political authority passed from the shogunate to the imperial court. When Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, it became the new capital.
Japan, among other subjugated Asian nations, was forced to sign treaties with Western powers. Since these treaties admitted the West to unilateral economic advantages, Meiji Japan was determined to regain its independence from Europeans and Americans.
The new government carried out drastic reforms with the aim of declaring equality among the people of Japan. Specifically, the boundaries between the social classes of Tokugawa Japan were gradually broken down and religious freedom was established.
In 1889, Japan received its first European-style constitution. A parliament known as the Diet was established while the emperor had sovereignty over the army, navy, and executive and legislative power.
In 1894, the Sino-Japanese War was a reaction due to a conflict of interest in Korea between China and Japan. Japan defeated China and received Taiwan. Although Russia, France and Germany forced Japan to return to other territories.
The Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05 occurred due to a new conflict of interest in Korea and Manchuria, this time between Russia and Japan. The Japanese army was victorious and, in addition, gained territory and international respect.
Japan’s influence in Korea increased and led to its annexation in 1910. War successes led to the growth of nationalism in Japan, as well as confidence in other Asian countries.
The era of Genro’s ruling clique came to an end when the Meiji Emperor died in 1912.
During the Taisho period (1912-1926), political power shifted from gender to parliament and democratic parties.
Japan joined the Allied powers during World War I, playing a minor role in fighting German colonial forces in East Asia. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Japan’s proposal for the “racial equality clause” was rejected by the United States, Great Britain, and Australia.
The Exclusion Act passed by the United States Congress in 1924 was another factor that led to the deterioration of relations before World War II. Japan’s economic situation worsened after World War I when the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the depression of 1929 struck.
In the Early Showa period (1926 – 1945) the military had almost total authority over the government.
Japan’s influence over Manchuria had been gradually increasing since the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. When the Chinese nationalists challenged Japan’s position in Manchuria (in 1931), the Kwantung army (the armed forces of Japan) occupied Manchuria.
The Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937. Japanese forces almost managed to occupy the entire coast of China. Although, the Chinese government never fully surrendered, and the war continued until 1945.
Following an agreement with the French Vichy, Japan occupied French Indochina (Vietnam) and joined the Axis powers with Germany and Italy in 1940. The United States and Britain reacted with an oil boycott that resulted in further conflict and the decision to Japan from going to war.
In December 1941, Japan attacked the Allied Powers at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere in the Pacific, and was able to expand control over a large territory.
Allied forces slowly regained the Japanese-occupied territories after the Battle of Midway in 1942. Immediate airstrikes began on Japan in 1944. In 1945, Okinawa was invaded by American forces.
The Allied Powers called on Japan in the Potsdam Declaration (July 27, 1945) to surrender, or the destruction would continue. Even after US forces dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6 and 9), the military would not consider the terms.
However, on August 14, Emperor Showa decided to surrender unconditionally.
The Postwar Showa period (1945-1989) marked the decades of Japan’s tremendous recovery and its rise to a world economic power second only to the United States, its former enemy and later ally.
“The Japanese Miracle” is Japan’s remarkable period after the decades after 1950, where the country rebuilt itself politically and economically.
The Heisei period (1989 – present) is the current era of Japan. This era came into effect immediately after the death of Hirohito, the Showa Emperor, and his son Akihito succeeded the throne.
The Heisei period was marked by political turmoil (more than 15 prime ministers within the first two dozen years), a prolonged economic slowdown, and financial crises.
In 1995, there was a deadly earthquake in Kobe. Another catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck northeast Honshu in 2011, leading to the Fukushima nuclear accident.