As a result of the shortage of land, its largest cities ring the coastline. The mammoth metropolis of Tokyo, and the other major cities along the Pacific Ocean are home to most of its people.
The first ever recorded mention of Japan was made in the first century AD. By 710 AD its first permanent capital was founded.
At the turn of the 8th century, the Nara period developed, pushing Japan into a golden age, and inspiring a wave of Buddhist art and architecture.
Unfortunately for the Naras, a smallpox epidemic between the years of 735-737 killed nearly one-third of the country's population, and by 784 the Heian period had taken over.
From the Heian era a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture was produced, one that was known for its art, poetry and prose; including the national anthem of Japan.
As the Heian period came to an end in the mid-1100s, various military clans rose to power, and the feudal Kamakura period was born.
For the next 700 years, Japan was controlled by powerful regional families (daimyo) and territorial warlords (shogun), while the emperor and traditional central government were merely confined to ceremonial affairs.
The Kamakuras found themselves fighting off repeated invasions by the Mongols, whose naval technology and weaponry were far superior. Their lucky break came in the form of a typhoon that completely ravaged the invading Mongol forces, and ultimately saved Japan from being seized.
Despite the Mongol's failed attempt at gaining control of Japan, the Japanese remained fearful of further attacks, and ultimately exhausted the country's finances on an extravagant army in order to keep up a constant state of readiness.
As a consequence, the economy faltered, and so did the Kamakuran era.
After the Kamakura shogunate was overthrown, a period of restoration occurred, known as the Kemmu Restoration, headed by Emperor Go-Daigo.
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Japan prefectures & their capitals
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This page was last modified on September 29, 2015.