Digital History of Japan
WisdomMaps: The Future of the Past
Experience our digital history of Japan and its unique civilization with WisdomMaps!
Humans first inhabited the Japanese islands around 30,000 BCE. The Jōmon period, knowns for its cord-marked pottery, 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 the ninth century, 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). This began the Heian period, a golden age of classical Japanese culture. 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. The 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. The 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.
In 1543, the Portuguese became the first Europeans to reach Japan. They had a significant impact on Japan by introducing firearms. 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 that 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. 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 culminating with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on August15, 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 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, just close it, and you’ll be back here.
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