|History of Japan|
The history of Japan comprises the history of the islands of Japan and the Japanese people; spanning the ancient history of the region to the modern history of Japan as a nation state. The first known written reference to Japan is in the brief information given in Twenty-Four Histories, a collection of Chinese historical texts, in the 1st century AD. However, there is evidence that suggests people were living on the islands of Japan since the upper paleolithic period. Following the last ice-age, around 12,000 BC, the rich ecosystem of the Japanese Archipelago fostered human development. The earliest-known pottery belongs to the Jōmon period.
The Japanese Paleolithic age covers a period starting from around 100,000 to 30,000 BC, when the earliest stone tool implements have been found, and ending around 12,000 BC, at the end of the last ice age, corresponding with the beginning of the Mesolithic Jōmon period. A start date of around 35,000 BC is most generally accepted. The Japanese archipelago was disconnected from the continent after the last ice age, around 11,000 BC. After a hoax by an amateur researcher, Shinichi Fujimura, had been exposed, the Lower and Middle Paleolithic evidence reported by Fujimura and his associates has been rejected after thorough reinvestigation. Only some Upper Paleolithic evidence not associated with Fujimura can be considered well established.
The Jōmon period lasted from about 14,000 BC to 300 BC. The first signs of civilization and stable living patterns appeared around 14,000 BC with the Jōmon culture, characterized by a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer lifestyle of wood stilt house and pit dwelling and a rudimentary form of agriculture. Weaving was still unknown and clothes were often made of fur. The Jōmon people started to make clay vessels, decorated with patterns made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks. Some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world may be found in Japan, based on radio-carbon dating, along with daggers, jade, combs made of shells, and other household items dated to the 11th millennium BC, although the specific dating is disputed. Clay figures known as dogū were also excavated. The household items suggest trade routes existed with places as far away as Okinawa. DNA analysis suggests that the Ainu, an indigenous people that live in Hokkaidō and the northern part of Honshū are descended from the Jōmon and thus represent descendants of the first inhabitants of Japan.
The Yayoi period lasted from about 400 or 300 BC to 250 AD. This period followed the Jōmon period and completely supplanted it. This period is named after Yayoi town, the subsection of Bunkyō, Tokyo where archaeological investigations uncovered its first recognized traces.
The start of the Yayoi period marked the influx of new practices such as weaving, rice farming, shamanism and iron and bronze-making brought from Korea or China. For example, some paleoethnobotany studies show that wet-rice cultivation began about 8000 BC in the Yangtze River Delta and spread to Japan about 1000 BC.
Japan first appeared in written records in AD 57 with the following mention in China's Book of the Later Han: Across the ocean from Lelang are the people of Wa. Formed from more than one hundred tribes, they come and pay tribute frequently. The Sanguo Zhi written in the 3rd century noted the country was the unification of some 30 small tribes or states and ruled by a shaman queen named Himiko of Yamataikoku.
During the Han Dynasty and Wei Dynasty, Chinese travelers to Kyūshū recorded its inhabitants and claimed that they were the descendants of the Grand Count (Tàibó) of the Wu. The inhabitants also show traits of the pre-sinicized Wu people with tattooing, teeth-pulling and baby-carrying. The Sanguo Zhi records the physical descriptions which are similar to ones on Haniwa statues, such men with braided hair, tattooing and women wearing large, single-piece clothing.
The Yoshinogari site is the most famous archaeological site in the Yayoi period and reveals a large, continuously inhabited settlement in Kyūshū for several hundreds of years. Excavation has shown the most ancient parts to be around 400 BC. Among the artifacts are Chinese mirrors and bronze objects, including those from China via Korean Peninsula . It appears the inhabitants had frequent communication with the mainland and trade relations. Today some reconstructed buildings stand in the park on the archaeological site.
The Kofun period, beginning around AD 250, is named after the large tumulus burial mounds (kofun) that appeared at the time. The Kofun period saw the establishment of strong military states centered around powerful clans, and the establishment of the dominant Yamato polity centered in the Yamato and Kawachi provinces, from the 3rd century to the 7th century, origin of the Japanese imperial lineage. The polity, suppressing the clans and acquiring agricultural lands, maintained a strong influence in the western part of Japan. Japan started to send tributes to Imperial China in the 5th century. In the Chinese history records, the polity was called Wa and its five kings were recorded. Based upon the Chinese model, they developed a central administration and an imperial court system and its society was organized into occupation groups.
Close relationships between the Three Kingdoms of Korea and Japan began during the middle of this period, around the end of the 4th century.
The Asuka period, 538 to 710, is when the proto-Japanese Yamato polity gradually became a clearly centralized state, defining and applying a code of governing laws, such as the Taika Reform and Taihō Code. The introduction of Buddhism led to the discontinuing of the practice of large kofun.
Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 538 by Baekje, to which Japan provided military support, and it was promoted by the ruling class. Prince Shōtoku devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism and Chinese culture in Japan. He is credited with bringing relative peace to Japan through the proclamation of the Seventeen-article constitution, a Confucian style document that focused on the kinds of morals and virtues that were to be expected of government officials and the emperor's subjects. Buddhism is a well known religion in ancient Japan and it is still practiced today by many Japanese people.
A letter brought to the Emperor of China by an emissary from Japan in 607 stated that the Emperor of the Land where the Sun rises (Japan) sends a letter to the Emperor of the land where Sun sets (China), thereby implying an equal footing with China which angered the Chinese emperor.
The Nara period of the 8th century marked the first emergence of a strong Japanese state. Following an Imperial rescript by Empress Gemmei the move of the capital to Heijō-kyō, present-day Nara, took place in 710. The city was modeled on the capital of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Chang'an (now Xi'an).
During the Nara Period, political development was quite limited, since members of the imperial family struggled for power with the Buddhist clergy as well as the regents, the Fujiwara clan. Japan did enjoy friendly relations with Silla as well as formal relationships with Tang China. In 784, the capital was moved again to Nagaoka to escape the Buddhist priests and then in 794 to Heian-kyo, present-day Kyoto.
Historical writing in Japan culminated in the early 8th century with the massive chronicles, the Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters, 712) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720). These chronicles give a legendary account of Japan's beginnings, today known as the Japanese mythology. According to the myths contained in these 2 chronicles, Japan was founded in 660 BC by the ancestral Emperor Jimmu, a direct descendant of the Shinto deity Amaterasu, or the Sun Goddess. The myths recorded that Jimmu started a line of emperors that remains to this day. Historians assume the myths partly describe historical facts but the first emperor who actually existed was Emperor Ōjin, though the date of his reign is uncertain. Since the Nara period, actual political power has not been in the hands of the emperor, but in the hands of the court nobility, the shoguns, the military and, more recently, the Prime Minister of Japan.
The Heian period, lasting from 794 to 1185, is the final period of classical Japanese history. It is considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially in poetry and literature. In the early 11th century, Lady Murasaki wrote Japan's, and one of the world's oldest surviving novels, The Tale of Genji. The Man'yōshū and Kokin Wakashū, the oldest existing collections of Japanese poetry, were compiled in the period.
Strong differences from mainland Asian cultures emerged (such as an indigenous writing system, the kana). Chinese influence had reached its peak, and then effectively ended with the last Imperial-sanctioned mission to Tang China in 838, due to the decline of the Tang Dynasty, although trade expeditions and Buddhist pilgrimages to China continued.
The end of the period saw the rise of various military clans. The four most powerful clans were the Minamoto clan, the Taira clan, the Fujiwara clan, and the Tachibana clan. Towards the end of the 12th century, conflicts between these clans turned into civil war, such as the Hōgen and Heiji Rebellions, followed by the Genpei War, from which emerged a society led by samurai clans, under the political rule of the shogun.
The "feudal" period of Japanese history, dominated by the powerful regional families (daimyo) and the military rule of warlords (shogun), stretched from the 12th through the 19th centuries. The Emperor remained but was mostly kept to a de jure figurehead ruling position. This time is usually divided into periods following the reigning family of the shogun.
The Kamakura period, 1185 to 1333, is a period that marks the governance of the Kamakura shogunate and the transition to the Japanese "medieval" era, a nearly 700-year period in which the emperor, the court, and the traditional central government were left intact but were largely relegated to ceremonial functions. Civil, military, and judicial matters were controlled by the bushi (samurai) class, the most powerful of whom was the de facto national ruler, the shogun. This period in Japan differed from the old shōen system in its pervasive military emphasis.
In 1185, Minamoto no Yoritomo defeated the rival Taira clan, and in 1192, Yoritomo was appointed Seii Tai-Shogun by the emperor; he established a base of power in Kamakura. Yoritomo ruled as the first in a line of Kamakura shoguns. However, after Yoritomo's death, another warrior clan, the Hōjō, came to rule as regents for the shoguns.
A traumatic event of the period was the Mongol invasions of Japan between 1274 and 1281, in which massive Mongol forces with superior naval technology and weaponry attempted a full-scale invasion of the Japanese islands. A famous typhoon referred to as kamikaze, translating as divine wind in Japanese, is credited with devastating both Mongol invasion forces, in addition to the defensive measures the Japanese built on the island of Kyūshū. Although the Japanese were successful in stopping the Mongols, the invasion attempt had devastating domestic repercussions, leading to the extinction of the Kamakura shogunate.
The Kamakura period ended in 1333 with the destruction of the shogunate and the short reestablishment of imperial rule (the Kenmu restoration) under the Emperor Go-Daigo by Ashikaga Takauji, Nitta Yoshisada, and Kusunoki Masashige.
The Muromachi period is a division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573. The period marks the governance of the Ashikaga shogunate, also called Muromachi shogunate, which was officially established in 1336 by the first Muromachi shogun Ashikaga Takauji, who seized political power from Emperor Go-Daigo, ending the Kemmu restoration. The period ended in 1573 when the 15th and last shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki was driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga.
In the viewpoint of a cultural history, Kitayama period (14th end-15th first half) and Higashiyama period (15th second half-16th first half) exist in Muromachi period.
The early years of 1336 to 1392 of the Muromachi period is also known as the Nanboku-chō or Northern and Southern Court period, as the Imperial court was split in two.
The later years of 1467 to the end of the Muromachi period is also known as the Sengoku period, the "Warring States period", a time of intense internal warfare, and corresponds with the period of the first contacts with the West, with the arrival of Portuguese "Nanban" traders.
In 1543, a Portuguese ship, blown off its course to China, landed on Tanegashima Island Japan. Firearms introduced by Portuguese would bring the major innovation to Sengoku period culminating in the Battle of Nagashino where reportedly 3,000 arquebuses (the actual number is believed to be around 2,000) cut down charging ranks of samurai. During the following years, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries.
The Azuchi-Momoyama period runs from approximately 1568 to 1600. The period marks the military reunification and stabilization of the country under a single political ruler, first by the campaigns of Oda Nobunaga who almost united Japan, achieved later by one of his generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The name Azuchi-Momoyama comes from the names of their respective castles, Azuchi Castle and Momoyama castle.
After having united Japan, Hideyoshi invaded Korea in an attempt to conquer Korea, China, and even India. However, after two unsuccessful campaigns toward the allied forces of Korea and China and his death, his forces retreated from the Korean peninsula in 1598.
The short period of succession conflict to Hideyoshi was ended when Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the regents for Hideyoshi's young heir, emerged victorious at the Battle of Sekigahara and seized political power.
During the Edo period, also called the premodern era, the administration of the country was shared by over two hundred daimyo. The Tokugawa clan, leader of the victorious eastern army in the Battle of Sekigahara, was the most powerful of them, and for fifteen generations monopolized the title of Sei-i Taishōgun (often shortened to shōgun). With their headquarters at Edo (present-day Tokyo), the Tokugawa commanded the allegiance of the other daimyo, who in turn ruled their domains with a rather high degree of autonomy.
The shogunate carried out a number of significant policies. They placed the samurai class above the commoners: the agriculturists, artisans, and merchants. They enacted sumptuary laws limiting hair style, dress, and accessories. They organized commoners into groups of five, and held all responsible for the acts of each individual. To prevent daimyo from rebelling, the shoguns required them to maintain lavish residences in Edo and live at these residences on a rotating schedule; carry out expensive processions to and from their domains; contribute to the upkeep of shrines, temples, and roads; and seek permission before repairing their castles.
Many artistic developments took place during the Edo Period. Most significant among them were the ukiyo-e form of wood-block print, and the kabuki and bunraku theaters. Also, many of the most famous works for the koto and shakuhachi date from this time period.
Throughout the Edo Period, the development of commerce, the rise of the cities, and the pressure from foreign countries changed the environment in which the shoguns and daimyo ruled. In 1868, following the Boshin War, the shogunate collapsed, and a new government coalesced around the Emperor.
During the early part of the 17th century, the shogunate suspected that the traders and missionaries were actually forerunners of a military conquest by European powers. Christianity spread in Japan, especially among peasants. The shogunate suspected the loyalty of Christian peasants towards their daimyos and severely persecuted them. This led to a revolt by persecuted peasants and Christians in 1637 known as the Shimabara Rebellion which saw 30,000 Christians, samurai, and peasants facing a massive samurai army of more than 100,000 sent from Edo. The rebellion was crushed at a high cost to the shogun's army. After the eradication of the rebels at Shimabara, the shogunate placed foreigners under progressively tighter restrictions. It monopolized foreign policy, and expelled traders, missionaries, and foreigners, with the exception of the Dutch and Chinese merchants restricted to the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay and several small trading outposts outside the country. However, during this period of isolation (Sakoku) that began in 1635, Japan was much less cut off from the rest of the world than is commonly assumed, and some acquisition of western knowledge occurred under the Rangaku system.
The policy of isolation lasted for more than 200 years. In 1844, William II of the Netherlands sent a message urging Japan to open her doors, which resulted in Tokugawa shogunate's rejection. On July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy with four warships — the Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga, and Susquehanna — steamed into the bay at Edo, old Tokyo, and displayed the threatening power of his ships' cannons during a Christian burial, which the Japanese observed. He requested that Japan open to trade with the West. These ships became known as the kurofune, the Black Ships.
The following year, at the Convention of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854, Perry returned with seven ships and requested that the Shogun sign the "Treaty of Peace and Amity," establishing formal diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States. Within five years Japan had signed similar treaties with other western countries. The Harris Treaty was signed with the United States on July 29, 1858. These treaties were widely regarded by Japanese intellectuals as unequal, having been forced on Japan through gunboat diplomacy, and as a sign of the West's desire to incorporate Japan into the imperialism that had been taking hold of the rest of the Asian continent. Among other measures, they gave the Western nations unequivocal control of tariffs on imports and the right of extraterritoriality to all their visiting nationals. They would remain a sticking point in Japan's relations with the West up to the turn of the century.
Renewed contact with the West precipitated profound alteration of Japanese society. The shogun resigned and soon after the Boshin War of 1868, the emperor was restored to power. The subsequent "Meiji Restoration" initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished, the military was modernized, and numerous Western institutions were adopted, including a Western legal system and a quasi-parliamentary constitutional government, outlined in the Meiji Constitution, modeled on the constitutions of Germany, France, and the United States. While many aspects of the Meiji Restoration were adopted directly from Western institutions, others, such as the dissolution of the feudal system and removal of the shogunate, were processes that had begun long before the arrival of Perry.
"...the seed is sown, and Japan will move, upon the whole, in the direction of progress." Andrew Carnegie, Round the World (1878)
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 Kuril 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, signalling Japan's new status among the nations of the world. In a few decades, by reforming and modernizing social, educational, economic, military, political and industrial systems, the Emperor Meiji's "controlled revolution" had transformed a feudal and isolated state into a world power.
Japanese intellectuals of the late-Meiji period espoused the concept of a "line of advantage," an idea that would help to justify Japanese foreign policy at the turn of the century. According to this principle, embodied in the slogan fukoku kyōhei, Japan would be vulnerable to aggressive Western imperialism unless it extended a line of advantage beyond its borders which would help to repel foreign incursions and strengthen the Japanese economy. Emphasis was especially placed on Japan's "preeminent interests" in the Korean Peninsula, once famously described as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Japan." It was tensions over Korea and Manchuria, respectively, that led Japan to become involved in the first Sino-Japanese War with China in 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War with Russia in 1904-1905.
The war with China made Japan the world's first Eastern, modern imperial power, and the war with Russia proved that a Western power could be defeated by an Eastern state. The aftermath of these two wars left Japan the dominant power in the Far East, with a sphere of influence extending over southern Manchuria and Korea, which was formally annexed as part of the Japanese Empire in 1910. Japan had also gained half of Sakhalin Island from Russia.
For Japan and for the moment, it established the country's dominant interest in Korea, while giving it the Pescadores Islands, Formosa (now Taiwan), and the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria, which was eventually retroceded in the "humiliating" Triple Intervention. Over the next decade, Japan would flaunt its growing prowess, including a very significant contribution to the Eight-Nation Alliance, formed to quell China's Boxer Rebellion. Many Japanese, however, believed their new empire was still regarded as inferior by the Western powers, and they sought a means of cementing their international standing. This set the climate for growing tensions with Russia, who would continually intrude into Japan's "line of advantage" during this time.
The Anglo Japanese Alliance treaty was signed between the United Kingdom and Japan on January 30, 1902, and announced on February 12, 1902. It was renewed in 1905 and 1911 before its demise in 1921 and its termination in 1923. It was a military alliance between the two countries that threatened Russia and Germany. Due to this alliance, Japan entered World War I on the side of Great Britain. Japan attacked German bases in China and sent troops to the Mediterranean in 1917. Through this treaty, there was also great cultural exchange between the two countries.
In a manner perhaps reminiscent of its participation in quelling the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century, Japan entered World War I and declared war on the Central Powers. Though Japan's role in World War I was limited largely to attacking German colonial outposts in East Asia, it took advantage of the opportunity 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. It also attacked and occupied the German coaling port of Qingdao in the Chinese Shandong peninsula.
The post-war 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 in a movement known as 'Taishō Democracy'. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the late 1920s and 1930s during the Depression era, and its state became increasingly militarized. This was due to the increasing powers of military leaders and was similar to the actions some European nations were taking leading up to World War II. These shifts in power were made possible by the ambiguity and imprecision of the Meiji Constitution, particularly its measure that the legislative body was answerable to the Emperor and not the people. The Kodoha, a militarist faction, even attempted a coup d'état known as the February 26 Incident, which was crushed after three days by Emperor Shōwa.
Party politics came under increasing fire because it was believed they were divisive to the nation and promoted self-interest where unity was needed. As a result, the major parties voted to dissolve themselves and were absorbed into a single party, the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA), which also absorbed many prefectural organizations such as women's clubs and neighborhood associations. However, this umbrella organization did not have a cohesive political agenda and factional in-fighting persisted throughout its existence, meaning Japan did not devolve into a totalitarian state. The IRAA has been likened to a sponge, in that it could soak everything up, but there is little one could do with it afterwards. Its creation was precipitated by a series of domestic crises, including the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the actions of extremists such as the members of the Cherry Blossom Society, who enacted the May 15 Incident.
Under the pretext of the Manchurian Incident, Lieutenant Colonel Kanji Ishiwara invaded Inner (Chinese) Manchuria in 1931, an action the Japanese government ratified with the creation of the puppet state of Manchukuo under the last Chinese emperor, Pu Yi. As a result of international condemnation of the incident, Japan resigned from the League of Nations in 1933. After several more similar incidents fueled by an expansionist military, the second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937 after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.
During the first part of the Shōwa period, according to the Meiji Constitution, the Emperor had the "supreme command of the Army and the Navy" (Article 11). From 1937, Emperor Shōwa became supreme commander of the Imperial General Headquarters, by which the military decisions were made. This ad-hoc body consisted of the chief and vice chief of the Army, the minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Navy, the minister of the Navy, the inspector general of military aviation, and the inspector general of military training.
Having joined the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936, Japan formed the Axis Pact with Germany and Italy on September 27, 1940. Many Japanese politicians believed war with the Occident to be inevitable due to inherent cultural differences and Western imperialism. Japanese imperialism was then justified by the revival of the traditional concept of hakko ichiu, the divine right of the emperor to unite and rule the world.
Japan fought the Soviet Union in 1938 in the Battle of Lake Khasan and in 1939 in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. Comprehensive defeat of the Japanese by the Soviets led by Zhukov in the latter battle led to the signing of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact.
Tensions were mounting with the U.S. as a result of public outcry over Japanese aggression and reports of atrocities in China, such as the infamous Nanjing Massacre. In retaliation to the invasion of French Indochina the U.S. began an embargo on such goods as petroleum products and scrap iron. On July 25, 1941, all Japanese assets in the US were frozen. Because Japan's military might, especially the Navy, was dependent on their dwindling oil reserves, this action had the contrary effect of increasing Japan's dependence on and hunger for new acquisitions.
Many civil leaders of Japan, including Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro, believed a war with America would end in defeat, but felt the concessions demanded by the U.S. would almost certainly relegate Japan from the ranks of the World Powers, leaving it prey to Western collusion. Civil leaders offered political compromises in the form of the Amau Doctrine, dubbed the "Japanese Monroe Doctrine" that would have given the Japanese free rein with regards to war with China. These offers were flatly rejected by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull; the military leaders instead vied for quick military action.
Most military leaders such as Osami Nagano, Kotohito Kan'in, Hajime Sugiyama and Hideki Tōjō believed that war with the Occident was inevitable. They finally convinced Emperor Shōwa to sanction on November 1941 an attack plan against U.S., Great Britain and the Netherlands. However, there were dissenters in the ranks about the wisdom of that option, most notably Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku and Prince Takamatsu. They pointedly warned that at the beginning of hostilities with the US, the Empire would have the advantage for six months, after which Japan's defeat in a prolonged war would be almost certain.
The Americans were expecting an attack in the Philippines (and stationed troops appropriate to this conjecture), but on Yamamoto Isoroku's advice, Japan made the decision to attack Pearl Harbor where it would make the most damage in the least amount of time. The United States believed that Japan would never be so bold as to attack so close to its home base (Hawaii had not yet become a state) and was taken completely by surprise.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, sanctioned by Emperor Shōwa on December 1, 1941, occurred on December 7 (December 8 in Japan) and the Japanese were successful in their surprise attack. Although the Japanese won the battle, the attack proved a long-term strategic disaster that actually did relatively little lasting damage to the U.S. military and provoked the United States to retaliate with full commitment against Japan and its allies. At the same time as the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese army attacked colonial Hong Kong and occupied it for nearly four years.
While Nazi Germany was in the middle of its Blitzkrieg through Europe, Japan was following suit in Asia. In addition to already having colonized Taiwan and Manchuria, the Japanese Army invaded and captured most of the coastal Chinese cities such as Shanghai, and had conquered French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), British Malaya (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore) as well as the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) while Thailand entered into a loose alliance with Japan. They had also conquered Burma (Myanmar) and reached the borders of India and Australia, conducting air raids on the port of Darwin, Australia. Japan had soon established an empire stretching over much of the Pacific.
However the Japanese Navy's offensive ability was crippled on its defeat in the Battle of Midway at the hands of the American Navy which turned the tide against them. After almost four years of war resulting in the loss of three million Japanese lives, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the daily air raids on Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, the destruction of all other major cities (except Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura, for their historical importance), and finally the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan the day before the second atomic bomb was dropped, Japan signed an instrument of surrender on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945. Symbolically, the deck of the Missouri was furnished bare except for two American flags. One had flown on the mast of Commodore Perry's ship when he had sailed into that same bay nearly a century earlier to urge the opening of Japan's ports to foreign trade. The other U.S. flag came off the battleship while anchored in Tokyo Bay, it had not flown over the White House or the Capitol Building on 7 December 1941, it was "... just a plain ordinary GI flag."
As a result of its defeat at the end 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 the Republic of China; Japan renounced all claims to Formosa; Korea was taken under the control of the UN; 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 International Military Tribunal for the Far East, an international war crimes tribunal, sentenced seven Japanese military and government officials to death on November 12, 1948, including General Hideki Tōjō, for their roles in the war.
Defeat came for a number of reasons. The most important is probably Japan's underestimation of the industro-military capabilities of the U.S. The U.S. recovered from its initial setback at Pearl Harbor much quicker than the Japanese expected, and their sudden counterattack came as a blow to Japanese morale. U.S. output of military products was also much higher than Japanese counterparts over the course of the war. Another reason was factional in-fighting between the Army and Navy, which led to poor intelligence and cooperation. This was compounded as the Japanese forces found they had overextended themselves, leaving Japan itself vulnerable to attack. Another important factor is Japan's underestimation of resistance in China, which Japan claimed would be conquered in three months. The prolonged war was both militarily and economically disastrous for Japan.
After the war, Japan was placed under international control of the American-led Allied powers in the Asia-Pacific region through General Douglas MacArthur as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. This was the first time since the unification of Japan that the island nation was successfully occupied by a foreign power. Some high officers of the Shōwa regime were prosecuted and convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. However, Emperor Shōwa, all members of the imperial family implicated in the war such as prince Asaka, prince Chichibu, prince Takeda, prince Higashikuni, prince Fushimi, as well as Shirō Ishii and all members of unit 731 were exonerated from criminal prosecutions by MacArthur.
Entering the Cold War with the Korean War, Japan came to be seen as an important ally of the US government. Political, economic, and social reforms were introduced, such as an elected Japanese Diet (legislature) and expanded 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 on March 20, 1952, and under the terms of the treaty, Japan regained full sovereignty on April 28, 1952.
Under the terms of the peace treaty and later agreements, the United States maintains naval bases at Sasebo, Okinawa and at Yokosuka. A portion of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, including one aircraft carrier (currently USS George Washington (CVN-73)), is based at Yokosuka. This arrangement is partially intended to provide for the defense of Japan, as the treaty and the new Japanese constitution imposed during the occupation severely restrict the size and purposes of Japanese Self-Defence Forces in the modern period.
After a series of realignment of political parties, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the leftist Social Democratic Party (SDP) were formed in 1955. The political map in Japan had been largely unaltered until early 1990s and LDP had been the largest political party in the national politics. LDP politicians and government bureaucrats focused on economic policy. From the 1950s to the 1980s, Japan experienced its rapid development into a major economic power, through a process often referred to as the Japanese post-war economic miracle.
Japan's biggest postwar political crisis took place in 1960 over the revision of the Japan-United States Mutual Security Assistance Pact. As the new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was concluded, which renewed the United States role as military protector of Japan, massive street protests and political upheaval occurred, and the cabinet resigned a month after the Diet's ratification of the treaty. Thereafter, political turmoil subsided. Japanese views of the United States, after years of mass protests over nuclear armaments and the mutual defense pact, improved by 1972 with the reversion of United States-occupied Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty and the winding down of the Vietnam War.
Japan had reestablished relations with the Republic of China after World War II, and cordial relations were maintained with the nationalist government when it was exiled to Taiwan, a policy that won Japan the enmity of the People's Republic of China, which was established in 1949. After the general warming of relations between China and Western countries, especially the United States, which shocked Japan with its sudden rapprochement with Beijing in 1971, Tokyo established relations with Beijing in 1972. Close cooperation in the economic sphere followed. Japan's relations with the Soviet Union continued to be problematic long after the war. The main object of dispute was the Soviet occupation of what Japan calls its Northern Territories, the two most southerly islands in the Kurils (Etorofu and Kunashiri) and Shikotan and the Habomai Islands, which were seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II.
Throughout the postwar period, Japan's economy continued to boom, with results far outstripping expectations. Given a massive boost by the Korean War, in which it acted as a major supplier to the UN 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 steel working, car manufacturing and the manufacturing of electronic goods. Japan rapidly caught up with the West in foreign trade, GNP, and general quality of life. These achievements were underscored by the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and the Osaka International Exposition in 1970. The high economic growth and political tranquility of the mid to late 1960s were tempered by the quadrupling of oil prices by the OPEC in 1973. Almost completely dependent on imports for petroleum, Japan experienced its first recession since World War II. Another serious problem was Japan's growing trade surplus, which reached record heights during Nakasone's first term. The United States pressured Japan to remedy the imbalance, demanding that Tokyo raise the value of the yen and open its markets further to facilitate more imports from the United States.
1989 marked one of the most rapid economic growth spurts in Japanese history. With a strong yen and a favorable exchange rate with the dollar, the Bank of Japan kept interest rates low, sparking an investment boom that drove Tokyo property values up sixty percent within the year. Shortly before New Year's Day, the Nikkei 225 reached its record high of 39,000. By 1991, it had fallen to 15,000, signifying the end of Japan's famed bubble economy. Unemployment ran reasonably high, but not at crisis levels. Rather than suffer large scale unemployment and layoffs, Japan's labor market suffered in more subtle, yet no less profound effects that were nonetheless difficult to gauge statistically. During the prosperous times, jobs were seen as long term even to the point of being life long. In contrast, Japan during the lost decade saw a marked increase in temporary and part time work which only promised employment for short periods and marginal benefits. This also created a generational gap, as those who had entered the labor market prior to the lost decade usually retained their employment and benefits, and were effectively insulated from the economic slowdown, whereas younger workers who entered the market a few years later suffered the brunt of its effects.
In a series of financial scandals of the LDP, a coalition led by Morihiro Hosokawa took power in 1993. Hosokawa succeeded to legislate a new plurality voting election law instead of the stalemated multi-member constituency election system. However, the coalition collapsed the next year as parties had gathered to simply overthrow LDP and lacked a unified position on almost every social issue. The LDP returned to the government in 1996, when it helped to elect Social Democrat Tomiichi Murayama as prime minister.
The Great Hanshin earthquake hit Kobe on January 17, 1995. 6,000 people were killed and 44,000 were injured. 250,000 houses were destroyed or burned in a fire. The amount of damage totaled more than ten trillion yen. In March of the same year the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo attacked on the Tokyo subway system with sarin gas and killed 12 and hundreds were injured. Later the investigation revealed that the cult was responsible for dozens of murders that occurred prior to the gas attacks.
Junichiro Koizumi was president of the LDP and Prime Minister of Japan from April 2001 to September 2006. Koizumi enjoyed high approval ratings. He was known as an economic reformer and he privatised the national postal system. Koizumi also had an active involvement in the War on Terrorism, sending 1,000 soldiers of the Japan Self-Defense Forces to help in Iraq's reconstruction after the Iraq War, the biggest overseas troop deployment since World War II.
The current government is led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. The ruling coalition is formed by the liberal Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the leftist Social Democratic Party and the conservative People's New Party. The opposition is formed by the liberal conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Other parties are the New Komeito Party, a theocratic Buddhist political party based on the Buddhist sect Sōka Gakkai and the Japanese Communist Party.
One commonly accepted periodization of Japanese history:
|30,000 BC – 10,000 BC||Japanese Paleolithic||unknown|
|10,000 BC – 3000 BC||Ancient Japan||Jōmon||local clans|
|900 BC – 250 AD (overlaps)||Yayoi||local clans|
|c. 250 – 538 AD||Kofun||Yamato clans|
|538 – 710 AD||Classical Japan||Asuka|
|710 – 794||Nara||Imperial court in Nara|
|794 – 1185||Heian||Imperial court in Heian|
|1185 – 1333||Feudal Japan||Kamakura||Kamakura shogunate|
|1333 – 1336||Kemmu restoration||Emperor of Japan|
|1336 – 1392||Muromachi||Nanboku-cho||Ashikaga shogunate, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi,|
|1392 – 1573||Sengoku period|
|1573 – 1603||Azuchi-Momoyama|
|1600 – 1867||Early Modern Japan||Edo||Tokugawa shogunate|
|1868 – 1912||Modern Japan||Meiji||limited monarchy (Emperor Meiji)|
|1912 – 1926||Taishō||Taisho democracy||limited monarchy (Emperor Taishō)|
|1926 – 1945||Shōwa||Expansionism||limited monarchy (Emperor Shōwa)|
|1945 – 1952||Occupied Japan||Supreme Commander Allied Powers|
|1952 – 1989||Post-occupation||parliamentary democracy; Emperor is symbol of state|
|1989 – present||Heisei|
Era Name (Nengō) in Japan (after Meiji)