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History of Japan

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Pre-History/The Origin of History

Jomon Period

Main article: Jomon

The origins of Japanese civilization are buried in legend, with the country's first written records dating from the sixth to the eighth centuries A.D., after Japan had adopted the Chinese writing system.

February 11, 660 BC is the traditional founding date of Japan by Emperor Jimmu Tenno.

Yayoi Period

Main article: Yayoi

Ancient/Classical Japan

Yamato Period

Main article: Yamato period

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

Nara Period

Main article: Nara Period

Heian Period

Main article: Heian Period

Feudal Japan

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

Kamakura Period

Main article: Kamakura Period. See Also: Kamakura Shogunate

Muromachi Period

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

Azuchi-Momoyama Period

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

Edo Period

Main article: Edo Period. See Also:Tokugawa Shogunate

Contact with the West The first contact with the West occurred about 1542, when a Portuguese ship, blown off its course to China, landed in Japan. During the next century, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries. During the early part of the 17th century, Japan's Tokugawa Shogunate suspected that the traders and missionaries were actually forerunners of a military conquest by European powers. This caused the shogunate to place foreigners under progressively tighter restrictions. Ultimately, Japan forced all foreigners to leave and barred all relations with the outside world except for severely restricted commercial contacts with Dutch and Chinese merchants at Nagasaki. Russian encroachments from the north led the shogunate to extend direct rule to Hokkaido and Sakhalin in 1807 but the policy of exclusion continued. This isolation lasted for 200 years, until Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy forced the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854. Within several years, renewed contact with the West profoundly altered Japanese society. The shogunate was forced to resign, and the emperor was restored to power. The "Meiji Restoration" of 1868 initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished, and numerous Western institutions were adopted, including a Western legal system and constitutional government along quasiparliamentary lines.

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

Wars with China and Russia Japanese leaders of the late 19th century regarded the Korean Peninsula as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Japan." It was over Korea that Japan became involved in the first Sino-Japanese War with the Chinese Empire in 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War with Russia in 1904-1905. The war with China established Japan's dominant interest in Korea, while giving it the Pescadores Islands and Formosa (now Taiwan). In 1905 Japan inflicted a swingeing defeat upon Tsarist Russia, which woke up the whole world to the new boy on the block. The resulting Treaty of Portsmouth denied Japan an indemnity, leading to riots, but Japan replaced Russian economic influence in Inner Manchuria. Much anger was also felt at the denial of the whole of Sakhalin (Karafuto) which the Japanese felt Russia had extorted in 1875 in exchange for the Kurile Islands. Both wars gave Japan a free hand in Korea, which it formally annexed in 1910.

World War I to End of World War II World War I permitted Japan, which fought on the side of the victorious Allies, 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. The postwar 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. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the 1930s, during which military leaders became increasingly influential. These shifts in power were made possible by the ambiguity and imprecision of the Meiji constitution, particularly as regarded the position of the Emperor in relation to the constitution.

Japan invaded Inner (Chinese) Manchuria in 1931 and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo under the last Manchu emperor, Pu Yi. In 1933, Japan resigned from the League of Nations. The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 (the second Sino-Japanese War) followed Japan's signing of the "anti-Comintern pact" with Nazi Germany the previous year and was part of a chain of developments culminating in the Japanese attack on United States naval forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

After almost 4 years of war, resulting in the loss of 3 million Japanese lives and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan signed an instrument of surrender on Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945. As a result of World War II, Japan lost all of its overseas possessions and retained only the home islands. Manchukuo was dissolved, and Inner Manchuria was returned to China; Japan renounced all claims to Formosa; Korea was granted independence; southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles were occupied by the U.S.S.R.; and the United States became the sole administering authority of the Ryukyu, Bonin[?], and Volcano Islands[?]. The 1972 reversion of Okinawa completed the United States' return of control of these islands to Japan. Japan continues to agitate for the corresponding return of the Kuril islands from Russia.

Occupied Japan Main article: Occupied Japan

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

Post-Occupation Japan Main Article: Post-Occupation Japan

From the 1950s to the 1980s, Japan's history consists mainly of its rapid development into a first-rank economic power, through a process often referred to as the "economic miracle". The post-war settlement transformed Japan into a genuine constitutional party democracy, but it was, extraordinarily, 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 NATO 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 steelworking, car manufacture and the manufacture of electronic goods. This was achieved, it is usually argued, through innovation in the areas of labour relations and manufacturing automation (Japan pioneered the use of robotics in manufacturing). Throughout the period of the miracle, its annual GNP growth was over twice that of its nearest competitor, the U.S.A. By the 1980s, Japan - despite its small size - had the world's second largest economy. These developments had a marked impact 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.

The 'Lost Decade'

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


One commonly accepted periodization of Japanese History:

Jomon ( prehistory - circa 300 BC )
Yayoi ( circa 300 BC - 250 AD )
Yamato ( circa 250 A.D. - 710 )
Nara ( 710 - 794 )
Heian ( 794 - 1185 )
Kamakura (see also Kamakura Shogunate) ( 1185 - 1333 )
Kemmu restoration ( 1333 - 1336 )
Muromachi (also called Ashikaga) ( 1388 - 1573 )
Azuchi-Momoyama period ( 1573 - 1603 )
Edo (also called Tokugawa) ( 1600 - 1867 )
Meiji ( 1867 - 1912 )
Taisho ( 1912 - 1926 )
Showa ( 1926 - 1989 )
Contemporary ( 1989 - present )

Era Name (Nengou) in Japan ( after Meiji )

Nengou are commonly used in Japan together with Gregorian Era.
For example, in censuses, birthdays are written using Nengou.
Dates of newspapers and official documents are also written using Nengou.
Nengou are changed upon the enthronement of each new Emperor of Japan (Tennou).

Meiji ( 1868 - 1912)
Taisho ( 1912 - 1926)
Showa ( 1926 (December 25) - 1989 (January 7) )
Heisei ( 1989 (January 8) - present )

For Example :
1945 was the 20th year of Showa.
2001 was the 13th year of Heisei.
1989 was the 64th year of Showa through January 7, but on January 8, it became the 1st year(Gan-nen) of Heisei.

Before World War II ended, Imperial era (Kouki[?]) is also used in common that the year of enthronement of first emperor (Jinmu-Tennou) is defined as First Year. (= 660 B.C.)

See also:


External links

  • Samurai Archives Japanese History Page (http://www.samurai-archives.com/) - a great amount of text about Japanese history
  • A Short Introduction to Japanese History (http://www.openhistory.org/jhdp/intro/Intro) by Christopher Spackman. This is published under the terms of the GFDL, so it should be usable as a resource for Wikipedia.
  • Encyclopedia of Japanese History (http://www.openhistory.org/jhdp/encyclopedia/index) by Christopher Spackman. Also published under the GFDL, this is highly stubby, with most entries very short or empty. However, it may be a good source of inspiration for subjects to write articles on.

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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