Brief History of Japan – Part 1

Sometimes I refer to Japanese historic concepts in some posts but I have rarely written about Japanese history in my English blog. Understanding Japanese history is fundamental to understand Japanese society and the causes of the current Japanese technological developments. I will try to write and summarize all Japanese history in the most brief and least boring possible way.

Legend has it that Japan was born from the love between two gods: Izanagi and Izanami. These two gods had a daughter named Amaterasu, from whom all the long dynasty of Japanese emperors until today descend. This is one of the reasons why even today, a great portion of the Japanese population believes the emperor is a living god.

The first Japanese settlers go back to the Jomon Period more than 8 000 years ago. But the first real Japanese state wouldn’t be created until the 8th century, whose first capital was Nara. This city was built following the model of Chinese cities.

Nara Japon
Nara, the first capital of Japan.

During the first years of existence of the Japanese state the emperor lived in Nara. However at that time there were many fights and wars between sects and at one point the emperor couldn’t resist such pressure and he had to move to Kyoto. Today, Kyoto is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan and an obligatory visit.

Anyway, families continued fighting to seize power. At the end, the chief of the Minamoto Clan was named Shogun (General) and set up his headquarter in Kamakura (close to current Tokyo). Then, an era marked by military ideology and Zen Buddhism started and lasted until 1333. During that time, a new class appeared, the samurai, which little by little imposed their control over the whole country.

Samurai started to control Japan around year 1300.

This post is the first part of my brief summary of the history of Japan:

1 reply on “Brief History of Japan – Part 1”

The samurai date back to even before the 1100s and Minamoto. The word samurai means something like “to serve” and they originally served the emperor and court nobles, kind of like mercenaries. Later, after Minamoto, the samurai realized they could serve themselves and not the court. The emperor regained power in 1333 after emperor Go-daigo assumed power with the help of Ashikaga Takauji. But that lasted only 3 years when Takauji realized he didn’t need to answer to Go-daigo. So the Ashikaga shogunate began. By 1467, the Ashikaga became weak and civil war broke out. This is the Sengoku period (warring states period) which lasted until the late 1500s when Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu subdued the country.

I love Japanese history.

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