• According to the legends, Japan was created by the sun goddess, from whom descend the emperors. The first emperor was Jimmu, supposed to have ascended the throne in 660 B.C.

    Recorded Japanese history begins in approximately A.D. 400, when the Yamato clan gained control of other family groups in central and western Japan. Around the same time, Korea introduced Buddhism to Japan. Through the 700s China influenced Japan and the Yamato clan set up an imperial court similar to that of China. In the following centuries, the authority of the imperial court was undermined as powerful gentry families fought for control.

    Meanwhile, warrior clans called samurai were rising. In 1192 the Minamoto clan set up a military yoritomogovernment under their leader Yoritomo (the shogun or military dictator). For the following 700 years, shoguns ruled in Japan, while the imperial court existed in relative obscurity.

    First contact with the West came in about 1542, when a Portuguese ship off course arrived in Japan. Portugese, Spanish, Dutch, and English traders followed. Suspicious of Christianity and of Portuguese support of a local Japanese revolt, the shoguns of the Tokugawa period (1603–1867) prohibited all trade with foreign countries until 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry sailed an American fleet into Tokyo Bay. Trade with the West was forced upon Japan and the strife caused by these actions brought down the feudal world of the shoguns. In 1868, the emperor Meiji came to the throne, and the shogun system was abolished.


    Japan changed from a medieval to a modern power amazingly quickly. They established an Imperial army and a parliamentary government was formed in 1889. Japan began to expand its empire by acquiring Formosa (Taiwan), the Pescadores Islands, and part of southern Manchuria.

    In 1904–1905, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, gaining the territory of southern Sakhalin (Karafuto) and Russia's port and rail rights in Manchuria. In World War I, Japan seized Germany's Pacific islands. The Treaty of Versailles then awarded Japan a mandate over the islands.

    In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria, in 1937 China which was then followed by the Ppearl harbourearl Harbor attack on the U.S. on Dec. 7, 1941. Although Japan won its first military engagements during the war, in 1942 the Japanese were forced to retreat to their own country. The government admitted defeat after the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 by the United States. Southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands were given back to the USSR, and Formosa (Taiwan) and Manchuria to China. The Pacific islands remained under U.S. occupation.