Japan - A Brief History

Although the history of settlement in Japan goes back to the Paleolithic period, we begin at the Asuka period (592 - 710), which takes its name from the region Asuka, which was when Buddhism was introduced from both Korea and China. This was also the time period when the name of the country changed from Wa to Nihon.

Following the Asuka period came the Nara period (710 - 794) which centred itself on the imperial court in Heijō-kyō now known as the city of Nara. During this period Japan emerged as a strong nation state, although it also suffered greatly when a smallpox epidemic wiped out a third of the population. Following the Nara period came the Heian period (794–1185) During this period, Japanese art, poetry and prose developed alongside the prospering of Buddhism which was adopted by the nation as a whole.

In 1185, Samurai Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed shogun and established a base of power in Kamakura heralding the arrival of the Kamakura period (1185–1333). During this period the The Zen school of Buddhism was introduced from China.

Following the Kamakura period, there was a brief time period where the nation was ruled by Emperor GoDaigo who tried unsuccessful to reintroduce civilian rule. This period was ended with the arrival of Ashikaga Takauji who set up a power base in Kyoto. This era became known as the Muromachi Period and lasted from 1336–1573. During this period the art of Miyabi prospered. This period also endured a civil war that lasted 100 years which became known as the Ōnin War otherwise known as the Sengoku period.

Between 1573 and 1603, begun by Oda Nobunaga and completed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi the nation was once again united as one. During this period which is known as Azuchi-Momoyama Period Japan traded with European missionaries, who introduced them to western technology and firearms. In 1603, with the advent of the Edo period, almost all contact with other nations ceased as Japan became an insular nation. Only the port city of Nagasaki in Kyushu provence remained in contact with outsiders via Portuguese missionaries.

In 1854, the beginnings of modern Japan evolved through contacts developed with the United States and following a year long civil war between the Shogunate and the Imperial Court the Era of the Meiji Restoration Period began and Japan opened up to the west.