This time, let’s visit the far-east, and voyage to the land of the rising sun, Japan. From the Jomon and the Yayoi to the technological and cultural giant that it is today, how did Japan develop in the last 100,000 years through war, religion, ideas and more? Let’s take a quick dive into it.
Lasting for the time-frame of about 8000-c. 300BC (though dates are disputed), the Jomon Period is the first era that has been studied till now. They were the first documented inhabitants of the island and are named after the distinct cord-marked pattern style of pottery uncovered from the time. The Yayoi people from the Korean peninsula joined the scene in approximately the first millennium BC. And from the fourth century BC, they developed iron tools and weapons and since they were an agricultural civilization, they swiftly started replacing the native Jomon, who were hunter-gatherers. Fast-forward to a couple of years later, and we have an Emperor ruling Japan by an imperial court system, with its capital established at Heiyan-kyō, present-day Kyoto.
This was the age when Japan’s culture started growing, the golden age for Japanese culture, with the famous Shinto religion kicking off in this time, along with Buddhism. Around 1185 however, the Emperor and the imperial system started to falter, and the warrior clans known as Samurai started rising in power.
Now, this is where things start getting a little bit more complicated. During a war between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan known as the Genpei War, the latter won, and the head of the clan, Yoritomo titled himself, the shogun, eventually setting up his capital in Kamakura. In the year 1274, the Mongols decided to invade Japan. And so they advanced by sea, waiting for a while before they attacked. And the worst place to be if a typhoon was to hit, was a sea. And that’s exactly what happened. The Mongol fleets were blown away and shipwrecked, but the Mongols didn’t give up. They tried again in 1281 and were blasted away in a typhoon once more. These two incidences deepened the people’s belief in the ‘kamikaze’ literally, ‘divine winds’ and religion was booming.
Under the rule of the shogun, regional warlords known as Daimyo started increasing in power, and as they grew, so did their ambitions. And from here on we enter into the famous Sengoku era, Sengoku jidai or Age of the Warring States(1467-1615), an era of betrayal, war and a lot of social and political upheavals. One of the most influential and well-known Daimyo was Oda Nobunaga, the one who practically would’ve succeeded in unifying Japan, if not for the betrayal of Akechi Mitsuhide, his underling. Nobunaga’s rule was noted for innovative military tactics, fostering free trade, reform of Japan’scivil government, and encouraging the start of the Momoyama historical art period, but also the brutal suppression of opponents, eliminating those who refused to cooperate or yield to his demands. Oda Nobunaga died after committing seppuku (cutting the belly/suicide by disembowelment) in 1582 in the rather well-known Honno-Ji incident, after being ambushed by Mitsuhide. Nobunaga’s retainer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi
continued with the unification of Japan till about 1590, and although he tried to conquer the Korean peninsula, he failed and was kicked back to japan. He was succeeded by Tokugawa Ieyasu after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Thus began the Tokugawa shogunate which lasted ill the Great Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Tokugawa shogunate added in a strict class system and almost completely cordoned off the land from the rest of the world (sakoku). The American Perry Expedition in 1853–54 completely halted Japan’s seclusion, and this contributed to the fall of the shogunate and the emergence of the Emperor once more.
The Meiji era transformed the feudal and isolated island into a place closely resembling Western regions and customs. And although it had become a democratic state with civilian rights, Japan’s powerful military had great autonomy and overruled Japan’s civilian leaders in the 1920s and 1930s. Japan was also fighting a war with the Chinese during WWII but it’s military was getting spread too thin and was growing weary. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.
After 1955, Japan enjoyed extensive economic growth under the governance of the Liberal Democratic Party and became one of the most prominent economic powerhouses in the world.
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And wishing you all a very happy new year!