History of Japan

A Brief History of Japan

During the Jomon period of Japanese history (13000 BC to 300 BC), most of the inhabitants were hunter gatherers or fishermen. Other early periods of Japanese history were the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD), when rice first started to become a precious crop in Japan and a land owning class came into being. The Kofun period (300AD to 538AD) saw Yamato develop as the country’s capital. During this period, the Soga clan took absolute power, limiting the emperor’s role to that of performing religious functions. It was also during this period that Buddhism first found its way to Japan, from Korea.

The Heian period, from 794 to 1185 was a time when the arts and education played a major role in Japanese life whilst the Fujiwara family become ever more powerful, exerting a strong role over Japanese society. As the emperor become weaker, many landowners had private armies, better known to most of us as Samurai Warriors.

The Feudal Period was a time when the shogun obtained all the power, albeit in the name of the emperor and during the 14th and 15th centuries, trade started to grow and the merchant classes became even wealthier. This was also a period when Zen Buddhism became popular in Japan. The government however, lost much power during this period, after being invaded by the Mongol army in 1281. Despite their superior numbers, the Mongols were defeated by high winds which sunk their battle ships. This wind became known as the ‘divine wind’ or ‘kamikaze’. Although Japan won this battle, the financial cost was high and taxes had to be raised, causing the fall of the government.

The Tokugawa period saw Japan’s first real contact with the outside world when a Dutch ship landed in Japan, captained by an Englishman, William Adams. This initial contact led to the Japanese starting to trade with the rest of the world.

With Japan becoming a more divided society, it was perhaps inevitable that change had to happen. This came during the Meiji Restoration when a civil war broke out which was won by the emperor’s forces. This victory led to the start of Japanese modernisation and rapid industrialisation took place, changing Japan from a largely agricultural society to a largely industrial one.

During the First World War, Japan fought alongside the British but eventually fell foul of the United States which resulted in a ban on Japanese citizens entering the USA.

In 1937 Japan invaded China in a conflict that was to claim thousands of lives. During the Second World War, Japanese planes attacked the US Navy at Pearl Harbour bringing down the wrath of the United States against them which concluded with nuclear bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the war, the US imposed rules on Japan which opened the way for democratic reforms, both of politics and religion. Democratic elections are now held regularly, the vast majority of which have been won by the Liberal Party.