Where did the Japanese come from?
Settlement of the first Japanese islands began around 30,000 years ago. At least that is what first finds prove. The first settlers probably came from Siberia. It is believed that they immigrated over a land bridge that existed at that time between the Japanese islands and the mainland. Descendants of the Japanese indigenous people still live on the island of Hokkaido today. More immigrants followed from Korea and also from Southeast Asia. It is believed that these natives also reached the islands via land bridges.
What are land bridges?
Land bridges are strips of land that connect two normally separate areas. They can appear and disappear depending on whether the sea level is rising or falling.
Cultures in Japan and the Yamoto Era
According to the Jomon culture, which lasted from 10,000 to 150 BC. And the Yayoi culture in the time of 250 BC. From AD 300 to AD 300, Japan was first united around AD 300 through the Yamoto ruling house. That is why this period is also known as the Yamoto era. The period between 300 and 552 AD is also called the Kofun period. This name comes from the keyhole-shaped barrows that date back to that time. The graves are called Kofun.
The ruling family of Yamato was of the opinion that their descent can be traced back directly to the sun goddess Amaterasu. The result was the first unified Japanese state with a tenno, i.e. the emperor, at the head. Today’s emperors are also of the opinion that they descend from the Sun Queen.
The ruling family of the Yamato did not keep to themselves, but also participated in conflicts in Korea and established contacts in China. The influence of China grew and Buddhism and Chinese script came to Japan. The Japanese emperors also officially adopted the Buddhist faith. The Japanese also adopted the characters from the Chinese. The Chinese influence was also noticeable in many other areas such as handicrafts.
From ancient times to the Middle Ages
A strong government ruled at the time of the Nara from 710. Nara was the capital of the country at that time. During the Heian period from 794 to 1192, Kyoto became the capital. Kyoto also had the name Heian, which is why this name is used for this period. This was also the time of the famous samurai. The Japanese emperors lost power, because power was passed on to the military in the form of shoguns. Shoguns were military leaders. Japanese antiquity comes to an end with the Kamakura epoch.
The Middle Ages in Japan begin with the Yoshino period. The island location protected Japan over the centuries, so the Japanese were able to repel the attack by the Mongols. In general, the entire history of Japan was marked by a change in isolation and openness.
Do you know the term “samurai”? Or maybe you saw the Disney movie “Mulan”? The film is based on a true story. She tells of a courageous girl from a good family who lived in the 5th century. A Chinese folk poem called “Hua Mulan” tells this story, which is about a Chinese girl, not a Japanese one. But the culture of the two countries is similar and there were samurai fighters in both China and Japan. In the poem, Mulan disguises himself as a man in order to go to war as a samurai fighter in place of her father.
Isolation from Europe
In 1543, the first Portuguese landed on the Japanese islands. They brought missionaries with them to convert the locals to the Christian faith. But they should not be successful for long, because at the end of the 16th century proselytizing was banned by Christians.
The Japanese feared too much political influence on their country from the Europeans. That was entirely correct when you look at neighboring countries, such as China, and their history. In general, Japan closed itself off again more strongly.
In the middle of the 19th century (1853), the USA forced Japan to open up their country to the American fleet and to let them into the ports. The Japanese could not withstand this pressure and agreed – not necessarily voluntarily – to trade with the USA and other European countries.
At this time, the rule of the shoguns and their influence on the country ended. Japan had to open up to the West and change. A modern state emerged from the backward agricultural land. The expansion of the state was based on Western models such as Great Britain or Prussia. Roads and railways were built, and industry became more important.
The Meiji period
After the shoguns were disempowered, they needed a new power and gave it to the Tenno (emperor). The Japanese emperors previously had little power and were happy to be able to rule again after 1,000 years. The emperors found support from the samurai warriors who protected them. The period from 1868 onwards is also called the Meiji period. During this period, Japan also expanded further south and north. Today’s border conflicts partly originate from this time.
The Russo-Japanese War
In the period around the turn of the century, there were repeated armed conflicts between Japan and its neighboring countries. In 1894 a war began with China, which led to the weakening of the Chinese.
In 1904 the Russo-Japanese War broke out, which began with an attack by the Japanese on a Russian port and ended a year later in favor of the Japanese, but with tragically high losses on both sides.
Japan’s quest for power
As a country located in Asia according to militarynous, Japan sought to enlarge the Japanese sphere of influence. This was achieved with the occupation of Korea and the establishment of territories in China. In 1923 Japan was shaken by a very severe earthquake that almost completely destroyed the capital Tokyo and the Tokyo region. Even in the 1930s, Japan wanted to expand further and conquer Manchuria. For a short time a new state emerged here under Japanese rule. The Showa era began in 1926 with an emperor named Hirohito. In 1937 the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out.
Japan at the beginning of the Second World War
On May 31, 1939, the Japanese declared half of China occupied. Japan supported Nazi Germany during World War II and brought the USA to join the war with its attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Japan lost the Pacific War after two American atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was an event that left a lasting mark on Japanese history and world history. It was here that the terrible destructive power of the atomic bomb was seen for the first time. The Japanese surrendered in August 1945. Japan was completely destroyed and, like Germany, first had to be rebuilt.
After a period of occupation, the Japanese became allies of the Americans, who also supported the Americans in the Korean War. Japan received a new constitution as early as 1947, which severely restricted the emperor’s power. This is still the case today, because the emperor only has representative functions in Japan, similar to the queen of England.