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Overview of Japan's History

The Jomon Era (10,000 BC - 300 BC)

The only evidence pertaining to the Jomon Era was deduced from Chinese records and various artifacts recovered during the same period. Other than that, not much is known of this era as there were no written records for that time. Jomon is the name of the era's pottery. During this period, inhabitants of the Japanese islands were gatherers, fishermen and hunters. According to Japanese Mythology, the sun goddess Amaterasu sent down one of her descendents to unify the people during this period. It is said that this descendent is the ancestor of the Imperial Family of Japan. Hence, members of the Imperial Family were considered "gods".

The Yayoi Era (300 BC - AD 300)

Before this period of time, the Japanese people were of a nomadic race. With the coming of the Yayoi era, new skills were founded. Warriors and craftsmen from Korea came to Japan, bringing with them skills of agriculture and blacksmith. Metalwork and horsemanship were also developed during this period.

The Yamato Era (300 - 710 A.D.)

Also known as the Kofun Era, this period introduced burying the dead in tomb mounds, a tradition adopted from the Koreans. These mounds are located almost anywhere, from Kyushu to Tokyo. The burial mounds have remained untouched throughout these years, sparked by the probable fear of what it may contain. It is believed that these tombs contain the remains of the royal lineage.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan during this era. Clan Chiefs strove to expand their small kingdoms in order to unify Japan under a single ruler. It was the Yamato Clan that succeeded in unifying Japan under a single rule, thus beginning the Nara Era.

The Nara Era (710 - 794)

Buddhism's stand in Japan was so strong in this era that Emperor Kammu moved the capital of Japan from Nara to Heiankyo (now Kyoto) with the hope of reducing its influence. Buddhism became influential when Prince Shotoku promoted it as the state religion. Many shrines were erected by Shotoku and some remain standing to this very day.

The Heian Era (794 - 1185)

Japan's cultural growth flourished tremendously during this era. Towards the end, Japan saw the Fujiwara family gaining tremendous power with certain members gaining ranks as advisor to the Emperor, thus influencing many people of the state. On the other hand, the Imperial Family, followed by various warrior families, lost interest in matters of the country. The Taira family (1156 - 1160) seized this moment to gain power. However, they were overthrown by the Minamoto family in 1185 and lost in a final battle of Danoura. Hence Minamoto Yoritomo came to power and established the Shogunate, which remained in Japan for the next 700 years.

The Kamakura Era (1185 - 1333)

Minamoto Yoritomo became the first Shogun to rule Japan under a military law. The clan moved the capital of Japan to Kamakura (near present day Tokyo). Military outposts were set up along various routes to maintain order throughout the country. This further reduced the Imperial Family to mere figureheads. During this time, Kublai Khan came with his Mongols in an attempt to invade Japan, which failed. The soldiers who bravely defended the northern shore of Kyushu were expecting a reward, but none were given. In an attempt to regain power, Emperor Godaigo tried to take advantage of the situation. However, he failed to reward the soldiers appropriately and was forced into the mountains of Yoshino by the Ashikaga Clan. With that, a new shogunate was formed and established in Kyoto.

The Muromachi Era (1333 - 1573)

The most conspicuous incident in this era would be the defeat of Imagawa by warlord Oda Nobunaga. With Nobunaga as the new shogun, Japan changed significantly with Christianity as a new religion. Furthermore, trade was also encouraged with other countries.

The Azuchi Momoyama Era (1573 - 1603)

Oda Nobunaga was succeeded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Japan saw new changes under his ruling. Hideyoshi believed that it was a sign of weakness to allow foreigners and traders into the country. He also forbade the locals to leave the country for fear of corruption. When he passed away, he was succeeded by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1958. Ieyasu was hailed as one of the most popular shoguns of all time. Under the ruling of the Tokugawa family, the capital was moved to Edo (now Tokyo) with the Imperial Family remaining in Kyoto. The Tokugawa family held power for nearly 250 years and the Edo Era began with them.

The Edo Era (1603 - 1867)

The Edo or Tokugawa era signifies the most historical period in Japan. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu controlled Japan under a strict military rule and the country was also broken into a series of regions or fiefs. Each of these fiefs were ruled by a daimyo or warlord, who had to report directly to the shogun.

Trading with foreign countries were controlled and only the Dutch were allowed to trade at Nagasaki (southern Kyushu). However, the control was abolished in 1853 when Commodore Perry of the United States Navy arrived with his fleet and demanded that Japan open its doors for trade. A conflict in Shimonoseki (southern Japan), which included the combined forces of Dutch, British, American and French ships, 'persuaded' the Conshu clan to adopt an open mind in order to make Japan a more powerful nation.

The Conshu and Satsuna clans of Kagoshima (southern Japan) then attempted to gain the title of shogun from the Tokugawa group in order to restore the Imperial Throne to full power. With that, Emperor Meiji began his incredible reign, which is also known as the "Meiji Restoration".

The Meiji Era (1868 - 1912)

The Meiji Era is one of restoration and modernization. Railroads, the parliament, navy and army were all developed during this period. However, many old relics and practices were either destroyed or abandoned in the process of modernization.

The Taisho Era (1912 - 1926)

The First World War took place with Japan joining forces with the Allies. The country also saw the destruction of Tokyo and Yokohama with the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The Showa Era (1926 - 1988)

A continuation of the Meiji Era, Japan remained strong in their quest for growth. This factor prompted the country to ally with Germany and Italy in the Second World War. The war brought about the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

Another significant event was the denouncement of Emperor Hirohito. After the end of World War II in 1946, he declared that he was not a god although all descendents of the Imperial family were thought to be direct offspring of Amaterasu, the sun goddess. However, Emperor Hirohito was the longest reigning monarch in the world until his death in 1989.

The Heisei Era (1989 - )

After the death of Emperor Hirohito, his eldest son, Akihito, ascended the throne.

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