A quick guide to key events in Japanese history
Update: 31 August 2016

A quick guide to key events in Japanese history

Japan, Asia's economic powerhouse, has gone through various turning points in history. Let's take a deep look into the history of Japan and rediscover its charms.

Looking into the history helps us understand the present Japan better!

Japan was established as a country in around the third century, albeit under a different name, appearing in China's historical writing called Gishi Wajinden. We will introduce the origins of the nation, Japan clearly in the news style.

Women are strong!? Himiko united Japan as a country

Japan was a small country called Wakoku from around the beginning of the first century until the late 7th century when the name was changed to Japan. There were more than 30 states, large and small, within the country, with never-ending disputes. This is where Queen Himiko came in. It is said that there had been no dispute since the heads of the states chose Himiko as the queen of Wakoku. Later in the 4th century, the centralized government Yamato dynasty arose and unified the country.

The first coup d'etat in Japan broke out!

In the Asuka period in the 7th century, Soga who had a close relationship with the Imperial family and had become a major force in the Imperial Court was assassinated. This is the Taika Reforms. It is said to be Japan's first coup d'etat and caused by the supporters of the emperor who were irritated with the Soga clan's act of neglecting the emperor.
This put the Japanese politics on the track towards the realization of consolidation of centralized control centering around the Imperial family.

The international character of the Nara Period

In the Nara period which lasted for about 80 years from the year 710, the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government) was established and diplomatic relations with China were actively developed. The Japanese society was deeply influenced by Tang culture. They sent envoys called Kento-shi to Tang to actively take in Tang culture. Large temples including Daian-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, and Todai-ji Temple, and the famous Great Buddha in Nara were built.

Heian period when the Japanese culture blossomed

Heian period started in the late 8th century. By the advent of hiragana (the Japanese cursive syllabary) the culture such as waka (syllable Japanese poem) and tanka (Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables) peculiar to Japan bloomed. From the way Imperial Court ladies were dressed, we can see they were wearing Junihitoe, which is a layer of coloful kimono and had a black long hair hanging down. The concept of Japanese beauty must have been established in this period.

Endless wars! The birth of warriors

Until Heian period in the 7th century, Japanese politics had been administrated by the emperor. In the 12th century, warriors who once were guards for the aristcracy were gaining strength. Those warriors who won the authority by force of arm established a political structure, shogunate government for the first time in the 12th century. The era of warriors started. However, repeated power struggles triggered disputes throughout the country. This turbulent times had continued on until the country was place under one rule. Later on, the period has come to be called the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States).

The 3 generals who exerted themselves for the era

In the Sengoku period, not only warriors but also farmers were involved in a battle. The trend of retainers overthrowing their lords was spreading. In the middle of the 16th century, a general called Oda Nobunaga brought an end to the turbulent times. It appeared as if the unification of the whole country was about to be achived. However, Nobunaga was assassinated by his retainer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. His rule lasted only for 3 days. After that, Hideyoshi brought the country under his rule. Then, Ieyasu Tokugawa who won the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 rose to power. The Tokugawa family established Edo period which lasted for 200 years.

Popular culture in Edo such as kabuki (Japanese classical drama) and ukiyoe (color print of everyday life) flourished

In 1603 , Ieyasu Tokugawa established a political structure, Edo shogunate in the place of the current Tokyo. Battles weren't occuring any more and there was peace. Edo had many people moving into and was blessed with culture such as kabuki, ukiyoe, and kimono. The ordinary people were creating new culture one after another from a free idea and viewpoint in Edo where there was freedom and full of energy.

Kurofune (Western ships)brought terror into the peaceful town of Edo

In 1853, there was an incident which set the peaceful town of Edo in a blaze. Suddenly, Kurofune, Perry's squadron from America appeared on the sea. At that time, Japan had the isolation policy and foreign trade was prohibited. However, Perry had a letter from the President of America and demanded Japan to open to the world. There was a group of people for starting trade with foreign countries, while others insisted the political power of warriors be returned to the Emperor. The country was in turmoil.

A farewell to chonmage (a topknot)

In 1867, the shogunate which lasted for a few hundred years ended. And the Meiji era in which the emperor reigned again started. The new government established a constitution by referring to political structures in western countries. Modernization rapidly advanced in Japan. A lot of western cultures were brought in, dresses and photographs are in fashion. Warriors had their topknot cut off and got a Western hairstyle. Samurai disapeared from the town.

An economic power of Asia!

The First World War broke out in 1914. Japan and the United States, the 2 emerging countries served as production base and promoted the trade. Japan enjoyed the unprecedented prosperity. In 1939, the Second World War broke out, involving the whole world. Japan got defeated in this war which lasted for as long as 6 years. However Japan was miraculously reconstructed based on its economy. Various products including household appliances and automobiles are highly vauled worldwide. The manufacturing in Japan has been getting attention.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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