Traditional 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. About AD 405, the Japanese court
officially adopted the Chinese writing system. Together with the introduction
of Buddhism in the sixth century, these two events revolutionized Japanese
culture and marked the beginning of a long period of Chinese cultural influence.
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 powerful court nobles, regents, or "shoguns"
Contact With the West
The first recorded contact with the West occurred 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 forced 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 was forced to resign, 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 system and constitutional government
along quasi-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.
Wars With China and Russia
Japanese leaders of the late 19th century regarded the Korean Peninsula
as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Japan." It was over Korea that Japan
became involved in war with the Chinese Empire in 1894-95 and with Russia
in 1904-05. The war with China established Japan's domination of Korea,
while also giving it the Pescadores Islands and Formosa (now Taiwan). After
Japan defeated Russia in 1905, the resulting Treaty of Portsmouth awarded
Japan certain rights in Manchuria and in southern Sakhalin, which Russia
had received in 1875 in exchange for the Kurile Islands. Both wars gave
Japan a free hand in Korea, which it formally annexed in 1910.
World War I to 1952
World War I permitted Japan, which fought on the side of the victorious
Allies, to expand its influence in Asia and its territorial holdings in
the Pacific. The postwar era brought Japan unprecedented prosperity. Japan
went to the peace conference at Versailles in 1919 as one of the great
military and industrial powers of the world and received official recognition
as one of the "Big Five" of the new international order. It joined the
League of Nations and received a mandate over Pacific islands north of
the Equator formerly held by Germany.
During the 1920s, Japan progressed toward a democratic system of government.
However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand
the economic and political pressures of the 1930s, during which military
leaders became increasingly influential.
Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo.
In 1933, Japan resigned from the League of Nations. The Japanese invasion
of China in 1937 followed Japan's signing of the "anti-Comintern pact"
with Nazi Germany the previous year and was part of a chain of developments
culminating in the Japanese attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor,
Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.
After almost 4 years of war, resulting in the loss of 3 million Japanese
lives and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan signed an
instrument of surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on September
2, 1945. As a result of World War II, Japan lost all of its overseas possessions
and retained only the home islands. Manchukuo was dissolved, and Manchuria
was returned to China; Japan renounced all claims to Formosa; Korea was
granted independence; southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles were occupied by
the U.S.S.R.; and the United States became the sole administering authority
of the Ryukyu, Bonin, and Volcano Islands. The 1972 reversion of Okinawa
completed the U.S. return of control of these islands to Japan.
After the war, Japan was placed under international control of the Allies
through the Supreme Commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur (the last Shogun
in Japanese history). U.S. objectives were to ensure that Japan would become
a peaceful nation and to establish democratic self-government supported
by the freely expressed will of the people. Political, economic, and social
reforms were introduced, such as a freely elected Japanese Diet (legislature)
and universal adult suffrage. The country's constitution took effect on
May 3, 1947. The United States and 45 other Allied nations signed the Treaty
of Peace with Japan in September 1951. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty
in March 1952, and under the terms of the treaty, Japan regained full sovereignty
on April 28, 1952.
The post-World War II years saw tremendous economic growth in Japan,
with the political system dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
That total domination lasted until the Diet Lower House elections on July
18, 1993 in which the LDP, in power since the mid-1950s, failed to win
a majority and saw the end of its four-decade rule. A coalition of new
parties and existing opposition parties formed a governing majority and
elected a new prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, in August 1993. His government's
major legislative objective was political reform, consisting of a package
of new political financing restrictions and major changes in the electoral
system. The coalition succeeded in passing landmark political reform legislation
in January 1994.
In April 1994, Prime Minister Hosokawa resigned. Prime Minister Tsutomu
Hata formed the successor coalition government, Japan's first minority
government in almost 40 years. Prime Minister Hata resigned less than 2
months later. Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama formed the next government
in June 1994, a coalition of his Japan Socialist Party (JSP), the LDP,
and the small Sakigake Party. The advent of a coalition containing the
JSP and LDP shocked many observers because of their previously fierce rivalry.
Prime Minister Murayama served from June 1994 to January 1996. He was succeeded
by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who served from January 1996 to July
1998. Prime Minister Hashimoto headed a loose coalition of three parties
until July 1998, when he resigned due to a poor electoral showing by the
LDP in Upper House elections. He was succeeded as LDP President and Prime
Minister by Keizo Obuchi, who took office on July 30, 1998.
The LDP formed a governing coalition with the Liberal Party in January
1999, and Keizo Obuchi remained prime minister. The LDP-Liberal coalition
expanded to include the Komeito Party in October 1999. Prime Minister Obuchi
suffered a stroke in April 2000 and was replaced by Yoshiro Mori. After
the Liberal Party left the coalition in April 2000, Prime Minister Mori
welcomed a Liberal Party splinter group, the New Conservative Party, into
the ruling coalition. The three-party coalition made up of the LDP, Komeito,
and the New Conservative Party maintained its majority in the Diet following
the June 2000 Lower House elections. The next Lower House election must
be held by June 2004.
After a turbulent year in office, Prime Minister Mori agreed to hold
early elections for the LDP presidency in order to improve his party's
chances in crucial July 2001 Upper House elections. Riding a wave of grassroots
desire for change, political maverick Junichiro Koizumi won an upset victory
on April 24, 2001 over former Prime Minister Hashimoto and other party
stalwarts on a platform of economic and political reform. Koizumi was elected
as Japan's 87th Prime Minister on April 26, 2001. The New Conservative
Party dissolved in December 2002, and elements of it and defectors from
the opposition DPJ formed the Conservative New Party (CNP). The CNP joined
the coalition with the LDP and Komeito at its inception. Prime Minister
Koizumi was re-elected as LDP President on September 20, 2003, securing
a second 3-year term as Prime Minister. In the fall of 2003, the Liberal
Party merged with the Democratic Party of Japan, combining party identification
under the DPJ name. In congressional elections held in November of 2003,
the DPJ won 40 seats, bringing to 177 the total number held by the party.
This result has brought Japan as close as it has ever been to a two-party