A Chronology of Japanese History and Culture
Jidai is the Japanese word for the division of time into specific eras throughout its history, from prehistoric times to the present day. Distinct periods in Japan's history are also categorized according to its reiging emperor, or the ruling shogunate. An imperial era begins with the emperor's ascension to the throne and ends with his death. The divisions of the shogun era are based on the length of the most powerful clan's reign of power. The most recently completed era in Japan is the Showa era, which began with the the ascension of Emperor Hirohito in 1926, and ended with his death in 1989, ushering in the present era which is Heisei, with the ascension of Emperor Akihito.
JOMON (10,000 - 300 B.C.) The earliest of Japan's historic eras, during which tribal clans were formed, hunter-gatherers made the first pottery from coils of clay, and the first emperor, Jimmu the Divine Warrior, is believed to have descended from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami in 660 B.C.
YAYOI (300 B.C. - A.D. 300) This second historic era marked the first cultivation of rice, early metalworking, and the use of the potter's wheel, all of which were introduced from China and Korea. The era gets its name from the area in Tokyo where an archaeological excavation revealed wheel-turned pottery. The Shinto religion began to organize, and family clans formed small local governments.
KOFUN (YAMATO) (300 - 645) Family clans grew in size and power. Interaction with continental Asia increased. Enormous gravesites with keyhole-shaped mounds called kofun were built to house the remains of powerful clan leaders. The Yamato clan established its family lineage back to Jimmu and the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami, marking the beginning of the imperial dynasty that includes the present day emperor. Both Buddhism and the written alphabet were introduced from China. Emperor Shotoku Taishi (574-622) established a centralized government and encouraged the spread of Buddhism and the teachings of Confucius.
ASUKA (645 -710) Family clans continued to rise in power, along with a great governmental reformist movement called Taika no Kaishin (Taika Reforms), modeled after the Tang Dynasty. The Empress Kogyoku was removed from the throne and replaced by her younger brother, who became Emperor Kotoku. His inner minister Nakatomi no Kamatari, who later joined the powerful Fujiwara clan, helped facilitate the Taika no Kaishin.
NARA (710 - 794) Nara was designated as the imperial capital of Japan. Buddhism became more widespread through the encouragement of the imperial family and was eventually adopted as the state relition. The Kokiji (Record of Ancient Matters), a written record of the early myths and legends was compiled, along with Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan).
HEIAN (794-1185) The imperial capital was moved to the city of Heiankyo, now known as Kyoto. Ties with China were severed. Imperial power diminished with the rise of the bushi warrior class. Buddhism continued to flourish in Nara and spread throughout Japan. Japanese culture grew more refined. Literature emerged with the development of the simplified kana alphabet. Murasaki Shikibu, a daughter of the Fujiwara family and lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko, wrote the world's first novel, Genji Monogatari, the Tale of Genji, in 1002, while other women of the court added to the proliferation of Japan's growing literary collection.
KAMAKURA (1185-1333) The rise of Japan's feudal system began with the establishment of a military government in Kamakura by the warrior Yoritomo of the powerful Minamoto clan, Japan's first shogun, with the title Seii Taishogun, Great General over the Barbarians, bestowed upon him by the emperor. The Emperor Go-Toba became a figurehead on the throne in Kyoto, as the shogunate siezed power over the people of Japan. The invasion of Mongol tribes under Kublai Khan, although defeated, weakened the power of the Kamakura shogunate.
MUROMACHI (1333 -1568) Ashikaga Takauji established a new shogunate in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. Zen Buddhism emerged as a distinct scion of the religion. Japanese culture flourished and grew in refinement, including the arts of brush calligraphy, painting, topiary gardens and the tea ceremony. The 10-year Onin no Ran (Onin War) further weakend the Kamakura shogunate, and Sengoku Jidai, a great civil war ensued. European weaponry was introduced by the Portuguese, and Christianity was introduced by Francis Xavier.
AZUCHIMOMOYAMA (1568 -1600) The country was reunified after the civil war by the great warrior Oda Nobunaga, whose work was continued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after his death. Hideyoshi attempted imperialist colonialization in Korea without success. The aesthetic and martial arts continued to flourish among the ruling class. Christianity continued to spread.
EDO (TOKUGAWA) (1600 -1868) Tokugawa leyasu established a powerful shogunate in the city of Edo (now Tokyo). Japan closed its ports to foreign trade, with the exception of Chinese and Dutch traders at Nagasaki. Christianity was restricted. A strong governmental and social hierarchy brought peace and order to the country. Cities grew in size and number, and free commerce flowed between them. The middle class of merchants and artisans grew in wealth and power. Music, theater, literature, publishing and especially Ukiyo-e printmaking and painting reached its height. Commodore Matthew C. Perry demanded entry into Tokyo Bay, and Japan opened its ports to foreign trade for the first time in two hundred years. The Boshin Senso, a great civil war against the Tokugawa shogunate brought about the fall of the feudal system in Japan.
MEIJI (1868 -1912) After a great uprising against the Tokugawa shogunate, the Emperor Mutsuhito, now known as Meiji, was restored to the imperial throne of Japan. The shogun, samurai and bushi became common citizens under the rule of the emperor and Japan strived to build up its military and industrial power. Japanese colonialism on continental Asia resulted in two wars, the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, and the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, as well as the occupation of Korea in 1910.
TAISHO [1912-1926] The Emperor Yoshihito reigned over Japan. Economic growth continued in Asia and the Pacific islands. The beginnings of political reform began with the support of a Liberal party government. Emperor Yoshihito, in failing health, appointed his son Hirohito as Regent.
SHOWA [1926 -1989] Hirohito, Japan's longest ruling emperor ascended the throne. Military occupation in Asia continued. Japan joined the Axis powers in World War II and waged war against the United States. Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A constitution was drafted and a democratic parlimentary government was established. U.S. troops continued to occupy Japan during the post-war reconstruction. Japan joined in the economic and technological boom of the next four decades, becoming one of the most prosperous and significant economies in the world. Japan hosted the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964, and the 1970 World Expo in Osaka. Japan resumed diplomatic relations with China in 1972. Emperor Hirohito died January 7, 1989.
HEISEI (1989- ) Prince Akihito ascended the imperial throne in 1989, where he has ruled to the present day. The economy of Japan continues to flourish in peace and prosperity on both a domestic and global level.