Japan: Historical Overview                                            

For more in depth history of Japan navigate your way through different time periods here (scroll to Japan and click the down arrow to start)!

10,500 BC               

During the Jomon Period, the inhabitants lived by fishing, hunting and gathering. 


300 BC                      

During the Yayoi Period, rice cultivation was introduced from the Korean Peninsula.



During the Kofun Period, a unified state (Yamoto Court) was created by the ancestors of the current imperial family. 



During the Nara Period, a central government system, based on Chinese-style law, called ritsuryo was put in place in the capital city of Nara. Buddhism became the national religion.



During the Heian Period, the Chinese-style government was replaced by a local Japanese-style government led by Japanese noble families.



During the Kamakura Period, Minamoto no Yoritomo was given the title of shogun by the court. He set up a military-style government at Kamakura (called Kamakura Shogunate) which lead to a period ruled by members of the warrior class. 



During the Muromachi Period, elegant tatami-matted rooms came into style as well as tea ceremonies and the art of ikebana flower arranging. Politically, this time included a period of warring states.



During the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, the nation was reunified by Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. At this time, the European influence became stronger. The tea master Sen no Rikyu developed the tea ceremony into an esthetic discipline that is known as the Way of Tea.


During the Edo Period, after decades of civil warfare, Tokugawa established the Tokugawa Shogunate (a military-led, dynastic government) in Edo (now Tokyo). During Tokugawa Shogunate, there was a long period of relative political stability. The Tokugawa shoguns ruled Japan for over 260 years, and for about 200 of these years, the country was virtually shut off from foreign contact by the shogunate's policy of national seclusion.  



Japan opened its ports after signing the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854 and began to intensively modernize and industrialize.



During the Meiji Period, the policy of national seclusion was withdrawn and the culture and civilization of the West began to influence Japanese life. 


Late 19th and early 20th century           

Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island.



Literature, drama, music and art were all developed during the Taisho Period.



During the Showa Period, there was a financial crisis in 1927, which occurred right after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923—that devastated the Tokyo area. This led to a long period of economic depression. The power of the military increased and it eventually it gained control of the government.



Japan occupied Manchuria.  



Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China.



The “Manchurian Incident of 1931” launched a series of events that culminated in Japan's entry into World War II. In 1941, Japan attacked US forces—triggering the US’s entry into World War II. Japan soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. This war ended in Japan's defeat, with Emperor Showa accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and an ally of the US.  


1989 to present    

Leading up to and during the Heisei Period, Japan rose from the post-war destruction and defeat to achieve an almost miraculous economic recovery—which has allowed it to take its place among the world's leading democratic powers.



Following three decades of unprecedented growth, Japan's economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s, but the country remains a strong economic power today.



Japan's strongest-ever earthquake, and an accompanying tsunami, devastated the northeast part of Honshu island, killed thousands, and damaged several nuclear power plants. The catastrophe weakened the country's economy and its energy infrastructure, and tested its ability to deal with disasters.



While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians hold actual decision-making power.