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Japan - History

BC 11,000 BC 300 Jomon Period
BC 660 AD 200 Yayoi Period
250 538 Kofun period
538 710 Asuka Period
710 794 Nara Period
794 1185 Heian Period
1185 1333 Kamakura Period
1339 1573 Muromachi Period
1603 1867 Edo Period
1867 1912Meiji Restoration
1912 1952Early 20th Century
Japanese legend maintains that Japan was founded in 600 BC by the Emperor Jimmu, a direct descendant of the sun goddess and ancestor of the present ruling imperial family. Early in Japan's history, society was controlled by a ruling elite of powerful clans. The most powerful emerged as a kingly line and later as the imperial family in Yamato (modern Nara Prefecture or possibly in northern Kyushu) in the third century AD, claiming descent from the gods who created Japan. An imperial court and government, shaped by Chinese political and social institutions, was established.

Often, powerful court families effected a hereditary regency, having established control over the emperor. In about AD 405, the Japanese court officially adopted the Chinese writing system. Together with the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century, these two events revolutionized Japanese culture and marked the beginning of a long period of Chinese cultural influence.

In the earliest eras of historic Japan there existed a hereditary corporation of raconteurs (Katari-be) who, from generation to generation, performed the function of reciting the exploits of the sovereigns and the deeds of heroes. They accompanied themselves on musical instruments, and naturally, as time went by, each set of raconteurs embellished the language of their predecessors, adding supernatural elements, and introducing details which belonged to the realm of romance rather than to that of ordinary history. These Katari-be would seem to have been the sole repository of their country's annals until the sixth century of the Christian era. Their repertories of recitation included records of the great families as well as of the sovereigns, and it is easy to conceive that the favor and patronage of these high personages were earned by ornamenting the traditions of their households and exalting their pedigrees.

But when the art of writing was introduced towards the close of the fourth century, or at the beginning of the fifth, and it was seen that in China, then the centre of learning and civilization, the art had been applied to the compilation of a national history as well as of other volumes possessing great ethical value, the Japanese conceived the ambition of similarly utilizing their new attainment. For reasons which will be understood by and by, the application of the ideographic script to the language of Japan was a task of immense difficulty, and long years must have passed before the attainment of any degree of proficiency.

Thus it was not until the time of the Empress Suiko (593-628) that the historical project took practical shape. Her Majesty, at the instance, doubtless, of Prince Shotoku, one of the greatest names in all Japan's annals, instructed the prince himself and her chief minister, Soga no Umako, to undertake the task of compiling historical documents, and there resulted a Record of the Emperors (Tenndki), a Record of the Country (Koki), and Original Records (Hongi) of the Free People (i.e., the Japanese proper as distinguished from aliens, captives, and aborigines), of the great families and of the 180 Hereditary Corporations (Be). This work was commenced in the year 620, but nothing is known as to the date of its completion. It represents the first Japanese history. A shortlived compilation it proved, for in the year 645, the Soga chiefs, custodians of the documents, threw them into the fire on the eve of their own execution for treason. One only, the Record of the Country, was plucked from the flames, and is believed to have been subsequently incorporated in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Things).

The 'Kojiki' ('Records of Ancient Events,' compiled 711-12 AD) and the 'Nihon Shoki' or Nihongi (720 AD) are the two oldest historic works upon which all other histories of ancient Japan are based. From the establishment of the first fixed capital at Nara in 710 until 1867, the emperors of the Yamato dynasty were the nominal rulers, but actual power was usually held by influential court nobles, regents, or "shoguns" (military governors). The highly developed culture attained between the eighth and the twelfth centuries was followed by a long period of anarchy and civil war, and a feudal society developed in which military overlords ran the government on behalf of the emperor, his court, and the regent. Although the Yamato court continued control of the throne, in practice a succession of dynastic military regimes ruled the now-decentralized country. In the late sixteenth century, Japan began a process of reunification followed by a period of great stability and peace, in which contact with the outside world was limited and tightly controlled by the government.

The first recorded contact with the West occurred in about 1542, when a Portuguese ship, blown off its course to China, landed in Japan. During the next century, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries. During the early part of the 17th century, Japan's shogunate suspected that the traders and missionaries were actually forerunners of a military conquest by European powers. This caused the shogunate to place foreigners under progressively tighter restrictions. Ultimately, Japan forced all foreigners to leave and barred all relations with the outside world except for severely restricted commercial contacts with Dutch and Chinese merchants at Nagasaki. This isolation lasted for 200 years, until Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy negotiated the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

Within several years, renewed contact with the West profoundly altered Japanese society. The shogunate resigned, and the emperor was restored to power. The "Meiji restoration" of 1868 initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished, and numerous Western institutions were adopted, including a Western legal and educational system and constitutional government along parliamentary lines. In 1898, the last of the "unequal treaties" with Western powers was removed, signaling Japan's new status among the nations of the world. In a few decades, by creating modern social, educational, economic, military, and industrial systems, the Emperor Meiji's "controlled revolution" had transformed a feudal and isolated state into a world power.

By the late 20th Century, Japan was craving to become a "normal country". However, other countrie sin the region - notably China - believe that refusing to recognize its history and not learning from the past, Japan's leadership could steer the country down to a dangerous path, farther away from its goal of being "normal." The Japanese revisionists have attempted to deny and hide the true history of Japan in the first half of the 20th century from the public as it was an infamous one in which Japan launched aggressive wars against other nations and committed numerous atrocities.

In March 2016, the Japanese education ministry revised some junior high school history textbook passages regarding Japan's WWII barbarities. In a passage on the Nanjing Massacre, for example, the original statement that the Japanese army "killed many captives and civilians" was watered down to read as "captives and civilians were involved" in the tragedy and "casualties were exposed."

While the Japanese revisionists complain about the humiliation and fatigue of making apologies, Chinese critics note that apologizing is necessary not only in the moral sense, but also to show a country's determination to make right the old wrongs and to never repeat the same mistakes. A right-wing and ultra-nationalist Japan may not be satisfied with staying as America's stooge in the region. But much of the history dispute derives from a Chinese desire to have something to complain about, in response to Japan's concerns about China's relentless military buildup.

The APA hotel chain, which owns over 400 hotels and more than 66,000 rooms, put copies of a book, titled The Real History of Japan - Theoretical Modern History by Seiji Fuji, the penname of the chain's CEO Toshio Motoya, in all its rooms in Japan. The book was also on sale in the hotel's lobby. The book, a fabrication based on the rhetoric of the Japanese right-wing, has been denounced as nonsense by historians.

Toshio Motoya said "... we should ask the U.S. to fully repudiate historical falsehoods such as the stories about 300,000 people being slaughtered at Nanking and the forced transportation of 200,000 comfort women. ... a report of comfort women questioned by the U.S. Armed Forces in Myanmar, which concluded that they were regular wartime prostitutes.... Unlike Japan, which is a blessed country, survival of the fittest rules in the rest of the world.... the U.S. had to portray Japan as a bad country so it would be forgiven for dropping the atomic bombs. It knows that the Nanking Massacre and comfort women stories are fabrications, but it cannot admit as much. "

The book said that there were no eyewitness accounts of the Nanjing Massacre by observers from countries other than China and Japan, despite the existence of a plethora of diaries, letters and photographs. The book also claimed that there were only 200,000 people in Nanjing in December 1937, though authoritative historians have pointed out the fact that more than 600,000 people lived in Nanjing at that time and around 300,000 soldiers and civilians were killed by the invading Japanese army.

Chairman Seishiro Sugihara of the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform, produced a historical textbook that does not include the Nanking Massacre. He says that world leaders do not believe in the Nanking Massacre or comfort women stories. The Women's Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM) in Japan showed that middle school history textbooks compiled by seven publishers in Japan mentioned the "comfort women" issue in 1997, while none of them mentioned the issue in 2012 copies of the textbooks. In April 2015, the Japanese education ministry revised some junior high school history textbook passages regarding Japan's World War II barbarities. For example, in a passage on the Nanjing Massacre, the original statement that the Japanese army "killed many captives and civilians" was watered down to read as "captives and civilians were involved" in the tragedy and "casualties were exposed."

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Page last modified: 09-02-2017 19:34:52 ZULU