Japanese History

Japanese History:

Early Japan (until 710):

Throughout the Jomon Period (13000 BC to 300 BC), the inhabitants of Japanese islands were collected, fishers & hunters. Jomon is the name of the era's pottery.

The rice culture was imported into Japan around 100 BC during the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD). Along the introduction of agriculture, social classes begun to evolve, and parts of the country started to unite under powerful land owners. Chinese travelers throughout the Han & Wei dynasties reported that a queen called as Himiko (or Pimiku) reigned over Japan at that time. The Yayoi period brought also the introduction of iron & other modern ideas from Korea into Japan. Again, its pottery gave the period its name.

By the starting of the Kofun Period (300 - 538), a center of power had developed in the fertile Kinai plain, and by approximate 400 AD the country was united as Yamato Japan along with its political center in and around the province of Yamato (regarding today's Nara Prefecture). The period's name comes from the large tombs (kofun) that were built for the political leaders of that era. Yamato Japan extended from Kyushu to the Kinai plain however did not yet include the Tohoku, Kanto and Hokkaido.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the year 538 or 552 and was promoted via the ruling class. Prince Shotoku is said to have played an especially vital role in promoting Chinese ideas. He also wrote the Constitution of Seventeen Articles regarding moral & political principles. Also the theories of Taoism and Confucianism, as well as during the Yamato period the Chinese writing system were introduced to Japan.
Nakatomi no Kamatari started the era of the Fujiwara clan that was to final until the rise of the military class (samurai) in the 11th century In 645 in the same year. The Taika reforms were realized: After the Chinese model a new government & administrative system was established. All land was bought by the state & equally redistributed among the farmers in a big land reform to introduce the new tax system that was also adopted from China.

Heian Periods (710 - 1185):

The era from 794 to 1185 is called the Heian period. The arts and learning flourished during this period. Approximate 1000 Ad Lady Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world's first novel The Tale of Genji a story regarding the life of a prince called Genji. Another book from that time is a diary written by a lady in waiting named Sei Shonagon. It is named as The Pillow Book.

Furthermore outside Kyoto the emperor's power grew weaker. Rich landowners became powerful increasingly and they employed private armies. (Japanese warriors were known as Samurai).

In feudal Japan the Samurai were hereditary warriors who followed a code of behavior called bushido. Samurai were assumed to be totally loyal and self-disciplined. Instead of be captured by the enemy samurai were assumed to commit suicide by disemboweling themselves. It was called seppuku.

Eventually in Japan in 1180 civil war broke out among rival powerful families. On one side were the Taira family (also called as the Heike). On the other side were the Minamoto family (also called the Genepi). The Minamoto were supported by the Fujiwara. They were led by two brothers Yoritomo & Yoshitsune.

Finally the Taira were beaten by the Minamoto in a naval battle at Dannoura in 1185.

Kamakura Period (1192 - 1333):

In the year of 1185, the Minamoto family took the control over Japan after beating the Taira clan in the Gempei war. In the year 1192 , Minamoto Yoritomo was appointed shogun and started a new government, the Kamakura Bakufu. The new feudal government was organized in simpler way than the one in Kyoto and worked much more competent under Japanese conditions.

After Yoritomo's death in the year of 1199, quarrels for supremacy begun between the Bakufu of Kamakura and the Imperial court in Kyoto. Those quarrels found an end in the Jokyu disturbance in the year of 1221 when Kamakura beaten the Imperial army in Kyoto, and the Hojo regents in Kamakura attained complete control over Japan. By redistributing the land gained during the Jokyu disturbance, they were able to achieve loyalty among all the powerful people throughout the country. In Kyoto the emperor & the remaining governmental offices lost practically all effective power.

In the year of 1232 a legal code, the Joei Shikimoku was promulgated. It stressed Confucian values such as the significance of loyalty to the master, and in general attempted to suppress a decline of morals & discipline. Tight control was maintained through the Hojo clan, and any signs of rebellions were immediately destroyed.

By the year of 1259, the Mongols had conquered China and became interested also in Japan. Many threatening messages of the powerful Mongols were avoided by Kamakura. This resulted in the first Mongol invasion attempt in the year of 1274 on the island of Kyushu. However, after just a few hours of fighting the large naval invasion fleet was forced to pull back due to bad weather conditions. This was very lucky for the Japanese since their odds against the large & modern Mongol force were not favorable at all.

Because of good preparations, the Japanese were capable to maintain a strong defense for many weeks during a second invasion attempt which occurred in the year of 1281. But again, finally the Mongols were forced to withdraw mainly due to bad weather. Kyushu remained in alert for a possible third invasion attempt; however soon the Mongols had too many problems on the mainland to care regarding Japan.

By the year of 1333 the power of the Hojo regents had declined to such a degree that the emperor Go-Daigo was capable to restore imperial power & overthrow the Kamakura Bakufu.

Muromachi Period (1333 - 1573):

The era from 1333 to 1573 is called the Muromachi period since the Ashikaga family ruled from the Muromachi district of Kyoto.
Noh theatre developed in Japan during the Muromachi period. Actors were masks and carry on a bare stage along a painted backdrop. Musicians accompany the actors.

Additionally two great monuments survive from the Muromachi period, the Kinkaku-ji & the Ginkaku-ji, (gold and silver pavilions) in Kyoto.

However in the year of 1466 the Ashikaga family argued over who would be the next shogun. The argument became the Onin War from 1467-1477. Mostly the fighting took place in and around Kyoto and much of the city was smashed.

Central authority had virtually disappeared by the end of the 15th century. Whereas there was still an emperor he was a figurehead only and Japan was afflicted by a long series of civil wars as rival landowners, called daimyos, fought for power.

Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573 - 1603):

In the year of 1571 Nagasaki was founded to trade along with the Europeans and it became a centre of missionary activity.

In the meantime radically Japanese warfare was changed by the introduction of handguns & cannons. A warlord called Oda Nobunaga rapidly learned to use the new weapons and in the year of 1569 he captured the port of Sakai. In the year of 1575 he won a great victory at Nagashino. By the time he died in the year of 1582 he controlled central Japan.

Oda Nobunaga was assassinated in the year of 1582 however his general Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) avenged his death & continued the work of reuniting Japan. In the year of 1587 he subdued the southern island of Kyushu and by the year of 1590 he had also conquered eastern Japan.

Then Toyotomi attempted to conquer Korea. However, he failed and the Japanese withdrew in the year of 1598. Toyotomi died shortly later on.

Toyotomi wished his son Hideyori to succeed him. Before he died Toyotomi persuaded his general Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) to promise to support his son. Though Ieyasu soon broke up his promise and seized power for himself. In the year of 1600 he crushed his rivals at Sekigahara although Hideyori survived.

In the year of 1603 Ieyasu was made shogun and in the year of 1615 his forces captured Osaka castle, Hideyori's stronghold. Hideyori killed himself.

Edo Period (1603 - 1867):

Japanese society was strictly divided during the Tokugawa period. At the top were the daimyo, the landowners. Below them were the samurai, hereditary warriors. Below them came the farmers, the craftsmen and then the merchants. (The merchants were at the bottom since they did not make anything. However in realism many merchants became very rich).

Meanwhile in the year of 1600 a badly damaged Dutch ship landed in Japan. On board was an Englishman, William Adams (1564-1620). He was taken to Ieyasu, who questioned him. Adams illustrated the Japanese how to developed two European style ships. He also married a Japanese woman and lived in Japan till his death.

In the year of 1609 another Dutch ship arrived in Japan. The shogun granted the Dutch the right to trade with Japan. In the year of 1613 an English ship came the shogun provide them to the right to trade. In the meanwhile Japanese merchants sailed to Thailand and the Philippines (a Spanish colony). In the year of 1610 a Japanese merchant called Tanaka Shosuke sailed to Mexico.

However in spite of trading with foreigners the Japanese start persecuting Christians. The government feared Christians were threat to Japan's internal security. In the year of 1597 Toyotomi Hideyoshi had twenty six Christians including nine European missionaries, crucified in Nagasaki.

In the year 1612 Christianity was prohibited altogether in Japan & persecution of Christians grew worse and worse. At last in 1637 Christians in the Shimbara area rebelled. However in the year of 1638 the rebellion was crushed & Christians were massacred.

Then the Japanese government shut their country off from the rest of the world. Among 1633 and 1639 laws were passed forbidding the Japanese to travel abroad or to developed ocean-going ships. Just the Chinese & the Dutch were let to trade with Japan.

In the year of 1641 the Dutch were limited to an island in Nagasaki Harbor called Dejima. This rule of isolating Japan was called sakoku.

But Japan did not cut itself off from the outside world totally. Dutch books were tilled imported and the Japanese ruling class was fairly well informed of what was happening in outside.

The Tokugawa government went to vast lengths to maintain order. They controlled directly about one quarter of the land in Japan. Around their land they gave estates to believed daimyos. Land about the edges of Japan was given to their former enemies. In Japan the Tokugawa also employed spies to watch powerful families.

The martial art of kendo built into its modern form in the late 18th century. This was derived from samurai training however practitioners utilize bamboo staves rather then swords.

By the year of 1853 the Western powers required Japan to open her market to their goods. The Americans also wished to use Japan as a coaling station for steam ships. So in the year of  1853, four American ships commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Japanese waters close to Edo. Perry handed over a message asking for coaling ports, trading rights, and protection for shipwrecked sailors. Perry notified he would return next year along a much larger force. In February 1854 He returned with nine ships.

Japan's armed forces were in no state to oppose so the shogun agreed to open two ports to American ships. By the year of 1856 Britain, France, the Netherlands & Russia had also forced Japan to sign same kind treaties. In the year of 1858 the Americans forced the Japanese to open more ports to trade. Britain, Russia and France forced Japan to sign same treaties. The treaties stated that the Japanese could only charge low import responsibilities on imported goods. Additionally foreign citizens were exempt from Japanese law.

External pressure begun to be an increasingly significant issue, while the Russians first tried to establish trade contacts with Japan without success in the end of the 18th century. They were followed through other European nations and the Americans in the 19th century. Eventually it was Commodore Perry in the year of 1853 and again in the year of 1854 who forced the Tokugawa government to open a restricted number of ports for international trade. Though, the trade remained very restricted until the Meiji restoration in the year of 1868.

Meiji Period (1868 - 1912):

In the year of 1867/68, the Tokugawa era found an ending in the Meiji Restoration. The emperor Meiji was moved through Kyoto to Tokyo which became the new capital; his imperial power was restored. The real political power was transferred through the Tokugawa Bakufu into the hands of a small group of nobles & former samurai.

The new government targeted to make Japan a democratic state along with equality among its whole people. The boundaries among the social classes of Tokugawa Japan were slowly broken down. As a result, the samurai were the big losers of those social reforms as they lost all of the privileges. The reforms also included the establishment of human rights such as religious freedom in the year of 1873.

To stabilize the new government, the former feudal lords (daimyo) ought to return all of their lands to the emperor. It was achieved already in the year of 1870 and followed by the reformation of the country in prefectures.

After the French and later after the German system the education system was reformed. Among those reforms was the introduction of obligatory education.

After about one to two decades of intensive westernization, a revival of conservative and nationalistic feelings occurred: principles of Confucianism & Shinto including the worship of the emperor were emphasized increasingly and taught at educational institutions.
Of course, catching up on the military sector was a high priority for Japan in an era of American and European imperialism. Universal conscription was introduced, & a new army modeled after the Prussian force, and navy after the British one were established.

The great expenditures led to a financial crisis in the middle of the 1880's which was followed through a reform of the currency system and the establishment of the Bank of Japan. The textile industry rises fastest & remained the largest Japanese industry till WW2. In the early factories Work conditions were very bad, but developing socialist & liberal movements were soon suppressed by the ruling clique.

Japan received its first European style constitution in the year of 1889 on the political sector. A parliament, the Diet was established whereas the emperor kept sovereignty: he stood at the top of the navy, army, executive and legislative power. However, the ruling clique kept on holding the real power, and the capable and intelligent emperor Meiji agreed with mostly their actions. Political parties did not yet achieve real power because of the lack of unity among their members.

In the year of 1912 emperor Meiji died, and the era of the ruling clique of elder statesmen (genre) was about to end.

Militarism and WW2 (1912 - 1945):

Taisho (1912-26), the political power shifted from the oligarchic clique (genre) to the parliament and the democratic parties during the era of the weak emperor.

After WW1, Japan's economical situation worsened. The Great Kanto Earthquake of the year of 1923 and the world wide depression of the year of 1929 intensified the crisis.

The military established almost complete control over the government during the 1930s. Various political enemies were assassinated, and communists persecuted. Indoctrination and censorship in education & media were further intensified. Navy & army officers soon occupied most of the significant offices, by including the one of the prime minister.

In the year of 1933, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations since she was heavily criticized for her actions in China. The second Sino-Japanese War broke out in July 1937.

In the year of 1940, Japan occupied French Indochina (Vietnam) upon agreement with the French Vichy government, and joined the Axis powers Germany and Italy. These actions intensified Japan's conflict with the United States and Great Britain which reacted with an oil boycott. The resulting oil shortage and failures to solve the conflict diplomatically made Japan decide to capture the oil rich Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and to start a war with the US and Great Britain.

In December 1941, Japan attacked the Allied powers at Pearl Harbor and several other points throughout the Pacific. Japan was able to expand her control over a large territory that expanded to the border of India in the West and New Guinea in the South within the following six months.

The turning point in the Pacific War was the battle of Midway in June 1942. From then on, the Allied forces slowly won back the territories occupied by Japan. In 1944, intensive air raids started over Japan. In spring 1945, US forces invaded Okinawa in one of the war's bloodiest battles.

On July 27, 1945, the Allied powers requested Japan in the Potsdam Declaration to surrender unconditionally, or destruction would continue. However, the military did not consider surrendering under such terms, partially even after US military forces dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, and the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan on August 8. On August 14, however, Emperor Showa finally decided to surrender unconditionally.

Japanese history: Postwar (since 1945)

The emperor publicly announced that he was not divine and in 1946 the Americans drew up a new constitution for Japan. Women were allowed to vote. The constitution also contained a clause renouncing the 'threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes'. In 1951 a peace treaty was signed in San Francisco and the American occupation ended in 1952. However the Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security gave the USA the right to keep bases in Japan. Furthermore the island of Okinawa was occupied until 1972.

Meanwhile the Korean War began in 1950. It provided a boost to Japanese industry and by 1954 Japanese industrial production was back to 1939 levels.

In 1955 the Liberal Democratic Party took power and it ruled Japan for most of the period from 1955 to 2009.

Meanwhile during the 1950s and 1960s the Japanese economy boomed. Japanese industry exported huge numbers of electronic goods and vehicles. The Japanese people saw a great improvement in their standard of living. Rapid economic growth in Japan continued during the 1970s and 1980s while much of the rest of the world was mired in recession.

However in the 1990s the period of rapid economic growth ended and a long recession began, although Japan remained a rich country. Worse in 1995 the city of Kobe was devastated by an earthquake.

Emperor Hirohito died in 1989 and was succeeded by Emperor Akihito.
Japan in the Late 21st Century:

In 2009 a major political change took place in Japan. The Liberal Democratic Party ruled Japan for all of the years 1995-2009 except for a period of 11 months. However in 2009 the Democratic Party of Japan won a majority in the lower house of parliament.
In March 2011 Japan suffered a terrible earthquake and tsunami. However Japan recovered.

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