Japan became an empire in the 6th century, but
the emperor's power was undermined by the growing war
class and from 1192 to 1868 the country was led by
shoguns. Split and civil war alternated with quieter
periods. At the end of the 16th century, the country was
united and foreign interests were closed out. The
insulation was broken in 1854 and then Japan quickly
became a strong industrial and military force. The first
decades of the 20th century were marked by Japan's
aggressive conquests of Korea as well as large parts of
China and East Asia - an imperialism that ended with the
devastating defeat of the Second World War.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Japan, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
Already over 100,000 years ago, people lived on the
Japanese islands, which were then linked to the Asian
mainland. With immigrants from China via Korea came new
impulses such as rice cultivation and metals such as
bronze and iron. Agriculture was improved, weapons were
forged, and at the end of the yayoi period (about 300 BC
– 300 AD), the first state formations were added to the
islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. Gradually they
united to larger states, and in the 600s the Naras
Plains at Honshu became the center of such. It was
dominated by Prince Shotoku, who influenced Buddhism to
build a series of beautiful temple buildings. They are
today considered the world's oldest preserved wooden
houses. During the years 710–794, Nara was formally the
capital of Japan.
Following the Chinese pattern, a new capital was then
erected in Heian, later renamed Kyoto, which remained
the imperial residence city for over a thousand years.
The culturally flourishing Heian or Kyoto period lasted
for almost 400 years. But the Heian emperors' power was
undermined by an emerging warrior class - the samurai.
Two Samurai families fought for power and in 1192 the
victorious Minamoto family moved the empire's power
center to Kamakura, southwest of today's Tokyo. For
nearly 700 years, then Japan was ruled by military
governors - shoguns - while the emperors sat powerless
in Kyoto. In 1274 and 1281, Mongol forces tried to
invade Japan. Both attacks failed, in part because
typhoons broke the invasion ships. The idea of Japan
being godly and invincible was born, and the storms were
named kamikaze (the wind of the gods).
After a series of insurgency and civil war, the
country united at the end of the 16th century. Shogun
Ieyasu Tokugaw moved the power center to Edo, today's
Tokyo. During the Tokugawa or Edo period of 1603-1867,
Japan lived in stability and peace with its neighbors.
Missionaries, merchants and other foreigners were
expelled; only a few Dutch and Chinese were allowed to
trade with Japan. But in 1854 an American naval force
forced trade rights, and Russians, British, Dutch and
French followed. Civil war and state coups shook the
In 1868 the last shogun was overthrown, the emperor
again became ruler and the emperor's seat was moved from
Kyoto to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo (Eastern capital).
The reign of Emperor Meiji 1868-1912, the Meiji period,
became the epoch of renewal. Japan would learn from the
West and reform efforts became intense. A modern state
state with government and legislative assembly was
adopted and in the 1880s the country gained its first
political parties following the Western European model.
Mandatory primary school, a new currency and a new tax
system were introduced. In half a century, Japan went
from feudal farmer state to modern industrialization.
Japan now challenged China for power over Korea and
won the war between the countries 1894-1895. Beijing
must exit Taiwan and the strategically important
peninsula of Liaotung in Manchuria. Since the Western
powers forced Japan to return Liaotung, Russia rents the
peninsula from China. In the Russian-Japanese War of
1904-1905, Japan destroyed the Russian fleet, took over
the lease of Liaotung and consolidated its position in
Manchuria. Japan also recovered half the island of
Sakhalin, previously swapped for the Kuril Islands.
In World War I, 1914-1918, Japan fought on the side
of the Allies and was regarded after Germany's defeat as
one of the world's great powers. Emperor Meiji, dead in
1912, was followed on the throne by first Emperor Taisho
and then Emperor Hirohito in 1926, when the Showa period
began. Industry grew and parliamentarism seemed stable.
But the world depression also hit Japan, confidence in
the politicians dropped and the military strengthened.
Against the will of the government, the army occupied
Manchuriet in 1931 and then parts of Inner Mongolia and
northern China. In 1937, a full-scale war between Japan
and China began. Gradually, the civilian government lost
influence, two prime ministers were assassinated by
right-wing extremists, and in 1941 General Hideki Tojo
took over as prime minister. The military now ruled the
In 1940, Japan had entered into an alliance with Nazi
Germany and fascist Italy. On December 7, 1941, without
a declaration of war, Japan attacked the US naval base
Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the Pacific War broke out.
Japanese troops entered Singapore, Indonesia,
Philippines and Burma (current Myanmar). In June 1942,
the war turned in the battle between Japanese and
American naval forces on the island of Midway. Japan
lost several aircraft carriers and heavy cruisers, and
soon the Western powers had dominion both in the air and
at sea. During bloody battles, the Japanese were forced
back from archipelago after archipelago. Japan responded
by attacking enemy ships with suicide pilots, called
kamikaze. In 1944, the US bombings reached Japan itself,
killing hundreds of thousands of people. In April of the
following year, US troops landed on Okinawa, and on
August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States dropped two
atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
More than a quarter of a million people were killed
immediately or injured so badly that they died shortly
thereafter. On August 15, a disgruntled Japan
capitulated and was occupied by the Allies; in the
practice of the United States. The war had then cost
Japan over three million lives; soldiers and civilians.
Yukio Hatoyama new prime minister
DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama takes over as prime
minister for a coalition government consisting of DPJ,
the New People's Party and the Social Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party wins the election
The opposition party DPJ wins the parliamentary
elections on August 30. Taro Aso resigns as party leader
for LDP and is succeeded by Sadakazu Tanigaki.
LDP loses in local elections
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffers a
stinging defeat in the local elections in Tokyo, where
the party dominated for four decades. Prime Minister
Taro Aso announces parliamentary elections until August
The Democratic Party changes leaders
Ichiro Ozawa resigns as party leader of the
Democratic Party (DPJ). Yukio Hatoyama succeeds him.