According to, Japan was connected to the mainland towards the end of the last ice age, and the Japanese sea, which separates the main island of Honshu from the Korean peninsula and northeastern China, was then a lake. The Japanese islands have been permanently populated for at least 12,500 years. However, finds of simple stone tools show that people migrated from the Asian continent far earlier, perhaps already 30,000 years ago (compare, among others, Iwajuku).

The Jomon Period (c. 10500 – c. 400 BC)

The Jomon period has been named after the characteristic rope and lace decoration on earthenware found across large parts of Japan. The oldest Jomon ceramics are also among the oldest known to date in the world and were manufactured long before any organized farming occurred. The people lived mainly on hunting, fishing and gathering wild vegetables and nuts. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Japan. They lived in simple houses, where the floors had either been lowered about half a meter below ground level or covered with stone. Archaeological finds have shown village formations, consisting of 5-6 houses. From the late Jomont period, relatively advanced zoomorphic and anthropomorphic clay figurines, often representing women, are derived.

The Yayoi period (about 400 BC – about 250 AD)

The Yayoi period meant a sudden change in both the way of life and the physical character of people. Large migrations from mainland China began due to dissatisfaction with the political conditions in China, which at this time agreed with relatively hard-handed methods. The new immigrants, who came to Japan (northwest Kyushu) via the Korean Peninsula, brought with them revolutionary knowledge. There and at Hokkaido, an outlier of the Jomon culture survived into the 7th century AD. This last yomon phase is probably borne by the ancestors of the present Ainu people (compare the yomon culture).

Rice cultivation, bronze and iron objects, horses, new village structures and the types of ceramics hajiki and sueki represented the new yayoik culture, which got its name from the place where the first discovery of such objects was made.

The “Yayo people” effectively ousted the carriers of the Jomon culture, which drew further and further north on Honshu. The rice cultivation required a relatively advanced form of coordination, where the water supply had to be controlled by means of lock and trench devices. The agricultural tools were shod with bent iron plates, so that harder ground could be worked. New village communities were created at a distance from the first Yayoya communities, which were located at the estuaries and on plains. Through the study of tombstones, it can be stated that Japanese communities became increasingly politicized during the late Yayoite period. On the one hand, a few tombs were made considerably larger and more advanced than the others, and on the other, weapons replaced agricultural tools as tombs.

Japanese historians and archaeologists, especially after World War II, paid close attention to the legendary mistress Himiko (or Pimiko), who, according to Chinese history chronicler Wei Zhi, ruled a kingdom somewhere in southwestern Japan in the 20th century AD; even later Japanese chronicles mention her. The Yamato plain (in the present Narapre Prefecture) has been proposed as the seat of Yamatai’s main town, but it is not yet possible to determine for sure where this community was located.

  • Countryaah: Check to see the location of Japan on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Japan.


Japan is taking shape

The earliest Japanese history is described in both Chinese and Japanese chronicles. Many of the Chinese sources are based on “Wei Shu”, “The Book of Wei”, in the compilation “San Guo Zhi” from the twentieth century, a brief, rather derogatory description of a strange people of the east. The Japanese sources, on the other hand, “Kojiki” from 712 and “Nihongi” from 720, are detailed in their accounts of early Japan. Both “Kojiki” and “Nihongi” describe how the imperial army conquers the territories north of Kyushu, where the first emperor Jimmu Tenno is said to have descended from the world of the gods 660 BC

The name Japan is a Europeanization of the Chinese word rib, ‘the origin of the sun’, which in modern Japanese is pronounced nippon or nihon. However, the term first used in the Chinese sources as a term in Japan was wo (Japanese wa), which can be translated by ‘dwarf’, ‘poor’ or ‘wicked’.

A new comprehensive immigration to Japan from the Chinese and Korean states took place from the mid-20th century AD. Former residents, probably the forerunners of the Ainu people, were driven north. During this time – called the kofun period (c. 250-552) after giant burial mounds of chieftains – in Japan there were several local communities that were in political conflict with each other. An important political association was found in northwest Kyushu, another along the northern coast of the Inland Sea and a third, Yamato, in the plains area which today is the major cities of Osaka, Nara and Kyoto. Yamato was the society that would unite western Japan under a central government in the mid-500s. Yamato succeeded in capturing the political power of Japan greatly thanks to the skillful use of the knowledge that Korean craftsmen and intellectuals brought. The control of important junctions along the transport routes at sea and in the mountain areas proved to be of crucial importance in the unification of western Japan.

According to the Japanese chronicles, in addition to the already existing Shinto religion, Buddhists were also allowed to work in Japan. Through the extensive Buddhist scriptures in Chinese translations, the Japanese were confronted with a written language from which they would later, in the 700s, create their own. Since the Japanese and Chinese languages are completely different, both inventive wisdom and good knowledge of Chinese grammar were required in this work. Along with the Buddhist scriptures also came other philosophical works from China. In the “seventeen articles”, the basis of the first constitution, which is said to have been published 604, one can find traces of formulations which also derive from Confucian writings.

The primary responsibility for the writing of the Constitution lay with Shotoku Taishi (“Prince Shotoku”, 572-622). Prince Shotoku, who distinguished himself as a prominent statesman, succeeded in establishing official relations with the China Dynasty (581-618). Among other things, a mutual exchange of stationary ambassadors was initiated. This achievement was probably so difficult given the prevailing Chinese worldview, in which China stood as an obvious center well above surrounding “barbaric” states. Prince Shotoku also took the initiative to send delegations of students with knowledge-disrupting students to China.

The Tang Dynasty’s establishment in China 618 also had consequences for the Japanese state structure. In 645, a coup was carried out through which Japan became an empire with strong centralized rule. People in the aristocracy who opposed the imperial power were murdered and a series of imperial edicts aimed at further strengthening power were published in subsequent years in the Taikar reforms. The administrative reforms that followed the coup led to a detailed and Chinese-based legal system, the ritsuryo system (ritsu ‘law’, ryo ‘regulation’).

The Narra Period (710-794)

The practice of exchanging capital with each incoming emperor was intended to cease when the capital was moved to the intended permanent capital of Nara. The Buddhist influence was very large during this period, and even today the Nara cityscape is dominated by the large number of Buddhist temples.

A number of Buddhist priests and monks were tempted to use their position for political purposes. The temples also accumulated extensive wealth. Several aristocratic families, especially the Fujiwara family, who were closely related to the 645-year-old coup-maker, looked with concern at the weakening of the Emperor’s house and the increasingly strong position of the Buddhists. By skilfully maneuvering, they succeeded in appointing an emperor, Konin, who had little interest in the Buddhist religion. His son, Emperor Kammu, moved the capital to Heian (Kyoto) to get rid of the emperor’s dependence on the Buddhist clergy.

Heian period (794-1185)

At the beginning of the Heian period, the imperial power’s ability to enforce general military service was undermined, and the government’s soldiers were instead taken from among the sons of civilian officials. New Buddhist sects emerged under the influence of China, but active Buddhists were banned from official government services. The population around the capital became increasingly dependent on the rich aristocratic families and the jobs on the private estate, the Sho. The owners of these sho managed to work out tax exemptions and other privileges. The landlords in the provinces achieved similar privileges by making the aristocratic families of the capital into formal landowners and themselves as administrators.

At the death of Emperor Montok 858, aristocrat Fujiwara Yoshifusa was appointed sessho, deputy regent, to the minor emperor Seiwa. Fujiwara’s son Mototsune then became sessho for the subsequent Emperor Yozei. Sessho thus became an institution that went into succession. During this time, another office was also created, kampaku, whose holder had the task of assisting the emperor on the national board since he reached adulthood.

The Fujiwara family succeeded in obtaining few monopolies on these items and thus a decisive influence on the management of the kingdom. The climax of Fujiwara’s influence was reached in the 11th century, when four daughters of Fujiwara Michinaga (966-1027) married successive emperors, and sons in three of these marriages became emperors. The Fujiwara family lost their influence towards the end of the 11th century, when a new system, insei, was introduced. Through this, the real government power lay with the abdicated emperors.

The Heian period was important from a cultural perspective. It was during this period that the native Japanese phonetic script developed to its perfection. The Japanese craftsmanship had a very distinctive character, and both painting and literature established forms and means of expression that would remain alive in modern times. During the latter part of the period, a special military class emerged. Rural families with military backgrounds managed to establish themselves in the cities and become influential members of the aristocracy. Two of these families, Taira and Minamoto, also controlled large troop collections and thus gained influence over the hoof.

Kamakura Period (1192-1333)

In 1185, the two families met Taira and Minamoto and their followers in a decisive naval battle at Dannoura, where Minamoto triumphed. One of the Minamoto family generals, Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99), forced the emperor in 1192 to appoint him as Japan’s first shogun, or seiitai-shogun, ‘the great general who crushes the barbarians’. Yoritomo established a military regime, Bakufu, based in Kamakura, at a comfortable distance from Kyoto. Japan thus got two parallel capitals, one for the official power (Kyoto) and one for the real (Kamakura). The aristocratic Hojo family had a decisive influence on politics and came to Kamakura to act as a shadow government.

At the end of the 13th century, two events occurred that would have a decisive influence on Japanese history and Japanese history. In 1274, Mongol forces made an attempt to expand the territory of the Mongol Empire by invading Japan. About 40,000 men had just succeeded in establishing a bridgehead on northwest Kyushu when a sudden typhoon destroyed over 200 of the invasion force’s ships and killed a large number of soldiers. Those who survived had to flee neck over head with the help of the few ships that remained. In 1281, the Mongols made another attempt, this time with troops comprising nearly 140,000 men. Even this time, however, the majority of the invasion force was smashed into ruins by a powerful typhoon. In Japan, euphoric feelings were spread that the country was especially protected by the gods,kamikaze, “the winds of the gods” – which they joined in the last years of World War II by using the term ” kamikaze pilots ” on the Japanese suicide pilots that attacked the Allied ships in the Pacific.

In the uncertain political situation that arose in the early 1300s, Emperor Godaigo saw his chance to reestablish the resentful Emperor’s office. He organized a coalition of warlords led by Ashikaga Takauji and in 1333 succeeded in overthrowing the Kamakura government. Through the so-called Kemmu restaurant in 1334, attempts were also made to reintroduce direct imperial rule. The warlords, however, were disappointed by the missing rewards and forced the emperor to leave Kyoto.

Muromachi period (1338-1573)

Ashikaga Takauji established a new shogunate in 1338 with headquarters at “Second Street” (Nijo) in Kyoto. Ashikaga’s grandson Yoshimitsu moved this headquarters to the Muromachi district in 1378. This time period is therefore also called the Muromachi period.

During the 13th and 13th centuries, the military samurai class came to dominate the aristocracy. Samurai in a higher position developed a special philosophy for their actions, kyuba no michi, ‘the path of the bow and the horse’, which formed the basis of the later moral doctrine bushido, ‘the warrior’s path’. The Samurai emphasized constant training in the military arts, while attaching importance to cultural education. See further samurai.

From the Song Dynasty’s China came new religious currents, which emphasized practical understanding and meditation rather than book learning. Zen Buddhism also brought with it new arts such as canvas painting and the ceremony of drinking tea. Neoconfucianism had a great influence on contemporary intellectuals and in its Japanese form was a modern adaptation of older Confucian rules of society to Buddhism’s message of extraterrestrial experiences (see Confucianism).

The Muromachi regime left most bureaucratic functions of the Kamakura period alive. However, an important new function was established, kanrei, which was a kind of vice shogun. However, the new shogunate in Muromachi had even weaker control over the provinces than the Kamakura regime had during its time. In fact, the Ashikagashoguns led a relatively unstable coalition consisting of the shogun itself and a number of shugos. The latter were given military and administrative responsibility for their respective provinces and built their own hierarchical system of sworn vassals (kokujin). Shugo was granted the right to tax their own subjects and print them to soldiers.

The time of disintegration

In 1441, Ashikaga Yoshinori was assassinated by a vengeful vassal. The event split the aristocracy into two camps and became the prelude to a prolonged civil war, the Onin War, which destroyed large parts of Kyoto and its surroundings during the years 1467-77. The civil war then spread to other parts of the country, and Japan entered a period of administrative and political dissolution lasting close to a century. The introduction of new combat methods and more advanced weapons meant that smaller war rights died out or were swallowed up by the larger ones. Large troops of well-trained foot soldiers, ashigaru (‘light foot’), with swords and spikes complemented the ridden soldiers and formed the foundation of the armies of the 15th and 16th centuries. The Buddhist monasteries also played an active role in the fighting.

Although the Onin War was destructive, several provinces could benefit from the fact that many cultural figures left Kyoto and sought refuge in quieter parts of the country. The Muromachi period, despite its numerous wars, was culturally very high. This was especially true in the field of literature. Several new forms of theater emerged, and the provinces competed in attracting literary personalities and skilled craftsmen. Political decentralization also had a stimulating effect on the economy, as trade between the provinces was virtually free. The customs duties imposed by some local authorities were not always effective. Special markets began to be held regularly at larger temples and castles. Copper coins from China were used as a means of payment, in the absence of a single currency. The soldiers also marketed their services,

It was during this political dissolution that Japan came into contact with Europeans. In 1543, a Portuguese ship sailed off the southern coast of Kyushu. In 1549, Jesuit Francisco Xavier (1506-52) arrived in Kagoshima to begin the Christian missionary activity. The Portuguese who subsequently arrived in Japan in battle brought new knowledge, which was eagerly utilized by the Japanese rulers. Above all, the introduction of the musk was of great importance, but the religious activities of the Jesuits also became essential for the future development.

The country agrees

In the early 16th century, there were about 250 daimyo (county lords) in Japan. Most had little respect for the shogunate, and several of them had even introduced their own timing. The daimyo who initiated the final unification of the country was Oda Nobunaga. On the pretext of restoring the authority of the shogun, his forces invaded Kyoto in 1568. In 1573, he allowed the shogun to be deposed, which led to the official end of the Ashikaga period. The following 30 years are usually referred to as the Azuchi-Momoyama period, after a couple of castles that played an important role as a residence. Nobunaga had thoroughly learned the use of the nutmeg. He harbored contempt for both Buddhism and Shintoism, but regarded Christianity as quite harmless and the missionaries as useful sources of knowledge. By the middle of the 16th century, everything was Portuguese’s highest fashion in Japan, and many aristocrats even began to dress European.

Before Nobunaga was able to complete the unification of Japan, he was assassinated by a dissatisfied vassal. He was succeeded by one of his officers, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who had distinguished himself as a skilled strategist and ruthless warrior. Hideyoshi completed the unification, and in 1590 Japan was again reassembled under a central power. Hideyoshi retained the system of daimyo as local administrators but organized them into a strict centralized system. He also forbade the peasants to carry weapons, while the samurai were forced to isolate themselves in special garrisons. Hideyoshi’s campaign laid the foundations for the standing community that would develop during the Tokugawa period and which consisted of samurai, farmers, craftsmen and merchants. Outside these established social classes were the outcasts, eta-hinin, who were forced to perform tasks that the others found too gross, such as slaughter and latent discharge.

In 1592, Hideyoshi sent an army of 130,000 men to the Korean Peninsula to force the Korean Empire into submission. The invasion was initially successful, but after Chinese intervention, the Japanese troops had to retreat to the southern parts of the peninsula.

Just before his death in 1598, Hideyoshi appointed his five-year-old son as regent and set up a special council consisting of five loyal daimyo who would serve as a guardian government until the son reached maturity. Hideyoshi’s death immediately split the country’s daimyo into two factions, one supporting Hideyoshi’s son and another, led by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who opposed the dynasty. Tokugawa’s troops won in 1600 in a decisive battle at Sekigahara, where over 160,000 samurai participated. However, the final surrender of the Hideyoshitrogens did not come until after the siege of Osaka Castle in 1614-15.

The Edo Period (1603-1867)

Tokugawa Ieyasu adopted the old title of seiitai-shogun in 1603 and established a new government. Japan now entered a period of relative political stability and social calm that would last for about 250 years. When Tokugawa received the province of Kanto in 1590 as a loan because of his efforts, he allowed to build a castle in Edo, the fishing village in eastern Japan that in modern times would develop into the multi-million city of Tokyo. This castle now became the new shogunate’s headquarters, and around the castle was built a city whose structure would make it difficult for potential enemies to find the city center. The Edo period is also called the Tokugawa period (see also Tokugawa).

The new government created a society that strictly followed established laws. A system of alternate service at the shogunate (sankin-kotai) was completed. Daughters and wives of daimyo were forced to live permanently as hostages in Edo, while daimyo himself was forced to serve there a number of months every two years. Most daimyo traveled to Edo in the sequence of several hundred people, and a trip from the most remote locations could take several months. Through this service system, the country was effectively tied together politically, culturally and geographically. Traveling cultural societies followed in the footsteps of the county lords, and along the routes, numerous business places grew up.

The reorganization of the country’s administration resulted in the Bakuhans system. The relationship between the shogun and daimyo was a feudal relationship between lord and vassal. To each daimyo, in turn, a large number of samurai were tied into a similar relationship of faithfulness and dependence. During the Tokugawa period, many samurai became civil officials. In some counties, their status dropped to a status that was not appreciably different from the peasant class.

Rice played a central role in the social economy. Some prominent samurai went under the designation hatamoto, ‘below the standard’, and could have incomes that far exceeded 10,000 koku (1 koku = about 180 liters of rice). The salary also gave the right to live in properties of varying size. The lowest income among prominent samurai was five koku, and most samurai lived in spartan long houses.

Daimyo was divided into three categories: shimpan, fudai and tozama. The shimpan was close relatives of the Tokugawashogun or those daimyo who joined the crowds of Tokugawa before the Battle of Sekigahara. There were about twenty county gentlemen of this category, and the most significant eaters were Kii, Owari and Mito. These provided the shogunate with suitable wives and heirs, but because they were considered potential rivals to power, their domains did not always lie in the vicinity of Edo, and they lacked politically important posts in the bureaucracy. Instead they were placed fudai, which had relatively small domains and were considered reliable and loyal. At Ieyasu’s death in 1616, there were 90 daimyo of this category. Later, the number would grow to 145. The third category, tozama, was regarded with relative suspicion, since they had not joined the Tokugawa camp until after Sekigahara and some of them had even actively fought on the enemy side. Control of all categories was done through metsuke, inspectors who were deployed in the domains, and an effective reward and punishment system.

The Christian missionaries were viewed with increasing suspicion and were seen as a threat to the authority of the central power. Christian missionary activities were therefore banned in injunctions published in 1612 and 1614. The authorities persecuted the Christians, and those who refused to renounce their religion were executed. Foreign trade was restricted to the island of Dejima outside Nagasaki. In 1635, a ban was issued for Japanese to visit foreign places. The system was operated so hard that fishing fleets that sought emergency ports abroad from storms could not return to Japan unless the crew was imprisoned, deported to remote locations or even executed. Buddhist temples were responsible for census and registration of all citizens. The Shogunate bureaucrats distanced themselves from Buddhist thought and took an interest in Confucian philosophy and Chinese political doctrine. The Tokugawa community was isolated from the outside world with a few exceptions. When American Admiral Matthew Perry arrived in 1853 with his warships, called by the Japanese “the black ships”, it had in many ways survived itself.

Insulation ceases

Perry demanded that Japan be opened to international trade and returned in 1854 with heavily armed vessels to underline its demands. The Japanese government gave in part, and in the Kanagawa Treaty the same year some ports were opened to the outside world. Similar agreements were later concluded with the other colonial powers. Foreign consuls and missions were installed in Yokohama, where they were sometimes subjected to attacks by individual samurai. In 1861, the American consul’s interpreter was killed, and in 1863 the British legation was burned down. The incidents resulted in more than damages, which further weakened the authority of the shogunate.

Most senior officials in the Tokugawa administration were very reluctant to change the state of society and internationalize Japan. However, a number of samurai and senior bureaucrats, who had initially been very negative to Western civilization, realized that Japan had to learn from abroad if it were to avoid the humiliating treatment that China had previously been subjected to. The province of Choshu in western Japan became a kind of center for these dissatisfied revolutionaries, who in a short time had formed their own army. In 1866, the forces from Choshu, together with troops from the province of Satsuma, fought back a major punitive expedition from the central power. The same year, the shogun Iemochi died and was succeeded by the fifteenth and last Tokugawashogun, Yoshinobu.

A new emperor, Mutsuhito (posthumously called Emperor Meiji after the name of his reign), had taken office in 1867, and the rebellious were now concentrating their efforts on restoring the emperor’s political authority. The Shogun Yoshinobu, in a last-ditch attempt to save the Shogunate, sent a large troop to Kyoto in 1867, but it was easily defeated by the newly formed Imperial Army. The Emperor’s House was moved in 1868 to Edo, which was named Tokyo (‘the Eastern Capital’). The upheaval in 1868, when the Tokugawashogunate fell and the imperial power was reinstated, is called the Meiji Restoration and the next following period is known as the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

Japan entered 1868 in a period of intensive reconstruction. The Western state customs were studied with great accuracy, and the motto of the new regime became fukoku kyohei, ‘rich country, strong army’. One of the most important study delegations sent abroad was led by Tomomi Iwakura (1825-83). Iwakura was named ambassador and spent two years in the US and Europe. On his return, a special minister was formed on his initiative. However, the modernization that took place was very painful for the samurai class, who now saw their influence strongly cropped. Japanese industrialization began and became dominated by zaibatsu, large industrial and banking associations.

A new constitution was prepared for the emperor’s order by the statesman Hirobumi Ito, who, together with Kaoru Inoue, had traveled to England to study the British state. Ito presented his work in 1889, and a first parliament met in 1890. Formally, the emperor gained a strong political position and direct control over the military.

Japanese expansion

Japan acted very forcefully towards its Asian neighbors during the latter part of the 19th century. In 1874, for example, a criminal expedition was sent to Taiwan to arrest and execute those who brought several sailors from the Ryukyu Islands to life. In 1879, the Ryukyu Islands, whose international legal status had been unclear, were incorporated under strong protests from China. In 1894, war broke out between China and Japan, and in a peace treaty concluded in 1895, Japan was granted sovereignty over Taiwan. At the same time, China gave up its rights in Korea and gave Japan the same extraterritorial rights in China as the other colonial powers. Japanese troops played an important role when the so-called boxing uprising in Beijing was fought in 1900.

Russian and Japanese expansion interests collided in Korea and Manchuria, and without a declaration of war, Japan in 1904 attacked the Russian fleet in Port Arthur. In 1905, a stunned outside world could witness how Japan defeated Russia both on land and at sea (see Russian-Japanese War). In 1910, Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula, and Japan was guaranteed by special agreements with Russia in Manchuria.

During the first half of the First World War, a vacuum of power emerged in East Asia, skillfully utilized by Japan. Following a Japanese declaration of war, Germany lost actual control of the Shandong Peninsula in 1914. In 1915, Japan presented its “twenty claims” to China in pursuit of further control over Manchuria and other areas of northeastern China. The claims sparked widespread protests in China, but these had no major effect on the emerging Japanese superpower. Washington Conference 1921-22 resulted in a four-power treaty between Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and France. Under the Treaty, bilateral security arrangements were replaced by a collective agreement on mutual consultations in the event of threats to the territories of the countries. A five-power treaty, in which Italy was also a party, regulated the naval forces that could be used in the Pacific.

For a short period after Emperor Meiji’s death in 1912, a relatively well-functioning parliamentary democracy, the Taisho Democracy, was developed in Japan, which got its name after the incoming Emperor Taisho. At the same time, however, the military purposefully strengthened their positions, and political harassment, in the form of threats and assaults, began to occur. The military wanted to go much further than the MPs and extend the Japanese influence to the whole of China, not just Manchuria.

In the mid-1920s, more and more extreme forces gained influence in the Japanese officer corps. Several right-wing extremist groups appeared simultaneously in the domestic political arena, and a nationalist martial title entitled “General Principles of the Reconstruction of Japan”, authored by the philosopher Ikki Kita, gained so much influence that it was banned by the authorities. The parliamentary elected government members came into conflict with the military. In 1930, Japanese Prime Minister Osachi Hamaguchi was assassinated (1870-1931)), and in March 1932 a coup attempt was staged by the right-wing extremist group Ketsumeidan (the “Bloedsedsgruppen”), who said they wanted to punish those responsible for the poverty and suffering that existed in the countryside. Two members of government were murdered. The coup makers were jailed but released before their mild punishment was served. In May of that year, Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated in his official residence. In February 1936, the most serious coup attempt, which was close to success, was staged. Several members of the government were assassinated, but after three days the mythists gave up on the direct order of the emperor.

The events in Japan were really only a confirmation that civilian politicians had lost control of the country, even though they formally managed to remain. Decisions in the Japanese Parliament were of little importance to the Japanese army, which was increasingly going its own way. The role of Parliament was to subsequently approve and explain the activities already carried out by the military. In September 1931, Japanese soldiers blew a piece of the railroad off Shenyang (Mukden) but blamed Chinese “sabotage” for the attack. In March 1932, the Japanese sound state of Manchukuo (Manchuria) was proclaimed with symbolic emperor Puyi, China’s last emperor.

In 1932, an intermezzo also occurred in Shanghai, when Japanese Buddhist priests were attacked and killed by the locals. In retaliation, Japanese troops initiated an action that led to fighting in and around the city. Japan’s actions were criticized in the League of Nations, which in a report in February 1933 blamed Japan for the war actions since 1931. Japan responded by leaving the organization the following month.

After a four-year period of relative calm, a clash between Japanese and Chinese troops took place at L邦gouqiao (Marco Polobron) north of Beijing in July 1937. It led to full-scale war between the countries. In December of that year, Japanese troops captured China’s capital, Nanjing, and practiced extensive massacres there. The “rape of Nanjing” is said to have claimed between 100,000 and 300,000 lives. However, Japan’s attempt to occupy China was only partially successful.

After 1935, when a leading liberal academic, Tatsukichi Minobe, was forced to leave his parliamentary seat, the oppression of the opposition increased, not least the leftists. In 1938, in an atmosphere of ultranationalism and imperial worship, a law on general mobilization was adopted. This provided the state with extensive opportunities for control over mass media, business and trade unions. In 1940, Japan’s political parties dissolved. However, a purely totalitarian state never became Japan.

In August 1940, Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka presented the idea of dai toa kyoei ken, ‘the great East Asian sphere of common prosperity’. Officially, the idea was said to be based on harmonious integration of the Western Pacific countries under Japanese leadership, but in reality it came as a cover for Japan’s quest to master the commodity-rich Southeast Asia. A Japanese advance southward was also thought to be able to help cut off the Western powers’ support for the fighting China. In September 1940, the French Vichy government allowed the stationing of Japanese allies in northern Indochina. In January of the following year, Japanese forces also moved into southern Indochina.

In July 1941, the United States imposed an embargo on its export of metal scrap to Japan, and in August the same year an embargo on oil was also introduced. At the same time, in agreement with the United Kingdom, Japan was prevented from utilizing its financial assets in the West. The Japanese government found that one had to choose between significant troop retreats and extended war. In October 1941, the army’s candidate, General Hideki Tojo, became Prime Minister and the Libra edged against the latter.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes attacked the US naval base Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, at the same time as an attack was launched against British Malaya (in present-day Malaysia). In the months that followed, the colonies of the Western powers, including Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, were occupied. Burma ended up under Japanese rule. In Japan’s newly acquired holdings, the takeover of power was greeted as the beginning of an Asian liberation war against the West, but public opinion soon turned as the Japanese military authorities began demanding work performance. The Occupation Force practiced abuses of various kinds in Southeast Asia, especially against Chinese minority groups. Already in mid-1942, the United States went into effective counter-attack, and on June 5, won their flight and naval battle at Midway in the Pacific (see Midway Islands). On August 7, American troops landed on the island of Guadalcanal. After the US entered Saipan in 1944, the Japanese main islands were within the reach of US bombers. With the fighting of Okinawa in 1945, the land war reached the threshold of the real Japan. (See also World War II.)

On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, and on August 9 another bomb was dropped, this time over Nagasaki. The devastation was widespread, but US bombings had previously caused even worse material damage through bomb attacks against Tokyo and other cities. The Soviet Union entered the war against Japan on August 8. The Japanese political and military leaders could not agree on the question of possible peace. In this situation they turned to the emperor who ordained one. On August 15, Japan capitulated unconditionally.


In 1945, Japan was occupied by the United States in the name of the Allies. From 1945 to 52, the country was led by a military command under General Douglas MacArthur. A war tribunal sentenced several Japanese officers and politicians to death for war crimes. The Shinto religion, which had been exploited by the state for political purposes since 1868, was deprived of its privileged position.

In 1947, Japan was granted a new democratic constitution that enshrined civil liberties and banned the possession of armed forces (see State and Politics). The emperor’s formal powers were reduced, and his role as symbolic head of state was highlighted. A land reform was implemented, the school system was modernized and the concentration of economic power was reduced.

At the same time as the Cold War was worsening, US occupation policy towards Japan changed. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, MacArthur gave orders for the establishment of a national Japanese police reserve, 1954 (in spite of the Constitution), converted into a regular defense force.

In 1951, the Western powers made peace with Japan in San Francisco and the following year the occupation ended. At the same time, a bilateral Japanese-American security agreement began to apply. It was extended in 1960 and is still in force. The Japanese defense is by far one of the most expensive in the world, although the military budget has rarely been above 1 percent of the country’s GDP.

The parliamentary democracy that emerged after the war gave way to the formation of a number of political parties, including a Communist party. Until the beginning of the 1960s, the Japanese Socialist Party had a prominent position in domestic politics, but the governments were usually conservative. The left’s profile issues have been the opposition to the armed forces and the agreement with the United States.

By the merger of two bourgeois parties in 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was formed, which could keep the government uninterrupted until 1993. The party was in fact a coalition of several rival factions. Through purposeful investments in industrial futures and with the help of a loyal and educated workforce, Japan managed to create a welfare society from the devastation of the war. The very rapid economic growth gave rise to the term “the Japanese wonder” in the 1960s. Growth was accompanied by various environmental problems, but during the 1970s and 1980s Japan managed to limit these negative effects considerably.

About the time of Emperor Showa’s death in 1989, a period of internal and external changes began. Japan’s economy was in a deep and long-lasting recession, and the 1990s are usually called “the lost decade.” The growing popular distrust of the LDP, compounded by a series of corruption scandals, led the party to temporarily run into opposition. In 1994, the election system was reformed.

The LDP was soon back and Japan was ruled by the same party until the 2009 elections when the Democratic Party (DPJ) seized power. The society is characterized by increased class divisions, increased unemployment and an oblique age distribution with a very large aging population. How Japan can afford to finance its pension system is a lively debated issue. Many Japanese people today choose to live alone and childbirth is very low.

The political situation in Japan after the DPJapan’s takeover of power was turbulent, with several shifts in the Prime Minister’s post. However, most of this was overshadowed by the gigantic disaster that hit Japan in March 2011, when an earthquake off the country’s eastern coast generated a tsunami wave that devastatingly hit Honshu’s northeastern coast.

In addition to widespread devastation in coastal cities such as Sendai, the disaster also resulted in several serious reactor crashes at the Fukushima nuclear power plant (see the Fukushima accident). The tsunami cost more than 15,000 lives and thousands were reported missing in addition. The national trauma following the tsunami resulted in new political crises, and in August 2011, another prime minister and DPJ leader, Naoto Kan, was forced to leave his post. He was succeeded by former Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

In the 2012 election, the LDP regained power after a landslide victory, at the expense of the DPJ who backed sharply and since then failed to recover. The Prime Minister has been Shinzo Abe since 2012. In addition to a revision of the constitution and a stronger position for the defense, his agenda has been to try to gain momentum for the country’s economy, which has been in great demand after another decade of weak economic growth.

Japan is plagued with huge government debt (albeit mainly to domestic lenders) and extremely low inflation, which sometimes translates into deflation. Despite the large deficit in the state budget, Abe has come out with large stimulus packages to boost the economy. Japan has also practiced an expansionary monetary policy to bring more money into the market. The goal has been to create inflation of 2 percent.

The government has also implemented a number of administrative reforms. New economic zones have been created and tax incentives have been provided to increase investment. The government has tried to stimulate wage increases and worked to get more women into working life also in leading positions. Large companies must now account for how many women they have employed and how many of them are in leading positions. The government wants to increase child birth from the current (2017) 1.4 children to 1.8 children per woman in order to reduce the ongoing population decline.

Japan is an important member of the United Nations and the country, in addition to the permanent members, who have served most times in the Security Council. Japan is also one of the world’s largest donors and the dominant power in the Asian Development Bank. After the end of the Cold War, the country has become more active in foreign policy.

The issue of nuclear power has remained unresolved in Japan. After the Fukushima accident in 2011, the country’s 50 nuclear power plants were closed. The then government decided to gradually phase out the country’s nuclear power. On the other hand, the government of Abe believes that nuclear power is necessary in the short term and wants to launch reactors that meet new safety requirements.

In August 2016, Japan’s Emperor Akihito gave his second TV address to the people ever. Akihito expressed a desire to renounce the throne. After Parliament passed a special law, Naruhito was able to take over the throne on May 1, 2019.

In recent decades, Japanese export successes have led to demands, especially from the US side, on increased Japanese imports and a more open domestic market. Japan has negotiated and is now negotiating free trade agreements with a number of countries. In 2016, the country had signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement on free trade with the United States in the forefront and a number of countries around the Pacific as members. When Donald Trump became President of the United States, he canceled this in 2017 and since then the implementation of the agreement has been stalled.

In July 2017, the EU and Japan basically signed a free trade agreement, which will also lead to increased political cooperation.

Historical overview

about 200,000 (?) BC Roughly beaten core gear at Honshu.
about 30,000 BC Paleolithic settlements on Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.
about 10 500-250 BC The Jomon culture, mainly based on hunting and fishing, spreads throughout much of Japan.
about 250 BC-250 AD Yayo culture: rice cultivation and ironmaking make a difference. Immigration from the continent.
200 century AD Yamatai-koku, legendary kingdom under the mistress Himiko on northwest Kyushu.
about 250-550 The time of the colossal digs. On the Yamato Plain, the first historically secure Japanese state formation occurs.
500s Buddhism is officially introduced. The Japanese have already encountered the Chinese script.
about 600 Shotoku Taishi establishes contact with the imperial need in China and creates regulations for the country’s government.
645 Coup d’谷tat. The Taikar reforms adapt Japan’s state and society to Chinese role models.
710 Heijo (Nara) becomes the capital.
794 The capital is relocated to Heian (Kyoto).
858 The Emperor’s House loses much of its political power to the Fujiwara House.
1185 Battle of Dannoura. Minamoto Yoritomo is later named Shogun, headquartered in Kamakura.
1274 and 1281 Mongolian and Korean forces try to invade Japan but fight back.
1333 Under Emperor Godaigo’s leadership, the Kamakura Shogunate is overthrown.
1338 Warlord Ashikaga Takauji takes over real power and establishes himself as a shogun.
1441 Shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori is murdered.
1467-77 Ōnin War. Japan is divided into warring provinces.
1540s Japan makes contact with Europeans.
1568 Warlord Oda Nobunaga takes Kyoto.
1590 Toyotomi Hideyoshi completes Japan’s unification.
1592 Japanese troops invade Korea. After Chinese intervention, the troops are withdrawn.
1603 Tokugawa Ieyasu is named shogun. The Shogunate headquarters will be moved to Edo (Tokyo).
1612 and 1614 Prohibition of Christian missionary activities.
1635 Japan isolates itself from the outside world, and trade abroad is restricted to the island of Dejima outside Nagasaki.
1853 American warships under the command of Admiral Perry arrive. Japan is open to trade with the outside world.
1868 Meiji Restoration. The Tokugawashogunate falls, and the political authority of the imperial power is declared restored. The capital is relocated to Tokyo.
1871 The county administration is demolished and the country is divided into prefectures.
1872 General compulsory schooling is introduced. Tokyo-Yokohama Railway.
1873 Conscription and a new tax system are introduced.
1889-90 Japan has a constitution and parliament set up.
1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. Taiwan resigns to Japan.
1904-05 The Russian-Japanese War.
1910 Japan annexes Korea.
1914 Japan enters World War I and conquers Germany’s possessions in China.
1918 Takashi Hara is named prime minister and party governments become the rule.
1923 Earthquake destroys Tokyo and Yokohama.
1925 General voting rights for men are introduced.
1931 Japanese military invades Manchuria.
1933 Japan leaves the League of Nations.
1936 Nationalist coup attempt in February. Several members of government are murdered.
1937 War between Japan and China erupts. “The rape of Nanjing”.
1940 The three-power pact between Germany, Italy and Japan. The political parties are dissolved.
1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7).
1945 In August, the US drops nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan capitulates on August 15.
1945-52 Allied occupation of Japan.
1947 Japan’s current constitution comes into force.
1951 Japanese-American security agreement signed.
1955 The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is founded.
1956 Japan joins the UN.
1964 Japan becomes a member of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Tokyo Olympics.
1972 The US returns Okinawa.
1978 Peace treaty with China.
1989 Emperor Showa (Hirohito) dies after 63 years on the throne.
1994 Parliament adopts new electoral system.
1995 Doomsday sect Aum Shinrikyos attacks Tokyo with saringas.
2000s Japan loses the role of regional power to China.
2011 A tsunami wave kills more than 15,000 people and causes reactor failure at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
2019 Emperors Akihito abdicates in favor of son Naruhito.
History of Japan
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