Timeline of Japan's History   日本の歴史

Date of publication :
Ise Shrine

Ise Shrine

Todaiji temple, Nara

View of the Todaiji temple Nara.

The Buddha of Kamakura

It was Buddhism that made vegetarianism popular in Japan, and its influence remains today.

Kinkaku-ji

The Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji.

Each year, the Sanja Matsuri draws a huge crowd in the Sensôju, the temple of Asakusa.

Each year, the Sanja Matsuri draws a huge crowd in the Sensôju, Asakusa temple.

Old Samurai photograph

Old Samurai photograph

Tokyo Tower

Like the Eiffel Tower represents Paris, the Empire State New York, Tokyo Tower is a symbol of the Japanese capital.

Japan's History

The history of Japan is both rich and ancient, and it is often difficult to work out the time the many Japanese historical events. We have put together a simple timeline of Japanese history to help. 

Before the 2nd Century BC: Prehistory

Prehistory (Jomon and Yayoi periods) saw the appearance of the first communities, as well as metallurgy and agriculture. It is the time of the legendary Emperor Jimmu the foundation of Japan and that of the construction of the Ise Shrine.


Before 538 AD: Kofun period

The Kofun period is named after the large mound tombs dating from this era visible at Sakai and Nara. Most of Honshu was under the control of the Yamato clan (Nara). 


538-710: Asuka period

The history of Japan is enriched and modeled on Chinese civilization. During this period saw the introduction of Buddhism, writing, architecture and sculpture. As well as the first Japanese Buddhist temple: the Horyuji (Nara).

Further reading: Buddhism in Japan 


710-794: Nara period

Affirmation of the central power of the emperors. Construction of the first capital in Nara and its great temples: Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha, etc.


794-1085: Heian period

Relocation of the capital to Heian-kyo (modern Kyoto). During this period Japan was heavily influenced by China and adopted a Chinese style of power, dominated by the Fujiwara clan. This period in the history of Japan is considered to be the classical era of Japanese civilization, and when the 'Tale of Genji' was written. Construction of the Byodoin in Uji. Development of Buddhism with the monk Kukai and the foundation of Koya san and its temples. 


1085-1336: Kamakura period

The power of the imperial court fades before the clans of samurai. During this time there was a struggle between the Minamoto and the Taira during the Gempei War. The dictatorship of Taira no Kiyomori, but a victory of Minamoto no Yoritomo and establishment of the first shogunate (government of the warriors). Relocation of power to Kamakura and construction of its temples including the Big Buddha of Kamakura and the Temple Tsurugaoka. During this time also saw the development of Zen Buddhism by the monk Eisai.


1336-1491: Muromachi period

Reversal shogun Kamakura by Ashikaga Takauji, who founded the 2nd shogunate and reinstall the power back to Kyoto. Introduction of Japanese feudalism, and fusion of the culture of the samurai and the court, resulting in the development of the traditional Japanese arts that we know today such as the tea ceremony and Noh theater. Construction of the most famous temples of Kyoto (Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Ryoanji).


1491-1603: The Sengoku Jidai

The disappearance of central power due to repeated civil wars. The appearance of the Daimyo warlords. At this stage in the history of Japan, the country is divided by a continuous civil war until the action of the various unifiers: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Construction of the great Japanese castles (Himeji, Kumamoto). First contact with Europeans and the introduction of Christianity.


1603-1853: Edo period

Unification of Japan under the 3rd Tokugawa shogunate. Installation of power in Edo (Tokyo). The borders of Japan were closed to foreigners and the prohibition of Christianity. Urbanization of Japan and the development of rich merchants. Development of the Kabuki theater and the Japnese printmaking, Ukiyo-e. Construction of Nijo Castle in Kyoto and Senso-ji in Asakusa Tokyo.


1853-1868: Bakumatsu

The final period of the Edo period. This period saw the forced opening of Japan by the Americans, leading to the overthrow of the Tokugawa. Beginning of modernization and industrialization of Japan. Foundation of Yokohama.


1868-1911: Meiji era

Restoration of imperial power and relocation of this to Tokyo (old name Edo). Japan is becoming a modern power. Modernization of Tokyo with the creation of the districts of Ginza, Marunouchi. The arrival of the railway and electricity. Conquest of Korea and Taiwan. Military victories against the Russian Empire and China.


1911-1926: Taisho era

During this period a democratic system was implemented for the first time in Japan. 


1926-1989: Showa era

Beginning of imperialist politics and military government. The policy of expansion towards China, involving the entry of Japan in the Second World War and the defeat in 1945. Reconstruction of the country under American trusteeship, and the "Japanese economic miracle". Construction of the Tokyo Tower and reconstruction of the city in its current form.


1989-2019: Heisei era

The contemporary history of Japan is marked by a period of economic crisis, natural disasters, and other difficulties but also of the cultural influence of the country in the world. Construction of the Sky Tree tower and bid for the Olympic Games.


Today: Reiwa era

On 1st May 2019 Emperor Naruhito acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the beginning the Reiwa era.

Comments Read comments from our travellers

Traveller

"The policy of expansion towards China" during the Showa Era sounds somewhat of a euphemism for invading another country. Imagine Hitler's policy of expansion towards Poland, or Putin's policy of expansion towards Ukraine, and anyone can see how awkward the words sound. Japan is a wonderful country and I'm sure most people would not think less of it if more honest terms were used.