Japanese religious life from this time and onwards was a mix of native Shinto practices and Buddhism. Over the following centuries, the power of the Emperor and the imperial court gradually declined, passing first to great clans of civilian aristocrats — most notably the Fujiwara — and then to the military clans and their armies of samurai. The Minamoto clan under Minamoto no Yoritomo emerged victorious from the Genpei War of —85, defeating their rival military clan, the Taira. In and , the Kamakura shogunate withstood two Mongol invasions , but in it was toppled by a rival claimant to the shogunate, ushering in the Muromachi period.
Eventually, Japan descended into a period of civil war. The Tokugawa shogunate , which governed from Edo modern Tokyo , presided over a prosperous and peaceful era known as the Edo period — The Tokugawa shogunate imposed a strict class system on Japanese society and cut off almost all contact with the outside world.
Portugal and Japan started their first affiliation in , making the Portuguese the first Europeans to reach Japan by landing in the southern archipelago of Japan.
They had a significant impact on Japan, even in this initial limited interaction, introducing firearms to Japanese warfare. The Netherlands was the first to establish trade relations with Japan, Japanese and Dutch relations are dating back to The American Perry Expedition in —54 more completely ended Japan's seclusion; this contributed to the fall of the shogunate and the return of power to the Emperor during the Boshin War in The new national leadership of the following Meiji period transformed the isolated feudal island country into an empire that closely followed Western models and became a great power.
The military invaded Manchuria in , and from the conflict escalated into a prolonged war with China.
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Japan's forces soon became overextended, but the military held out in spite of Allied air attacks that inflicted severe damage on population centers. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's unconditional surrender on August 15, , following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.
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The Allies occupied Japan until , during which a new constitution was enacted in that transformed Japan into a constitutional monarchy. After , Japan enjoyed very high economic growth , and became a world economic powerhouse. Since the s, the Lost Decade had been a major issue, such as the Great Kobe-Osaka earthquake and Tokyo subway sarin attack.
In , Japan sent a military force as part of the international coalition forces during the Iraq War. The earthquake killed almost 20, people, affected places in the three regions of Tohoku , Chubu , and Kanto in the northeast of Honshu , including the Tokyo area , had massive economic ramifications, and caused the serious Fukushima nuclear power disaster.
Japan is the largest island country in East Asia and the fourth largest island country in the world. The islands of Japan were created by tectonic plate movements over several hundred millions of years from the mid- Silurian Japan is located in the northwestern Ring of Fire on multiple tectonic plates. The subduction plates have pulled the Japanese archipelago eastward, created the Sea of Japan and separated it from the Asian continent by back-arc spreading 15 million years ago.
Japan has active volcanoes , making up 10 percent of all active volcanoes in the world. The stratovolcanoes are near the subduction zones of the tectonic plates. Japan's forest cover rate is The only other developed nations with such a high forest cover percentage are Finland and Sweden. There is a great variety to the geographical features and weather patterns, with a wet season which takes place in early summer for most areas. The mainly temperate climate allows long growing seasons with a diversity of flora and fauna. This provides rich resources to support a high population. The remote location makes Japan relatively secure against foreign invasions.
The Japanese archipelago is surrounded by vast seas and it has rugged, mountainous terrain with steep rivers. Throughout history, Japan was never fully invaded or conquered by foreigners.
The Mongols tried to invade Japan twice and were repelled in and A commonly accepted periodization of Japanese history:. Land bridges , during glacial periods when the world sea level is lower, have periodically linked the Japanese archipelago to the Asian continent via Sakhalin Island in the north and via the Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan in the south since the beginning of the current Quaternary glaciation 2. There may also have been a land bridge to Korea in the southwest, though not in the , years or so since the start of the last interglacial.
The earliest firm evidence of human habitation is of early Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers from 40, years ago, when Japan was separated from the continent. Edge-ground axes dating to 32—38, years ago found in sites in Honshu and Kyushu are unlike anything found in neighboring areas of continental Asia,  and have been proposed as evidence for the first Homo sapiens in Japan; watercraft appear to have been in use in this period. The name "cord-marked" was first applied by the American scholar Edward S. The Yayoi people brought new technologies and modes of living to the Japanese archipelago.
The period was named after a district in Tokyo where a new, unembellished style of pottery was discovered in Though hunting and foraging continued, the Yayoi period brought a new reliance on agriculture. The Yayoi technologies originated on the Asian mainland. There is debate among scholars as to what extent their spread was accomplished by means of migration or simply a diffusion of ideas, or a combination of both. The migration theory is supported by genetic and linguistic studies. Calculations of the population size have varied from 1. This change was accompanied by an increase in both the stratification of society and tribal warfare, indicated by segregated gravesites and military fortifications.
During the Yayoi period, the Yayoi tribes gradually coalesced into a number of kingdoms. The earliest written work of history to mention Japan, the Book of Han completed around 82 AD, states that Japan, referred to as Wa , was divided into one hundred kingdoms.
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According to the Wei Zhi , this kingdom was called Yamatai , though modern historians continue to debate its location and other aspects of its depiction in the Wei Zhi. Yamatai was said to have been ruled by the female monarch Himiko.
Yoshinogari site is a reconstruction of a large Yayoi archaeological site. During the subsequent Kofun period , most of Japan gradually unified under a single kingdom. The symbol of the growing power of Japan's new leaders was the kofun burial mounds they constructed from around AD onwards. The center of the unified state was Yamato in the Kinai region of central Japan.
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The rulers of the Yamato extended their power across Japan through military conquest, but their preferred method of expansion was to convince local leaders to accept their authority in exchange for positions of influence in the government. These leaders sought and received formal diplomatic recognition from China, and Chinese accounts record five successive such leaders as the Five kings of Wa.
Craftsmen and scholars from China and the Three Kingdoms of Korea played an important role in transmitting continental technologies and administrative skills to Japan during this period. At the end of the Kofun period and during the Asuka period, Iranian influence reached its maximum. It is suggested that some Scythians and Persians settled in Japan and were granted titles of feudal lords by the emperor. In turn, they had some influence on the aristocratic system and art of Japan.
Persia and Japan were connected through the Silk Road and established good diplomatic relations.
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The Buddhist Soga clan took over the government in and controlled Japan from behind the scenes for nearly sixty years. The Reform began with land reform, based on Confucian ideas and philosophies from China. It nationalized all land in Japan, to be distributed equally among cultivators, and ordered the compilation of a household registry as the basis for a new system of taxation. Envoys and students were dispatched to China to learn seemingly everything from the Chinese writing system, literature, religion, and architecture, to even dietary habits at this time.
Even today, the impact of the reforms can still be seen in Japanese cultural life. The art of the Asuka period embodies the themes of Buddhist art. It is the oldest wooden structure in the world. This represents the beginning of the presence of Buddhism in Japan. During this period, the first two books produced in Japan appeared: the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki ,  which contain chronicles of legendary accounts of early Japan and its creation myth , which describes the imperial line as descendants of the gods.
During this period, Japan suffered a series of natural disasters, including wildfires, droughts, famines, and outbreaks of disease, such as a smallpox epidemic in — that killed over a quarter of the population.
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It was once part of the powerful Seven Great Temples , located in the ancient former capital Nara. Todai-ji was opened in the year CE. Between — CE, a smallpox epidemic killed almost half of the Japanese population. His son Fujiwara no Mototsune created the office of kampaku , which could rule in the place of an adult reigning Emperor. Fujiwara no Michinaga , an exceptional statesman who became kampaku in , governed during the height of the Fujiwara clan's power  and married four of his daughters to emperors, current and future.
Throughout the Heian period, the power of the imperial court declined. The court became so self-absorbed with power struggles, and with the artistic pursuits of court nobles, that it neglected the administration of government outside the capital.