Japanese History



Japanese History in the news

Report: Japanese lawmaker in North Korea to try to break impasse in nuclear talks 

Boston Herald - Jan 12 9:32 AM
TOKYO - A Japanese lawmaker said he met with North Korean officials in the reclusive country's capital this week in an attempt to break an impasse in the six-nation talks on the North's nuclear...
Report: Japanese lawmaker in North Korea to try to break impasse in nuclear talks 
San Diego Union-Tribune - Jan 12 8:39 AM
TOKYO, 7:05 a.m. Jan. 12 (AP): A Japanese lawmaker said he met with North Korean officials in the reclusive country's capital this week in an attempt to break an impasse in the six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program, Japanese media reported Friday.

Chinese vice president meets Japanese guests 
People's Daily - Jan 12 5:36 AM
Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong met in Beijing Friday with a Japanese Diet delegation headed by Kosaka Kenji, member of the House of Representatives of Japanese Diet.

History will remember Albany terrorism sting as a witch hunt 
Albany Times Union - Jan 12 2:28 AM
we'll look back on the present national paranoia over terrorism and the excesses done in its name with the same national embarrassment that Americans feel for Sen. Joe McCarthy's communist witch hunts of the 1950s and our appalling treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

- Japanes History

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This article is Japanees History the subject of frequent edit Japnese History wars and edits that do not respect a neutral point of view. The Jappanese History reader should be aware that some of the information contained in this article may be disputed, Japanse History incorrect or biased. Japannese History For more information about some of the topics that may be in dispute, please see the talk Japanee History page.

History of Japan

  • Paleolithic
  • Jomon period
  • Yayoi period
  • Kofun period
  • Asuka period
  • Nara period
  • Heian period
  • Kamakura period
    • Kemmu restoration
  • Muromachi period
    • Nanboku-cho period
  • Sengoku period
  • Azuchi-Momoyama period
    • Nanban trade
  • Edo period
    • Late Tokugawa Japanesee History shogunate
  • Meiji period
    • Meiji Restoration
  • Taishō period
    • Japan in Japnaese History WWI
  • Shōwa period
    • Japanese expansionism
    • Occupied Japan
    • Post-Occupation Japan
  • Heisei
  • Economic history
  • Educational history
  • Military history
  • Naval history


The written history of Japan began with brief appearances in Chinese history texts from the first century AD. However, archaeological research indicates that people were living on the islands of Japan as early as the upper paleolithic period. Following the last ice-age, around 12,000 BC, the rich ecosystem of the Japanese Archipelago fostered human development, yielding the earliest known pottery during the Jomon period. Japanese history has alternating periods of long isolation punctuated by radical, often revolutionary, influences from the outside world.


  • 1 Japanese Pre-History
    • 1.1 Jomon Period
    • 1.2 Yayoi Period
  • 2 Ancient and Classical Japan
    • 2.1 Kofun Period
    • 2.2 Asuka period
    • 2.3 Nara Period
    • 2.4 Heian Period
  • 3 Feudal Japan
    • 3.1 Kamakura Period
    • 3.2 Muromachi Period
    • 3.3 Azuchi-Momoyama Period
    • 3.4 Edo Period
      • 3.4.1 Seclusion
      • 3.4.2 End of seclusion
  • 4 Meiji Restoration
    • 4.1 Wars with China and Russia
    • 4.2 Anglo-Japanese Alliance
  • 5 World War I to End of World War II
    • 5.1 World War II
  • 6 Occupied Japan
  • 7 Post-Occupation Japan
  • 8 The 'Lost Decade'
  • 9 Political life
  • 10 Modern Life (Heisei Era)
  • 11 Periodization
  • 12 Japanese era names
  • 13 Notes
  • 14 See also
  • 15 Further reading
    • 15.1 Postwar Japan
  • 16 References
  • 17 External links

Japanese Pre-History

Jomon Period

Main article: Jomon period

The Jomon period (縄文時代 Jōmon-jidai?) lasted from about 10,000 BC to 300 BC.

The earliest known polished stone tools in the world. Stone axes, Hinatabayashi, B site, Shinanomachi, Nagano. Pre-Jomon (Paleolithic) period, 30,000 BC. Tokyo National Museum.

The first signs of civilization and stable living patterns appeared around 10,000 BC with the Jōmon culture, characterized by a mesolithic to neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer lifestyle of wood stilt house and pit dwelling and a rudimentary form of agriculture. Weaving was still unknown and clothes were often made of bark. Bear worship was common, as many place names still today have the word "kuma" (bear) in them. Around that time, however, the Jomon people started to make clay vessels, decorated with patterns made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks (Jōmon means "patterns of plaited cord"). Some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world may be found in Japan, based on radio-carbon dating, along with daggers, jade, combs made of shells, and other household items, although the specific dating is disputed. The household items suggest trade routes existed with places as far away as Okinawa. Many believe and DNA analysis suggests that the Ainu, an indigenous people found mostly today on the northern island of Hokkaidō, but previously had lived on Honshū, and potentially other groups, as mentioned in the Kojiki, such as the tsuchi-gumo (English: dirt spiders), are descended from the Jomon and thus represent descendants of the first inhabitants of Japan. Also, entire wood dwellings (that normally would rot away) have been dug up in northern Japan that were preserved in ice, dated back to before 8000 BC (radio-carbon dating).

According to disputed archeological evidence based on carbon-14, the Jomon people created the first known pottery type in the world, dated to the 11th millennium BC.[1] The Jomon people(s) were making clay figures (one popular type called dogu that was buried with the dead) and vessels decorated with patterns made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks with a growing sophistication.

Yayoi Period

Main article: Yayoi period

The Yayoi period (弥生時代 Yayoi jidai?) lasted from about 300 BC (although this date is debated) to AD250. It is named after the section of Tokyo where archaeological investigations uncovered its first recognized traces.

The start of the Yayoi period around 300 BC marked the influx of new practices such as rice farming, shamanism and iron and bronze-making brought by migrants (i.e. Yayoi-jin) from outside of Japan.[2] As for the wet paddy rice growing, It has been assumed that the origin is Chinese Yunnan which is abundant in the flora now, but the theory goes that the origin is the Yangtze River, in which the downstream is powerful citation needed].The tribes structured over time into many small countries ( kuni or koku?), and alliances and warfare led to the emergence of larger and more organized entities.

Japan first appeared in written history in AD 57 with the following mention in China's Book of Later Han: "Across the ocean from Luoyang are the people of Wa (in Chinese, "Wo" or "dwarf state"). Formed from more than one hundred tribes, they come and pay tribute frequently."

China's Book of Wei in the 3rd century evoke the country of Yamataikoku, unifying some 30 smaller countries and ruled by a shaman queen named Himiko.

Ancient and Classical Japan

Iron helmet and armour with gilt bronze decoration, Kofun period, 5th century. Tokyo National Museum.

Yamato polity (大和政権?) was the main ruling power in Japan from the middle of the 3rd century until 710. The Kofun period (mid 3rd century - mid 6th century), is defined by a tumulus-building culture; the keyhole-shaped tumuli are called kofun. The Asuka period (mid 6th century - 710), is defined as the time in which the capital was in Asuka, near present-day Nara.

During the 5th and 6th centuries, there was much contact between the Baekje kingdom of the southern part of the Korean peninsula and the Yamato state. Some of the results of this contact were the introduction of Buddhism to Japan by people from Baekje, and military support given by the Yamato state to Baekje.[3][4]

Kofun Period

Main article: Kofun period

The Kofun period, beginning around AD 250, is named after the large burial mounds (古墳 Kofun?) that appeared at the time. The Kofun period saw the establishment of strong military states centered around powerful clans, and the establishment of a dominant polity centered in the Yamato area, from the 3rd century to the 7th century, the Yamato Court, origin of the Japanese imperial lineage. The Yamato Court, suppressing the clans and acquiring agricultural lands, maintained a strong influence in the western part of Japan (the Asuka region). Based upon the Chinese model, they developed a central administration and an imperial court system and society was organized into occupation groups.

Several proto-state formations rivalled, possibly representing different ethnic backgrounds. There are hypotheses of a couple of bigger migrations waves of continental population to central areas of Japanese islands during this period, each bringing something vitally new or becoming a basis of a polity formation.citation needed]

Asuka period

Main article: Asuka period

The Asuka period (飛鳥時代?) is when the proto-Japanese Yamato polity gradually became a clearly centralized state, defining and applying a code of governing laws, such as the Taika Reform and Taihō Codes.[5] The introduction of Buddhism led to the discontinuing of the practice of burial mounds, or kofun.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan by Baekje, to which Japan provided military support, [6] and it was promoted by the ruling class. Prince Shotoku devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism and Chinese culture in Japan. He is credited with bringing relative peace to Japan through the proclamation of the Seventeen-article constitution. He wrote in a letter to the Emperor of China that the 'Emperor of the Land where the Sun rises' (Japan) sends a letter to the 'Emperor of the land where Sun sets' (China), thereby implying a declaration of equal footing with China which angered the Chinese emperor.[7]

Starting with the Taika Reform Edicts of 645, Japanese intensified the adoption of Chinese cultural practices and reorganized the government and the penal code in accordance with the Chinese administrative structure (the Ritsuryo state) of the time. This paved the way for the dominance of Confucian philosophy in Japan until the 19th century. This period also saw the first uses of the word Nihon (日本) as a name for the emerging state.

Nara Period

The Great Buddha at Nara, 752 CE.
Main article: Nara Period

The Nara period of the 8th century marked the first emergence of a strong Japanese state. Started in 707, the move of the capital under Empress Genmei to Heijo-kyo, present-day Nara, was achieved in 710. The city was modelled on the capital of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Chang'an (now Xi'an).

During the Nara Period, political developments were quite limited, since members of the imperial family struggled for power with the Buddhist clergy as well as the regents, the Fujiwara clan. Japan did enjoy friendly relations with Silla as well as formal relationships with Tang China. In 784, the capital was moved again to Nagaoka (to escape the Buddhist priests) and then in 794 to Heian-kyo, present-day Kyoto.

Historical writing in Japan culminated in the early 8th century with the massive chronicles, the Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters, 712) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720). These chronicles give a legendary account of Japan's beginnings in which the people were descendants of the gods themselves. According to the myths contained in these 2 chronicles, Japan was founded in 660 BC by the ancestral Emperor Jimmu, a direct descendant of the Shinto deity Amaterasu, or the Sun Goddess. The myths also claim that Jimmu started a line of emperors that remains unbroken to this day. However, historians believe the first emperor who actually existed was Emperor Ōjin, though the date of his reign is uncertain. For most of Japan's history, actual political power has not been in the hands of the emperor, but in the hands of the court nobility, the shoguns, the military and, more recently, the prime minister.

Heian Period

Main article: Heian Period

The Heian period (平安時代?), lasting from 794 to 1185, is the final period of classical Japanese history. It is considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially in poetry and literature. In the early 11th century, Lady Murasaki wrote the world's oldest surviving novel called The Tale of Genji.

Strong differentiations from Asian mainland culture traits emerged (such as an indigenous writing system, the kana). Chinese influence had effectively ended with the last imperial-sanctioned mission to Tang China in 838, due to the decline of the Tang Dynasty, although trade expeditions and Buddhist pilgrimages to China continued.[8]

Political power in the Imperial court was in the hands of powerful aristocratic families, especially the Fujiwaras who ruled under the titles Sessho and Kampaku (regents).

The end of the period saw the rise of various military clans. Towards the end of the 12th century, conflicts between those clans turned into civil war (the Hōgen and Heiji Rebellions, followed by the Genpei war), from which emerged a society led by samurai clans, under the political rule of a shogun.

Feudal Japan

The "feudal" period of Japanese history, dominated by the powerful regional families (daimyo) and the military rule of warlords (shogun), stretched from the twelfth through the nineteenth centuries. The Emperor remained but was (mostly) kept to a de jure figurehead ruling position. This time is usually divided into periods following the reigning family of the shogun:

Kamakura Period

Main article: Kamakura period

The Kamakura period (鎌倉時代?), 1185 to 1333, is a period that marks the governance of the Kamakura Shogunate and the transition to the Japanese "medieval" era, a nearly 700-year period in which the emperor (天皇 tennō), the court, and the traditional central government were left intact but were largely relegated to ceremonial functions. Civil, military and judicial matters were controlled by the bushi (武士) class, the most powerful of whom was the de facto national ruler, the shogun. This period in Japan differed from the old shōen system in its pervasive military emphasis.

In 1185, Minamoto no Yoritomo defeated the rival Taira clan. And in 1192, Yoritomo was appointed Seii Tai-Shogun by the emperor, and has established a base of power in Kamakura. Yoritomo ruled as the first in a line of Kamakura shoguns. However, after Yoritomo's death, another warrior clan, the Hōjō, came to rule as regents for the shoguns.

Japanese samurai boarding Mongol ships in 1281.

A traumatic event of the period was the Mongol invasions of Japan between 1272 and 1281, in which massive Mongol forces with superior naval technology and weaponry attempted a full-scale invasion of the Japanese islands. A famous typhoon referred to as kamikaze, translating as divine wind in Japanese, is credited with devastating the second Mongol invasion forces who invaded in the spring of 1281, although some scholars assert that the defensive measures the Japanese built on the island of Kyūshū may have been adequate to repel the invaders. Although the Japanese were successful in stopping the Mongols, the invasion attempt had devastating domestic repercussions, leading to the extinction of the Kamakura shogunate.

The Kamakura period ended in 1333 with the destruction of the shogunate and the short reestablishment of imperial rule (the Kemmu restoration) under the Emperor Go-Daigo by Ashikaga Takauji, Nitta Yoshisada, and Kusunoki Masashige. The Kamakura period is also said to be the beginning of the "Japanese Middle Ages", which also includes the Muromachi period and lasted until the Meiji Restoration.

Muromachi Period

Main article: Muromachi period

The Muromachi period (室町時代 Muromachi-jidai?) is a division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573. The period marks the governance of the Ashikaga shogunate also called Muromachi shogunate, which was officially established in 1336 by the first Muromachi shogun Ashikaga Takauji, who seized political power from Emperor Go-Daigo, ending the Kemmu restoration. The period ended in 1573 when the 15th and last shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki was driven out of the capital in Kyōto by Oda Nobunaga.

The early years of 1336 to 1392 of the Muromachi period is also known as the Nanboku-chō or Northern and Southern Court period, as the Imperial court was split in two.

The later years of 1467 to the end of the Muromachi period is also known as the Sengoku period, the "Warring States period", a time of intense internal warfare, and corresponds with the period of the first contacts with the West, with the arrival of Portuguese "Nanban" traders.

See also: Nanban trade period and Sengoku period
A group of Portuguese Nanban foreigners, 17th century, Japan.

In about 1542, 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 arquebuses (the actual number is believed to be around 2,000) cut down charging ranks of samurai. During the following years, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries.

See also: Christianity in Japan

Azuchi-Momoyama Period

Main article: Azuchi-Momoyama period

The Azuchi-Momoyama period (安土桃山時代 Azuchi-Momoyama-jidai?) runs from approximately 1568 to 1600. The period marks the military reunification and stabilization of the country under a single political ruler, first by the campaigns of Oda Nobunaga who almost united Japan, achieved later by one of his generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The name Azuchi-Momoyama comes from the names of their respective castles, Azuchi castle and Momoyama castle.

After having united Japan, Hideyoshi invaded Korea, however, after unsuccessful campaigns toward the allied forces of Korea and China and his death, his forces retreated from the Korean peninsula.

The short period of succession conflict to Hideyoshi was ended when Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the regents for Hideyoshi's young heir, emerged victorious at the Battle of Sekigahara and seized political power.

Edo Period

Main article: Edo period
Stone foundation of the main tower at Edo Castle.
A 1634 Japanese Red seal ship, during the Edo period.

During the Edo Period (江戸時代?), the administration of the country was shared by over two hundred daimyo. The Tokugawa clan, leader of the victorious eastern army in the Battle of Sekigahara, was the most powerful of them, and for fifteen generations monopolized the title of Sei-i Taishōgun (often shortened to shōgun). With their headquarters at Edo (present-day Tokyo), the Tokugawa commanded the allegiance of the other daimyo, who in turn ruled their domains with a rather high degree of autonomy.

The shogunate carried out a number of significant policies. They placed the samurai class above the commoners: the agriculturists, artisans, and merchants. They enacted sumptuary laws limiting hair style, dress, and accessories. They organized commoners into groups of five, and held all responsible for the acts of each individual. To prevent daimyo from rebelling, the shoguns required them to maintain lavish residences in Edo and live at these residences on a rotating schedule; carry out expensive processions to and from their domains; contribute to the upkeep of shrines, temples, and roads; and seek permission before repairing their castles.

Many artistic developments took place during the Edo Period. Most significant among them were the ukiyo-e form of wood-block print, and the kabuki and bunraku theaters. Also, many of the most famous works for the koto and shakuhachi date from this time period.

Throughout the Edo Period, the development of commerce, the rise of the cities, and the pressure from foreign countries changed the environment in which the shoguns and daimyo ruled. In 1868, following the Boshin War, the shogunate collapsed, and a new government coalesced around the Emperor.


Main article: Sakoku
Japan's first treatise on Western anatomy, published in 1774, an example of Rangaku.

During the early part of the 17th century, the 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. It monopolized foreign policy, and expelled traders, missionaries, and foreigners, with the exception of the Dutch and the Chinese merchants restricted to the manmade island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay and several small trading outposts outside the country. However, during this period of isolation (sakoku) that began in 1641, Japan was much less cut off from the rest of the world than is commonly assumed, and some acquisition of western knowledge occurred under the Rangaku system.

Russian encroachments from the north led the shogunate to extend direct rule to Hokkaidō, Sakhalin and the Kuriles in 1807 but the policy of exclusion continued.

End of seclusion

Main article: Late Tokugawa shogunate
Landing of Commodore Perry, officers & men of the squadron, to meet the Imperial commissioners at Yoku-Hama (Yokohama?) July 14th 1853. Lithograph by Sarony & Co., 1855, after W. Heine.

This policy of isolation lasted for more than 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, old 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 on 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. These treaties were widely regarded by Japanese intellectuals as unequal, having been forced on Japan through gunboat diplomacy, and as a sign of the West's desire to incorporate Japan into the imperialism that had been taking hold of the rest of the Asian continent. Among other measures, they gave the Western nations unequivocal control of tariffs on imports and the right of extraterritoriality to all their visiting nationals. They would remain a sticking point in Japan's relations with the West up to the turn of the century.

Meiji Restoration

Samurai of the Satsuma clan, during the Boshin War period. Photograph by Felice Beato
Main article: Meiji Restoration

Renewed contact with the West precipitated profound alteration of Japanese society. The shogun resigned and soon after the Boshin War of 1868, 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 a quasi-parliamentary constitutional government, based on Great Britain's Parliament, outlined in the Meiji Constitution. While many aspects of the Meiji Restoration were adopted directly from Western institutions, others, such as the dissolution of the feudal system and removal of the shogunate, were processes that had begun long before the arrival of Perry.

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 Ryūkyū 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 reforming and modernizing social, educational, economic, military, political 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

Main article: Foreign relations of Meiji Japan

Japanese intellectuals of the late-Meiji period espoused the concept of a "line of advantage," an idea that would help to justify Japanese foreign policy at the turn of the century. According to this principle, embodied in the slogan fukoku kyōhei (富国強兵?), Japan would be vulnerable to aggressive Western imperialism unless it extended a line of advantage beyond its borders which would help to repel foreign incursions and strengthen the Japanese economy. Emphasis was especially placed on Japan's "preeminent interests" in the Korean Peninsula, once famously described as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Japan." It was tensions over Korea and Manchuria, respectively, that led Japan to become involved in the first Sino-Japanese War with China in 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War with Russia in 1904-1905.

The war with China made Japan the world's first non-Western modern imperial power, and the war with Russia proved that a Western power could be defeated by a non-Western State. The aftermath of these two wars left Japan the dominant power in the Far East, with a sphere of influence extending over southern Manchuria and Korea, which was formally annexed as part of the Japanese Empire in 1910 (see below).

For Japan and for the moment, it established the country's dominant interest in Korea, while giving it the Pescadores Islands, Formosa (now Taiwan), and the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria, which was eventually retroceded in the "humiliating" Triple Intervention. Over the next decade, Japan would flaunt its growing prowess, including a very significant contribution to the Eight-Nation Alliance, formed to quell China's Boxer Rebellion. Many Japanese, however, believed their new empire was still regarded as inferior by the Western powers, and they sought a means of cementing their international standing. This set the climate for growing tensions with Russia, who would continually intrude into Japan's "line of advantage" during this time.

Anglo-Japanese Alliance

Main article: Anglo-Japanese Alliance

World War I to End of World War II

In a manner perhaps reminiscent of its participation in quelling the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century, Japan entered World War I and declared war on the Central Powers. Though Japan's role in World War I was limited largely to attacking German colonial outposts in East Asia, it took advantage of the opportunity 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 and occupied the German coaling port of Qingdao in the Chinese Shandong peninsula. 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 in a movement known as 'Taishō Democracy'. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the late 1920s and 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 its measure that the legislative body was answerable to the Emperor and not the people, and the February 26 Incident. Party politics came under increasing fire because it was believed they were divisive to the nation and promoted self-interest where unity was needed. As a result, the major parties voted to dissolve themselves and were absorbed into a single party, the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA), which also absorbed many prefectural organizations such as women's clubs and neighborhood associations. However, this umbrella organization did not have a cohesive political agenda and factional in-fighting persisted throughout its existence, meaning Japan did not devolve into a totalitarian state. The IRAA has been likened to a sponge, in that it can soak everything up, but there is little one could do with it afterwards. Its creation was precipitated by a series of domestic crises, including the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the actions of extremists such as the members of the Cherry Blossom Society, who enacted the May 15 incident.

World War II

The Imperial Japanese Navy's Yamato, the largest battleship in history, 1941.

Under the pretense of the Manchurian Incident, Lieutenant Colonel Kanji Ishiwara invaded Inner (Chinese) Manchuria in 1931, an action the Japanese government mandated with the creation of the puppet state of Manchukuo under the last Manchu emperor, Pu Yi. As a result of international condemnation of the incident, Japan resigned from the League of Nations in 1933. After several more similar incidents fueled by an expansionist military, the second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937 after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. Japan allied with Germany and Italy, and formed the Axis Pact of September 27, 1940. Many Japanese, including Kanji, believed war with the West to be inevitable due to inherent cultural differences and the oppression of Western imperialism (Japanese imperialism, often just as brutal, was justified as "preparing" Asia for the upcoming confrontation). However, while Kanji took his action in the belief that his nation should focus on subduing Soviet Russia, tensions were mounting with the U.S. As a result of public outcry over Japanese aggression and reports of atrocities in China, such as the infamous Nanjing Massacre, the U.S. began an embargo on such goods as petroleum products and scrap iron in 1940. On July 25, 1941, all Japanese assets in the US were frozen. Because Japan's military might, especially the Navy, was dependent on their dwindling oil reserves, this action had the contrary effect of increasing Japan's dependence on and hunger for new acquisitions. Many civil leaders of Japan, including Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro, believed a war with America would end in defeat, but felt the concessions demanded by the U.S. would almost certainly relegate Japan from the ranks of the World Powers, leaving it prey to Western collusion. They also believed that such a war would be brought to a close quickly, settled with negotiations. Civil leaders offered political compromises in the form of Hakko Ichiu and the Amau Doctrine, dubbed the "Japanese Monroe Doctrine" that would have given the Japanese free reign with regards to war with China. These offers were flatly rejected by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull; the military leaders instead vied for quick military action. However, there were dissenters in the ranks about the wisdom of that option, most notably Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku. He pointedly warned that at the beginning of hostilities with the US, he would have the advantage for six months, after which Japan's defeat in a prolonged war would be almost certain.

Planes from the Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku preparing the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Americans were expecting an attack in the Philippines (and stationed troops appropriate to this conjecture), but on Yamamoto Isoroku's advice, Japan made the decision to attack Pearl Harbor where it would make the most damage in the least amount of time. The United States believed that Japan would never be so bold as to attack so close to its home base (Hawaii had not yet gained statehood) and was taken completely by surprise. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred December 7, 1941 (December 8 in Japan). However, the attack proved a long term strategic disaster that actually did relatively little lasting damage to the U.S. military and provoked the United States to retaliate with full commitment against Japan and its allies. At the same time as the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese army attacked colonial Hong Kong and occupied it for nearly four years.

While Nazi Germany was in the middle of its Blitzkrieg through Europe, Japan was following suit in Asia. In addition to already having colonized Taiwan and Manchuria, the Japanese Army invaded and captured most of the coastal Chinese cities such as Shanghai, and had conquered French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), British Malaya (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore) as well as the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) while Thailand got in a loose alliance with Japan. They had also conquered Burma (Myanmar) and reached the borders of India and Australia, conducting air raids on the port of Darwin, Australia. Japan had soon established an empire stretching over much of the Pacific.

However, thanks in part to superior US intelligence, the Japanese Navy's offensive ability was crippled on its defeat in the Battle of Midway at the hands of the American Navy which turned the tide against them. After almost 4 years of war resulting in the loss of 3 million Japanese lives, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the daily air raids on Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, the destruction of all other major cities (except Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura, for their historical importance), and finally the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan the day before the second atomic bomb was dropped, Japan signed an instrument of surrender on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945. Symbolically, the deck of the Missouri was furnished bare except for two American flags. One had flown over the White House on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. The other had flown the mast of Commodore Perry's ship when he had sailed into that same harbor nearly a century before to urge the opening of Japan's ports to foreign trade.

As a result of its defeat at the end 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 the 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 Ryūkyū, Bonin, and Volcano Islands. The 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 Tōjō, for their roles in the war.

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.

Defeat came for a number of reasons. The most important is probably Japan's underestimation of the industro-military capabilities of the U.S. The U.S. recovered from its initial setback at Pearl Harbor much quicker than the Japanese expected, and their sudden counterattack came as a blow to Japanese morale. U.S. output of military products also skyrocketed past Japanese counterparts over the course of the war. Another reason was factional in-fighting between the Army and Navy, which led to poor intelligence and cooperation. This was compounded as the Japanese forces found they had overextended themselves, leaving Japan itself vulnerable to attack. Another important factor is Japan's underestimation of resistance in China, which Japan claimed would be conquered in three months. The prolonged war was both militarily and economically disastrous for Japan.

Occupied Japan

General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito.
Main article: Occupied Japan

After the war, Japan was placed under international control of the Allies through the Supreme Commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Entering the Cold War with the Korean War, Japan came to be seen as an important ally of the US government. Political, economic, and social reforms were introduced, such as an elected Japanese Diet (legislature) and expanded 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 this period its annual GNP growth was over twice that of its nearest competitor, the U.S.A. By the 1980s, Japan - despite its small size - had the world's second largest economy, after the U.S.A. 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.

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 fueled 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 Ministry of Finance sharply raised interest rates.

This "popped the bubble" in spectacular fashion, leading to a major 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, and as such 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 has been for several years. Despite this, credit is still difficult to obtain.

Overall, this has led to the phenomenon known as the "lost decade"; economic expansion effectively came to a total halt in Japan during the 1990s. The effect on everyday life has been rather muted, however.

Unemployment ran reasonably high, but not at crisis levels. The official figure is a little under 5%, but this is a considerable underestimate — the actual situation would probably be around 10%.

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 end of American rule in 1952, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (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, led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) seems to be gaining stronger influence in the Diet.

Today, the government is led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, beginning in 2006. Recently, the government was led by Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi, holding office 2001 to 2006, 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. The ruling coalition was 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 was 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 included 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.

Modern Life (Heisei Era)

Current Emperor (Akihito)
Headquarters of Tokyo Metropolitan Government was buit in 1991
Main article: Heisei

1989 marked one of the most rapid economic growth spurts in Japanese history. With a strong yen and a favorable exchange rate with the dollar, the Bank of Japan kept interest rates low, sparking an investment boom that drove Tokyo property values up sixty percent within the year. Shortly before New Year's Day, the Nikkei 225 reached its record high of 39,000. By 1991, it had fallen to 15,000, signifying the end of Japan's famed "bubble economy."

The Recruit Scandal of 1988 had already eroded public confidence in the Liberal Democratic Party, which had controlled the Japanese government for 38 years. In 1993, the LDP was ousted by a coalition led by Morihiro Hosokawa. However, the coalition collapsed as parties had gathered to simply overthrow LDP and lacked an unified position on almost every social issue. The LDP returned to the government in 1996, when it helped to elect Social Democrat Tomiichi Murayama as prime minister.

In 1991 Headquarters of Tokyo Metropolitan Government was built. Some people used to call this building "Tax Tower" or "Tower of Bubble" (because it was built during the bubble economy.)

In 1993 the Okushiri tsunami occurred off the coast of Hokkaidō as a result of an earthquake on July 12. As a result, 202 people on the small island of Okushiri lost their lives, and hundreds more were missing or injured.

In 1995, there was a large earthquake in Kobe. The same year, there was a sarin gas terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway system by the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo (see Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway).

The Heisei period also marked Japan's reemergence in military. In 1991, Japan pledged billions of dollars to support the Gulf War but constitutional arguments prevented a participation in or support of actual war. Minesweepers were sent in after the war as a part of the reconstruction effort. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet approved a plan to send about 1,000 soldiers of the Japan Self-Defense Forces to help in Iraq's reconstruction, the biggest overseas troop deployment since World War II without the sanction of the United Nations. These troops were deployed in 2004.

On October 23, 2004, the Heisei 16 Niigata Prefecture earthquakes (magnitude 6.9) rocked the Hokuriku region, killing 32 and injuring hundreds.


One commonly accepted periodization of Japanese History:

History of Japan
Dates Period Period Subperiod Major Government
30,000 BC - 10,000 BC Japanese Paleolithic   tribal governments
10,000 BC - 300 BC Ancient Japan Jomon   local clans
900 BC – 250 AD (overlaps) Yayoi   local clans
c. 250 – 538 AD Kofun   Yamato clans
538 – 710 AD Classical Japan Asuka
710 – 794 Nara   Imperial Court in Nara
794 – 1185 Heian   Imperial court in Heian
1185 – 1333 Feudal Japan Kamakura   Kamakura shogunate
1333 – 1336 Kemmu restoration   Emperor of Japan
1336 – 1392 Muromachi Nanboku-cho Ashikaga shogunate
1392 – 1573 Sengoku period
1573 – 1603 Azuchi-Momoyama
1600 – 1867 Early Modern Japan Edo   Tokugawa shogunate
1868 – 1912 Modern Japan Meiji   limited monarchy (Emperor Meiji)
1912 – 1926 Taishō Taisho democracy limited monarchy (Emperor Taishō)
1926 – 1945 Shōwa Expansionism limited monarchy (Emperor Shōwa)
1945 – 1952 Occupied Japan Supreme Commander Allied Powers
1952 – 1989 Post-occupation parliamentary democracy; Emperor is symbol of state
1989 – present Heisei  

Japanese era names

Main article: Japanese era name

Era Name (Nengō) in Japan (after Meiji)

Nengō are commonly used in Japan as an alternative to the Gregorian calendar.
For example, in censuses, birthdays are written using Nengō.
Dates of newspapers and official documents are also written using Nengō.
Nengō are changed upon the enthronement of each new Emperor of Japan (Tennō).
Meiji ( 1858 - 1912)
Taishō ( 1912 - 1925)
Showa ( 1925 (December 25) - 1989 (January 6) )
Heisei ( 1989 (January 7) - present)
For Example :
1945 was the 20th year of Shōwa.
2005 was the 17th year of Heisei.
1989 was the 55th year of Shōwa through January 6, but on January 7, it became the 1st year(Gan-nen) of Heisei.
Before World War II ended, Imperial era (Kōki) is also used in common that the year of enthronement of first emperor (Jimmu-Tennō) is defined as First Year. (= 660 BC)


  1. ^ "The earliest known pottery comes from Japan, and is dated to about 10,600 BC. China and Indo-China follow shortly afterwards" ("Past Worlds" The Times Atlas of Archeology. p. 100, 1995). Alternatively, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Timeline of Art History [1] notes "Carbon-14 testing of the earliest known shards has yielded a production date of about 10,500 BC, but because this date falls outside the known chronology of pottery development elsewhere in the world, such an early date is not generally accepted". [2]. Calibrated radiocarbon measures of carbonized material from pottery artifacts: Fukui Cave 12500 +/-350 BP and 12500 +/-500 BP (Kamaki & Serizawa 1967), Kamikuroiwa rockshelter 12, 165 +/-350 years BP in Shikoku (Esaka et al. 1967), from "Prehistoric Japan", Keiji Imamura, p46.
  2. ^ "Yayoi Period History Summary," BookRags.com; Jared Diamond, "Japanese Roots," Discover 19:6 (June 1998); Thayer Watkins, "The Genetic Origins of the Japanese"; "Shinto - History to 1900," Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. ^ "Buddhist Art of Korea & Japan," Asia Society Museum; "Kanji," JapanGuide.com; "Pottery," MSN Encarta; "History of Japan," JapanVisitor.com.
  4. ^ (1993) Delmer M. Brown (ed.): The Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge University Press, 140-149. ; George Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334, Stanford University Press, 1958. p. 47. ISBN 0-8047-0523-2
  5. ^ Mason,R.H.P and Caiger, J.G, A History of Japan, Revised Edition, Tuttle Publishing, 2004
  6. ^ See Nihon Shoki, volumes 19, Story of Kinmei. [3]"Nihon Shoki
  7. ^ Book of Sui (隋書 東夷伝 第81巻列伝46): "日出处天子至书日没处天子无恙" [4]
  8. ^ "Heian Period," Metropolitan Museum of Art.

See also

  • Japanese Paleolithic Hoax
  • Yoshinogari
  • History of Tokyo
  • Military History of Japan
  • List of Japanese battles

Further reading

Postwar Japan

  • Allinson, Gary D. Japan's Postwar History, 2nd edition, Cornell University Press, 2004

(ISBN 0-8014-8912-1)


  • This article contains material from the Library of Congress Country Studies, which are United States government publications in the public domain. - Japan

External links

  • Japan Chronology World History Database
  • Bibliography of Japanese History up to 1912, University of Cambridge.
  • Samurai Archives Japanese History Page, a great amount of text about Japanese history
  • The Japanese History Documentation Project by Christopher Spackman. This is published under the terms of the GFDL, so it should be usable as a resource for Wikipedia.
  • Outline Chronology of Japanese Cultural History
  • National Museum of Japanese History
  • SengokuDaimyo.com, the website of Samurai author and historian Anthony J. Bryant
  • Yamada Sho (2002). Politics and Personality: Japan's Worst Archaeology Scandal, Harvard Asia Quarterly Vol. VI, No. 3. In-depth commentary on the extensive fraud that took place in archeology in Japan over a 20-year period.
  • Japanese History - A Simple Chronology

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