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Ancient Japan History

Japan was inhabited by indigenous tribes as far back as 50,000 BC. The Paleolithic Age of Japan ended around 12,000 BC with the end of the ice age.

Jomon Period: The period of civilization in Japan from 11,000 BC to about 400 BC is referred to as the Jomon Period. The development of pottery and the manufacture of ceramics during the Jomon period were highly advanced.skills. The word Jomon represents the patterns made on clay with plaited cords.

Yayoi Period: The Jomon Period of Japanese history was followed by the Yayoi Period from about 400 BC to about 250 BC. Unlike other parts of the world, the metals - bronze and iron - were introduced at about the same time into the Japanese society. New agricultural and weaving techniques were discovered by the Japanese in the Yayoi Period. The earliest mentions of Yayoi Japan are found in Chinese Book of the Later Han dating back to 57 AD.

Kofun Period: The Kofun Period of Japan lasted from 250 AD to around 538 AD. The era was named after the Kofun burial mounds found in the Tanegashima Island to the south of Kyushu. These mounds were built for the royalty and the stone chambers were protected by the use of moats. The era was marked by the prevalence of the Shinto culture. The recorded history of Japan commences with the Kofun Period. The Asuka period closely followed the Kofun and together they are known as the Yamato period of Japan. The Yamato land is believed to have included the Tanegashima and Yakushima Islands.

Asuka Period: The Asuka Period is believed to have extended from 538 AD to 710 AD. The Asuka Period was the era when the Yamato state crystallized with definite boundaries and a clear administration. Asuka Japan maintained excellent trade and cultural ties with the Baekje clan of South Korea. Buddhism was introduced to the Japanese by the Baekje during the early Asuka period. With the introduction of the religion the burial rituals of the Kofun were discontinued. Empress Suiko and Prince Shotoku, Asuka regents, did much to spread Buddhism across the land. The Code of Taiho, a set of administrative reforms, was introduced into Japan by the end of the Asuka Period.

Nara Period: The Nara period, from 710 AD to 794 AD, is often referred to as the Golden Era of Japanese history. The era takes its name from Nara, the city, previously known as Heijo-kyo. Empress Gemmei shifted the capital city from Asuka to Heijo-kyo and the city, built to resemble the Tang capital Chang'an, became the hub of cultural and political power in Japan. Heijo-kyo was the capital of an agriculturally prosperous Japan till the year 784 AD and then Emperor Kammu moved his capital to Nagaoka-kyo. The renowned collection of myths and legends of Japan, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki were written during the Nara period.

Heian Period: The last classical period of Japanese history, the Heian Period from 794 AD to 1185 AD was the time when the capital of Japan was moved from Nagaoka-kyo to Heian-kyo (Kyoto). The word Heian means peace in Japanese. Kyoto, the capital city, prospered in peace and tranquility during this period. Japanese literature and arts forms flourished in Heian Japan. The Fujiwara aristocracy wielded much of the authority due to its intimate association (often by marriage) with the Imperial House of Japan. The Fujiwara dominance caused much dissatisfaction and led to the outbreak of rebellions such as the Hogen and the Heiji Rebellions. Shingon and Tendai Buddhism became very popular during the Heian period.

Kamakura Period: The Kamakura Period, from 1185 AD to 1333 AD marks the onset of the feudal era in medieval Japan. The naval battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185 AD marks the beginning of the era as it was after this battle that the Samurai class rose to power. The imperial system underwent many changes. While the emperor and the court continued to exist de jure, much of the real authority passed on to the samurai class, the military aristocracy and the shogun, the de facto ruler was chosen from among them. The imperial court remained in Kyoto but the Shoguns ruled from their station of authority in Kamakura. The Mongol invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281 resulted in a drain of state funds causing the economy to fall apart.

Muromachi Period: The Kenmu Restoration was a brief period following the Kamakura Period during which Emperor Go-Daigo tried to restore the powers of the Imperial House of Japan but failed in the attempt. The Ashikaga Shogunate rose to power in about 1336 AD and remained in authority till 1375 AD. Ashikaga Takauji set up this shogunate that lasted till Ashikaga Yoshiaki lost to Oda Nobunaga in 1573. While in the initial years the supporters of Emperor Go-Daigo resisted the growing powers of the shogunate, the latter part of the Muromachi Period was marked by much inter state strife and is also known as the Warring State period.

During the Sengoku period or the Warring State period from 1467 AD to about 1573 AD, the Ashikaga Shogunate could not secure the loyalty of the daimyo, the feudal lords of Japan. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and drought led to the outbreak of internal conflicts and rebellion. The Onin War of 1467 drained the shogunate's coffers.

Azuchi-Momoyama Period: The Azuchi-Momoyama period brought an end to the internal conflicts and rebellions in Japan. The Tokugawa Shogunate was established by Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi assumed power in about 1573 and lasted till about 1600. By the beginning of the sixteenth century and towards the end of the Azuchi-Momoyama Era, Christian Missionaries arrived in Japan but were unsuccessful in making a mark on the society. The Edo period that lasted from 1603 AD to 1868 AD saw the rise of Japan's isolationistic policy. Fear of a European invasion led Japan to seclude itself from traders and missionaries for over two centuries.