History of Japan

Japan has a rich history and offers a variety of historical sites for potential visitors.
Japan has a rich history and offers a variety of historical sites for potential visitors.

With a history dating back thousands of years, Japan is one of the world's earliest inhabited island regions. Its current culture can be traced back to the earliest days of the Chinese empire in eastern Asia, the hundreds of years of Japanese cultural and spiritual development, and the post-World War II national rebuilding efforts sponsored and supervised by the newly-formed United Nations.

Japan's history is reflected in almost every aspect of Japanese life. While the country is renowned as one of the most modern and technologically advanced in the world, it's also one of the oldest known cultures in east Asia, and as such retains a great deal of tradition. Customs such as 'face' – a form of social cohesion through agreement, are centuries old and based on ancient Japanese customs.

The most relevant and applicable history of Japan for visitors begins in the fifth century AD, during which Japan formed bonds with the inhabitants of the Korean Peninsula, and the inhabitants of the nearby Chinese coastline. Japan was, for the first time, introduced to the rest of Asia for commerce and culture. One of the chief imports from the continent was Buddhism, then the country's religion.

One of the most visible periods in Japanese history, particularly for visitors aiming to observe the country's many religious heritage areas, is the Nara period. Renowned by Japanese scholars as the early Japanese country's greatest age, this time period established the city of Kyoto as the nation's capital, a decision which lasted until Japan's modern era – over one-thousand years in total.

Nara Japan eventually leads to Feudal Japan, in which major families controlled most of Japan's resources and political influence. The Feudal era of Japanese history is reflected in the hundreds of remarkable temples spread throughout Japan's major cities, including the Osaka-jo, known to most as Osaka Castle.

Of course, the period of Japanese history most well-known to foreign visitors, particularly those in the Western world, is the period of Japanese expansion known as the Empire of Japan period. With rapid economic growth occurring and its national sights set very high, Japan spent almost eighty years colonizing the Korean Peninsula and most of China's Manchuria state.

This aggression eventually extended to the east, in particular towards the Hawaiian islands, a major settlement in the Pacific that Japan saw as a powerful strategic position. One of the most important, significant, and remarkable events in history occurred as a direct result of Japan's expansion during this period – the devastating air attack on Pearl Harbor, and the country's war with the USA.

The effects of this period are still seen within Japan, from the touching Peace Shrine of Hiroshima to the preserved buildings in Tokyo and Osaka that survived intense firebombing. Although the war is rarely spoken about by most Japanese people – a careful quietness exists surrounding the nation's imperial period – it's something that can still be observed in many of the nation's major cities.

Of course, today's Japan is far from the Japan of old, and technology has replaced much of the incredible structures created hundreds of years ago. Walking around Tokyo's historical areas, it's hard not to feel as if you're stuck between dimensions – beside the same castles that were built during the Feudal Age of Japan are gleaming buildings that reek of modernism and progress.

As a leader in technology and a country with an incredible history to tell, Japan is a true mix of ultra-modern life and centuries-old culture. Whether it's seen in Tokyo's Imperial Palace or in the classic styling of Osaka Castle, observing Japan's transition from Old World to mega-modern is a fantastic experience for history fans, and one that can shape the rest of your Japanese vacation.