Nation, occupying an archipelago between the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan, and the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of E Asia. There are hundreds of smaller island s and four main island s: Hokkaido is the northernmost, Honshu the largest and most important, Shikoku the smallest, and Kyushu the southernmost. Tokyo, one of the major metropolises of the world, is the capital. The island s are mostly mountainous, and less than 20 percent of the land is arable. The population density is high in this thoroughly industrialized country.
By tradition Japan was founded in 660 b.c. by the Emperor Jimmu, but reliable records begin only c. a.d. 400. However, archaeology has filled in the picture. The Japanese Neolithic period began c. 10,000 b.c. with the Jomon culture; bronze and iron were introduced c. 200 b.c. By the early Christian era, Japan was divided among many small clans and kingdoms ruled by chiefpriests. Contacts in this period with Korea were close. In the fourth century a.d. one of these clans, the Yamato, based near Kyoto, became dominant; and by the fifth century its priestking had become emperor, though not yet in control of even the whole of Honshu. The Yamato capital was at first Nara, then Kyoto. A colony was established in Korea, and between the sixth and ninth centuries Buddhism and Chinese influence, under the great T’ang dynasty, became important in bringing civilization to the country and shaping the character of the nascent state.
By the ninth century the Fujiwara family were in control of the state, under the emperor, but their power was threatened by the growth of feudal entities, leading to civil war in the 12th century. Finally in 1192, after much internal warfare, the Minamoto family gained control, and Yoritomo became the first shogun. Based at Kamakura, he was the real ruler of Japan. A succession of shoguns were to rule Japan under the emperor for the next 700 years. The early shoguns faced a deadly peril in the 13th century. Twice, in 1274 and 1281, the Mongols under Kublai Khan, who already controlled China, attempted to invade the island s in force, but were turned back. There were, of course, periods of anarchy when the shogunate was disputed, and for some 250 years after 1338 civil wars raged as the private armies of daimyos, or local lords, and Buddhist monasteries contended for power. Yet trade flourished and the economy grew.
This period also saw the first contacts with Europeans, when the Portuguese appeared in Japan in 1542, and St. Francis Xavier introduced Christianity a few years later. In the late 16th century the shoguns were able once again to centralize power, and in the 1590s shogun Hideyoshi attempted to invade Korea, with China the ultimate objective. In 1603 Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa shogunate, which lasted until 1867. Tokyo, then called Edo, became the shogun’s capital. In the 17th century Japan became a rigid, stratified military dictatorship. Christianity was suppressed and Christians persecuted. Foreigners were banished, and only the Dutch were allowed to trade, and only through the port of Nagasaki. It was the day of the famous warrior caste, the samurai, and the military virtues were exalted. Yet underneath an active middle class was growing, and it was time for a change. On July 8, 1853, a U.S. naval officer, Matthew Calbraith Perry, sailed into Tokyo Bay. He returned in 1854 with several warships, and at the end of March a treaty was signed opening some Japanese ports to Western trade.
The Tokugawa shogunate, weakened and facing growing opposition for its traditionalist policies, fell when the young emperor Meiji came to the throne in 1867 in what is called the Meiji Restoration. The emperor moved to Tokyo, the shogun’s capital, and a modernist group behind him deliberately set out to transform the country, reorganizing the social fabric along Western lines, promoting industrialization, and building up the armed forces. The old military ardor combined with modernization swept Japan into a new, fervent imperialism. In 1894–95 it fought China for control of Korea, which it occupied, but was forced to disgorge the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria by the great powers. Japan’s defeat of Russia at Port Arthur and Mukden and destruction of the Russian fleet in the naval Battle of Tsushima made Japan a world power. Entering World War I on the side of the Allies, Japan was awarded the German island s in the Pacific and took the opportunity of annexing the German leases in China. In 1915 it made the notorious Twenty-one Demand s, which would have made China subservient both militarily and commercially; but some of the demand s were dropped, at U.S. insistence.
It was Japan that led the Allied intervention against the Russian Revolution in Siberia after the war, and its troops remained in Siberia until 1922. It participated in naval disarmament conferences in Washington in 1921–22 and in London in 1930 but walked out of a third conference in 1935 when refused naval parity with the United States and Great Britain. Yet at home in the 1920s there was a lessening of tension and a growth of liberalism, until the Great Depression of 1929 enabled the conservative militarists gradually to regain their power. In 1931 Japan overran Manchuria, setting up the puppet state of Manchukuo, and in 1932 began to penetrate northern China. This led to the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, which gradually merged with World War II. In 1939, at the outbreak of the war in Europe, Japan joined the Axis powers of Germany and Italy and announced its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a plan to dominate the entire area commercially if not militarily, which brought on a series of economic measures and boycotts by the Western powers. In 1941, after initial successes in China, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
With a well-prepared military machine and fleet, Japan initially moved south in Asia with considerable ease until at the height of the war its empire stretched from the Aleutians close to the United States to the borders of India and included part of China, all of Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies. But by 1942 U.S. forces had begun a counterattack that gradually closed in on the Japanese homeland . After the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945. U.S. troops then occupied the country, and under General Douglas MacArthur utterly transformed the economy, turning the government into a constitutional monarchy under the emperor, who was now little but a revered figurehead. A new constitution went into effect in 1947. With its cities and industries badly damaged by U.S. bombing, Japan experienced a period of economic difficulties, but it quickly revived. By the 1970s it had the third-largest gross national product in the world. By the 1980s its remarkable economic and industrial recovery was giving other trading nations throughout the world, including the United States, ever-mounting competition. In 1989 Prince Akihito succeeded to the throne. In the 1990s, Japan’s economic growth slowed and the real estate and stock markets declined. The Liberal Democratic Party was voted out of office for a year the first time in the postwar years. In 1995, a large earthquake damaged the city of Kobe. Japan has slowly been recovering from the deflation of the 1990s, but the 21st century has brought renewed competition with China and South Korea in the economic realm, and issues of security with a bellicose and economically unstable North Korea.Tokyo
Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is a bustling city in the Tokyo prefecture. Tokyo is known world-wide as a hub for fashion, food, music, gaming, and design. The city is also relatively close to Mt. Fuji, which is definitely worth a visit, especially in the fall when the maple leaves are bright red. For many tourists traveling to Japan this is where they will begin their trip. But once the overwhelming flashing city lights and shoulder-to-shoulder tram rides are done entertaining you, there are many other beautiful cities to see, with just as much excitement but maybe a little less sensory overload.Kyoto
Kyoto, the original capital of the island country of Japan, is a thriving, modern city with ancient temples and relics sprinkled within. The city's center is thriving with boutiques, cafes, ramen shops, and hidden markets down ancient alley ways. Take a break from shopping and dining and choose to tour one of dozens surrounding sacred temples. Gorgeous Japanese gardens blossom pink in the spring and deep red in the fall as you meander through curving paths to temples such as: Kinkaku-ji, otherwise known as the Golden Temple, or Daitoku-ji which features a grand zen garden. A full list of temples is broken down by its most valued attraction here.Yakushima Island
At the southern tip of Japan, rests a beautiful island, Yakushima. Lush with ancient forests, the island boasts some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world. Waterfalls, suspended bridges, and seemingly untouched beaches - this is truly an enchating escape. Learn more about the island's forests and see photos here.