There are three principal eras of the History of Japan – the Jōmon period, Yayoi period, and Kofun period.
The Jōmon Period is also sometimes called the “Stone Age” in English. This may be variously dated from 14500 BCE to 300 BCE The Yayoi Period is also sometimes known as ”The Late Stone Age”. This may be variously dated from 300 BCE to CE 300. The Kofun Period is also sometimes known as “ancient times” or “old age” in English. This may be variously dated from CE 300 to CE 660.
The Yayoi Period is an era of Japanese history that corresponds roughly to the late phase of the Jōmon period (about 300 BCE to CE 300) and lasted into the early Kofun period (about 300 to 600 CE), although there is some overlap with preceding and following periods. Colloquially, it can refer to both the final part of the Jōmon period and the whole of the subsequent Kofun period, i.e., from about 400 BCE until about CE 650 or 700.
Yayoi culture flourished in a number of sites spread generally from inland Kyushu to the Inland Sea. Archaeological evidence attests to a growing population and increasing social complexity during this period. Ritual burial practices, which first appeared late in the Jōmon period, reached their peak during the Yayoi. Yayoi farmers practiced primitive forms of agriculture with simple tools made of stone or metal.
The Yayoi Period is thought to have lasted for about 300 years, during which time massive emigration took place into Japan across the Tsushima Strait. Although archaeological evidence indicates that emigration from mainland Asia to Japan was a massive undertaking, it is difficult to know how many people actually crossed the sea or when the movement started. The earliest settlements include Haniwa, Ganja and Jar-gu.
During the Yayoi period, Chinese writing arrived in Japan and by AD 300 it had greatly influenced the writing of Japanese. By this time, Classical Chinese had become widely used in literature and can be seen in stone lanterns, tea cups and tea bowls that have been excavated from burial sites. This is also when used in architecture such as temples and pagodas were constructed using wood with painted stucco surfaces, curved eaves with roof tiles and balconies were added to dwellings.
The Yayoi period is divided into the following sub-periods:
The Heijō period (AD 300–710) is also called the Yamatotakeru period because its capital was at Yamatotakeru-shima (modern-day Ōsaki, Settsu). However, modern usage calls it the “Heian” or “Yamato” period to distinguish it from the preceding Kofun period. The capital moved from Yamato to Nara in central Honshū. An important change to Japanese society during Heian was the introduction of Buddhism from Central Asia by Kukai in 724. He established the Japanese Tendai sect and attempted to reconcile the different schools of Buddhism.
The late 8th and early 9th centuries marked the zenith of the power of the Fujiwara clan, which was collectively known as “the nine regents”. The Fujiwara presided over a period of cultural unity known as the . During this period, the capital was adorned with many fine palaces, temples, gardens and sculptures.
Feudal domains governed as military-civilian units called “han” emerged in or around AD 500. By 740 it had evolved into a system that exerted control over large areas of Japan; it survived until 1868. In this system, the hereditary ruler of a territory, the “daimyō”, was a vassal of the “shōgun”, who was in turn a vassal of the “emperor”. The Emperor’s power was also limited by the existence of competing regional lords. In this connection it is significant that on more than one occasion, there were occasions when a child was named as heir but had no parental right to succeed.
Japan’s traditional historical era began in AD 538 on the accession of Emperor Jinmu. This marked the beginning of the Asuka period (538–710), which lasted until 710, when the capital was moved to Heian-kyō (today’s Kyoto), then renamed “Heijō-kyō”. The Emperor Tenji, who moved the capital to Nara, is said to have built the first palace in Heian-kyō.
The period can be divided into early, middle, and late periods.
The middle period (AD 600–800) is sometimes called the “Kana Period” or “Wara Period”. The “Wara” or Japanese “Warrior” monks helped spread Buddhism outside Japan. They often served as Buddhist missionaries in China and Korea.
The Kamakura Period (1185–1333) is sometimes called the “Genroku Era”. It started with the ascension of Minamoto no Yoritomo to the position of “shōgun” in 1192, who established himself as ruler of Japan. This period can be divided into early, middle, and late periods.
The Muromachi Period (1336–1573) is sometimes called the “Sengoku-jūnen-jōn-gū” or “Warring States Period”. It was characterized by struggles between rival samurai clans. Notable battles included those of Odawara, Komaki and Nagakute.
The Tokugawa Period (1603–1868) is sometimes called the “Seiden-shō” or “Edo Period”. It was characterized by strict social order, with emphasis on adulthood and age, which minimized conflict among generations. The feudal system provided certain economic advantages to the government, but at the same time kept political and social power in the hands of a small number of families (daimyō) and clans (samurai). This system lasted for 250 years.
Japanese castles fall into three categories: hilltop castles; river castles; and coastal castles. During the Sengoku period (1467–1603), many battles were fought between clans. Castle towns later grew around castles, and daimyo domains became centers of administration for areas that covered large parts of modern-day prefectures.
Japanese architecture has historically been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be altered according to the occasion. People usually sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor, traditionally; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century.
The first Japanese photographic patent dates to 1853, but the technology was not entirely accepted until the invention of cameras with lenses in the late 1880s. During this time, many photographers moved toward single-lens reflex cameras, which were eventually mass-produced.
The first Japanese movable type printing press was set up by an Englishman named Sharp in 1809 at Hirado, on an island off Nagasaki. He established a small bookshop printing press, which soon became the only medium for printing books and newspapers throughout Japan for almost 100 years. The first Japanese photographer to be awarded a Nobel Prize was Substantially for his photographs of streets and buildings of Tokyo.
Japanese business practices were heavily influenced by the Chinese system of economics and trade, which Japan had long emulated, and to a lesser extent by Western practices. Large companies traded stocks on the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges; however, until the 1980s, the Bank of Japan restricted foreign ownership of domestic stocks.
During World War I, Japan sold three German warships to Britain, receiving an urgently needed infusion of hard currency in return. The Allies’ 1914–1915 naval blockade cut off supplies of raw materials for Japanese industry. Trade was diverted to America; many younger people wanted to stay in America or move there. After 1919, Japanese exports soared as high productivity methods were adopted in their factories.
The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 is considered to be the beginning of Japanese militarism. Japanese militarism in the 1930s was focused on the acquisition of oil (needed for munitions production), and on securing areas with potential resources (including Manchuria with its rich iron ore deposits). The Kwantung Army was created to defend Manchukuo.
The Mukden Incident, involving the Japanese “Mukden incident”, began on September 18, 1931 when a small group of Chinese soldiers holding a position at a railroad station in Chinchou were attacked by a much larger force from the Kwantung army, resulting in all but one being killed or wounded. The following day, Japan invaded Manchuria.
On November 20, 1940, Tokyo’s foreign ministry sent a message to the French embassy in Tokyo requesting the French government “assist” in ending the war with China. The request was declined. On December 1, the same message was sent to the US via its embassy in Tokyo. It read: “The Japanese government has decided to make a suggestion to the United States Government for terminating the war between Japan and China by accepting the suggestion of President Roosevelt if it can be done on reasonable terms.” The United States responded that it would do so provided all hostilities against countries who are neutral are terminated. On December 2, Japan attacked Hong Kong.
The United States and Britain were alarmed by the expansion of Japanese forces in South East Asia and the Pacific. In 1940, officials from the United States, Britain and other Allied nations released statements denouncing Japan’s further militarization.
On December 7, 1941 (December 8 in Japan), Japan attacked Pearl Harbor without a declaration of war, bringing the United States into World War II. The Sino-Japanese War—which had begun in 1937 between China and Japan—soon escalated into a much larger conflict called the Second Sino-Japanese War. The period after 1937 was marked by increasing aggression from Japan in China. This culminated in a full scale invasion that resulted in the capture of China’s capital city, Nanjing (Nanking).
In 1939, Japan signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact with the Soviet Union to assure a neutrality agreement between Japan and Russia. In 1941, Japan signed a military alliance with Germany and Italy, forming what was known as the Rome–Tokyo Axis. The purpose of this pact was to deter the US from interfering with Japanese military operations in Asia. Japan also expanded its influence southward by occupying northern French Indochina.
On September 27, 1940, Imperial Japanese Army forces invaded French Indochina and fought the French colonial army in the Battle of Saigon. The Japanese victory ended sixty years of French rule in Indochina.
The subsequent border skirmishes of June 1940 with the Soviet Union at Lake Khasan, at the Manchurian border, and at Changkufeng/Khasan in June–October 1941 are judged to have been acts of self-defense on Japan’s part. The findings of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact were contradicted by the Soviet invasion of Manchukuo in August 1945.
Japan destroyed much of the natural environment through deforestation and industrial development. Various campaigns to preserve Japan’s artistic heritage were also waged in this period. During this time, Japanese art studied Western styles and was transformed into a modern form.