Brief History of Japan – Part 2

Between the 14th and 16th century, Japanese people were ruled under a system of feuds that were always fighting against each other. The capital was still Kyoto, where the Shogun “controlled” the whole country. But when the Shogun Hideyoshi died in 1598, the new Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu decided to rule from his castle in Edo.

Up until then, Edo had been a small unimportant village, but starting on the 17th century, it would turn into the capital of Japan; Edo is now known as Tokyo. All sorts of commercial routes from Kyoto to Edo/Tokyo quickly appeared. Samurai, nomads and traders started to settle in the new key center of the island.

Edo tokyo
Edo/Tokyo around 400 years ago.

For more than 200 years, different generations of the Tokugawa family ruled the country. They were extremely conservative and that led them to close the doors to any external influence. Meaning foreigners were not allowed in Japan. If a foreigner was found in the country, he was immediately sentenced to death. Many Spanish and Portuguese explorers died when they arrived to Japan. Moreover, a 1614 law forbid all Japanese people to leave the country.

Japan was totally closed to external influences until 1868. Think about the consequences that this isolation can have for a country and its people. All Japanese people had a love for Japan that was almost neurotic, they thought they were the center of the world and they sweated blood working for their country. This can still be felt today. Also think that in 1868, the Western world already had trains and different technologies that Japan didn’t have; they were still using beasts of burden. How could they develop all the necessary technology to confront the United States in WWII in only 72 years? How could they, after being defeated in WWII, make a comeback in so little time and become one of the biggest world powers, becoming a world leader in technology?

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

1 Comment
  • Mike

    August 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Japan and Germany both got heavily rebuilt by the “western powers”, mainly the USA, after being wrecked in the war. This meant all thier factories used the most modern equipment. Meanwhile in the countries that didn’t get totally wrecked (like Britain and the USA) they continued to use older equipment in the factories. If they tried to upgrade this would mean some people would those their jobs (newer machines need less people to run) and the workers would come out on strike all the time. So while Japan and Germany raced ahead manufacturing in other countries, formerly giants, collapsed and millions lost their jobs. The effects on villages in Wales and northern English cities are still felt today, though they are probably not felt by the higher-ups in the unions who organised the strikes, who are busily keeping Labour MP’s chairs warm and blaming it all on “the system”.