A brief history of Japan

Japan has a long history with the first humans arriving on the islands around 35,000BC. The first signs of civilisation can be traced back to 14,000 BC with the beginning of the Jomon period which lasted until 300BC. The Yayoi period that followed saw the introduction of Bronze and Iron making as well as more sophisticated farming methods. Japan first appeared in written records in 57AD and was mentioned in a Chinese text.

The ancient Japanese were thought to have frequent contact with the Chinese and other Asian peoples. The Japanese imperial line began in 250AD with the tribes forming into powerful clans that established the dominant Yamato polity. During this time Japan began to form close ties with the peoples of Korea with trade being established. The Shinto religion was widespread then as it continues to be today.

In 552 Buddhism was introduced to Japan and thanks to the efforts of Japans regent, Prince Shotoku Buddhism spread and Chinese culture was embraced. The 8th century is often regarded as Japans golden age with the establishment of a new capital in Kyoto and a more organised government based on Imperial China.  This period saw the rise of the Fujiwara clan as the dominant force in the country; other clans also rose in power. In 1156 the good times ended as the powerful clans began to clash resulting in the Gempei War and the rise of the samurai and shoguns, marking the beginning of feudal Japan.

Feudal Japan is a period of time where Japan was dominated by powerful regional families and military warlords. The emperors remained but had very little power; they were mainly used as a figurehead for the nation.

The Samurai wielded the true power and the de facto national ruler or ‘Shogun’ ruled with an iron fist. The period saw almost constant warfare between rival clans and warlords. Shogunate’s rose and fell. A major event of the period was the Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281. Massive Mongol  forces attempted a full scale invasion but were thwarted by a famous typhoon called the kamikaze (divine wind), the invasions had a devastating impact on the ruling Shogunate and Japans economy was ruined as the country spent too much on defence in fear of a third invasion attempt.  Japan remained the same for centuries with constant infighting and isolation from the rest of the world. That is until 1543 when the Portuguese arrived accidently after being blown off course on their way to China.

As with most instances where Europeans met a new culture they introduced good old firearms and Christianity. Whilst Christianity didn’t take off the use of firearms certainly did. At the battle of Nagashino 3,000 harquebus’s cut down an army of samurai. The balance of power was shifting. In 1603 the Edo era began. The new shogunate brought a new era of peace and began a policy of isolation from the outside world. All Christian missionaries were forced to leave and trade with foreigners was stopped.  Christianity however had already taken root and the religion was popular amongst the peasant class. Foreigners and Christians were placed under strict restrictions.

In 1637 the Shimabara Rebellion took place where a massive samurai army put down a revolt of Christians and disgruntled Ronin. After the rebellion the Shogun expelled all foreign traders and missionaries with the exception of the Dutch and Chinese.  This policy of isolation lasted for more than 200 years.

In 1844 the King of the Netherlands urged Japan to open up to the rest of the world, his pleas were ignored. In 1853 an American called Matthew Perry steamed into Yokohama bay with four US warships and gave an ultimatum. Japan must open to trade with the West or else. This was a prime example of gunboat diplomacy. The Japanese reluctantly accepted not wanting to feel the brunt of the powerful warships cannons.

In 1868 the Japanese began to embrace the outside world and undertook radical political, economic and cultural transformations. The country became unified under the banner of the Empire of Japan and it didn’t take long before it was flexing its imperial muscle. The Japanese colonised Taiwan and Korea. In World War One Japan entered the conflict on the side of the Allies, due its location Japans sole role was to capture Germanys Asian territories. Japan went to war with Russia resting control of parts of Manchuria. Post World War One Japan became a highly prosperous nation. In 1931 the Japanese staged the infamous Manchurian Incident that was used as an excuse for Japanese forces to invade China. As a result of international condemnation Japan left the League of Nations and the world teetered on the edge of war.

Relations between the USA deteriorated and Japan launched a surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbour. Japans war with the US raged on until 1945 when the United States dropped two atomic bombs onto the country wiping out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Since then Japan has been heavily influenced by the Americans and became an open minded democracy, and rapidly became one of the wealthiest and technologically advanced nations in the world. Its economy boomed until the Great recession impacted heavily on the nation’s economy. In 2011 the northern part of the country was devastated by a massive earthquake and Tsunami. Japan has done well to recover and is back on the right track to economic stability.