History of Japan
Experience the History of Japan with WisdomMaps: The Future of the Past!
Our digital history of Japan begins with the arrival of the first humans in the Japanese islands around 30,000 BC. This gave rise to Jōmon period, known for its cord-marked pottery. This was followed by the Yayoi period in which people from the mainland introduced iron technology and agriculture. With a productive rice culture, the Yayoi grew rapidly and overwhelmed the indigenous Jōmon people, who were hunter-gatherers.
From the fourth through ninth centuries, Japan’s many kingdoms and tribes became unified in a centralized government ruled by an emperor in a ceremonial role. In 794, a new imperial capital was established at Heian-kyō (now Kyoto). And so began the Heian period, a golden age of classical Japanese culture. During this time, Japanese religion became a mix of animist Shinto beliefs and Buddhism.
Over the following centuries, the power of the imperial house waned and passed first to great civilian clans like the Fujiwara, and then to the military clans and their samurai defenders. After seizing power, the Minamoto clan set up their capital in Kamakura and their leader Yoritomo took the title of shōgun. This Kamakura shogunate repelled two Mongol invasions only to be toppled by a rival claimant to the shogunate in 1333. Regional warlords called daimyō grew in power at the expense of the shōgun.
Eventually, Japan descended into civil war, but was reunified in the late 16th century under the prominent daimyō Oda Nobunaga and his successors, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Their Tokugawa shogunate governed from Edo (now Tokyo) and presided over the prosperous and peaceful Edo period (1600–1868). But the Tokugawa also imposed a strict class system on Japanese society and cut off almost all contact with the outside world.
The history of Japan was altered forever in 1543, when the Portuguese became the first Europeans to reach Japan. They had a significant impact on Japan by introducing firearms. Then the American Admiral Perry arrived in 1853 to demand an end to Japan’s seclusion and Western access. This precipitated the fall of the shogunate and the rise of new national government in the Meiji period. The Meiji opened Japan to the outside world and brought it to adopt Western models in pursuit of great power status.
Although both democracy and a vibrant civilian culture prospered during the Taishō period (1912–26), Japan’s powerful military overwhelmed Japan’s civilian leaders and invaded Manchuria in 1931. Soon, the conflict grew into a long war with China, and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to war with the United States and its allies. Japan’s armed forces soon became overextended, but held out in spite of devastating Allied air attacks that culminated with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945.
The Americans occupied Japan until 1952 and transformed Japan into a constitutional monarchy. Japan experienced very high economic growth under the Liberal Democratic Party, and became a global economic powerhouse. But ever since the Lost Decade of the 1990s, economic growth has stagnated and its relations with its Asian neighbors have deteriorated over recurring historical animosities.
That said, here’s our assortment… please enjoy! When you’re done perusing a map, click the ⇠ back arrow link in the upper left of your screen (not the < link), and you’ll be back here. Any problems, please get in touch at [email protected]
Japan Index | Origins | Jomon Period | Yayoi Period | Kofun Period | Classical Period: Society • Culture • Religion • Shinto • Buddhism • Power | Nara Period: Society • Culture • Architecture • Drama • Ritual • Scholarship | Heian Period: Society • Culture • Architecture • Literature • Religion • Power | Kamakura Period: Power | Muromachi Period: Society • Class • Power • Economy: Infrastructure • Trade | Warring States Period: Society • Religion • Power | Edo Period: Society • Conflict • Policy • Reforms • Class • Women • Culture • Architecture • Art • Woodblock Prints • Floating World • Literature • Ihara Saikaku • Poetry • Philosophy • Scholarship • Theatre • Religion • Power • Ieyasu: Governance • Foreign Affairs • The West • Economy • Commerce • Money • Trade | Meiji Period: Society • Culture • Power: Progression • Governance • Economy | Taisho Period: Society • Culture • Power • Economy | Militarism: Society • Power • War in Asia: Origins • Goals | Occupation: Society • Power • Economy | Modern Japan: Society • Communities • Values • Women • Culture • Power • Economy