The book “Short History of Japan”, written by the great writer Curtis Andressen, is a fantastic book to understand the japanese history and culture. It’s the perfect book for those people who want to learn the country’s whole history, starting from scratch. The information is explained in a very easy and understandable way. Speaking about the content, the history of Japan is one of the most beautiful, magic and interesting ones, thanks to its traditional and deep culture. Japan’s mythology is also incredibly rich, with lots of gods and fantastic creatures. In fact, legend attributes the creation of Japan to the sun goddess, from whom the emperors were descended. The first of them was Jimmu, supposed to have ascended the throne in 660 B.C., a tradition that constituted official doctrine until 1945.
Recorded Japanese history begins in approximately A.D. 400, when the Yamato clan, eventually based in Kyoto, managed to gain control of other family groups in central and western Japan. Contact with Korea introduced Buddhism to Japan at about this time. Through the 700s Japan was much influenced by China, and the Yamato clan set up an imperial court similar to that of China. In the ensuing centuries, the authority of the imperial court was undermined as powerful gentry families vied for control. At the same time, warrior clans were rising to prominence as a distinct class known as samurai. In 1192, the Minamoto clan set up a military government under their leader, Yoritomo. He was designated shogun (military dictator). For the following 700 years, shoguns from a succession of clans 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 Japanese waters. Portuguese traders, Jesuit missionaries, and Spanish, Dutch, and English traders followed. Those foreigners were called “Nanban” by the natives, which means “barbarians”. 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; only a Dutch trading post at Nagasaki was permitted. Western attempts to renew trading relations failed until 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry sailed an American fleet into Tokyo Bay. Trade with the West was forced upon Japan under terms less than favorable to the Japanese. 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.
At the Washington Conference of 1921–1922, Japan agreed to respect Chinese national integrity, but, in 1931, it invaded Manchuria. The following year, Japan set up this area as a puppet state, “Manchukuo,” under Emperor Henry Pu-Yi, the last of China’s Manchu dynasty. On Nov. 25, 1936, Japan joined the Axis. The invasion of China came the next year, followed by the Pearl Harbor attack on the U.S. on Dec. 7, 1941. Japan won its first military engagements during the war, extending its power over a vast area of the Pacific. Yet, after 1942, the Japanese were forced to retreat, island by island, to their own country. The dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 by the United States finally brought the government to admit defeat. Japan surrendered formally on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands reverted to the USSR, and Formosa (Taiwan) and Manchuria to China. The Pacific islands remained under U.S. occupation.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur was appointed supreme commander of the U.S. occupation of postwar Japan (1945–1952). In 1947, a new constitution took effect. The emperor became largely a symbolic head of state. The U.S. and Japan signed a security treaty in 1951, allowing for U.S. troops to be stationed in Japan. In 1952, Japan regained full sovereignty, and, in 1972, the U.S. returned to Japan the Ryuku Islands, including Okinawa. That meant the start of a new Japan, independent but which followed the occidental culture, until these days.
- “Short Story of Japan” (book), Curtis Andressen, Allen & Unwin Pty Editorial.
- “Japanese History” Blog, with Jonathan Dresner as editor, from http://dresnerjapan.edublogs.org/