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Far East Kingdoms

Japan

 

Continued from Japan's previous dynasties here.

Ashikaga Period Japan / Northern Emperors
AD 1338 - 1392

The Hojo regents were defeated by the imperial court, but almost immediately the Ashikaga shoguns seized power and held the stronger north of Japan from Kyoto.

1336 - 1392

The Ashikaga shoguns rule in the north until the Japanese imperial court is reunited.

Nambokucho Period Japan / Southern Emperors
AD 1338 - 1392

These emperors ruled in the southern court only, in effect from 1336 but officially from 1338, when Ashikaga Takauji declared himself shogun. In 1392 the southern court gave in and the country was reunified.

1336 - 1338

Go-Daigo

Ruled all of Japan until 1336.

1339 - 1368

Go-Murakami

1369 - 1372

Chokei

1373 - 1392

Go-Kameyama

Died 1424.

1392

The Japanese imperial court is reunited when the southern court surrenders to the north.

Muromachi Period Japan
AD 1392 - 1573

The Muromachi Period emperors were dominated by the Ashikaga shoguns. The period ended when the last Ashikaga shogun was driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oba Nobunaga.

(Additional information from Tanegashima - The Arrival of Europe in Japan, Olof G Lidin, and from External Links: History Extra, and Jewish Encyclopaedia.)

1392 - 1412

Go-Komatsu

100th Emperor of the Sun Line. Died 1433.

1413 - 1428

Shoko

1419

Recent events have involved various incidents being initiated by Japanese pirates - wokou - who are based on Tsushima Island. The latest concerns a wakou raid on Ming China which has stopped off along the way to raid two Korean counties. King Sejong arranges a retaliatory raid on the island but his brother favours stronger tactics. He goes so far as to declare war on the island, claiming it for Joseon.

Known as the Ōei Invasion by Japanese historians based on the imperial period, and the Gihae Expedition to Koreans, it achieves its objectives. Several hundred pirate boats and villages are burned, and pirates are killed, although the Korean forces suffer similar casualty rates. Joseon withdraws its claim on the island, and better relations are established between the two.

The wokou raids continue along the Chinese coast during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Ming authorities are ineffectual in fending them off with the result that the large coastal trading ports are badly affected. Jewish Diaspora communities in all of them become extinct, largely leaving only the Kaifeng Jews in China.

Wokou pirates
Wokou pirates operated without restriction for a time in the early fifteenth century, until Joseon was able to pin them back quite substantially for a time

1429 - 1464

Go-Hanazono

Died 1471.

1465 - 1500

Go-Tsuchimikado

c.1467

The Sengoku Period, the age of civil war, begins in Japan. Some Japanese scholars are well aware of China's 'Warring States' period in the fifth to third centuries BC, and use the same term to cover this very similar period in Japanese history.

1501 - 1526

Go-Kashiwabara

1527 - 1557

Go-Nara

1543 - 1544

Although Venice's Marco Polo had known of the country's existence from his travels, the Portuguese now 'discover' Japan by accident, despite having sailed up and down the coast of China for the last thirty years. The accident is due to stormy weather blowing a vessel off course in September 1543, although perhaps the Ryukyu Islands are first explored by Portuguese in 1542. The first visit to Japan by a European seems to take place towards the end of 1544 (or early in 1545, since the country is reported to be a cold place), but the report that reaches Spanish ears is based on a mixture of hearsay and fairly accurate fact. Within seven years the Portuguese establish a trading base at Nagasaki.

1558 - 1586

Oogimachi

Died 1593.

1573

The Ashikaga shogunate is ended when Yoshiaki is driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oba Nobunaga.

Azuchi-Momoyama Period Japan
AD 1573 - 1603

During this period the Portuguese and Spanish began to make themselves at home in Nagasaki and a few other ports. The Japanese were appalled by the stinking, unwashed sea-dogs who manned these European carracks. One rather sniffy scribe doubted any existence of ceremonial etiquette amongst them, while complaining that they showed their feelings without any self-control. If they had not arrived with muskets to sell then they may not have been given such a welcome reception. These merchants were soon followed by Jesuit missionaries who hoped to convert the country to follow the church in Rome (whilst hiding the fact that Europe was riven by schism). The arrival in 1600 of a Dutch trader changed everything.

(Additional information from External Link: History Extra.)

1587 - 1611

Go-Yôzei

Died 1617.

1582

Oda Nobunaga dies, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi soon cements his place as successor, the most powerful daimyo in Japan.

1592 - 1598

Japan attempts to invade Joseon in 1592 but is pushed back and stalled by 1596 (the Imjin Disturbance) and again in 1598 (the Chongyu War). Toyotomi Hideyoshi dies on 18 September 1598, and the Council of Five Elders keeps it a secret until they can withdraw the army from Korea. The dream of invading China is over, and Toyotomi's son, the infant Toyotomi Hideyori now faces the threat posed by the powerful Tokugawa Ieyasu. The council fulfils the role of regency for Hideyori, hoping to hold the peace until the child can come of age.

1600

The arrival of a Dutch trading vessel, the Liefde, greatly unsettles the Portuguese and Spanish merchants in Japan. The vessel's pilot, William Adams, is an Englishman of wit and charm. He is escorted to the powerful warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, where he reveals the lies peddled by Jesuits about religion in Europe.

Ieyasu is no less interested in the Liefde's canon, and it is possible that he uses them in battle later in the year. (William Adams serves as the inspiration for the character of John Blackthorne in James Clavell's novel, Shogun, with the role played by Richard Chamberlain in the remarkable tv mini-series of the same name.)

On 21 October 1600 the Battle of Sekigahara witnesses a mighty clash between more than 200,000 warlords, samurai, and retainers. The mighty 'Western Army' is loyal to an infant ruler-in-waiting named Toyotomi Hideyori. The rival 'Eastern Army' is under the command of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who hopes to seize power. His forces are outnumbered by almost two-to-one and it seems inconceivable that they can defeat the stronger army.

However, Ieyasu is a shrewd operator. At a critical point in the battle, General Kobayakawa and his 16,000 crack troops switch sides to join Ieyasu. Four other general do the same, all thanks to pre-arrangements with Ieyasu. The Western Army is suddenly outnumbered, and badly off-balance. Its ranks break and scatter, and Toyotomi Hideyori is captured and married off to Ieyasu's grand-daughter, bringing him firmly under control. Ieyasu's victory ushers in the Tokugawa period, with Ieyasu himself in the role of its first shogun.

Edo Period Japan / Tokugawa Period
AD 1603 - 1868

The Edo Period is also known as the Tokugawa Period, as the imperial court was dominated by the powerful Tokugawa shoguns. Japan's various daimyo (feudal lords) had been fighting amongst themselves for several centuries, with several extremely powerful warlords effectively dividing Japan into rival factions during the sixteenth century. Tokugawa Ieyasu was the main beneficiary of the achievements of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but his military and strategic brilliance ended the opposition of any rival warlords at the Battle of Sekigahara. Under his governance Japan experienced relative peace for the next two and-a-half centuries. The capital was now at Edo (modern Tokyo).

The arrival of Pilot William Adams and the Dutch ship, the Liefde, in 1600 transformed the status of foreigners in Japan. Shogun Ieyasu now encouraged both the Dutch East India Company and its English counterpart to establish trading bases. The first English ship to arrive, in 1613, was the Clove. By this time William Adams had been living in the country for thirteen years and, having the ear of the shogun, was able to act as a facilitator and translator. It was not to last, however. Ieyasu may have welcomed traders, but his son was xenophobic and vehemently anti-Christian. A wave of draconian edicts persecuted Christians and merchants alike and soon forced them to leave the country entirely.

(Additional information from External Link: History Extra.)

1610 - 1611

The Japanese vessel, San Buena Ventura, arrives on Mexican shores, bringing with it an embassy which consists of the Franciscan friar, Luis Sotelo, and the Japanese trader and 'inventor', Tanaka Shōsuke. The viceroy of New Spain, Luis de Velasco agrees to send the famous explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, with a side-brief to locate legendary 'gold and silver islands' which supposedly lie to the east of Japan. The Japanese vessel is confiscated, with Velasco worried about competition developing across the Pacific.

Vizcaíno sails on 22 March 1611 along with the emissaries from Japan. They arrive on 16 June 1611, and Vizcaíno journeys to Edo to meet the shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada, and then his cloistered father, Tokugawa Ieyasu. On board the Japanese galleon, San Juan Bautista, Vizcaíno arrives back at Acapulco on 25 January 1614, accompanied by Hasekura Tsunenaga, the first Japanese ambassador to Spain.

Dutch ships off Japan
Two Dutch ships shown in a reprinted Japanese woodblock, with Nagasaki their only permitted port of entry during the early modern Edo era

1612 - 1629

Go-Mi-no-o

Died 1680.

1623

The last English vessel in Japan sets sail in December 1623, taking with it the handful of other traders who have weathered the storm unleashed by Shogun Hidetada. The country enters a period known as sakoku - the closed country. It has seen enough of the troublesome foreign barbarians and their bitter internecine wars. Now, after almost a century of contact, it closes its doors to the world.

1630 - 1643

Empress Myosho

Died 1696.

1644 - 1654

Go-Komyo

1655 -1662

Go-Saiin

Died 1685.

1663 - 1686

Reigen

Died 1732.

1687 - 1709

Higashi-yama

1710 - 1735

Nakamikado

Died 1737.

1736 - 1746

Sakuramachi

Died 1750.

1746 - 1762

Momozono

1763 - 1770

Empress Go-Sakuramachi

Died 1813.

1771 - 1779

Go-Momozono

1780 - 1816

Kokaku

Died 1840.

1817 - 1846

Ninko

1847 - 1867

Komei

Died from haemorrhagic smallpox.

1853

For some time, no US ship has been allowed to put in at Japanese ports, and shipwrecked American sailors are regularly dispatched to prevent them from polluting the isolated Japanese culture. Commodore Matthew Perry arrives with a fleet of ships on 8 July and forces Japan to end its period of isolation. This act leads shortly to the ending of the shogunate.

1856

Following the treaty entered into between Commodore Perry and the shogun in 1853, the first US consul general, Townsend Harris, arrives on Japanese soil to take up his office. Initially, the Japanese refuse to recognise his official status, treating him as a private citizen and a barely-honoured guest. After eighteen months of protracted negotiations and a personal audience with the shogun, he is able to open the first US Consulate in Shimoda under the terms of the 'Harris Treaty' (as described with a certain level of accuracy by the John Wayne feature film, The Barbarian and the Geisha, 1958).

1867

The shogun resigns. While being part of a movement which had aimed to reform the aging shogunate, Shogun Yoshinobu is ultimately unsuccessful. The Modern Period begins in Japan.

Modern Period Japan
AD 1868 - Present Day

With the Pacific Ocean at its back, the chain of islands that make up modern Japan reach from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea in the south. In the north Oriental Russia is not only Japan's neighbour across the Sea of Japan to the west, it also occupies the northernmost islands off the coast of Hokkaido (Hokkaidō), part of the Kuril Islands chain that was annexed by Russia at the end of the Second World War. Much of the rest of Japan faces North Korea and South Korea, while the southernmost edge of the country's territory abuts that of China to the south-west. Four main islands make up the country, these being from north to south Hokkaido, Honshu (Honshū - the largest of all of them), Shikoku (the smallest), and Kyushu (Kyūshū). A further six thousand smaller islands are also included, although less than five hundred of these are occupied.

The resignation of the last shogun in 1867 and the death of Emperor Komei in the same year ushered in a new era for Japan. Komei's successor, Mutsuhito, was able to ensure the formal restoration of imperial rule on 4 January 1868, ending 265 years of governance by the Tokugawa shogunate. The USA had already enforced the end of Japan's self-imposed isolation in 1853. Now it would be a key source of cultural influence over Japan, although perhaps not especially so until after the end of the Second World War.

Strictly speaking, the modern period in Japan consists of several eras: the Meiji era (1868-1912), which saw Japan transform into a modern industrial nation; the Taisho era and Early Showa Period (1912-1945), which saw Japan extend its power over much of republican China and the Pacific; and finally the Post-War Period. Era names are selected to accompany each emperor during his reign, and subsequent emperors also have names for their eras. The term for the era which began in 2019 is made up of the two characters, 'rei' and 'wa', meaning 'order', and 'peace' or 'harmony'. For the first time the era name was taken from an old anthology of Japanese poems, the Manyoshu, instead of having a Chinese source.

Japanese emperors are more often known by their personal names even after death than those which they are given upon their deaths, so official names are shown here in parenthesis where available. Inside Japan itself, such use of personal names would be considered impolite. Formality and respect remain mainstays of Japanese culture and behaviour even with the often impolite influences of the rest of the modern world.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Concise History of Modern Korea: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present, Michael J Seth, from the BBC series, The Story of China, by Michael Wood, first broadcast between 21 January and 25 February 2016, from Kingdoms of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Gene Gurney (New York, 1986), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Japan reveals name of new imperial era will be 'Reiwa' (BBC), and Post War History (since 1945) (Japan-Guide.com), and BBC Country Profiles, and Eight years after Fukushima, what has made evacuees come home? (The Guardian), and Shinzo Abe death (The Guardian).)

1867 - 1912

Mutsuhito 'the Great'

Son of Komei of the Edo period. Meiji era.

1889

With the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution (the informal name for the 'Constitution of the Empire of Japan'), a prime minister is selected to head a constitutional monarchy in Japan. It is hoped that the constitution will define Japan as a capable, modern nation which is deserving of Western respect whilst preserving Japan's own power. The emperor is granted supreme control of the army and navy.

Emperor Mutsuhito proclaims the Meiji Constitution in 1889
Mutsuhito, the Meiji emperor of Japan, proclaims the 'Meiji Constitution' - otherwise known as the 'Constitution of the Empire of Japan' - in 1889

1894 - 1895

With the Qin rapidly losing the age-old Chinese influence over Korea to a newly-resurgent Japan, tensions are high. A decade of peace between the two regarding Korea comes to an end when the pro-Japanese Korean leader of the 1884 coup, Kim Ok-kyun, is lured to Shanghai and is assassinated. Japanese public opinion is outraged by the subsequent treatment of his body. The peasant-led Tonghak Uprising breaks out in Korea in the same year, and Chinese attempts to reinforce the Korean king are met with military opposition by Japan.

The First Sino-Japanese War is triggered. Japan's modern military forces entirely outmatch the more numerous but outdated forces of China. By March 1895 the Japanese have successfully invaded Shandong Province and Manchuria and have fortified posts that command the sea approaches to Beijing. China sues for peace. In the Treaty of Shimonoseki China recognises the independence of Korea and cedes to Japan the island of Taiwan, the adjoining Pescadores, and the Liaodong peninsula in Manchuria.

1904

Japan occupies large areas of Korea during the Russo-Japanese War, with the result that a protectorate is formed to oversee these areas. Japanese resident-generals are appointed to 'manage' the country with the Korean emperor remaining in charge in name only.

1907

King Gojong of Korea sends delegates to the Hague Peace Conference (the Hague Convention of 1907), where they appeal to the world to end Japan's dominance over Korea. Instead the prevailing trend of colonial administration of 'lesser' nations persuades the convention to endorse Japan's dominance. As a result of the failed attempt, Gojong is forced to abdicate by his controllers.

Hague Conference of 1907
The 'Second Hague Conference' was held in 1907, but Korea's hopes of finding support there were dashed by self-interest and mutual mistrust, mainly by European nations against each other and the perceived threat posed by Britain and the USA

1910

Following several years of increasing dominance in Korea which is tacitly supported by the Western nations, the former Korean empire is annexed to Japan. The emperor is removed and governors-general replace him in running the country.

1912 - 1926

Yoshihito

Son. Taishō era. Died following heart attack.

1914

With the First World War already underway in Europe, Japan declares war on Germany on 23 August 1914. The principle motive is to take advantage of Europe's confusion - especially Germany's - to expand its own sphere of influence in China and the Pacific. Allied with Britain which has its own need to put down any German forces in the region, Japanese and British troops take Tsingtao Fortress which houses the German East Asia Squadron's headquarters. German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province are also taken, as are the Marianas, Caroline, and Marshall Islands in the Pacific, all of which are part of German New Guinea.

Japan also dispatches a naval fleet to the Mediterranean in order to aid allied shipping against German U-boat attacks (the Anglo-Japanese Alliance ends in 1923, after Japan has grown disillusioned with Western cooperation and instead pursues a nationalist policy).

1919

The Sam-il Movement in Korea embodies a growing resistance to Japanese occupation there. On 1 March 1919, a group of activists read a Korean declaration of independence before signing it and sending a copy to the governor-general. The movement's leaders subsequently hand themselves in to the police, but a student reads the declaration in public. Mass demonstrations follow, increasing in size until a panicked Japanese military uses force to resolve things. Massacres and various atrocities follow, resulting in thousands of dead and injured.

In the same year, following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, China's youth are shocked to find that the former German colonial territory in China is now to form part of a Japanese territory. They regard this with a sense of outrage. On 4 May 1919, using their newfound rights to freedom of speech, a huge student demonstration is organised in the capital.

Japanese troops in Korea
Japan's occupation of Korea was viewed with some unease by the western powers but was generally accepted as being necessary to ensure peace and stability in the region

1920

A force of 40,000 Czechoslovakian soldiers which has fought its way across Siberia following the collapse of the Russian empire is finally extracted by a joint American-Japanese bridgehead established at Vladivostok.

1926 - 1989

Hirohito

Son. Shōwa era. Renounced Sun Line divinity 1947. Died of cancer.

1937

The Second Sino-Japanese War is triggered when Japan launches a full-scale invasion of China, inadvertently saving the nascent communist movement from utter obscurity and extinction. That December, in a six-week reign of terror, the Japanese army massacres more than 250,000 people in Nanjing. In distant Yan'an, the defeated communist guerrilla army now finds itself part of a liberation struggle.

One of the most fervent leaders of the movement, Mao Zedong, has gained power over the party and has emerged as a formidable and ruthless revolutionary. A 'United Front' is formed with the nationalists under Chinese Prime Minister Chiang Kai-shek and the communists under Mao, fighting the common enemy - Japan.

1941

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the USA join the war on the allied side, initially against Japan, but Germany is soon included.

Almost at the same time as the attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese forces land in Siam's territory. Initial Siamese resistance is brief, and following negotiations, the Japanese forces are allowed to advance towards the British-controlled Malay peninsula, Singapore, and Burma.

In the same year both the Viet state and Laos are also occupied, both within French Indochina and with the tactic agreement of a helpless German-controlled France.

1942

Peru becomes the first South American country to join the war on the side of the allies, while Mexico does the same in June. Brazil joins in August.

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Britain had been openly supplying China in its fight against Japanese occupation. Now Japan launches its own operation to capture Burma, using its puppet formation, the 'Burma Independence Army' which includes founding recruit Aung San. The Japanese military invasion is launched in January 1942, and the country is captured from the low-key British forces by the spring.

Japan expels Dutch and Australian forces from the Portuguese colony of East Timor, occupying it from 1942 to 1945. In January 1942, Japan also occupies New Guinea and part of Papua until 1944.

1943

Bolivia joins the war on the side of the allies in April, while Colombia joins in July. Japan's own war efforts are now starting to face difficulties as the USA ramps up its attacks in the Pacific. The year starts with a successful Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal but as it progresses, the losses in Pacific territory mount up.

Japanese troops surrendering at Guadalcanal
Japanese evacuation from Guadalcanal was largely successful thanks to bombing attacks on the US fleet, with very few Japanese troops surrendering to the allies, but it marked the beginning of a series of setbacks for Japan

1945

In February, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay belatedly join the war on the side of the allies, while in March Argentina joins, followed by Chile in April. On the ground, Japan is forced out of southern Burma by a joint British-Burmese uprising.

On 6 August, an atom bomb is dropped on the city of Hiroshima by the US bomber, 'Enola Gay'. A further bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August brings a declaration of surrender from Japan on 2 September.

Japan also surrenders its empire, including territory in China and Korea, Annam and Laos.

1945 - 1952

USA occupies the main Japanese islands, with a presence being maintained by American troops until 1952. The US enforces a new constitution on the country, one which prohibits it from possessing an overt military force or engaging in warfare. Most of Japan's cities have suffered heavy damage to enemy bombers, and food shortages continue for some years, but Japan is still able to establish itself as a global economic and political power during this period.

1956 - 1972

Japan joins the United Nations in 1956, while the Olympic Games are held in Tokyo in 1964. The Japanese prime minister visits China in 1972 and normal diplomatic relations are resumed. Japan subsequently closes its embassy in Taiwan, signalling to the republican Chinese the fact that their claim to sovereignty has lost another supporter. Okinawa is returned to Japanese sovereignty, but the USA retains bases there.

1989 - 2019

Akihito

Son. Heisei era. 125th Emperor of the Sun Line. Abdicated.

1995

Two disasters hit Japan in the same year, the first being an earthquake in central Japan in January. It kills thousands and causes widespread damage. The city of Kobe is hardest hit. In March a religious sect known as Aum Shinrikyo releases the deadly sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo underground railway system. Twelve people are killed and thousands are injured.

2004 - 2006

An Anglo-American-led Second Gulf War leads to the collapse of Hussein's regime after just twenty-one days of fighting. Hussein is eventually captured, after having been located in an underground bunker (more of a deep fox hole). For the first time since the Second World War, Japanese non-combat soldiers are included in the allied forces. In the same year in which they return home - 2006 - Japan's parliament approves the country's first post-war defence ministry.

2011

In March one of the greatest recorded earthquakes takes place offshore and this - followed by a tsunami - devastates Japan's north-eastern coast. Damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant causes a radiation leak that leaves extensive areas uninhabitable and contaminates food supplies. It takes until 2019 before Fukushima's outlying town residents are allowed to return home.

Fukushima power plant
An aerial view of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, which remains mostly-off-limits, although residents of the nearby town were allowed to return in 2019

2014 - 2015

Japan's government approves a landmark change in security policy in July 2014, paving the way for its military to fight overseas. The lower house of parliament backs bills in July 2015 which permit troops to fight overseas for the first time since the Second World War, prompting protests at home and criticism from an increasingly militaristically aggressive China.

2019

In April Akihito fulfils his stated objective of stepping down as emperor - the first incumbent to do so for almost two hundred years. Aged eighty-five, his reign has witnessed a period in which Japan has been engaged in no warfare at all, earning his era the title of 'Heisei', meaning 'achieving peace'.

2019 - Present

Naruhito

Son. Reiwa era. Born 23 Feb 1960.

2022

Shinzo Abe, former prime minister and a towering political figure in Japan, is shot dead whilst giving a campaign speech on the morning of Friday 8 July. His murderer, a former member of the maritime defence forces, is Tetsuya Yamagami, using a home-made weapon in a country which has the strictest gun laws possible and the lowest rate of deaths by gun. Japan is left in a state of shock by the unaccustomed violence.

 
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