A Brief History of Japan

Image by: © Olivia Braddock

  • In the Middle Ages, Japan had a feudal system. The Shogunate governed four social classes: nobles (aristocrats & samurai), farmers, craftsmen and merchants. Nobles only made up 10% of the population.  Japan was ruled by local daimyo, with a set of individual provinces called Han. The emperor had no real power.
  • Japan was cut off from the Western world for over 270 years. This was to stop the spread of Christianity within Japan and to enable the Shogunate to maintain overall control of the country.  Dutch and Chinese traders were still permitted to trade at Dejima, near Nagasaki, and Japanese ‘Red Seal’ ships traded in East Asia.
  • In 1854 American ships arrived under Commodore Perry and forced Japan to open its borders to trade. Suddenly exposed to the power of Western countries such as Great Britain and America, Japan realised it had to drastically change in order to keep up.
  • The internal turmoil caused by the arrival of the West was one of the factors leading to the Emperor being returned to power and the Shogunate being abolished. In order to unify Japan, a strong central leader, the Emperor, was needed. This was called the 'Meiji Restoration' and it happened in 1868
  • Japan modernised at a rapid rate. Diplomats were sent to Europe and America. They brought back advanced technology as well as new concepts and ideas.  Hundreds of new kanji words were created for use and they were imported by China for their use.  (e.g. philosophy, economics, nature, underground railway ) 
  • Following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulting in the end of World War II, the country began to rebuild itself. Before long Japan grew stronger and stronger and advances in education, industry and technology began to exceed those of some Western countries.  By 1968 Japan became the second largest economy of the world after the USA.

 (Photo by: ASIMO Ambiance ©  copyright: Good Relations)

  • Today Japan is known for its futuristic cities with high-speed bullet trains and ever evolving technological advancements, such as Ashimo, the robot (see image). However, much of its traditional culture (shrines, temples, arts & crafts) still remains untouched by the changing world around it.

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