Japanese History (日本の歴史)

Nihon-no-rekisi (literally, Japanese history) or Nihonshi (literally, Japan history) is used for indicating history of Japan or that of the Japanese archipelago. A summary of Japanese history is described below.

For more information about each period, refer to the term indicating each period (the link destination listed at the head of each section).

Paleolithic Period

The history of the human race confirmed in the Japanese archipelago can be traced back to about 30,000 to 100,000 years ago. About 34,000 years ago, stone tools called knife-type stone tools were brought to Japan from Northern China and were used throughout the Japanese islands. Then about 20,000 years ago, stone stools called microblades were brought to Japan from Siberia and were used mostly in eastern Japan. The microblade-based culture in eastern Japan and the knife-type stone tool-based culture in western Japan coexisted for some time. However, before long, microblades came to be used widely in western Japan as well, and knife-type stone tools had gone out of use rapidly around 15,000 years ago.

Around 12,000 years ago, the ice age ended and the sea level began rising corresponding to rises in the atmospheric temperature, separating the Japanese islands from the Asian continent. Consequently, the life and culture of the people living in the Japanese islands changed drastically, leading to the beginning of the Jomon period, except for the small islands in the southeast of the main islands of Japan.

The Jomon period

The period starting around 12,000 years ago is called the Jomon period. The Jomon period is classified into six sub-periods of the incipient period, earlier period, early period, middle period, end period, and last period. During this period, people in the Japanese islands made Jomon-style earthenware, and increasingly more people came to live in fixed places, mostly in pit dwellings. People in this period lived by hunting with bows and arrows, and fishing, as known from shell mounds or collecting fruit, and they used chipped stone tools, polished stoneware and bone tools.

Plants were cultivated as well, with rice cultivated at the end and last periods.

In the small islands southeast of the main islands of Japan, life were characteristic of those during the Paleolithic Period in the first half of this period, but the shell mound period started around 60,000 years ago and continued until around the end of the Heian period.

The Yayoi period

The era from around 8 B.C. to around the third century is called the Yayoi period. The term used for identifying this period originated from Yayoi-style earthenware characteristic of this period. Agriculture-based society centered on rice cultivation was established and spread rapidly to various parts of the Japanese islands, from northern Kyushu to throughout Honshu, except for the northernmost part of the Honshu and the further northern territories. The establishment of an agriculture-based society generated local communities.
Corresponding to the advancement of an agriculture-based society, the sizes of the local communities had become larger, being surrounded-by-moat type settlements at their centers
It is considered that many mound-type graves built during the period, a style was one of the grave styles characteristic of the Mayor period, and were for chiefs of these large-sized communities, and it is considered that society started becoming hierarchical.

The Japanese islands at that time was called Way or Awoke by China. Some of these large-sized communities established a relationship with the Chinese dynasty, and were called a nation by China. Apparently, around the beginning of the first century, around a hundred nations had relationships with China. The king of "Na of Way" sent his mission to the Later Han Dynasty and was given a gold stamp. The large-sized communities were gradually united and a political confederation that could be called a union of Way nations was established during the early second century. Its chief was called the king of Wa, and Suisho was the king of Wa during the early period of the confederation era. For a while, Wa stayed stable politically, but a civil war called the Wakoku War broke out in the latter half of the second century. After the war ended, Himiko of the Yamatai-Koku kingdom became the king (queen) of Wa. Himiko established relationships with the Wei Dynasty (during the three States Period of China) to stabilize the union of Wa nations.

In Hokkaido and the northern Tohoku area, rice cultivation in paddy fields was not acceptable and lives there were like those in the post Jomon period.

The kofun period (tumulus period)

The era from the latter half of third century to around the seventh century is called the kofun period (tumulus period). Large keyhole-shaped tomb mounds appeared around the middle of third century and the use of this grave style spread rapidly throughout the islands of Japan. This is considered to be an indication that local political groups had existed in the Kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto), the Sanyo region (Inland Sea provinces) and the northern Kyushu area in parallel were rallied to form Yamato sovereignty (ancient Japan sovereignty). However, it is said to be more accurate to consider that the state of the Japanese islands had not reached the initial nation stage yet, but was still a confederation of sovereign groups.

Starting in the latter half of the fourth century, the Yamato sovereignty began to advance into the Korean peninsula, seeking iron that was needed for making weapons and farm tools, causing many technologies and cultural products in the Korean peninsular and China to be introduced to Wa. Entering the fifth century, the Yamato sovereignty moved its core site to the Kawachi plain and had active relationships with the Chinese dynasty. The chiefs of Wa in this era were recorded as the five kings of Wa in history books in China. Each of the five kings of Wa called himself a great king domestically. This is said to indicate that they were aware that both Wa and China was separate sovereign states. Large keyhole-shaped tomb mounds in this era became particularly large, indicating that strong sovereignty existed.

After the five kings of Wa, political confusion was observed inside the Yamato sovereignty in from the latter half of the fifth century to the first half of the sixth century. However, after Emperor Keitai was introduced, control over the islands of Japan by Yamato sovereignty became stronger, but on the other hand, the trend of advancing to the Korean peninsular became considerably weak. Through such a domestically-oriented period, control by the Yamato sovereignty had been gradually strengthened.

In areas along the Okhotsk Sea, Okhotsk culture was established in around the fifth century during the latter half of this period and continued until around the 13th century.

The Asuka period

The era from the latter half of the sixth century to the early eighth century is called the Asuka period, because the core site of the Yamato sovereignty was placed in Asuka. In the latter half of the sixth century, domestic control by Yamato sovereignty was stable, and feuds over succession to the Imperial Throne were rather conspicuous. In this era, Buddhism was brought to Japan from Kudara (Baekje, Paekche), and Buddhist culture, such as Asuka culture and Hakuho culture in the later era, developed. Towards the end of the sixth century, the Sui Dynasty unified China in 400 years, centralizing political powers in east Asian nations. In Wa as well, Prince Shotoku and the Soga clan reformed national politics by sending Japanese envoys to Sui Dynasty China, establishing Kani junikai (twelve grades of cap rank) and introducing a Seventeen-Article Constitution. However, powerful families were still strongly resistant, and the move to concentrate powers was stagnant, though attempted later as well.

The Taika Reforms in around the middle of the seventh century was such a move to strengthen powers, achieving a certain level of advancement. However, the biggest opportunity for centralizing power was provided with the defeat in the Kudara restoration war during the latter half of seventh century (Battle of Hakusonko or the Battle of Baekgang). Various powers in Wa consented to the reformation of national systems, accelerating the speed of centralizing power. Furthermore, Emperor Tenmu who won the Jinshin War concentrated power thoroughly and attempted to deify the Emperor. It is considered that the title of Tenno (Emperor) was introduced in the Tenmu era. In addition, the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based upon the ritsuryo code) was introduced to realize control by the Emperor, producing Taiho Ritsuryo (the Taiho Code) in the early eighth century. Use of the term of Nihon (Japan) as the name of this country was established around the same time as the enactment of Taiho Ritsuryo.

In this era, life in the middle and southwestern areas of Hokkaido and the northern part of Aomori Prefecture entered the Satsumon period (featured by earthenware with patterns called Satsumon).

The Nara period

The early eighth century is called the Nara period, because the capital (Heijo-kyo capital) was placed in Nara. During this period, a Ritsuryo-based national system was formed and advanced. The Ritsuryo system based on Odo omin shiso (the principle that all the land and people belong to the emperor) intended unified control of the nation by the Emperor and national government officials, and the people were controlled through henko-sei (a system for organizing the people), handen-sei (a land-allotment system based on Ritsuryo), Soyocho system (a tax system, corvee) and troops (in ancient Japan). In the first half of the eight century, the move to strengthen the Ritsuryo system became active. It is considered that the policies to increase arable land, such as Sanze-isshin Law (a law allowing farmers who created new arable lands to own them for a period of three generations) and Konden einen shizai Law (a law allowing farmers who created new arable lands to own them permanently), were for supporting the strengthening the Ritsuryo system. However, entering the latter half of the eighth century, farmers became hierarchical, and situations to force the change in control based upon the Ritsuryo system, for example, an increase in the farmers to replace those who fled, were created.

In addition, China-centered consciousness, in which Silla was considered a barbarian country and Emishi in the northeastern area as well as Hayato in the southern Kyushu area were considered kegaimin (outsiders), heightened. In Japan, the government demanded that Silla should bring tributes to Japan and also tried to encourage Emishi and Hayato to become integrated into the control based Ritsuryo system.

With respect to culture, "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), and "Fudoki" (descriptions of regional climate, culture, etc.) were compiled.
In addition, Tenpyo culture (culture in the Tenpyo era), affected by the continental culture brought to Japan through Kento-shi (Japanese envoys to Tang Dynasty China), flourished
In Buddhism, the idea of national defense was strengthened, and the Todai-ji and Kokubun-ji Temples were constructed due to the wishes of Emperor Shomu on the pretext of kokka goji (defending and maintaining the nation).

The Heian period

The era from around the end of the eighth century to around the end of twelfth century is called the Heian period, with the Heian-kyo constructed by Emperor Kanmu as the national capital. In the first half of the Heian period, farmers became more hierarchical and the national system based on the Ritsuryo system that had continued from the previous period had reached its limit. Therefore, starting in the early eleventh century, the national government actively promoted the reformation of the national system through decentralization, establishing a system called a dynastic nation-state. In the dynastic nation-state, Zuryo (the head of the provincial governors), to whom a considerable amount of the authority to control the province was transferred, and its kokuga (provincial government offices) controlled local areas. Under the control of Zuryo and Kokuga, the Fumyo system (a system for tax collecting) was formed for the Revenue system, and the samurai class appeared via the kokuga forces system. In central politics, Sekkan-seiji (politics based on Sekkan - regent or a top adviser to Emperor), in which the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan played a dominant role, was established.

Entering the 12th century, the system of the dynastic nation-state began changing.. The number of shoen (private estates) had increased considerably from around the end of the 12th century to the early 13th century, and a medieval control system called shoen koryo sei (a system of public lands and private estates) was established. In the same era, insei in which Daijo tenno (a retired emperor) administered the affairs of state as Chiten no kimi (the retired emperor in power) started, and it is said that in this era, ancient times ended and the medieval period started. Through the two wars, the Hogen War and the Heiji War, near the end of the Heian period, samurai advanced into the political world, generating the Taira clan government.

The Japanization of culture that had gradually advanced from the Nara period produced a Japanese-style culture, using hiragana (Japanese syllabary characters) and katakana (another set of Japanese syllabary characters) started and narrative literature, typical examples being "The Tale of Genji" and "Makura no soshi" (the Pillow Book), flourished. Esoteric Buddhism and Mappo-shiso (the "end of the world" belief) were believed widely, syncretization of Shinto with Buddhism advanced, and many temples were built.

In the small islands located southeast of the main islands of Japan, the Gusuku period started around the 12th century. For more information about the histories of these small islands, refer, starting with the northern areas, to the history of the Amami Islands, to the history of Okinawa Prefecture and to the Sakishima history of the Sakishima islands.

The Kamakura period

The eighth century is called the Kamakura period, and the Kuge (court nobles) government in Kyoto and the military government in Kamakura coexisted during this era. The Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) with MINAMOTO no Yoritomo as its chief defeated the Taira clan government in the Jisho-Juei War. In the process, the bakufu acquired the right of appointing Shugo and Jito (military governors and estate stewards), growing into a government that could rank with the Imperial Court (the Kuge government). As a result of the Jokyu War during the first half of thirteenth century, the Kuge government became a parasite on the back of the military government. After that, the regency in which the Hojo clan, the head of gokenin (immediate vassals of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods), practically controlled the bakufu politics was established.

Starting around the middle of the 13th century, the social system started changing drastically: For example, money had become used in the economy, goods were circulated actively, and samurai, such as jito (managers and lords of manors), had advanced into shoen koryo (public lands and private estates). This move was accelerated due to the Mongol invasion attempts against Japan, and the measures taken by the bakufu against this move appeared in the forms of Tokuseirei (ordering the return of land sold and the dissolution of debts) and the tyranny of the patrimonial head of the main branch of the Hojo clan. In the local societies, Akuto (persons against the established social control system in medieval times) and soson (communities consisting of peasants' self-governing associations) appeared in history, effectively and rapidly changing the shoen koryo sei.

In culture, naturalistic art, as seen in Kongo Rikishi zo (statues of Kongo Rikishi) by Unkei and by Kaikei, developed. In religion, new schools of Japanese Buddhism called Kamakura New Buddhism were established, becoming widely accepted by general public. In Hokkaido, Ainu Culture was established around the 13th century.

The period of the Northern and Southern Courts

The 14th century is called the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (in Japan). During this period, the Imperial Court was divided into the Southern Court for Daikakuji-to (imperial lineage starting with Emperor Kameyama) and the Northern Court for Jimyoin-to (imperial lineage from Emperor Gofukakusa to Emperor Gokomatsu). Defeating the Kamakura bakufu, Emperor Godaigo for Daikakuji-to governed the nation autocratically in his so-called Kemmu Restoration. However, with the increasing frustration of samurai, Takauji ASHIKAGA left the new government, supported the Jimyoin-to group, and chased the Daikakuji-to group to Yoshino in the south. Changes in the nature of shoen koryo sei made confrontations in each social class of the nation apparent, developing into nation-wide confrontations with the confrontation between the Northern Court and the Southern Court used as a legitimate reason.

In culture, there was the tendency to behave extravagantly, thinking little of social classes or social order, as typically seen in "Basara." In addition, renga (linked verses) were popular, and there was a tendency for the general public as well to have an interest in culture, as seen in Nijo Kawara Rakusho (the lampoon at the Nijo river beach).

The Muromachi period

The era from the 14th century to the 16th century is called the Muromachi period, and the bakufu was placed in Muromachi of Kyoto. Takauji ASHIKAGA was against the Southern Court, and opened the Muromachi bakufu supporting the Northern Court. The bakufu, which placed its core site in Kyoto, gradually eroded the functions of the Imperial Court. Therefore, the Imperial Court (the Kuge government) started losing its grip on political power. The Shugo (provincial constable) placed in each province strengthened control of the province by obtaining economic privileges, such as hanzei (the system in the Muromachi period where the Muromachi bakufu allowed military governors, or Shugo, to collect half of the taxes from manors and demesnes as military fund) and through expanding Shugouke (the contract system that a manor's owner entrusted a provincial constable to manage his manor and pay the customs). Then Shugo took over the functions of Kokuga, grew into Shugo daimyo (Japanese territorial lord as provincial constable) and established the control system called the Shugo-ryogoku system (Shugo-controlling province system). The mutually complementary system established by the bakufu and Shogo daimyo is called the Muromachi bakufu-Shugo system.

Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA completed the Meitoku treaty to unify the Northern and Southern Courts, conducted trade between Japan and the Ming Dynasty in China and was awarded the title of King of Japan by the emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Yoshimitsu made an effort to reduce the power of the Shugo daimyo. However, the Shugo daimyo tried tenaciously to expand their power, and many battles were fought between the bakufu and Shugo. The bakufu-Shugo system remained until around the middle of 15th century. However, the system became shaky due to the Onin War and collapsed with Coup of Meio as the turning point, moving history into the Sengoku period (period of warring states) (in Japan).

A social principle in this era was self-help, and the move to unite, or ikki (uprising), in each social class prevailed. Village communities became increasingly more independent, and soson (a communities consisting of peasants' self-governing associations) were established in various areas. In western Japan, trade was actively conducted with activities extended to Korea and China as well (wako (Japanese pirates)). In culture, the Muromachi culture, which is characterized by interaction among people in different social strata, as seen in renga, sarugaku (the predecessor of Noh), and drinking tea, flourished. Affected by the Zen sect, this culture was provided with features of simplicity and depth.

The Sengoku period (period of warring states)

The era from the latter half of 15th century to the latter half of 16th century is called the Sengoku period (in Japan). During this period, Sengoku daimyo (the daimyo, that is Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period) who came from the Shugo daimyo, Shugodai (deputy of Shugo, provincial constable), or from Kokujin (local samurai) appeared, and the power of the Sengoku daimyo destroyed the medieval control system, raising their levels of independency, for example, by establishing bunkokuho (a law that individual sengoku-daimyo enforced within their own domains). The area over which a daimyo was allowed to control completely by himself developed into a regional nation, with many regional nations established in parallel throughout Japan. The unified control system in each regional nation is called the daimyo-ryogoku system. Political or economical contradictions among these regional nations were solved through fighting with arms. Nobunaga ODA who appeared around the middle of the 16th century established a strong fighting organization in his territory, for example, by separating samurai from the farmers, and rapidly expanding his territory.

During this period, the power to produce agricultural products increased, then these products became circulated more actively within each regional nation, and urban areas were rapidly formed in various parts of Japan. Trade with European countries (trade with Spain and Portugal) started, and matchlock guns and Christianity were brought to Japan, significantly affecting fighting techniques and religious concepts that Japanese had until then.

The Azuchi-Momoyama period

Nobunaga ODA ousted Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, the shogun in Muromachi, and established the Kinai government (the government in the Kinai area - roughly corresponding to the present Kansai region) replacing the Muromachi bakufu. However, after Nobunaga was killed in the Honnoji Incident, the job of unifying the control of Japan was inherited by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI.

Based on the Kinai government established by Nobunaga, Hideyoshi conquered the areas from Tohoku to Kyushu, completing the job of unifying the control of Japan. Hideyoshi as well endeavored to remove or suppress the medieval control system and controlling powers. Through Taiko-kenchi (the land survey by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI), he abolished shoen koryo sei (The System of Public Lands and Private Estates) and related posts, ending the medieval period. Hideyoshi died while the Bunroku-Keicho War he started continued, and the Toyotomi government became weakened because there was a problem of who should succeed his position.

After Hideyoshi unified control of Japan, stabilizing the politics and economy, the magnificent Momoyama culture flourished centered on daimyo and samurai.

The Edo period

The era from 1603 to 1867 is called the Edo period, and the Edo bakufu was placed in Edo.

After Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA took over power through the victory of the Battle of Sekigahara. Then he established the bakufu in Edo and destroyed the Toyotomi clan in Osaka no Eki (the Siege of Osaka). After this, the bakufu solidified the master-servant relationship with each daimyo by around the middle of 17th century, through enacting Buke shohatto (laws for the military households), making Sankinkotai (a system under which feudal lords were required to spend every other year in residence in Edo) obligatory, and conducting Kaieki operations (forfeiting the rank of samurai and properties) for powerful daimyo, strengthened control of the Imperial Court, and established its government officer system. In parallel, the bakufu made efforts to stabilize society through restricting Christianity-related activities and strengthening the control of trade. In such a situation, the occurrence of Shimabara/Amakusa uprisings led the bakufu to the complete prohibition of Christianity and the complete national isolation that allowed only bakufu-controlled trade. The Ryukyu Kingdom and the Ezo area (the Hokkaido areas except for the Oshima peninsula occupied by wajin - Japanese: persons whose origin was the main Japanese lands, - Sakhalin and Kurile Islands) were controlled through the Daimyo concerned.

On the other hand, as the society became stable, big projects of developing new arable lands were carried out in various areas. Doubling the arable land increased the population as well as the amount of food produced, supporting the finance of the bakufu and that of each domain through the murauke system (village-wide, collective responsibility for tax payment) and greatly advancing nation-wide distribution-related economy. The control system established in the first half of the Edo period, as described above, is called the bakufu-domain system.

The stabilization of society and economical growth supported the development of urban areas, producing Genroku Culture in the latter half of 17th century. Entering the 18th the century, the finance of the bakufu became chronically deteriorated. Therefore, Yoshimune TOKUGAWA promoted the re-strengthening of the bakufu authority and financial reconstruction (Kyoho Reforms). After that, the efforts to maintain the social system and to reconstruct finance were also made intermittently (Kansei Reforms and Tempo Reforms). During this era, Kasei culture flourished centered on townspeople in urban areas. However, as commodity economy advanced, disparity in wealth had enlarged in each of the social classes, making the social status system fluid. With these situations as a background, the bakufu-domain system gradually became shaky.

Due to domestic social contradictions and pressure from the inside and outside of Japan (for example, ships of Russia, of England, and of US came near to Japan), the bakufu-domain system had reached its limit by around the middle of the 19th century. With the arrival of Kurofune (the black ships of Commodore Matthew Perry) and the conclusion of Treaty between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan as the turning point, the trade system controlled by the bakufu (Sakoku) was dissolved, resultantly lowering the authority of the bakufu and increasing the authority of the Imperial Court. The bakufu tried to keep its authority through Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor). However, the bakufu was defeated in the civil war with Satsuma domain and Choshu domain against such a move of the bakufu (Boshin Civil War) and was ruined.

During the Edo period, the general public as well came to participate in cultural activities actively, and Kabuki, Haikai (seventeen-syllable verses), Ukiyoe (Japanese woodblock prints) and Okage mairi (a pilgrimage to the Ise Shrine) became popular.
In addition, education was also conducted widely in Terakoya (temple elementary schools during the Edo period) and in domain-supported schools

The Meiji period

The era from 1868 to 1912 is called the Meiji period. The restoration government centered on the domains for overthrowing the bakufu expelled the former bakufu powers via the Boshin Civil War, and then established the new Meiji government. Under the Emperor's power, the new government introduced various systems from European countries and the United States, and made a set of reformations called Maiji Restoration, such as Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures), abolition of the class system, establishment of the system of law and construction of national infrastructures. In the process, the government placed the former Ryukyu Kingdom, the Ezo area except Sakhalin (almost all areas of Hokkaido and Kurile Islands) and Ogasawara Islands (Bonin Islands) completely into the Japanese territories, fixing the boundaries of Japan. Aiming at revising unequal treaties, the new government made efforts to establish national systems, such as the establishment of the Imperial Diet and the enactment of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. In addition, the government promoted the fostering of industries and the strengthening of military power (so-called Fukoku-kyohei) as a national policy, forwarding the move to convert Japan into a modern state rapidly. After winning the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War, Japan became one of the great world powers. Then, acquiring an international position, Japan ruled Taiwan and annexed Korea.

In culture, new science, art and other cultural products were brought to Japan, and this state was called civilization and enlightenment. Culture largely different from that during the Edo period or before developed: For example, the literature called novels based on individualism, had not existed until then in Japan, were introduced. In religion, the syncretism of Shintoism and Buddhism was rejected (separation of Buddhism and Shintoism), and moves to oppress Buddhism (Haibutsu-kishaku) were also observed.

The Taisho period

The era from 1912 to 1926 is called the Taisho period. Japan entered the First World War based on the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and won the war, becoming counted as one of the great world powers. A political movement called Taisho democracy started with rice riots. As a result of this movement, popular election was conducted and party politics were established. However, Maintenance of Public Order Law was enacted at the same time, oppressing communism. In Japan, the economy was unprecedentedly prosperous due to special procurement demand for the world war. However, when the great war ended, Japan was troubled because the economy was seriously depressed due to reaction to the previous demand, followed by the Great Kanto Earthquake as well.

The Showa period

The era from 1926 to 1989 is called the Showa period. The recession having continued from the Taisho period was hit by the world depression directly, significantly destabilizing society. The Japanese army came to have power replacing party politics, and occupied Manchuria and established Manchukuo, developing, before long, into the Sino-Japanese war (Shina-jihen) with the Republic of China. This situation alienated the United States of America and England. Withdrawing from the League of Nations, Japan allied itself with the fascist government of Germany and that of Italy (the alliance of Japan, Germany, and Italy) and entered World War II (the Pacific War/the Greater East Asian War).

Japanese troops were overwhelmed by the strength of US's material superiority and trade-disrupting strategy, and with atomic bombs dropped, Japan was defeated in Word War II. After the war, Japan was placed under control of General Headquarters (GHQ), and enacted the Constitution of Japan based upon the national system with Emperor as a symbol of the unity of the people, on popular sovereignty and on pacifism. After restoring its sovereignty by concluding peace treaties, Japan concluded a Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan as a nation of the Western Bloc in the cold war state. Under the conservative-versus-progressive party system established in 1955 by Liberal Democratic Party and Socialist Party of Japan, Japan has become one of major economic powers via a high economic growth period. Towards the end of the Showa period (1980s), Japan enjoyed favorable business conditions called the bubble economy.

The Heisei period

Era from 1989 to today is called the Heisei period. The bubble economy having continued from around the end of the Showa period collapsed. The sluggish economy having long lasted after that was called the lost decade, and the economical structure was reformed. In politics, the cold war state ended. As a result, the 1955-system by Liberal Democratic Party and Socialist Party of Japan collapsed and a coalition government, not including Liberal Democratic Party and Communist Party, was realized.

The culture and lives have been diversified consistently since the end of the war, but entering the 21st century, they have further diversified together with globalization and the trend of society where the Internet has been used more and more widely.

Classification of historical periods

Periods in Japanese history are classified in various ways, and there is no accepted theory. However, roughly it can be said that classifying the periods into (the primitive period), ancient times, the medieval period, the early-modern times, modern times, and the contemporary period is widely accepted in the researching of history. Even using this classification, there are considerably different opinions concerning when each of these periods started and ended.

Concerning the start of the ancient times, there are the following opinions about the era when an ancient state was formed: the 3rd century, the 5th century, and the 7th century
This argument is called the seven-five-three dispute among the researchers concerned. Concerning the medieval period, it is said that the shoen koryo sei, which existed as the social and economical system throughout the medieval period, provides an index for specifying the period. Based on the index, it is considered that the medieval period started in the latter half of the 11th century to the 12th century, when the shoen koryo sei was started and established, and ended in the latter half of the 16th century when the taiko kenchi, which made the shoen koryo sei extinct, was conducted.
It is said that the early-modern times started in around the era when the taiko kenchi was conducted and ended around the start of Meiji Restoration
It is generally said that modern times started around the end of the Edo period to Meiji Restoration, but there is another opinion that the modern times started in the first half of 18th century when the household-based handcraft industry started. Furthermore, the timing of the defeat in the Pacific War is sometimes used as the end of the modern times and the start of the contemporary period (for more information, refer to ancient times, medieval Japan, the early-modern times, modern times, or the contemporary period).

The theories concerning the classification of historical periods, described above, are significantly affected by the evolution phase concept of history, and it is pointed out that they have a limitation in not taking into account that history is layered and is continuous. Therefore, some researchers have begun to propose 'period change theory' in which periods should not be classified, but changed.

According to a well-known period classification based on this theory, a period is classified mainly based on where the political center was located. However, this classification of historical periods is not based upon clear criteria for the classification and is inappropriate for classifying historical periods for researching of history. It is a classification of historical periods utilized only because it is convenient. The era when no historical documents are available and the historical archaeological materials that remain are classified, based on the classification of historical periods used in archaeology, in the Paleolithic period (in Japan), the Jomon period, the Yayoi period, and the Tumulus period. The era when a certain amount of historical documents remain are classified, based upon where the political center was located, into the Asuka period, the Nara period, the Heian period, the Kamakura period, the Muromachi period, the Azuchi-Momoyam period, and the Edo period. However, since this classification is not always complete enough, the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (in Japan) and the Sengoku period (in Japan) are also included in the classification as well.
These are taken from the classification of historical periods used in China
The period next to the Edo period should be the Tokyo period. However, based upon the period when each Emperor was or is on his throne, the Meiji period, the Taisho period, the Showa period, and the Heisei period are used instead. Concerning the areas located remotely from the center of Japan, such as Hokkaido, the northern Tohoku area and the islands in the southeast of the main islands of Japan, different classifications of historical periods are used (for more information, refer to the table of the classification of historical periods in Japanese history).

Furthermore, the following classification, based upon the cultural aspects, is also used: Jomon culture, Yayoi culture, tumulus culture, Asuka culture, Hakuho culture, Tenpyo culture, Konin-Jokan culture, Kokufu culture (Japan's original national culture), Insei period culture, Kamakura culture, Kitayama culture, Higashiyama culture, Momoyama culture, Genroku culture, Kasei culture, Meiji culture, and popular culture (for more information, refer to "cultural history of Japan."

Recognition of history and descriptions of history

Modern historical concepts were introduced in Japan during the Meiji Restoration or later, or during the latter half of the nineteenth century. However, even before that, history was considered and descriptions of history had been made.

Ancient times

In the 6th century when the Yamato sovereignty (the ancient Japan sovereignty) was going to form a unified nation, Teiki, which recorded the family tree of the Wa royal family, and Kyuji, in which mythology of Wa was described, were compiled. In the first half of the 7th century, "Tennoki" (a record of emperors) was compiled by Prince Shotoku as well. Inheriting such a historical document-compiling tradition, the compilation of "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), the first official document about Japanese history, was completed during the first half of the 8th century when a unified nation based on Ritsuryo codes was established. Strongly affected by the official histories of China, "Nihonshoki" strongly appeals the legitimacy of control by the Emperor and its contents mostly include descriptions of how succession to the Imperial Throne had been made. This assertion of 'the legitimacy of the Emperor' and the 'uniqueness of Japan' were main themes in Rikkokushi (the Six National Histories), which in addition to "Nihonshoki," include "Shoku Nihongi" (chronicle of Japan, continued), "Nihon Koki" (later chronicle of Japan), "Shoku Nihon Koki" (later chronicle of Japan, Continued), "Nihon montoku tenno jitsuroku" (the fifth national history, covering years 850 - 858, reign of Montoku) and "Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku" (the sixth of the six classical Japanese history texts), and its effects remained until the end of the Edo period.

The Rikkokushi, the official histories, were compiled as a national project centered on an organization called Senkokushisho the (history compilation bureau). However, no further official history was compiled after the compilation of Shinkokushi (a new national history), which was to follow "Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku," was stopped before being completed. During the middle era of the Heian period and later, government officials compiled various chronicles, including "Ruiju Kokushi" (classified national history), "Nihongi Ryaku" (a summary of Japanese chronologies), and "Hyakuren sho" (history book from the Kamakura period), as the historical documents that they would refer to in conducting their political operations. All of the histories mentioned above were written in Chinese. However, in the latter half of the Heian period, the Kokufu Bunka, in which human beings were depicted in Japanese styles, prevailed, and many historical stories, war chronicles and collections of anecdotes were written in the Japanese-writing style that enabled the descriptions to be made more flexibly and richly. It is understood that these were produced by giving new historical meanings to the views of history in the previous official histories. Typical examples of these include "Eiga monogatari" (a tale of flowering fortunes), "Okagami" (the great mirror) and "Masukagami" (the clear mirror) for the historical stories, "Heike Monogatari" (the tale of the Heike) and "Taiheiki" (the record of the great peace) for war chronicles, and "Konjaku monogatari shu" (tales of times now and then collection) for collections of anecdotes. These books helped to make history recognized widely by samurai and the general public.

The medieval period.

As samurai gained power in the Kamakura period and later, the court nobles' sense of danger against them had increased. It was Jien who, representing these court nobles, wrote "Gukansho" (jottings of a fool) to show a new recognition of history. Jien described Japanese history based on Mappo-shiso (the "end of the world" belief) and dori (order), and tried to rationally understand, based on the concept of dori, why samurai came to gain such strong political power. According to some opinions, this book is the first one in which a recognition of history was clearly described. During the medieval period, history became widely understood based upon Buddhism. For this, however, mythologies in "Nihonshoki" were read actively by Shinto priests, and the concept of connecting history with the mythologies was created centering on the standpoint of the Shinto religion. With such a situation as a background, Chikafusa KITABATAKE wrote, in around the middle of the medieval period, "Jinno shotoki" (records of the legitimate succession of the divine emperors) whose theme was Shinkoku-shiso (the thought considering Japan as the land of the gods) based on the Shinto religion. During the medieval period, history was also recognized through ceremonies in annual events and in Yusoku kojitsu (court and samurai rules of ceremony and etiquette), and therefore, many diaries and records were written to hand over practices from older days to later generations. Affected by such a situation, "Azuma Kagami" (the Mirror of the east), an official history of the Kamakura bakufu, was written in a diary style as well.

The early-modern times

Entering the early-modern times (the Edo period), the Shogun family and Daimyo families (feudal lord families) adopted Confucian thought actively to legitimatize their power and compiled their own histories to assert their legitimacy. "Butoku taiseiki," "Honchotsugan" and "Dainihonshi" (great history of Japan) are typically such books. Confucianism is originally provided with rational thinking, and the state of Confucian thought being widely accepted produced descriptions of history based on something like rationalism: Tokushi Yoron (lessons from History) and Koshitsu (study book about ancient history), both of which were written by Hakuseki ARAI, are such examples. These movements led to fact-based research of history, or the historical research of political systems by Sorai OGYU and Togai ITO, and affected Kokugaku (the study of Japanese classical literature) as well. The peak of the rational and fact-based recognition of history in the early-modern times was reached by Nakamoto TOMINAGA.. Nakamoto insisted that religion and philosophy, such as Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto, had also changed historically and should be considered objectively, and not considered absolutely true. This situation is evaluated to show that the research of history in Japan had already been provided with enough bases for accepting modern history. On the other hand, during the latter half of the Edo period, as the bakufu-domain system became unmatched with needs at that time and pressure from foreign nations had heightened, interests for history had increased among general public as well, and many popular histories, such as "Nihon Gaishi" (historical book on Japan) and "Kochoshiryaku" (brief history book about emperors from Jinmu to Gokomatsu), were published.

The modern times

During the era from around the end of the Edo period to the Meiji Restoration, modern European history, such as history of civilization, had been brought to Japan rapidly, and in particular, progressive views of history and evolutionary views of history had rapidly become well known. These views of history had not existed in Japan until then, and had the nature of trying to find universal laws in history. Affected by these situations, Ukichi TAGUCHI and Yukichi FUKUZAWA, both of whom were placed out of power, wrote "Nihon kaika shoshi" (literally, small history of Japanese civilization) and "Bunmeiron no gairyaku" (an outline of a theory of civilization), respectively. Activities in this line progressed towards emphasizing points common to Japanese history and European history.

On the other hand, from the viewpoint of building a nation-state centered on the Emperor, the Meiji government developed nationalistic descriptions of history. This constituted the view of history to legitimize Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor) and the restoration of Imperial rule. Therefore, the Taika Reforms, Kenmu Restoration and Meiji Restoration were positioned as the most important reformations, and these nationalistic views of history had been actively introduced, in particular, into actual education of history. Kokugaku in the previous period and the thought of revering the Emperor existed in the background of such a move, and the thought of emphasizing uniqueness of Japanese that existed in "Nihonshoki" and had been maintained thereafter as well existing base. Thus, two flows of thoughts, the direction of trying to find universality in history and the direction of emphasizing uniqueness of Japanese history, can be found in the recognition of history and descriptions of history during the Meiji period and later.

In 1887, Ludwig Riess, a disciple of Leopold von Ranke, the founder of positivism-based history, was invited to Imperial University. Riess taught strict positivism-based history, formed so-called government-led academism, but had the tendency to place too much emphasis on checking historical evidences. Towards the end of the Meiji period, evolution phase-based views of history was advocated affected by the German historical school, and materialistic views of history based on Marxism was introduced to Japan as well. Entering the Taisho period, the historical theory (by Kant and Dilthey) strongly denying the concept of considering that history progresses according to a law, a concept strongly supported in Marxism-based materialistic views of history, was introduced, strengthening interests in the philosophy of history. During this period, interests were generated in various areas of history, such as socioeconomic history, cultural history, and ideological history. While history advanced in this way, collisions between history and nationalistic views of history occurred (for example, the incident of "Shinto is a remnant of the ancient custom of worshiping heaven," Nanbokucho-Seijunron (an argument on legitimacy of either Northern or Southern Dynasty) in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (in Japan), and the incident of the emperor-as-organ theory). History had placed too much importance on positivism and treated recognition of history and methodologies of history lightly. This fact was one of the factors that allowed nationalistic views of history to gain ground. Then, entering the Showa period, nationalistic views of history centered on the Emperor (Kokoku Shikan, that is emperor-centered historiography which is based on state Shinto) and poetic justice views of history became prosperous.

The contemporary period

After World War II, the power of insisting on the uniqueness of Japanese history has become weak, and the power of taking the social science-based views of trying to find universality in history has become major. In particular, positivism-based history and materialistic view-based history have become dominant. After the war, history has been released from the restrictions of nationalistic views of history and has achieved many important results. However, positivism-based history has a weak point that it treats philosophy of history lightly, and materialistic view-based history has also a weak point in that it has the tendency of becoming dogmatic. Therefore, their limitations have begun to be pointed out since the latter half of 1960s. In 1979 and later, reviews of history in the era after the war started, and in particular, the vigorous activities concerned have been accelerating. Stating in this era, the attempts to reflect folklore and cultural anthropology, which had been little considered until then, in history academically have become active. Because of these investigations of history, many results that are largely different from well-known images of history have been reported: Yoshihiko AMINO is a typical researcher reporting such results. On the other hand, it has begun to be pointed out recently that the images of history possessed by the general public have become increasingly diversified from recent research results.

On the other hand, history has become increasingly more popular after the war, and historical novels, for example, by Chogoro KAIONJI and by Ryotaro SHIBA, have been read widely. Furthermore, a phenomenon that can be said a history boom, for example, popular and hot disputes about Yamatai-koku kingdom, has been generated, with theories lacking academic reliability (for example, the theory of Kyushu dynasty) gaining a certain amount of support as well. In addition, the power of strongly insisting on the uniqueness of Japanese history, which has become considerably weaker after the war, has insisted its views as liberalism-based views of history. Each of these examples have not reached the level called history, but the interests of the general public in history can be recognized.

[Original Japanese]