Chronology of Japanese History

sights-nagoyaIn the following chronology, the dates for certain periods and events are disputed among historians. Pre-modern (i.e., pre-1868) Japanese names are in Japanese format. That is, the family name precedes the given name.


ca. 8,000 B.C. – ca. 300 B.C. Jomon Period (Jomon Jidai), Japan’s Neolithic culture

600 B.C. Japan’s first emperor, Emperor Jimmu (Jimmu Tenno), founds Japan.


ca. 300 B.C. – ca. A.D. 300 Yayoi Period (Yayoi Jidai), Japan’s bronze and iron ages


250-552 Tumulus Period (aka Burial Mound Period)


ca. 300-592 Yamato Period

ca. 300 Yamato plain is conquered.

413 Emperor Nintoku sends envoy to China.

538 Buddhism is introduced into Japan.


592-710 Asuka Period

592 Empress Suiko accedes to the throne, with Prince Shotoku (Shotoku Taishi) (574-622) as regent.

604 Prince Shotoku (Shotoku Taishi) issues a 17-article constitution.

607 Horyu-ji Temple is completed.

645 Soga clan overthown. Taika political reforms consolidate imperial power.

661 Empress Genmei ascends throne.

701 Taiho law codes are issued. They give all land to the Emperor.

708 Government mints first copper coins.


710-794 Nara Period

710 Heijo-kyo (now Nara) is constructed and becomes the first fixed capital of Japan.

712 Kojiki, the first history of Japan, is completed.

720 Nihon-shoki is completed.

752 Todai-ji Great Buddha is dedicated in Nara.

759 Man’yoshu, an anthology of poetry, is compiled. Toshodai-ji is founded in Nara.

765 Kasuga Shrine is founded in Nara.

784 Capital is moved to Nagaoka.


794-1185 Heian Period

794 Capital is moved to Heian-kyo (now Kyoto). Kyoto remains the imperial capital until 1869, when it was moved to Tokyo following the Meiji Restoration.

805 Tendai sect of Buddhism is founded by Buddhist priest Saicho (Dengyo Daishi).

806 Shingon sect of Buddhism is founded Buddhist priest Kukai (Kobo Daishi).


858-1160 Fujiwara Period

858 Fujiwara no Yoshifusa becomes regent.

890 Taketori Monogatari is written.

894 Imperial court ends official missions to China.

905 Kokin-wakashu, an anthology of poetry, is compiled.

939 Rebellion led by Taira no Masakado.

ca. 1000 Sei Shonagon writes the Pillow Book.

ca. 1010 Murasaki Shikibu writes the Tale of Genji.

1053 Byodo-in completed at Uji.

1086 Retired Emperor Shirakawa inaugurates the “rule by cloistered emperors” (insei).

1156 Hogen War

1159 Heiji War between Taira (Heiki) and Minamoto (Genji) clans.


1160-1185 Taira Period

1160 Taira no Kiyomori gains control by defeating the Minamoto.

1167 Taira no Kiyomori becomes Grand Minister (Taisei Daijin).

1175 Jodo sect of Buddhism is founded by Buddhist priest Honen.


1185-1333 Kamakura Period

1185 At Dannoura (aka Dan-no-Ura) in near Shimonoseki in western Honshu, Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo of the Genji (or Minamoto) clan vanquishes the Heike (or Taira) clan and sets up government at Kamakura, south of Tokyo.

1192 Minamoto no Yoritomo founds the Kamakura Shogunate in Kamakura.

1203 Regent Advisor Hojo usurps shogunate power.

1205 Shin Kokin-wakashu, an anthology of poetry, is compiled.

1219 Shogun Minamoto no Sanetomo is assassinated. Hojo established dominance over the shogunate.

1224 Shinran establishes the Jodo Shin (New Jodo) sect of Buddhism.

1227 Soto sect of Buddhism is introduced.

1232 Shogunate issues the Joei Law Code.

1253 Nichiren establishes the Nichiren sect of Buddhism.

1274 Kublai Khan’s Mongol army invades northern Kyushu during the Bun’ei War and is repulsed by a typhoon, called a Divine Wind (Kamikaze).

1281 Kublai Khan’s Mongol army again invades northern Kyushu during the Koan War and is again repulsed by a Kamikaze.

1331 Dispute of Imperial succession results in civil war against Hojo regents.


1334-1392 Southern & Northern (Nanboku) Period

1334 Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) overthrows Kamakura Shogunate and restores imperial control.

1336 Emperor Godaigo establishes the Southern Court at Yoshino. Kyoto becomes the Northern Court.


1338-1573 Ashikaga Period

1338 Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358) becomes shogun in the Muromachi district of Kyoto.


1392-1573 Muromachi Period

1392 Ashikaga Yoshimitsu unifies Southern and Northern Courts.

1397 Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) is completed.

1400 Zeami finishes the Book of Noh Theory (Kadensho).

1404 Shogunate allows ships to trade with Ming Dynasty merchants in China.


1467-1600 Warring States (Sengoku) Period

1467-1477 Onin War (Onin no Ran) in Kyoto begins Warring States period, which endures until 1573. Sesshu visits China to study.

1488 Ikko sect of Buddhists seize power in Kaga province (in current Ishikawa Prefecture).

1489 Ashikaga Yoshimasa completes the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji).

1497 Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple is completed.

1543 Rodriguez, a Portuguese explorer, lands his ship at Tanegashima, an island off the southern coast of Kyushu. These first Europeans to contact Japan introduce tobacco and firearms

to Japan.

1549 Francis Xavier (Francisco de Xavier) (1506-1552), a Spanish Jesuit, arrives in Kagoshima from Macau to introduce Christianity into Japan.

1551 Spanish missionary Francis Xavier introduces eyeglasses to Japan and presents them to a feudal lord in south Japan.

1567 A Portuguese ship calls at Nagasaki.

1568 Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) enters Kyoto.


1573-1603 Azuchi-Momoyama Period

1573 Oda Nobunaga destroys the 15th and last Ashikaga shogun, Yoshiaki (1537-1597), and the Muromachi Shogunate.

1576 Oda Nobunaga builds Azuchi Castle.

1582 Oda Nobunaga is assassinated in Kyoto.

1583 Foundation of Osaka Castle (Osaka-jo) is laid by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

1586 Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) becomes Grand Minister (Taisei Daijin).

1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi expels Portuguese Jesuit missionaries from Japan. Osaka castle is completed.

1588 Toyotomi Hideyoshi confiscates swords from the populace and defines fixed social classes.

1590 Toyotomi Hideyoshi unifies Japan.

1592-1596 Toyotomi Hideyoshi unsuccessfully invades Korea (Bunroku Campaign).

1597 Toyotomi Hideyoshi begins persecution of Christians. As a result, six foreign Christians, including Pedro Bustista, and 20 Japanese Christians are crucified.

1597-1598 Toyotomi Hideyoshi again invades Korea (Keicho Campaign).

1598 Toyotomi Hideyoshi dies.

1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu defeats the Toyotomi forces at Battle of Sekigahara (Sekigahara no Tatakai), fought east of Lake Biwa.


1603-1867 Edo Period (or Tokugawa Period)

1603 Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) becomes shogun and establishes the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo (now Tokyo).

1605 Ieyasu retires.

1609 Dutch ships drop anchor at port of Hirado, in western Kyushu, where the Dutch establish a trading post.

1610 Himeji Castle, west of Kobe, is completed.

1613 Shogun Hidetada proscribes Christianity. Foreign missionaries are banished.

1615 Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s son, the last of the Toyotomi clan, is defeated at Osaka.

1616 Tokugawa Ieyasu dies and is succeeded by his son, Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632), an enemy of Christianity.

1624 Japan’s first theater is opened in Edo by Saruwaka Kanzaburo.

1633 As the first step in closing the country to the outside world, ships are forbidden to sail abroad without permission.

1635 The shogunate institutes the Sankin-kotai system, which requires daimyo (feudal lords) to alternate their residence between their and the capital, Edo, at regular intervals of one or two years. This hostage system is discontinued in 1862. Shogunate prohibits Japanese from traveling overseas. Japanese outside, such as storm-tossed fishermen, are prohibited from returning.

1636 In Nikko, the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the late Tokugawa Ieyasu, is completed. Portuguese are restricted to Deshima (aka Dejima), a man-made islet in Nagasaki harbor. Until 1853, only the Dutch and Chinese were allowed to trade with Japan and only via this port.

1637-1638 During the Shimabara Rebellion (Shimabara no Ran), led by Amakusa Shiro, Kyushu Christians rebel against the local government and the Tokugawa Shogunate. Thousands are slaughtered and are crushed, driving Christianity underground.

1639 The shogunate formally implements the policy of seclusion (sakoku-shugi) that isolates Japan from the world until 1853. Portuguese ships are forbidden to visit Japan. Only Dutch and Chinese are allowed to trade with Japan.

1641 Dutch trading post at Hirado is moved to Deshima, a small manmade islet at Nagasaki. All foreign contact is restricted to Nagasaki.

1652 Hayashi Shunsai (1618-1680) writes O Dai-Ichi Ran, a history of Japan.

1657 Great fire destroys much of Edo.

1658 Government licenses one hairdresser (kamiyuidoko) for each of Edo’s 808 neighborhoods.

1673 Echigoya dry goods store, the ancestor of the Mitsukoshi Department Store, opens in Edo (Tokyo).

1687 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709) becomes shogun.

1688-1704 Genroku Era (Genroku Jidai), during which the popular culture flourished.

1690 Engelbert Kaempfer, a German physician and author, visits Nagasaki.

1693 Matsuo Basho writes Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no Hosomichi).

1702 Led by Oishi Kuranosuke, the forty-seven lordless samurai (ronin) exact revenge for the death of their lord.

1709 Tokugawa Ienobe (1662-1712) becomes Shogun.

1713 An infant, Tokugawa Ietsugu (1709-1716) becomes Shogun.

1716 Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751) becomes Shogun.

1745 Tokugawa Ieshige (1711-1761) becomes Shogun.

1761 Tokugawa Ieharu (1737-1786) becomes Shogun.

1774 “Dutch studies” (Rangaku) introduce Western learning to Japan via the Dutch language. Sugita Gempaku (1733-1817) completes Kaitai Shinsho, the Japanese translation of a Dutch anatomy text.

1792 Russian envoy Laxman arrives at Nemuro in Hokkaido.

1800 Land survey of Japan.

1804 Russian ambassador Rezanov arrives in Nagasaki.

1823 German physician Philipp Franz Jonkheer Balthasar von Siebold (1796-1866) arrives in Nagasaki.

1846 Two American ships, seeking overseas trade opportunities, sail into Uraga Bay.

1853 America’s Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry and his four “Black Ships” arrive at Uraga Bay to force open Japan to foreign trade, ending Japan’s seclusion. Russian Commander Putiachin’s ship drops anchor in Nagasaki Bay.

1854 Japan and the U.S. sign U.S.-Japan Treaty of Friendship (Nichi-Bei Washin Joyaku), also known as the Kanagawa Treaty (Kanagawa Joyaku)s, where it was signed. The treaty opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to trade.

1855 Treaty establishes boundary between Japan and Russia.

1856 Townsend Harris (1804-1878), the first U.S. consul in Japan, arrives in Shimoda, on the Izu Peninsula southwest of Tokyo Bay.

1858 Japan and the U.S., represented by Townsend Harris, sign the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce (Nichi-Bei Shuko Tsusho Joyaku).

1860 The Government sends to the U.S. its first-ever diplomatic delegation.

1861 First recorded Japanese immigrant to the U.S.

1862 Japan participates in the Great International Exhibition in London, the first event of its kind at which Japanese arts and crafts are displayed. Richardson, an English sailor, is murdered near Yokohama by Satsuma agents.

1864 Combined American-European fleets bombard Choshu forts.

1867 The 15th and last Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913), becomes shogun and yields power to Emperor Mutsuhito (Meiji) (1852-1912).


1868-1912 Meiji Period (Modern Era)

1868 Meiji Restoration (Meiji Ishin) restores power to the emperor and end the policy of isolationism. Emperor proclaims the Five Imperial Oaths (Gokajo no Goseimon), which set the nation on the course of modernization. Imperial capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo (formerly Edo).

1869 Feudal lords (daimyo) return lands to the Emperor.

1871 Prefecture (ken) system is adopted.

1872 Japan’s first mass-production spinning mill opens. Japan’s first railway connects Tokyo and Yokohama. Japan adopts policy of universal education. Japan annexes the kingdom of Ryukyu as the prefecture of Okinawa. Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901), an educator, completes Encouragement of Learning (Gakumon no Susume). (Fukuzawa’s other writings include Western Affairs.)

1873 Universal conscription is adopted.

1875 Treaty with Russia acknowledges Russia’s sovereignty over Sakhalin Island and gives the Kurile island chain to Japan.

1877 Takamori Saigo (1827-1877) leads Kyushu rebels in the Satsuma Revolt, an ill-fated rebellion against the centralized government in Tokyo.

1876 Japan signs treaty of friendship with Korea.

1882 Bank of Japan is established. Shigenobu Okuma forms the Progressive Party.

1885 The Mikado, a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, debuts in London. Japan’s first Cabinet is formed, with Hirobumi Ito as prime minister.

1889 Meiji Constitution (Meiji Kenpo) is promulgated. (The formal name is Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kenpo, Imperial Japanese Constitution.)

1890 Parliamentary government inaugurated, based on Meiji Constitution.

1894 Extraterritoriality is abolished, subjecting foreign residents to Japanese law.

1894-1895 (First) Sino-Japanese War (Nisshin Senso), which ends with Japan’s victory over China. The war is ended by the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which, among other things, cedes Taiwan to Japan. The Queen of Korea is assassinated, with Japanese complicity.

1898 U.S. annexes Hawaii as a territory. The dysentery bacillus is discovered by Japanese

bacteriologist Kiyoshi Shiga (1870-1957).

1900 Shintoism reinstated in Japan as a counterweight to Buddhist influence.

1902 Britain and Japan sign a Treaty of Alliance, which recognizes the independence of China and Korea.

1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, which ends after the decisive defeat of the Russian fleet in the Straits of Tsushima.

1910 Japan officially annexes Korea.

1911 In a series of treaties with Western powers, such as the Commerce & Navigation Treaty with the U.S., Japan regains tariff autonomy.


1912-1926 Taisho Period

1912 Emperor Mutsuhito (Meiji) dies. Emperor Yoshihito (Taisho) (1879-1926) accedes to the throne.

1914 Japan declares war on Germany.

1915 Japan submits a list of 21 demands to China.

1918 Rice riots in many Japanese cities. For the first time, the dominant political party forms a government. Japanese troops are dispatched to Siberia during the Russian Revolution.

1921 Crown Prince Hirohito become prince regent. His father, Emperor Yoshihito, retires due to mental illness. Four Power Treaty on Insular Possessions is signed by Japan, the U.S., Britain, and France, formalizing the status quo in the Pacific and terminating the Japanese-British Treaty of Alliance.

1922 U.S.-Japan naval armament treaty is signed at the Washington Conference.

1922 Nine Power Treaty acknowledged Chinese independence and integrity.

1923 Great Kanto Earthquake & Fire (Kanto Dai-Shinsai) destroys Tokyo, Yokohama, and nearby cities, killing over 120,000.

1925 Universal Suffrage Law grants the vote to males over 25 years of age. Public Preservation Act is adopted.


1926-1989 Showa Period

1926 Emperor Yoshihito (Taisho) dies. His son becomes Emperor Hirohito (Showa) (1901-1989).

1927 Financial crisis occurs when bad debts from 1923 earthquake result in run on banks.

1928 Japan signs Kellogg-Briand Pact, which advocated the settlement of international disputes without war.

1929 Economic panic.

1930 Naval disarmament treaty signed at London Naval Conference, by U.S., Japan, Britain, Italy, and France. Prime Minister Osachi Hamaguchi (1870-1931) is shot in an assassination attempt and dies in 1931.

1931 Mukden Incident results in Japan’s occupation of Manchuria.

1932 Japan establishes the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria. Coup d’etat by naval officers is foiled. During the coup, Premier Tsuyoshi Inukai is murdered.

1933 Japan withdraws from the League of Nations.

1934 Japan renounces treaties of 1922 and 1930.

1936 Another coup d’etat by military officers is foiled.

1937-1945 (Second) Sino-Japanese War (Nitchu Senso) begins when the Japanese and Chinese armies clash at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking (now Beijing). Japanese planes sink the Panay, a U.S. gunboat, in Chinese waters.

1938 National Mobilization Act mobilizes Japan for war. Japan sets up puppet government in Nanking.

1939 World War II begins in Europe. U.S. renounces its 1911 trade agreement with Japan. Japanese troops are defeated by Soviet troops under Zhukov at Nomonhan in Mongolia.

1940 Japan-Germany-Italy axis is formalized by the Tripartite Pact, a military and economic agreement. Japan annexes French Indochina (now Vietnam).

1941 Japan and the Soviet Union conclude a neutrality treaty. War in the Pacific begins after Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and declares war on U.S. (December 8, Tokyo time; December 7, U.S. time). The attack was planned by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. The war is called the Greater East Asian War in Japan until 1945, when Allied occupiers forced Japan to change the name to Pacific War (Taiheiyo Senso). U.S. and Britain declares war on Japan (December 8). U.S. embassy in Tokyo closes. U.S. ambassador is interned. Japan invades the Philippines. Japan takes Hong Kong.

1942 U.S. ambassador expelled from Japan. Japan invades the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Burma, Singapore, and Malaysia. U.S. government puts over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps. Prime Minister Tojo resigns.

1945 Heavy U.S. air raids on Tokyo and elsewhere. U.S. drops 20-kiloton atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9). Russia declares war on Japan (August and invades Manchuria and Sakhalin. Japanese surrenders unconditionally (August 15), ending WW II. U.S. occupation forces land in Japan (September 15), led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Power (SCAP), who rules Japan for four years. State Shintoism is abolished. Power transferred from the Emperor to an elected assembly. Japan’s colonies (e.g., Korea, Formosa) regain sovereignty.

1946 Japanese Constitution is promulgated, replacing the Meiji Constitution of 1889.

1946-1948 Japanese war criminals are tried at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. Six convicted generals are hanged at Sugamo Prison.

1947 New Japanese Constitution takes effect (May 3).

1950-1953 Korean War.

1950 National Police Reserve is established.

1951 In San Francisco, Japan signs Treaty of Peace with Western Allies, ending WWII (September 8). By signing the Japan-U.S. Mutual Security Assurance Pact (September 8), Japan becomes a dependent ally of the U.S. Japan-U.S. Security Treaty (Nichi-Bei Anzen Hosho Joyaku, abbreviated Anpo) is signed. (The treaty is called the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty in the U.S.)

1952 Peace treaty is implemented (April 28), ending occupation by allied (mostly American) forces and restoring Japan’s sovereignty. U.S. ambassador returns to Japan.

1954 National Police Reserve becomes the Self-Defense Force. U.S. and Japan sign a defense agreement.

1955 Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is formed and forms government.

1956 Japan is admitted to the United Nations. Japan restores diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, a revision of the Mutual Security Assurance Pact, is signed to make the bilateral security treaty more equitable.

1964 Bullet trains (Shinkansen) begin operation. 18th Olympiad (aka Tokyo Summer Olympics) is held in Tokyo.

1965 Japan restores diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

1968 Japan’s GNP becomes the second-largest in the free world.

1970 Expo ’70 (aka 1970 World Exhibition) is held in Osaka. “Anti-Pollution” Diet enacts a series of environmental laws.

1972 U.S. returns to Japan the Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. Japan restores diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. 11th Winter Olympics held in Sapporo.

1973 Oil shock panics Japan.

1976 Lockheed bribery scandal results in the arrest of former prime

minister Kakuei Tanaka.

1978 New Tokyo International Airport (aka Narita Airport) opens for business. Japan and China sign peace and friendship treaty.

1988 Exposure of bribes by Recruit Co. ends the careers of numerous LDP politicians. The Seikan Tunnel, the world’s longest undersea tunnel, connects Honshu and Hokkaido.


1989-Present Heisei Period

1989 3% consumption tax is introduced. Emperor Hirohito (Showa) dies. His son, the Crown Prince, accedes to the throne as Emperor Akihito (Heisei), the 125th Japanese emperor.

1990 Japan’s “Bubble Economy” deflates.

1993 Having ruled since 1955, the conservative LDP is brought down (July 18) and a coalition government is sworn in (August 9).



aka also known as

bakufu shogunate (literally, tent quarters)

jidai (historical) period

jiken affair; incident; event

nengo era name

senso war

shogunate shogun-controlled government (as opposed to emperor-controlled government)


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Japanorama 10/03/2013