Japan History

Japan History

Pre and early history

The first traces of settlement on the islands, which today belong to Japan, date from the 5th millennium BC. (Jomon culture). From 300 BC followed the Yayoi culture (also: Yaoi), which lasted until about AD 300. continued. This may have been immigrants from mainland Asia. Already in the 1st century BC. trade with China was evident. The Japanese people probably originated from the Jomon and Yayoi cultures, without the exact family of peoples being able to be narrowed down.

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Around 400 AD The Yamato Empire emerged on the island of Honschu, the leading members of which belonged to the noble clan of the Tenson and who had succeeded in subduing other clans. A first group of states was formed, the foundation stone for the Japanese Empire was laid in the Yamato Empire. In the 6th century, Chinese culture and script and Buddhism entered the Japanese islands, while the followers of Shintoism (“Path of the Gods”) stood out until the 3rd century AD. had formed. The conversion of many clan leaders to Buddhism led to sometimes violent clashes between the Shinto noble family of the monotobe and the Buddhist Soga. The Soga emerged victorious from the battles (538-587). At that time almost the entire island of Honschu and parts of Schikoku and Kyushu belonged to the Japanese Empire.

Ten years later, Crown Prince Shotoku enacted a kind of constitution consisting of 17 articles that intended to transform the old Japanese clan society into a monarchical vassal state based on the Chinese model. The absolute claim to rule of the emperor (Tenno = son of heaven) was legitimized on the basis of his divine descent. The power of the individual noble families was drastically restricted by the emperor, the administrative tasks were transferred to an official apparatus. The social restructuring carried out by the Tenno provoked considerable protests, but was also continued by its successors. At the end of the 7th century, the construction of the absolutist state was considered complete: the emperor owned the land, his officials administered it, and the land was distributed to tenants according to a specific plan.

In 710 the city of Heijo (today: Nara) became the capital of the Japanese Empire. In the following Nara period, the empire first blossomed in art and culture. The Nara period was followed by the Heian epoch (from 794). From 784, Emperor Kammu had a new capital built according to the model of the old Chinese capital Chang-an, which was first called Heian-kyo, then Miyako and finally Kyoto and which was to remain the official capital of the Japanese Empire until 1868. In the Heian period, the aristocratic culture of Japan peaked, and the court Officials who had been trained had developed into a court nobility Whose sphere of influence what Constantly Increasing.At the same time, the empire reached its greatest extent so far, almost the entire north of Honschu was conquered, the Ainu people were displaced to the northern island of Hokkaido.

Middle ages

From 858 the so-called Fujiwara period began, named after the influential Fujiwara family, who took over the guardianship of the almost completely disempowered Tenno. Just like the court nobility (Kuge), the sword nobility (Buke) gained importance in the course of the 11th century. According to AbbreviationFinder, the Minamoto emerged victorious from the clashes between the two most powerful genders of the Taira and the Minamoto (Heiji War 1156-59; Gempei War 1180 to 85). The families served faithfully devoted samurai, members of the warrior nobility. Minamoto no Yoritomo, the leader of the victorious family, was converted from tenno to shogun, a kind of military dictator at the end of the 12th century (shogun means “commanding officer for the submission of the barbarians”). The royal nobility lost power and possession to the shogun and its followers. In the period from 1192 to 1868 one speaks of the time of the shoguns, in which the emperor only lived a shadowy existence. According to the military centers in which the shogun resided, this phase is divided into the Kamakura period (1192 to 1333), the Muromachi period (1338-1573) and the Edo period (also: Tokugawa period, 1603-1868). The shogun was not always the undisputed leader of the empire; armed conflicts between the individual noble families occurred as well as attempts to help the old empire regain new power.

In the middle of the 16th century, Europeans appeared in the form of Portuguese seafarers and missionaries who sought to Christianize the Japanese population. As an indirect consequence of this, shoguns converted to Christianity, such as Daimyo Oda Nobunaga, destroyed numerous Buddhist monasteries.

Modern times

In the time of the Edo Shogunate (from 1603, the seat of the Shogun was the city of Edo, later Tokyo), the population of Japan was divided into four classes: In addition to the sword and war pin, there were the peasants dependent on the nobility, the artisans and merchants. It was not possible to ascend to the aristocratic class from one of the others. A tightly organized central state emerged. In addition to the Portuguese, the Dutch also established branches on Japanese soil. The Shogun Iemitsu had all Europeans expelled in 1639, and the phase of persecution of Christians had already started in Japan (around 500,000 Japanese were adherents of Christianity at that time). The bloody end was the suppression of an uprising by Christian peasants on Kyushu in 1638 and the subsequent execution of almost all Christians.

Japan systematically sealed itself off from the outside (Sakoku), Japanese were not allowed to leave the country, nor were foreign ships allowed to dock in the ports. Through the taut organization of society and the elimination of undesirable influences (and thus armed conflicts), Japen experienced a time of cultural and economic boom, in which schools and streets were built and mineral resources were developed. Above all, the rich fiefdoms benefited from this, while the population often lived in severe poverty. The merchants in the cities became a wealthy, influential middle class (Chonin).

It was this new class, too, that from around the middle of the 18th century called for a softening of Japan’s rigid stance towards the outside world in order to be able to expand trade relations, whereby their wishes were not heard by the shoguns.

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The 19th century

The isolation of Japan only ended through external coercion: in March 1854, the Shogun was forced to sign a friendship and trade contract by an American fleet that had positioned itself in the Bay of Edo, which opened Japanese ports for American ships (contract from Kanagawa). In the next few years, Russia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France and Prussia followed suit with similar contracts, which among other things set low import duties for foreign goods.

In Japan, an ever increasing number of feudal lords demanded that the country be fully opened to the west, and on the other hand, there were many xenophobic incidents that repeatedly brought foreign fleet associations on the map. In 1867, the last Shogun Yoshinobu, who came from the influential Tokugawa family, resigned after his armies were defeated by the imperial troops. Tenno Mutsuhito, the 122nd Japanese emperor, renamed Edo Tokyo and declared it the official capital of the empire. Against the conservative voices in the country, Japan’s transformation to a modern constitutional state based on the Western model began: The first measures included the abolition of feudalism, the modernization of agriculture, the centralization of government and bureaucracy and the introduction of a new tax system, the Gregorian calendar and compulsory education. Specialists from business and technology were brought into the country from the western countries, and many Japanese were sent abroad. In the following decades, industrialization in Japan progressed rapidly. In 1889, a new constitution was enacted, according to which Japan was from then on a constitutional monarchy with a two-chamber parliament, the powers of which were severely restricted. In terms of foreign policy, too, Japan’s behavior changed drastically to expand its sphere of influence: in 1894, China came to war over sovereignty on the Korean peninsula, in which China was defeated. In the Shimonoseki Peace Treaty of 1895, China had to cede Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores Islands to Japan, recognize Korea’s independence (although Korea was de facto dependent on Japan), and make huge reparations payments. Japan came into conflict with Russia in 1904, here too the country remained victorious against the Tsar’s troops and achieved further territorial gains (southern half of the island of Sakhalin), Russia had to cede all claims to Korea and Manchuria to Japan. Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and made it the Japanese General Government.

First and Second World War

During the First World War, Japan was an ally of Great Britain, but did not take part in the war in Europe, but tried to expand its sphere of influence in China: Japanese troops occupied the German South Pacific colonies (Mariana Islands, Caroline Islands, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands). In the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Japan was granted the former German colonies and Japan also received German rights in China. The Western powers rejected Japan’s further demands for supremacy in China.

While the country’s democratization made great strides in Japan after the First World War (universal suffrage for men aged 25 and over, increasing importance of political parties), the picture changed from the late 1920s, a time when Japan was also experiencing the effects of the global economic crisis was affected. Nationalist powers not controlled by parliament increasingly gained power. These mostly radical officers, who were based in the Secret State Council and influenced the emperor through advisors, suppressed democratic and left-wing forces; their goal was to expand the Japanese sphere of influence, especially in China, in order to preserve sources of raw materials for the country (and thus dependency by the Western Powers) and “Habitat” for the ever-growing Japanese people. In 1931 Japanese troops invaded Manchuria and established the state of Manchukuo there. Japan left the League of Nations in 1933, and a year later it entered into an alliance agreement with the National Socialist Germany (Anti-Comintern Pact). In 1937, the Japanese-Chinese was was triggered by a Japanese attack, in which Japan occupied large parts of China. Japan participated in the Second World War alongside Germany and Italy, which had joined the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1937. In 1941, the war spread to the Pacific when, after Japanese troops attacked Pearl Harbor in the United States, Britain and the United States was declared. The Second World War ended with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th respectively. August 1945 by the Americans.

Postwar period until today

Until 1952, Japan remained occupied by American troops and was under the control of a US military government, under which democratization began (condemnation of war criminals, educational re-education, demilitarization, party foundations, economic development). In 1947, a new constitution created a democratic-parliamentary system in which the emperor only held a symbolic position. In the San Francisco Treaty in 1951, 48 states signed a peace treaty with Japan, with the exceptions being the USSR (Russia had occupied the Kuril Islands after the war and refused to return them to Japan) and the People’s Republic of China. Japan lost Korea, the island of Taiwan, the southern part of Sakhalin Island and the Pescadores Islands.

In 1960, Japan entered into a security treaty with the United States, which guaranteed the Americans the right to continue using Japan as a base for U.S. troops (strategically important to the U.S. in the Cold War with the USSR). Domestically, Eisaku Sato and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) took over the government in the mid-1960s. During this time, Japan became the third strongest industrial nation worldwide, because like the Federal Republic of Germany, the country had experienced a kind of “economic miracle” in the 1950s.

In the decades that followed, the Liberal Democratic Party LDP (despite various allegations of corruption and scandals) remained the main political force in Japan with an absolute majority in both chambers of parliament. The Socialist Party SP emerged as the main opposition party and changed its name to the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ) in the early 1990s. It was not until 1994 that a social democrat, Tomiichi Murayama, Japanese head of government, became the first. The LDP first went into opposition. Like so many government officials before and after him, Murayama had to resign from office, and then liberal-democratic forces took over, but remained dependent on coalition partners. It was only in 2009 that there was another change of power,

After an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011, the Fukushima nuclear power plant suffered a nuclear disaster with a considerable release of radioactivity. A restricted area has been set up around the nuclear power plant. The DPJ’s disaster management was heavily criticized by the population; this and the persistently difficult economic situation in the country led to a landslide victory for the LDP and a new change of government after the early general election in December 2012.

Japan continues to seek reconciliation and normalization of relations with South Korea and agreement with Russia on the Kuril Islands, an ongoing conflict in which there are already a number of declarations of intent, but no concrete solution in the form of a peace treaty. Security ties to the United States will continue to be maintained.

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