Online Encyclopedia Search Tool

Your Online Encyclopedia


Online Encylopedia and Dictionary Research Site

Online Encyclopedia Free Search Online Encyclopedia Search    Online Encyclopedia Browse    welcome to our free dictionary for your research of every kind

Online Encyclopedia

History of Japan

The History of Japan
Yamato Period
Nara Period
Heian Period
Kamakura period
Muromachi period
Azuchi-Momoyama period
Edo Period
Meiji Era
Taisho Period
Japanese expansionism
Occupied Japan
Post-Occupation Japan


Pre-History/The Origin of History

Jomon Period

Main article: Jomon

The origins of Japanese civilization are buried in legend. February 11, 660 BC is the traditional founding date of Japan by Emperor Jimmu Tenno. This however is a version of Japanese history from the country's first written records dating from the 6th to the 8th centuries, after Japan had adopted the Chinese writing system. In this period several emperors were struggling for power. In order to make legitimate their claims to the throne, they commissioned collections of poems containing a mythological inheritance of power from the sun-goddess Amaterasu (still the most venerable deity in the Shinto pantheon), via her grandson Ninigi to Jimmu Tenno, who was claimed to be an ancestor of the ruling imperial family. This propaganda-myth was taken up again by 19th century historians and used as a fundamental pillar of Japan's nationalistic Kokutai ideology.

More reliable are Chinese sources, which describe a country "Wa" ruled by various family-clans, adhering to their respective clan-deities. Recent anthropological studies suggest immigration from Siberia and/or Polynesia to be the ancestors of the earliest settlers in Japan.

Yayoi Period

Main article: Yayoi

Ancient/Classical Japan

Kofun Period, Also known as the Yamato Period

Main article: Yamato period

About AD 405, the Japanese court officially adopted the Chinese writing system. During the sixth century, Buddhism was introduced. These two events revolutionized Japanese culture and marked the beginning of a long period of Chinese cultural influence. From the establishment of the first fixed capital at Nara (later moved to Kyoto) in 710 until 1867, the emperors of the Yamato dynasty were the nominal rulers, but actual power was usually held by powerful court nobles, regents, or "shoguns" (military governors).

Nara Period

Main article: Nara Period

Heian Period

Main article: Heian Period

Feudal Japan

The "feudal" period of Japanese history, dominated by the powerful regional families (daimyo) and the military rule of warlords, stretched from the twelfth through the nineteenth centuries. This time is usually divided into periods following the reigning family of the shogun:

Kamakura Period

Main article: Kamakura Period. See Also: Kamakura Shogunate

Muromachi Period

Main article: Muromachi Period. See Also: Ashikaga Shogunate, Sengoku Period

Azuchi-Momoyama Period

Main article: Azuchi-Momoyama Period. See Also: Sengoku Period

Edo Period

Main article: Edo Period. See Also:Tokugawa Shogunate

Contact with the West

The first contact with the West occurred about 1542, when a Portuguese ship, blown off its course to China, landed in Japan. Firearms introduced by Portuguese would bring the major innovation to Sengoku period culminating in the Battle of Nagashino where reportedly 3,000 rifles (actual number is believed to be around 2,000) cut down charging ranks of Samurai. During the next century, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries.

During the early part of the 17th century, Japan's Tokugawa Shogunate suspected that the traders and missionaries were actually forerunners of a military conquest by European powers. This caused the shogunate to place foreigners under progressively tighter restrictions. An English mariner named William Adams had journeyed with a Dutch fleet and been shipwrecked in Japan in 1600. He had managed to impress Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu with his seafaring knowledge and was made an honorary Samurai and granted a large estate. When English traders from the East India Company made landfall in 1613 they were able to obtain Adams' assistance, as a favourite of the Shogun, in establishing a factory - a house or place for mercantile factors or agents. Ultimately, Japan forced all foreigners to leave and barred all relations with the outside world except for severely restricted commercial contacts with Dutch and Chinese merchants at Nagasaki.

Russian encroachments from the north led the shogunate to extend direct rule to Hokkaido and Sakhalin in 1807 but the policy of exclusion continued. This isolation lasted for 200 years, until, on July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy with four warships: the Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga, and Susquehanna, steamed into the bay at Edo (Tokyo) and displayed the threatening power of his ships' cannon. He demanded that Japan open to trade with the West. These ships became known as the kurofune, the Black Ships.

The following year, at the Convention of Kanagawa (March 31, 1854), Perry returned with seven ships and forced the Shogun to sign the "Treaty of Peace and Amity ," establishing formal diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States. Within five years Japan had signed similar treaties with other western countries. The Harris Treaty was signed with the United States on July 29, 1858.

Within several years, renewed contact with the West profoundly altered Japanese society. After the brief Boshin War of 1868, the shogun was forced to resign, and the emperor was restored to power. The subsequent "Meiji Restoration" initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished, and numerous Western institutions were adopted, including a Western legal system and constitutional government along quasi-parliamentary lines.

Russian pressure from the north appeared again after Muraviev had gained Outer Manchuria at Aigun (1858) and Peking (1860). This led to heavy Russian pressure on Sakhalin which the Japanese eventually yielded in exchange for the Kuril islands (1875). The Ryukyu Islands were similarly secured in 1879, establishing the borders within which Japan would "enter the World". In 1898, the last of the "unequal treaties" with Western powers was removed, signalling Japan's new status among the nations of the world. In a few decades, by creating modern social, educational, economic, military, and industrial systems, the Emperor Meiji's "controlled revolution" had transformed a feudal and isolated state into a world power.

Wars with China and Russia

Japanese leaders of the late 19th century regarded the Korean Peninsula as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Japan." It was over Korea that Japan became involved in the first Sino-Japanese War with the Chinese Empire in 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War with Russia in 1904-1905. The war with China established Japan's dominant interest in Korea, while giving it the Pescadores Islands and Formosa (now Taiwan).

Anglo-Japanese Alliance

To counter the powerful Russian influence in China, Japan sought an alliance with a western power. The British Empire, worried that Russia might endanger the interest it held in China and still burdened with the cost of the Boer War, shared common interest with Japan. The negotiations started in 1901. On January 30, 1902, the alliance was formally signed between Japan and the UK. Of the six major agreements, none is more important than the third article. This declared that in the event either of the nations was at war with two or more countries, the other must declare war on those countries. Surprised, Russia tried to counter this by allying with France and Germany. Germany backed down, however, and on March 16, a mutual pact was signed between France and Russia.

In 1905 Japan inflicted a stinging defeat upon Tsarist Russia, which woke up the whole world to the new power in Asia. The resulting Treaty of Portsmouth denied Japan an indemnity, leading to riots, but Japan replaced Russian economic influence in Inner Manchuria. Much anger was also felt at the denial of the whole of Sakhalin (Karafuto) which the Japanese felt Russia had extorted in 1875 in exchange for the Kurile Islands. Both wars gave Japan a free hand in Korea, which it formally annexed in 1910.

World War I to End of World War II

Even though Japan had been open to the west for half a century, it was still cautious about relations with the West. In order to perhaps make its name better with the West, Japan entered World War I and declared war on the Central Powers. World War I permitted Japan to expand its influence in Asia and its territorial holdings in the Pacific. Acting virtually independently of the civil government, the Japanese navy seized Germany's Micronesian colonies. It also attacked German possessions in Shandong. The post-war era brought Japan unprecedented prosperity. Japan went to the peace conference at Versailles in 1919 as one of the great military and industrial powers of the world and received official recognition as one of the "Big Five" of the new international order. It joined the League of Nations and received a mandate over Pacific islands north of the Equator formerly held by Germany. Japan was also involved in the post-war Allied intervention in Russia, occupying Russian (Outer) Manchuria and also north Sakhalin (with its rich oil reserves). It was the last Allied power to withdraw from the interventions against Soviet Russia (doing so in 1925).

During the 1920s, Japan progressed toward a democratic system of government and this movement is known as 'Taisho Democracy'. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the 1930s, during which military leaders became increasingly influential. These shifts in power were made possible by the ambiguity and imprecision of the Meiji constitution, particularly as regarded the position of the Emperor in relation to the constitution.

Japan invaded Inner (Chinese) Manchuria in 1931 and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo under the last Manchu emperor, Pu Yi. In 1933, Japan resigned from the League of Nations. Japan came under increasing influence of an expansionist military, leading to the invasion of Manchuria in a second Sino-Japanese War, in 1937. Japan allied with Germany and Italy, and formed the Axis Pact of September 27, 1940. Japan believed war to be inevitable due to increasing tension with the US. On July 26, 1941, the American embargo on Japan began, and all Japanese assets in the US were frozen. This forced Japan into an unstable position, as their military might was dependent on their dwindling oil reserves. The civil leaders of Japan, including Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro, believed a war with America would certainly end in defeat. While they vied for a diplomatic peaceful solution, the military leaders vied for a quick military action. The Americans were expecting an attack in the Philippines (and stationed troops appropriate to this conjecture), but Japan made the decision to attack Pearl Harbor where it would make the most damage in the least amount of time. The US believed that Japan would never be so bold as to attack their home base, and they were taken completely by surprise. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred December 7, 1941.

While Nazi Germany was in the middle of its blitzkrieg through Europe, Japan was in the middle of a blitzkrieg in Asia. In addition to already having colonized Taiwan, and Manchuria, the Japanese Army captured most of coastal Chinese cities like Shanghai, and had conquered French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), Thailand, British Malaya (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore) as well as the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). They had also conquered British Burma (Myanmar) and reached the borders of India and Australia, conducting air raids on the port of Darwin, Australia. After almost 4 years of war, resulting in the loss of 3 million Japanese lives and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as daily air raids on Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, and the destruction of all other major cities (except Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura, for their historical importance), Japan signed an instrument of surrender on Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945. As a result of World War II, Japan lost all of its overseas possessions and retained only the home islands. Manchukuo was dissolved, and Inner Manchuria was returned to the Republic of China; Japan renounced all claims to Formosa; Korea was taken under the control of UN ; southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles were occupied by the U.S.S.R.; and the United States became the sole administering authority of the Ryukyu, Bonin , and Volcano Islands. International Military Tribunal for the Far East, an international war crimes tribunal sentenced seven Japanese military and government officials to death on November 12, 1948, including General Hideki Tojo, for their roles in World War II.

The 1972 reversion of Okinawa completed the United States' return of control of these islands to Japan. Japan continues to protest for the corresponding return of the Kuril Islands (Northern territory or 'Hoppou Ryoudo') from Russia.

Occupied Japan

Main article: Occupied Japan

After the war, Japan was placed under international control of the Allies through the Supreme Commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur. U.S. objectives were to ensure that Japan would become a peaceful nation and to establish democratic self-government supported by the freely expressed will of the people. Political, economic, and social reforms were introduced, such as a freely elected Japanese Diet (legislature) and universal adult suffrage. The country's constitution took effect on May 3, 1947. The United States and 45 other Allied nations signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan in September 1951. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in March 20, 1952, and under the terms of the treaty, Japan regained full sovereignty on April 28, 1952.

Post-Occupation Japan

Main Article: Post-Occupation Japan

From the 1950s to the 1980s, Japan's history consists mainly of its rapid development into a first-rank economic power, through a process often referred to as the "economic miracle". The post-war settlement transformed Japan into a genuine constitutional party democracy, but, extraordinarily, it was ruled by a single party throughout the period of the "miracle". This strength and stability allowed the government considerable freedom to oversee economic development in the long term. Through extensive state investment and guidance, and with a kick-start provided by technology transfer from the U.S.A. and Europe, Japan rapidly rebuilt its heavy industrial sector (almost destroyed during the war). Given a massive boost by the Korean War, in which it acted as a major supplier to the UN force, Japan's economy embarked on a prolonged period of extremely rapid growth, led by the manufacturing sectors. Japan emerged as a significant power in many economic spheres, including steel working, car manufacture and the manufacture of electronic goods.

It is usually argued that this was achieved through innovation in the areas of labour relations and manufacturing automation (Japan pioneered the use of robotics in manufacturing). Throughout the period of the miracle, its annual GNP growth was over twice that of its nearest competitor, the U.S.A. By the 1980s, Japan - despite its small size(1) - had the world's second largest economy. These developments had a marked effect on its relations with the U.S.A., the foreign nation with which it had the closest links. The U.S.A. initially heavily encouraged Japan's development, seeing a strong Japan as a necessary counterbalance to Communist China.

By the 1980s, the sheer strength of the Japanese economy had become a sticking point. The U.S.A. had a massive trade deficit with Japan - that is, it imported substantially more from Japan than it exported to it. This deficit became a scapegoat for American economic weakness, and relations between the two cooled substantially. There was particular friction over the issue of Japanese car exports, as Japanese cars by this point accounted for over 30% of the American market. The U.S.A. also criticised the closed nature of the Japanese economy, which was marked by heavy tariff protection which made entry into the Japanese market difficult for foreign firms. Japan throughout the 1980s and 1990s embarked on a process of economic liberalisation aimed at appeasing American criticism. The car issue was dealt with through a series of "voluntary" restrictions on Japanese exports and by making factories in America.

(1)Japan is small compared to countries like China(26 times) or USA(25 times). But is larger than UK(only 2/3 of Japan) and Germany(94%).

The 'Lost Decade'

The economic miracle ended abruptly at the very start of the 1990s. In the late 1980s, abnormalities within the Japanese economic system had fuelled a massive wave of speculation by Japanese companies, banks and securities companies. Briefly, a combination of incredibly high land values and incredibly low interest rates led to a position in which credit was both easily available and extremely cheap. This led to massive borrowing, the proceeds of which were invested mostly in domestic and foreign stocks and securities. Recognising that this bubble was unsustainable (resting, as it did, on unrealisable land values - the loans were ultimately secured on land holdings), the Finance Ministry sharply raised interest rates. This popped the bubble in spectacular fashion, leading to a massive crash in the stock market. It also led to a debt crisis; a large proportion of the huge debts that had been run up turned bad, which in turn led to a crisis in the banking sector, with many banks having to be bailed out by the government. Eventually, many became unsustainable, and a wave of consolidation took place (there are now only four national banks in Japan). Critically for the long-term economic situation, it meant many Japanese firms were lumbered with massive debts, affecting their ability for capital investment. It also meant credit became very difficult to obtain, due to the beleaguered situation of the banks; even now the official interest rate is at 0% and have been for several years, and despite this credit is still difficult to obtain. Overall, this has led to the phenomenon known as the "lost decade"; economic expansion came to a total halt in Japan during the 1990s. The effect on everyday life has been rather muted, however. Unemployment runs reasonably high, but not at crisis levels (the official figure is a little under 5%, but this is a considerable underestimate - the real level is probably around twice that). This has combined with the traditional Japanese emphasis on frugality and saving (saving money is a cultural habit in Japan) to produce a quite limited effect on the average Japanese family, which continues much as it did in the period of the miracle.

Political life

Since the liberation of Japan from American rule in 1952, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (Japan) (LDP) has been the largest political party. While various scandals have plagued the party, the LDP has been in power almost constantly since 1955, when it was created with the merging of Japan's Liberal and Democratic conservative parties. Only in 1993 did Japan come under reformist rule for a year. Today, the Liberal Democratic Party continues to dominate Japanese politics, though the opposition, lead by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) seems to be gaining stronger influence in the Diet.

Today, the government is led by Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi, holding office since 2001, who is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. He made a radical change when allowed for members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (the modern day antecedent of the Imperial Army) to be sent to Iraq. Today, the ruling coalition is formed by the conservative LDP and also the New Clean Government Party, a conservative yet theocratic Buddhist political party affiliated with the Buddhist sect Soka Gakkai. The opposition is formed by the Democratic Party, as well as the moderate yet staunchly communist Japanese Communist Party, and the somewhat social-democratic Social Democratic Party (Japan), formerly the Japan Socialist Party.

Minor political parties include the conservative Liberal League, as well as the Midori no kaigi, an ecologist-reformist party formerly known as the Sakigake Party, and before that, the New Party Sakigake.


One commonly accepted periodization of Japanese History:

History of Japan
Dates Period Subperiod Major Government
prehistory –

circa 300 BC

(prehistory –
circa 1000 – 900 BC)

Jomon   Unknown
circa 300 BC –

250 AD

(circa 1000 – 900 BC –
250 AD)

Yayoi   Unknown
circa 250

538 AD

Kofun Period or Yamato Kofun

Yamato Imperial Government near Nara (later Kyoto)
538710 AD Asuka
710794 Nara  
7941185 Heian  
11851333 Kamakura   Kamakura shogunate
13331336 Kemmu restoration   Emperor of Japan
13361392 Muromachi Nanboku-cho Ashikaga shogunate
13921573 Sengoku period
15731603 Azuchi-Momoyama
16001867 Edo   Tokugawa shogunate
18681912 Meiji   Emperor Meiji (Mutsuhito)
19121926 Taisho   Emperor Taisho (Yoshihito)
19261945 Showa Expansionism Emperor Hirohito
Occupied Japan
1989 – present Contemporary   Emperor Akihito

Era Name (Nengou) in Japan ( after Meiji )

Nengou are commonly used in Japan together with Gregorian Era.
For example, in censuses, birthdays are written using Nengou.
Dates of newspapers and official documents are also written using Nengou.
Nengou are changed upon the enthronement of each new Emperor of Japan (Tennou).
Meiji ( 1868 - 1912)
Taisho ( 1912 - 1926)
Showa ( 1926 (December 25) - 1989 (January 7) )
Heisei ( 1989 (January 8) - present )
For Example :
1945 was the 20th year of Showa.
2001 was the 13th year of Heisei.
1989 was the 64th year of Showa through January 7, but on January 8, it became the 1st year(Gan-nen) of Heisei.
Before World War II ended, Imperial era (Kouki ) is also used in common that the year of enthronement of first emperor (Jinmu-Tennou) is defined as First Year. (= 660 B.C.)

See also


External links

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45