1. What is Japan's history (early history-1600)?
Kofun of Emperor
Nintoku, the largest burial mound all over the world (The Japan of Today)
Throughout ancient Japan, the economy was distinctly
agrarian. During the Jomon Period (13,000 BC to 300 BC), Japanese
procured their food by hunting and gathering. The Yayoi Period (300
BC to 300 AD) saw the introduction of rice from the Asian Continent, and this
became the staple of Japanese agriculture. Political power also began to
concentrate during the Yayoi Period. As agriculture widened the gap
between rich and poor, the political power of the country began to center around
the wealthy landowners. The result of this was the formation of kuni
(states). Eventually, the kuni began to fight each other for political
and military supremacy.
Chinese kanji characters were introduced during the Kofun
Period (300-710), and the political energies of the nation began to centralize
near present day Nara. This period is named for the type of tombs (kofun)
built for politicians. The Nara Period (710 to 794) began when Nara
was established as the first permanent capital in 710. While the emperors
ruled the country, aristocrats assumed the strongest political power during
the Heian Period. (794 to 1192) This was also the period that witnessed
the rising of the samurai class.
The Kamakura Period (1192 to 1333) began
when the Minamotos ascended to political prominence. This was the first
government in Japan to be run by the samurai class (bakufu), and
the emperors of Japan remained in the background, until Emperor Godaigo defeated
the Kamakura Bakufu and recovered imperial rule in 1333. However, Ashikaga
Takauji set up a bakufu government in Muromachi, northern Kyoto in 1336, and a
fifty-year civil war between imperial loyalists and the Muromachi Bakufu followed.
Although the Muromacho Bakufu finally unified the country in 1392, its political
power gradually weakened while the power of feudal lords throughout the country
steadily increased. In 1467, a dispute over the succession of the shogun led to the Onin War and triggered battles
among feudal lords for over 100 years. It wasn't until the end of the 16th
Century that warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi was able to unify Japan. During
the latter part of the same century, Jesuit Missionaries attempted to spread Christianity
At the beginning of the 17th Century, the battle of
Sekigahara allowed Tokugawa Ieyasu to assume supreme control of Japan and he was
declared seii tai shogun (barbarian-subduing generalissimo and state leader)
by the emperor in 1603. This was the beginning of the Edo Period.
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2. What is Japan's history (Edo Period: 1603-1868)?
After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600,
Tokugawa Ieyasu became seii tai shogun, or supreme leader of the military-based
government. This ushered in a period known as the Edo Period. The
Edo Period lasted for nearly 300 years until 1868, when Emperor Meiji assumed
control and the Tokugawa bakufu government came to an end.
the Edo period, the emperor remained in Kyoto and had no real political
power. Daimyo (feudal lords) were given control of most of the land,
and domains called han were, at times, freely exchanged by the bakufu.
The daimyo were required to spend alternate years at the capital, Edo (present-day
Tokyo), in order for the seii tai shogun to monitor them. A strict
caste system was adhered to, with samurai as the top tier. The samurai
were followed by farmers, artisans and merchants (in that order) and an outcaste
also developed among those who worked with things considered ritually impure,
such as animal products. Despite societal constraints, however, art forms
such as kabuki and ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) flourished and became
popular among the public.
View through Waves off the Coast of Kanagawa: from "Thirty-Six
Views of Mt. Fuji"
by Katsushika Hokusai
Edo period, 19th century
(Tokyo National Museum)
the same time, Christianity, which was introduced to Japan in the mid 16th century,
was forcefully suppressed in accordance to sakoku, the bakufu's
policy of strictly limiting foreign relations. This policy was implemented
in reaction to the fear that European powers would use Christianity to subdue
and colonize the Japanese people. Despite such policies, the Tokugawa leadership
gradually became weaker with each generation. By the time U. S. Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Uraga Bay
in 1853 and pressed for the opening of several Japanese ports and the start of
diplomatic intercourse with the Japanese, the bakufu's power was severely
undermined due in part to ruling samurais' failure in solving serious fiscal
problems. Perry's visit accelerated the changes that brought the era of
samurai to an end, and in 1868, Meiji Restoration officially ushered in
a new era. To learn more about the Edo Period, please visit:
3. What is Japan's Meiji Period (1868-1912)?
In 1853, U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry
arrived in Uraga Bay in 1853 and pressed for the opening of several Japanese ports
and the start of diplomatic intercourse with the Japanese. In the years
following, the bakufu's leadership was further weakened by inflation and
frequent riots. In 1867, the 15th Tokugawa seii tai shogun
renounced his authority and a government centered around the emperor was established.
The nation's capital was moved from Kyoto to Edo, and renamed Tokyo. Facing
the territorial ambitions of the western states, the new central government wanted
to modernize and industrialize Japan as quickly as possible. The government
instituted major reforms throughout the government and society. (Meiji Restoration)
A constitution was established based on the Prussian model. This constitution
imbued great power to the emperor. A two-house Diet (legislature) was also
established, but its powers were weak in comparison to the emperor's. Undergoing
its own industrial revolution, Japan amassed large and prosperous industries.
Such progress included the first rail line being laid between Tokyo and Yokohama
and the founding of universities. Two phrases were popular among Japanese
government officials of the time: bunmei kaika (civilization and enlightenment)
and fukoku kyohei (rich country and strong army). Japan defeated
China in 1894 and became the first Asian State to defeat a European power when
it overpowered Russia in 1904. Japan fashioned itself on the military prowess
of Great Britain, and the Meiji period of modernization saw Japan quickly rise
to become a world naval power. Japanese people in those days also absorbed
different influences from around the world in areas such as literature and science.
This was also the time when trains established themselves as the center of Japanese
transportation. To learn more, please visit:
Where can I find information on Commodore Perry/Opening of Japan?
For more than two hundred years (during
the Tokugawa Era), Japan shut the door to the outside world (with the exception
of China, Korea, and the Netherlands) and nearly had any interactions with foreign
countries. Those few foreigners who disembarked on Japan's shores did so
near Nagasaki. Commodore Matthew Perry ignored the edict, and in 1853, Perry's
black ships landed near Uraga in Edo Bay. Once in Edo, Perry strongly demanded
and achieved the opening of Japan to the world. One year later, the Kanagawa
Treaty was signed between the United States and Japan, ushering in the end of
Japan's isolationist policies. However, crisis followed since many continued
to oppose westernization and argued to expel foreigners. Economic disorder ensued,
caused by the influx of foreign products and the drain of gold from Japan, resulting
in severe inflation. As a result, the political power of the bakufu
further weakened and, in 1867, the 15th Tokugawa seii tai shogun, Yoshinobu, finally abdicated his
position. Emperor Meiji was given full authority to run the nation one year
later, and Japan began the process of modernization, industrial revolution and
social progress. To learn more about Commodore Perry and the Opening of
Japan, please visit:
Where can I find information on Japan prior to World War II?
The period between the death of
Emperor Meiji in 1912 and Japan's entry into WWII in 1941 is divided into two
periods: the period of Emperor Taisho's rule of Japan from 1912 to 1926, and the
period following the ascension of Emperor Showa (whose birth name was Hirohito)
to the throne in 1926.
Japan entered the war on the Triple Entente
side during WWI because of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. After the victory
in the world war, Japan became a permanent member of the Council of the League
of Nations and was recognized as a major power. Japan also achieved rapid
economic growth during WWI. This was partly due to the expansion of Japanese
exports to the colonies of European countries since they had to spend their resources
and industries to produce goods necessary to fight the war and could not satisfy
the demands from their colonies.
The Taisho era was also a period of democratic
movements known as "Taisho Democracy." This was a period when rice riots
and labor disputes occurred and many called for the expansion of voting rights.
the Japanese economy was severely harmed by the Great Depression, and Japan increasingly
turned into a militarist state. The Japanese Army tried to expand its control
in China, which was vulnerable to foreign invasion because of civil war.
Neglecting the foreign policies of the government at that time, the Japanese Army
occupied Manchuria in 1931 and established an independent state there. However,
the League of Nations did not recognize the state, and Japan withdrew from the
League in 1932.
Japan launched another military attack against China
in 1937 and occupied the major regions. However, China continued to resist
with the assistance of foreign countries, and the Japanese Force was stuck in
a relentless guerilla war. To cut off the supply lines of the Chinese Force,
the Japanese Force invaded French Indochina, which induced U.S. economic sanctions
against Japan. Refusing demands to withdraw from China and Indochina, Japan
entered a war against the United States.
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Where can I find information on World War II?
War between the United
States and Japan began on December 7th, 1941, when Japan attacked United
States Naval forces in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. War raged on between the United
States and Japan until August of 1945. In the August of 1945, the cities
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S.
Forces. The Emperor Showa decided to make an unconditional surrender to
the Allied Powers. To learn more about World War II, please visit your local
library, or visit websites such as these:
What is Japan's post-war history?
Japan was occupied by the U.S. Forces
from 1945 to 1952. General Douglas MacArthur administered the occupation as the
Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (SCAP). A new constitution promulgated in 1947 renounced war and democratized
the political system of the nation. The Emperor Showa (whose birth name
was Hirohito) renounced his divinity and retained a solely symbolic position in
Japan. The San Francisco Peace Treaty ended the occupation in 1952, and
Okinawa was finally returned to Japan in 1972. The Liberal Democratic
Party (LDP) has dominated Japanese politics for more than 50 years, supplying
all but four prime ministers since 1945. Japan remarkably recovered from
the devastation of World War II in a speedy way, and hosted the Summer Olympics
in Tokyo in 1964, and achieved the OECD membership same year. Japanese industry
and technology excelled in the post-war era and Japanese cars and electrical equipment
became industry standards. By the 1980's, Japan's economy grew to become
the second largest in the world. During the early 1990's Japan's economic
bubble burst and the country remains in the midst of a decade long recession.
To learn more about recent Japanese history, please visit your local library or
Who were the Samurai? Shogun? Ninja?
Armor of Domaru with Black Leather Lacing in Katatsumadori
Muromachi period, 15th century
(Tokyo National Museum)
the military and ruling elite for most of Japan's history. Beginning in
the Heian Period (794-1192 AD), samurai assumed
high positions within Japan's social structure. Often the most learned and
cultured of society, the samurai lost all status and privileges after the
Meiji Restoration of 1868. Kendo, the
Japanese art of fencing, comes from the ancient samurai sword fighting
arts. Bushido, the ways of the warrior, is part of the extreme code
of ethics and strict honor inherent in the samurai class. A samurai
maintained the highest respect and piety to the lord whom he served.
The honor and responsibility passed down from the samurai have always had
a great impact on the Japanese people. A samurai's weapon was the
katana (sword). To learn more about samurai, please visit:
The military leaders of Japan before the Meiji Era were called seii
tai shogun. The seii tai shogun was the supreme leader of the
government and military forces. For nearly 700 years, shogun ruled
the islands of Japan. In 1192, Yoritomo Minamoto assumed the title and established
the first military centered government in Kamakura, south of Tokyo. The
final shogun, in the 19th Century, were from the Tokugawa family.
Shogun led feudal lords called daimyo in the feudal Japanese system
prior to 1868. Both shogun and daimyo were samurai.
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Ninjya's Weapon cUeno City Tourist Associaton
were masters of the arts of invisibility and stealth, known as ninjutsu.
Often invaluable to the leading generals,
ninja executed commando, reconnaissance or assassination missions.
In the centuries before the Edo Period, ninja reached their peak in numbers.
During the peace that reigned during the Tokugawas' rule, ninjutsu was
codified. The techniques and weapons were written down in manuals like
Mansen Shukai in 1676 in order to protect the traditions of the ninja.
Famous ninjutsu schools still exist in the Mie and Shiga Prefectures of
Japan. The ninja lacked the need for strict adherence to a code
honor similar to the samurai's. Therefore, the ninja was
to execute a mission without being strictly honor bound. Ninja were
often poor and of no social rank, but their expert skills demanded high prices.
To learn more about ninja please visit your local library for books such
The Ninja and Their Secret Fighting Art by Stephen K. Hayes.
Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1995.
Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia,
Volume 2. Kodansha, 1993.