The history of Japan dates back to prehistoric times.
Japan is a very old country and it is hard to determine when civilization began in the country. But, records suggest that around 30,000 BC, a paleolithic culture was flourishing in the region. The people inhabiting Japan during this period survived by hunting and gathering.
This culture was supplanted by the Jōmon culture around 14,000 BC. The culture got its name from a kind of pottery found in the region. This was a semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture. Some of the common features of this culture were rudimentary agriculture and pit dwelling. Sometime around 300 BC, the Yayoi people entered the region. These were a much-advanced people as compared to their predecessors and brought with them practices such as metallurgy, wet farming, and a new style of pottery.
Japan is mentioned for the first time in written history in the Book of Han, which is a Chinese text. The Record of the Three Kingdoms, another Chinese historical text, states that Yamataikoku was the most powerful kingdom in the region in the 3rd century. It was during this period that Buddhism, which was gaining widespread popularity, was introduced in the region from Baekje, Korea. The religion did face resistance in the country, nevertheless, it gained acceptance in the Asuka period. The Asuka period lasted from 592 to 710 AD and was followed by the Nara period (710 to 784 AD), which witnessed the emergence of a strong central government. This period also witnessed the deadly smallpox epidemic, that devastated the country and led to a massive loss of life. It has been estimated that one-third of the population of the country was wiped out due to this epidemic. The Nara period was followed by the Heian period, which lasted for nearly 400 years (794 to 1185). This period is famous for the emergence of a distinct Japanese culture.
The feudal era, which began in 1185, witnessed the rise of the Samurai, who ruled the nation in the name of the Emperor. During the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), the Zen School of Buddhism was introduced in the country from China. Kamakura shogunate made way for the Ashikaga shogunate in 1336. This shogunate lasted till 1573. Japan came into contact with the West in the 16th century when Portuguese Jesuit missionaries set foot in the country. Due to the contact between Japan and the West, Oda Nobunaga gained access to European arms and technology which enabled him to defeat his rivals and begin the Azuchi–Momoyama period. This period began in 1573 and lasted till 1603. This followed the era of the Tokugawa shogunate.
In 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate ended and the emperor was restored to nominal supreme power. The monarchy was headed by the Meiji Emperor. In the 20th century, Japan took part in the two World Wars. The 2nd world war was particularly devastating for the country with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The second half of the 20th century has witnessed the nation emerge as a prosperous, modern and industrialized economy.