The first signs of occupation on the Japanese Archipelago appeared with a Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC, followed from around 14,000 BC by the Joumon period, a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer (possibly Ainu) culture of pit dwelling and a rudimentary form of agriculture. Decorated clay vessels from this period, often with plaited patterns, are some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world.
The Yayoi period, starting around 500 BC, saw the introduction of many new practices, such as wet-rice farming, a new style of pottery and metallurgy brought by migrants from China and Korea.
The Japanese first appear in written history in China's Book of Han. According to the Chinese Records of Three Kingdoms, the most powerful kingdom on the archipelago during the third century was called Yamataikoku.
Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, but the subsequent development of Japanese Buddhism and Buddhist sculptures were primarily influenced by China. Despite early resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class and eventually gained growing acceptance since the Asuka period.
The Nara period of the eighth century marked the first emergence of a strong central Japanese state, centered on an imperial court in the city of Heijou-kyou, or modern-day Nara. In addition to the continuing adoption of Chinese administrative practices, the Nara period is characterized by the appearance of a nascent written literature with the completion of the massive chronicles Kojiki (712) and Nihon Shoki (720). The smallpox epidemic of 735–737 is believed to had killed as many as one-third of Japan's population.
In 784, Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyou for a brief ten-year period, before relocating it to Heian-kyou in 794, where it remained for more than a millennium. This marked the beginning of the Heian period, during which time a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged, noted for its art, poetry and literature. Lady Murasaki's The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of modern Japan's national anthem, Kimi ga Yo were written during this time.
Japan's feudal era was characterized by the emergence of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. In 1185, following the defeat of the rival Taira clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed Shogun and established a base of power in Kamakura. After Yoritomo's death, the Houjou clan came to rule as regents for the shoguns. Zen Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period and became popular among the samurai class.
The Kamakura shogunate managed to repel Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, aided by a storm that the Japanese interpreted as a kamikaze, or Divine Wind. The Kamakura shogunate was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo, who was soon himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336. The succeeding Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyou), and a civil war erupted (the Ounin War) in 1467 which opened a century-long Sengoku (“Warring States”) period.
During the sixteenth century, traders and Jesuit missionaries from Portugal reached Japan for the first time, initiating active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West (Nanban trade). Oda Nobunaga conquered numerous other daimyo by using European technology and firearms and had almost unified the nation when he was assassinated in 1582. Toyotomi Hideyoshi succeeded Nobunaga and united the nation in 1590. Hideyoshi invaded Korea twice, but following several defeats by Korean and Ming China forces and Hideyoshi's death, Japanese troops were withdrawn in 1598.
After Hideyoshi's death, Tokugawa Ieyasu utilized his position as regent for Hideyoshi's son Toyotomi Hideyori to gain political and military support. When open war broke out, he defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu was appointed shogun in 1603 and established the Tokugawa shogunate at Edo. The Tokugawa shogunate enacted a variety of measures such as Buke shohatto to control the autonomous daimyo.
In 1639, the shogunate began the isolationist sakoku ("closed country") policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period. The study of Western sciences, known as rangaku, continued during this period through contacts with the Dutch enclave at Dejima in Nagasaki. The Edo period also gave rise to kokugaku, or literally "national studies", the study of Japan by the Japanese themselves. According to one authority, there were at least 130 famines during the Edo period, of which 21 were particularly serious.
On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the "Black Ships" of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. Subsequent similar treaties with the Western countries in the Bakumatsu period brought Japan into economic and political crises. The abundance of the prerogative and the resignation of the shogunate led to the Boshin War and the establishment of a centralized state unified under the name of the Emperor (Meiji Restoration).
Adopting Western political, judicial and military institutions, the Cabinet organized the Privy Council, introduced the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet. The Meiji Restoration transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that embarked on a number of military conflicts to expand the nation's sphere of influence. After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan gained control of Taiwan, Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin.
The early twentieth century saw a brief period of "Taishou democracy" overshadowed by the rise of expansionism and militarization. World War I enabled Japan, which joined the side of the victorious Allies, to expand its influence and territorial holdings. Japan continued its expansionist policy by occupying Manchuria in 1931. As a result of international condemnation for this occupation, Japan resigned from the League of Nations two years later. In 1935, local assemblies were established in Taiwan. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, joining the Axis powers in 1941. And also in 1941, Japan signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact with Soviet Union, respecting both Manchukuo and Mongolian People's Republic territories.
In 1937, the Empire of Japan invaded other parts of China, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). In 1940, the Empire then invaded French Indochina, after which the United States placed an oil embargo on Japan. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States, the United Kingdom and Netherlands. This act brought the United States into World War II and, on December 8, these three countries declared war on Japan. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, along with the Soviet Union joining the war against it, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces on August 15.
The war cost Japan and countries part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere millions of lives and left much of the country's industry and infrastructure destroyed. The Allied powers repatriated millions of ethnic Japanese from colonies throughout Asia. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, was convened by the Allies (on May 3, 1946) to prosecute some Japanese leaders for war crimes. However, all members of the bacteriological research units and members of the imperial family involved in the conduct of the war were exonerated from criminal prosecutions by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.
In 1947, Japan adopted a new pacifist constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied occupation ended by the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952 and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Japan later achieved spectacular growth to become the second largest economy in the world, with an annual growth rate averaging 10% for four decades. This ended in the mid-1990s when Japan suffered a major recession. Positive growth in the early twenty-first century has signaled a gradual recovery.
Japanese emergence from her period of native primitive arts was instigated mainly by the introduction of Buddhism from the mainland Asian continent about the middle of the 6th century. Together with the new religion, skilled artists and craftsman from China came to Japan to build its temples and sculptic idols, and to pass on artistic techniques to native craftsmen.
Earliest examples of Buddhist art may be seen in accumulated splendor at the seventh century Horyuji temple in Nara, whose buildings themselves, set in a prescribed pattern with main hall, belfy, pagodas, and other buildings enclosed within an encircling roofed corridor, retain an aura of the ancient era, together with the countless art treasures preserved within their halls.
Nara and its vicinity contain the vast majority of the nations treasures of the early period of Buddhist art, known in art history as the Asuka period. The sculpture of this period shows, as do most all subsequent sculpture, the influence of continental art. Noted Asuka sculptor Tori Busshi followed the style of North Wei sculpture and established what has come to be known as the Tori school of sculpture. Notable examples of Tori works are the Sakyamuni Triad which are the main icons of the Golden Hall of Horyuji temple and the kannon Boddhisatva of Yumedono Hall of the same temple, also known as Guze Kannon.
Some of the most important Buddhist sculptures belong to the ensuing Hakuho art period when the sculpture came to show predominantly Tang influence. The mystic unrealistic air of the earlier Tori style came to be replaced by a soft supple pose and a near sensuous beauty more in the manner of the Maitreya with long narrow slit eyes and gentle effeminate features which in spite of their air of reverie have about them an intimate approachability. The aloofness of the earlier Asuka sculpture is softened into a more native form; and there is to be seen in them a compromise between the divine and the human ideal.
Representative sculptures of this period are the beautiful Sho Kannon of Yakushiji temple, and the Yumatagae Kannon of Horyuji, both showing the fullness of rounded flesh within the conventionalized folds of the garments, reflecting in their artistry features of the Gupta art are transmitted to Japanese through Tang.
In 710-793, Japanese sculptors learned high Tang style and produced a style "Tenpyou Sculpture", which shows realistic face, massive solid volume, natural drapery, and delicate representation of sentiment. Emperor Shoumu ordered the colossal gilt bronze Virocana Buddha in Toudai-ji temple and completed in 752. Although the statue has been destructed twice and repaired, the minor original part has survived.
Among many original works, the Asura in Koufukuji temple is attractive, which is a dry lacquer statue and show delicate representation of sentiment. The four guardians in Kaidanin: a division of Toudai-ji temple are masterpiece, which are clay statues. A national official factory "Zou Toudai-ji si" (Office to build Toudai-ji Temple) produced many Buddhism sculptures by division of the work for Toudai-ji and other official temples and temples for novelties. Gilt bronze, dry lacquer, clay, terracotta, repousee, stone, and silver sculptures were made in the factory. Generally the sculptors are secular and got official status and salary. Some private ateliers offered Buddhist icons to people, and some monks made it themselves.
With the moving of the imperial capital from Nara to Kyoto in 794, big temples didn't move to Kyoto. Government fed new esoteric Buddhism imported from Tang china. The official factory "Zo Toudai-ji Si" was closed in 789. Fired sculptors worked under patronage of big temples in Nara, new temples of esoteric sect, the court, and the novelties. Sculptors got temple clergy status whether or not they were members of the order. Wood became the primary medium. On the style, Heian period was divided two: the early Heian period and the later. In the early Heian period (794- about the mid 10th century), statues of esoteric Buddhism flourished. Kūkai, Saichou and other members of Imperial Japanese embassies to China imported the high to later Tang style. The statue bodies were carved from single blocks of wood and appear imposing, massive, and heavy when compared to Nara period works. Their thick limbs and severe, almost brooding facial features imbue them with a sense of dark mystery and inspire awe in the beholder, in keeping with the secrecy of Esoteric Buddhist rites. Heavily carved draperies, in which rounded folds alternate with sharply cut folds are typical of the period. Among esoteric Buddhism deities, Japanese like Acala and have produced enormous Acala images.
In the later Heian period (the mid 10th century to the 12th century), the sophistication of court culture and popularity of Amida Worship gave rise to a new style: gentle, calm, and refined features with more attenuated proportion. Sculptors Japanized faces of images. Pure Land sect(Amida Worship) leader Genshin and his work Oujouyoushuu influenced many sculpture. The masterpiece is the Amida Buddha in Byoudou-in in Uji by the master Jouchou. He established a canon of Buddhist sculpture. He was called the expert of yosegi zukuri technique: sculptors became working with multiple blocks of wood, too. This technique allowed masters atelier production with apprentices. It led the style more repetitious and mediocre after Jouchou. In school, a grandson of Jouchou established an atlier which worked with the Imperial Court in Kyoto. EN school a discipline of Jouchou, also established Sanjyou-Atlier in Kyoto.
This Kamakura period is regarded as 'Renaissance era of Japanese sculpture'. Kei school sculptures led this trend, who are descendents of Jouchou. They succeeded the technique "yosegi-zukuri" (Woodblock construction) and represented new sculpture style: Realism, Representation of sentiment, Solidity, and Movement, for which they studied early Nara period masterpieces and Chinese Song dynasty sculptures and paintings. On the other side, Clay, Dry-lacquer, Embossing, Terracotta sculptures didn't revive. They use mainly wood and sometimes bronze.
Kei school looted in Nara-city, which was former ancient capitol (710-793), and worked in large temples in Nara. In Kamakura period, Kyoto Court and Kamakura shogunate military Government reconstructed large temples fired in late 12th century wars. For the project, Kei school worked many sculptures, as Kamakura shogunate supported. Many sculptures were repaired and many architecture were rebuilt or repaired. The "renaissance" character reflects the project.
Among sculptors of Kei-school, Unkei is the most famous. Among his works, a pair of Kongou-rikishi colossal in Toudai-ji is most famous, and the portraiture-like statues of Indian priests in Koufuku-ji are elaborated masterpieces. Unkei had six sculptor sons and their work is also imbued with the new humanism. Tankei, the eldest son and a brilliant sculptor became the head of the studio. Koushou, the 4th son produced a remarkable sculpture of the 10th century Japanese Budhist teacher Kuya (903-972). Kaikei was a collaborator of Unkei. He is a devout adherent of Pure Land sect. He worked with priest Chogen (1121-1206) :the director of Toudai-ji reconstruction project. Many of his figures are more idealized than Unkei and his sons, and are characterized by a beautifully finished surface, richly decorated with pigments and gold. His works have survived more than 40, many of which are signed by himself.
Sculptors also worked for Kamakura shogunate and other military clans. They produced Buddhist sculptures for them and the portrait sculptures. Portrait of Uesugi Sugefusa is a masterpiece. The colossal bronze Amidhaba Buddha in Kamakura Koutoku-in was made in 1252. All class society popular funds made this bronze colossal. Such patronage raised and sometimes replaced former wealthy and powered men's.
Edo was arranged as a castle town, around Edo castle. The area immediately surrounding the castle, known as the "Yamanote", consisted largely of daimyo (feudal lords) mansions, whose families lived in Edo year-round as part of the sankin koutai system; the daimyo themselves made journeys in alternating years to Edo and made use of these mansions for their extensive entourages. It was this extensive samurai population which defined the character of Edo, particularly in contrast to the two major cities of Kyoto and Osaka, neither of which were ruled by a daimyo or had any significant samurai population. Kyoto's character was dominated by the Imperial Court, the court nobles, its numerous Buddhist temples, and its traditional heritage and identity, while Osaka was the country's commercial center, dominated by the chounin merchant class.
Other areas further from the center were the domains of commoners, or chounin (町人), literally "townsfolk." The area known as Shitamachi (low-town or downtown), to the northeast of the castle, was perhaps one of the key centers of urban culture. The ancient Buddhist temple of Sensou-ji still stands in Asakusa and marks the center of an area of traditional "low-town" culture. Some of the shops in the streets before the temple have been carried on continuously in the same location since the Edo period.
The Sumida River, then simply called the Great River (大川), ran along the eastern edge of the city, along which one would find the shogunate's official rice storage warehouses and other official buildings, along with some of the city's most famous restaurants.
The Edo Bridge (江戸橋) marked the center of the city's commercial center, an area also known as Kuramae. Many fishermen, craftsmen, and other producers and retailers operated here, as did shippers who managed ships to and from Osaka (called tarubune) and other cities, either taking goods into the city, or simply transferring them from sea-routes onto river barges or onto land routes such as the Toukaidou, which terminated here. The area remains the center of Tokyo's financial and business district today.
The northeastern corner of the city, regarded as a dangerous direction in traditional onmyoudou (cosmology/geomancy), is guarded from evil spirits by a series of temples, including Sensou-ji and Kan'ei-ji. Just beyond these lay the districts of the eta or outcastes, who engaged in unclean vocations and were thus separated from the main sections of commoner residences. A long dirt path extended west from the riverbank, a short distance north of these eta districts, leading along the northern edge of the city to the Yoshiwara pleasure districts. Previously located within the city proper, close to Asakusa, the districts were rebuilt in this more distant location after the Meireki Fire of 1657.
Itagaki Taisuke was appointed a Councilor of State in 1869, and was involved in several key reforms, such as the abolition of the han system in 1871. As a sangi (councillor), he ran the government temporarily during the absence of the Iwakura Mission.
However, Itagaki resigned from the Meiji government in 1873 over disagreement with the government's policy of restraint toward Korea (Seikan-ron) and, more generally, in opposition to the Choushuu-Satsuma domination of the new government.
In 1874, together with Gotou Shoujirou of Tosa and Etou Shimpei and Soejima Taneomi of Hizen, he formed the Aikoku Koutou (Public Party of Patriots), declaring, "We, the thirty millions of people in Japan are all equally endowed with certain definite rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring and possessing property, and obtaining a livelihood and pursuing happiness. These rights are by Nature bestowed upon all men, and, therefore, cannot be taken away by the power of any man." This anti-government stance appealed to the discontented remnants of the samurai class and the rural aristocracy (who resented centralized taxation) and peasants (who were discontented with high prices and low wages). Itagaki's involvement in liberalism lent it political legitimacy in Japan, and he became a leader of the push for democratic reform.
Itagaki and his associations created a variety of organizations to fuse samurai ethos with western liberalism and to agitate for a national assembly, written constitution and limits to arbitrary exercise of power by the government. These included the Risshisha (Self-Help Movement) and the Aikokusha (Society of Patriots) in 1875. After funding issues led to initial stagnation, the Aikokusha was revived in 1878 and agitated with increasing success as part of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement. The Movement drew the ire of the government and its supporters. In 1882, Itagaki was almost assassinated by a right-wing militant, to whom he allegedly said, "Itagaki may die, but liberty never!"
Tokugawa Ieyasu was no longer rivaled in terms of seniority, rank, reputation and overall influence within the Toyotomi clan after the death of Regent Maeda Toshiie. Rumors started to spread stating that Ieyasu, at that point the only surviving ally of Oda Nobunaga, would take over Hideyoshi's legacy just as Nobunaga's was taken. This was especially evident amongst the loyalist bureaucrats, who suspected Ieyasu of agitating unrest amongst Toyotomi's former vassals.
Later, a supposed conspiracy to assassinate Ieyasu surfaced, and many Toyotomi loyalists, including Toshiie's son, Toshinaga, were accused of taking part and forced to submit to Ieyasu's authority. However, Uesugi Kagekatsu, one of Hideyoshi's appointed regents, defied Ieyasu by building up his military. When Ieyasu officially condemned him and demanded that he come to Kyoto to explain himself before the emperor, Kagekatsu's chief advisor, Naoe Kanetsugu responded with a counter-condemnation that mocked Ieyasu's abuses and violations of Hideyoshi's rules, in such a way that Ieyasu was infuriated.
Afterwards, Ieyasu summoned the help of various supporters and led them northward to attack the Uesugi clan, which at that moment were besieging Hasedo, but Ishida Mitsunari, grasping the opportunity, rose up in response and created an alliance to challenge Ieyasu's supporters, also seizing various daimyo as hostages in Osaka Castle.
Ieyasu then left some forces led by Date Masamune to keep the Uesugi in check and marched west to confront the western forces. A few daimyo, most notably Sanada Masayuki, left Ieyasu's alliance, although most, either bearing grudges against Mitsunari or being loyal to Ieyasu, stayed with him.
Mitsunari, in his home Sawayama Castle, met with Otani Yoshitsugu, Mashita Nagamori, and Ankokuji Ekei. Here, they forged the alliance, and invited Mouri Terumoto, who actually did not take part in the battle, to be its head.
Mitsunari then officially declared war on Ieyasu and lay siege to the Fushimi Castle, garrisoned by Tokugawa retainer Torii Mototada on July 19. Afterwards, the western forces captured various Tokugawa outposts in the Kansai region and within a month, the western forces had moved into the Mino Province, where Sekigahara was located.
Back in Edo, Ieyasu received news of the situation in Kansai and decided to deploy his forces. He had some former Toyotomi daimyo engage with the western forces while he split his troops and marched west on the Tokaidou towards Osaka Castle.
Ieyasu's son Hidetada led another group through Nakasendou. However, Hidetada's forces were bogged down as he attempted to besiege Sanada Masayuki's Ueda Castle. Even though the Tokugawa forces numbered some 38,000, an overwhelming advantage over the Sanada's mere 2,000, they were still unable to capture the strategist's well-defended position. At the same time, 15,000 Toyotomi troops were being held up by 500 troops under Hosokawa Fujitaka at Tanabe Castle in Wakayama Prefecture. Some among the 15,000 troops respected Hosokawa so much they intentionally slowed their pace down. Both these incidents resulted in a large number of Tokugawa and Toyotomi troops not to show up in time at the battlefield of Sekigahara.
Knowing that Ieyasu was heading toward Osaka, Mitsunari decided to abandon his positions and marched to Sekigahara. On September 15, 1600, the two sides started to deploy their forces. Ieyasu's eastern army had 88,888 men, whilst Mitsunari's western army numbered 81,890. There were about 20,000 arquebusers and other forms of hand-held gunners deployed in the battlefield, corresponding to over 10% of all troops present.
Even though the western forces had tremendous tactical advantages, Ieyasu had already contacted many daimyo on the western side, promising them land and leniency after the battle should they switch sides. This led some western commanders holding key positions to hesitate when pressed to send in reinforcements or join the battle that was already in progress.
Mouri Hidemoto and Kobayakawa Hideaki were two such daimyo. They were in such positions that if they decided to close in on the eastern forces, they would in fact have Ieyasu surrounded on three sides. Hidemoto, shaken by Ieyasu's promises, also persuaded Kikkawa Hiroie not to take part in the battle.
Even though Kobayakawa had responded to Ieyasu's call, he remained hesitant and neutral. As the battle grew more intense, Ieyasu finally ordered arquebusiers to fire at Kobayakawa's position on Mount Matsuo in order to force Kobayakawa to make his choice. At that point Kobayakawa joined the battle on the eastern side. His forces assaulted Yoshitsugu's position, which quickly fell apart as he was already engaging Toudou Takatora's forces. Seeing this as an act of treachery, western generals such as Wakisaka Yasuharu, Ogawa Suketada, Akaza Naoyasu, and Kutsuki Mototsuna immediately switched sides, turning the tide of battle.
The western forces disintegrated afterwards, and the commanders scattered and fled. Some, like Ukita Hideie managed to escape, while others, like Sakon was shot and wounded by a rifle though it's unknown if he died from it, Otani Yoshitsugu committed suicide. Mitsunari, Yukinaga and Ekei were some of those who were captured and a few, like Mouri Terumoto and Shimazu Yoshihiro were able to return to their home provinces. Mitsunari himself would be executed.