There is evidence that people first inhabited Japan during ancient times, at least 30,000 years ago. At one point, during the most recent ice age, Japan was actually connected to the continent of Asia by a land bridge. Following the ice age, there was a split and Japan became a separate group of islands. The period between 8,000 BC and 300 BC was called the Jomon Period. The Japanese from this era were hunters and fishers.
Yayoi, Kofun, and Heian Periods
The period etween 300 BC and 300 AD is called the Yayoi period. It was during this time the Japanese learned to grow rice and create tools from
iron and bronze. The community was made up of villages and society was divided into classes based on skills and farming. The Yayoi period was followed by the Kofun period from 300 AD to 710 AD. During this time the major religious movements in Japan, the Shinto and the Buddhist, lived together peacefully. The Heian period began in 794 AD and lasted until 1185 AD. This period featured a vibrant culture of art and learning. It was also during this time the famed Japanese warriors, the Samurais, came to be. Samurais followed a special code of behavior that focused on self-discipline and loyalty.
As the 12th century drew to a close in Japan, the government adopted the form of bakufu. There was an emperor, but the power lay in the hands of the Japanese shogun, who ruled in the name of the emperor. In essence, the emperor was only a figurehead. The next two centuries were followed by a time of wealth for the merchants in the country and the people organized into guilds. Two other notable occurrences during the 13th and 14th centuries were the rise of Zen Buddhism and the tea ceremony. Traditional tea ceremonies began with Japanese monks during their meditation, but eventually became a practice of Japanese nobility and merchants.
Muromachi and Tokugawa Periods
The period from 1333 to 1573 AD was called the Muromachi period. This was a time when the country was ruled by a family from the Muromachi district of Kyota. Developments during this period included Noh theatre, and the construction of two of the countries best known monuments, the Kinkaku-ji and the Ginkaku-ji. By the end of the 15th century, there was no longer a central ruling authority in the country. This lack of structure and division led to the Tokugawa period. During this period in Japan, Christianity was banned and many Christians practicing in Japan were persecuted and massacred in a rebellion in 1638. Following this occurrence, the Japanese government shut itself off from the rest of the world and only the Dutch were permitted to trade with the country.
Modern Japanese history begins during the Meiji Restoration. Following a short civil war in 1868, the shogun were defeated and the Emperor Meiji was brought to power in hopes of modernizing the country. The government began to encourage industrialization and in a short period of time, Japan had essentially caught up to the reset of the world. Compulsory education was introduced, and the Japanese army and navy were structured to resemble Western fighting forces. Japan also developed a parliament during this time.
Japan continued to play a role in world events throughout the 20th century. In some instances there was compliance with the Western world, but in others Japan acted as the enemy to Western allies, as in World War II.