An Abridged History Of Japan

The oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world arose from the Land of the Rising Sun.


Prehistoric Japan

It is estimated that humans have inhabited the islands we now know as Japan for as far back as 35,000 BC, a period regarded as the Japanese Paleolithic period. The earliest human remains detected in Japan dates back to 14,000 to 18,000 years ago. Japanese prehistoric human inhabitants are also believed to have been more advanced in nature than humans in other parts of the world as evident by the discovery of ground and polished stone tools in the region dating back to 30,000 BC. Such advents in tool design were observed in other parts of the world at a much later stage at around 10,000 BC. Thus Japanese Paleolithic traits thus actually corresponded to the Mesolithic and Neolithic advancements in other areas of the world.

Jomon Period

The Jomon Period of prehistoric Japan extends between 14,500 BC to about 800 BC. This was the period when the hunter-gatherers in the region started settling down and underwent rapid cultural growth. Pottery with impressions of cords, jewelry and tools made of stone, bones, antlers, and shells were just some of the artifacts developed during this period. A period of population explosion started around 8,000 BC and continued until about 1500 BC. Towards the end of the Jomon period, cooling temperatures led to a contraction of the population. Contact with the Korean Peninsula also led to the infiltration of new settlers who introduced rice farming and bronze metallurgy in Japan.

660 BC to 1333 AD

The history of Japan between 660 BC and 1333 AD encompasses the Yayoi Period, the Kofun Period, the Classical Period ending with the beginning of the Kamakura Period. Japan during the Yayoi Period underwent significant development in the field of agriculture and weapons manufacturing. Silk production, weaving, and glass making were developed during this time. The Kofun Period (250–538 BC) witnessed a gradual unification of Japan into a single kingdom while the Classical Period (538-1185) is marked by the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, the development of the earliest dynasties of the country, and the extensive political, cultural, and social growth of the Japanese. The Classical Period gave way to Medieval Japan which was marked by the establishment of a new government by Yoritomo in Kamakura during the Kamakura period (1185–1333). Literature and art flourished in Japan during this period.

1333 to 1868

Between 1333 and 1868, the political power of Japan shifted hands several times marked by the Muromachi period between 1333–1568 and the Azuchi–Momoyama period between1568–1600. Several wars and skirmishes also became an integral part of the country’s history during such times. The Edo period (1600–1868) that followed was a time of peace and stability in Japan. The juridical system of this period was very strict and executions were carried out for even petty crimes. There was a massive growth of Japanese population during this period as well as a large output in the cultural sphere was also exhibited.

1868 to 1914

The Meiji Period dominated the history of Japan between 1868 and 1914. During this period, the Emperor only had nominal powers while the Meiji Government was primarily headed by highly efficient statesman with an ambition to develop Japan into a modern state with an influential role in world politics and economy. A universal education system, railways, telegraph lines and other infrastructural facilities underwent rapid growth during this period. Westernization was encouraged and the ban on Christianity was lifted. By the end of the Meiji period, Japan had transformed into an industrial economy with high levels of prosperity among its people.

2 World Wars and Imperial Expansion

Japan during World War I sided with the Allies and at the end of the war enjoyed good relations with many major economic powers, acquired new territory and became economically highly stable. Japan witnessed the Great Tokyo Earthquake in 1923 that killed thousands of people and destroyed the homes of over 3 million. In the next few years, the country became increasingly bold in its attempts to expand its territory that led to skirmishes of Japan with China. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937 was evidence of this fact. The United States condemned the Japanese invasion of China, leading to Japan seeking an alliance with Germany and Italy during World War II. World War II brought horrors to the people of Japan when large-scale bombings, including the Hiroshima-Nagasaki atomic bombings of Japan by the USA, wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent civilians in the country.

Japan Since World War 2

Following in the wake of World War II, after the defeat of Axis powers by the Allies, Japan was occupied by the Allied forces between 1945 and 1952, which ended in 1952 after the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951. It was not long before Japan started recovering and soon its economy became more powerful that even its pre-war levels. In 1956, Japan became a UN member and in 1964 hosted the Tokyo Olympic Games. Both these events strengthened the position of Japan in the international scenario. Currently, the Japanese economy is one of the strongest in the world and Japan enjoys being one of the most developed countries in the world, being a highly industrialized nation with well-developed infrastructural components.


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