Short history of Japan

We are going to tell very briefly the history of Japan.

From prehistory to classical history of Japan

It is believed that the first settlers of the archipelago arrived around the year 30,000 BC.

Around the year 14,500 B.C. The Jōmon (縄文時代) period begins and it was a semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture from Mesolithic to Neolithic, characterized by semi-sunken dwellings with thatched roofs and rudimentary agriculture. The oldest clay objects and utensils found in Japan date from this period.

It is believed that around 1,000 B.C. The Yayoi tribe enters through Kyushu and mixes with the Jōmon, although, officially, the Yayoi period (弥生時代), goes from the year 300 B.C. to 300 AD With them come rice crops and metallurgy.

Jinmu Tennō (神武天皇)

According to legend, Emperor Jinmu Tennō (神武天皇), a grandson of the goddess Amaterasu, founded a kingdom in central Japan in 660 BC. C., beginning an imperial line that still continues with the reign of the current Emperor Naruhito from 2019.

Although most historians believe that the first fourteen more than royal emperors are legendary characters (from Emperor Jimmu to Emperor Chuai).

Japan is first named in the Chinese Book of Han (漢書) written in 111 BC.

In the year 552, Buddhism was introduced from the Baekje kingdom in Korea, but the development of Japanese Buddhism was mainly influenced by China.

Despite initial resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class, including such figures as Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太), and gained wide acceptance beginning in the Asuka period (飛鳥時代) between 592 and 710.

In 645, the Taika Reforms (大化の改新) nationalize all land in Japan, to be equally distributed among farmers, and mandate the compilation of a household register as the basis for a new tax system.

Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太)

In the year 672, the Jinshin War (壬申の乱) takes place, a bloody war of succession after the death of Emperor Tenji Tennō (天智天皇), between Prince Ōama (his brother) and his son his son and successor, the Prince Otomo. The war is won by Ōtomo, although less than a year after taking the throne he commits suicide and Prince Ōama becomes king.

He introduced the Taihō Code (大宝律令) in 701, an administrative reorganization with a historical law system based on Confucianism. These legal reforms created the Ritsuryō (律令制) state, which was largely an adaptation of the Chinese governmental system of the Tang dynasty.

The Nara period (奈良時代), between 710 and 784, marks the rise of a Japanese state centered on the Imperial Court at Heijō-kyō (present-day Nara). The period is characterized by the emergence of a nascent literary culture with the completion of Kojiki in 712 and Nihon Shoki in 720, as well as the development of Buddhist-inspired works of art and architecture.

In the year 784, Emperor Kanmu Tennō (桓武天皇) moved the capital to Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto), beginning the Heian period (平安時代), which runs from 794 to 1185. During this period, the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu and the lyrics of Japan’s national anthem «Kimigayo».

Feudal period

Japan’s feudal era was characterized by the rise and dominance of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai.

In 1185, after the defeat of the Taira clan in the Genpei Wars (源平合戦), the samurai Minamoto no Yoritomo established a military government in the city of Kamakura, giving rise to the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代) that lasted until the year 1333. After his death, the Hōjō clan takes power as regent of the shōguns.

Oda Nobunaga

During the Kamakura period, Zen Buddhism is introduced and becomes tremendously popular among the samurai class. They also repelled the Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281.

In the year 1318 Go-Daigo Tennō (後醍醐天皇) assumed power after Hanazono Tennō (花園天皇) abdicated, beginning the Muromachi period (室町時代) between 1336 and 1573.

The later Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyōs) and a civil war began in 1467, opening the century-long period of Sengoku («Warring States»).

In the 16th century, Portuguese merchants and Jesuit missionaries arrived for the first time in Japanese lands. Thanks to the commercial exchange with these, Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長) uses European technology and firearms to conquer many other daimyōs; his consolidation of power began what became known as the Azuchi-Momoyama (安土桃山時代) period.

Following Nobunaga’s death, his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the nation in the early 1590s and launched two failed invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597.

Tokugawa Ieyasu served as regent for Hideyoshi’s son Toyotomi Hideyori, and used his position to gain political and military support.

At the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated rival clans, was appointed shōgun by Emperor Go-Yōzei (後陽成天皇) in 1603, and established the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo (present-day Tokyo).

The shogunate enacted measures including the buke shohatto, as a code of conduct to control autonomous daimyōs, and in 1639 the isolationist sakoku («closed country») policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period. (1603-1868).

Modern era

In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the «Black Ships» of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. Subsequent similar treaties with other Western countries caused a serious economic and political crisis.

The resignation of the shōgun led to the Boshin War (戊辰戦争) between 1868 and 1869, leading to the establishment of a nominally unified centralized state under the emperor, known as the Meiji Restoration (明治維新). Adopting Western political, judicial, and military institutions, the cabinet organized the Privy Council, introduced the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet.

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), the Empire of Japan emerged as the most developed nation in Asia and an industrialized world power.

After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japan gains control of Taiwan, Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin.
The beginning of the 20th century saw a period of Taishō democracy (1912-1926) overshadowed by increasing expansionism and militarization.

After the First World War Japan, as an allied power, takes control of the German possessions in the Pacific and in China.

In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied China’s Manchuria and in 1936 signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany; the Tripartite Pact of 1940 made it one of the Axis Powers.

The Empire of Japan invaded other parts of China in 1937, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

In 1940, the Empire invaded French Indochina. Following this, the United States imposed an oil embargo on Japan.

From December 7 to 8, 1941, Japanese forces carried out surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, as well as British forces in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, among others, beginning World War II in the Pacific.

After Allied victories over the next four years, culminating in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender.

Allied occupation ended with the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952, and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956.

A period of record growth propelled Japan to become the world’s second largest economy; this ended in the mid-1990s after the bursting of an asset price bubble, beginning the «Lost Decade».

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