The major periods of Japanese history are as follows:
Early Japan (before 710)
There are few written records from this time. The first written accounts of Japan appear in Chinese writings such as the Book of Han. According to the Chinese Records, the most powerful kingdom in Japan during the third century was called Yamataikoku.
Nara and Heian Periods (710-1185)
The first Japanese capitals were established at Fujiwara and Asuka by the Yamato state.
In 784, Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka. But that only lasted ten years. The capital was soon moved to Kyoto where it remained for more than a millennium. This was the start of the Heian period. The Heian period saw the blossoming of a distinctly Japanese culture.
By the eighth century the capital had been moved to Nara and a strong Japanese government under the Imperial Court was established. The Nara period saw the adoption of a Chinese-like system of government.
Kamakura Period (1185-1333)
The Samurai warriors emerged as a new ruling class during the Kamakura period. Kamakura became the base of power for the Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1885.
Buddhism was first introduced to Japan by Korea but after that Japanese Buddhism was mostly influenced by China. In the Kamakura period, Japanese Zen Buddhism developed and was supported by many Samurai.
The Kamakura shogunate stopped Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281. They were aided by a storm that destroyed many Mongol ships. The Japanese believed this to be a result of Divine intervention which they named Kamikaze (divine wind). The Kamakura shogunate was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo.
Muromachi Period (1338-1573)
Emperor Go-Daigo was defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336. The succeeding Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords and a civil war erupted (the ÅŒnin War) in 1467. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the influence of the Ashikaga shoguns and the government in Kyoto declined rapidly.
Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603)
During the sixteenth century, traders and Jesuit missionaries from Portugal reached Japan. This was the first sustained contact between the west and Japan. Commercial and cultural exchange was initiated between Japan and the West.
Oda Nobunaga almost unified Japan by using European weapons and technology. However, he was assassinated in 1582. Toyotomi Hideyoshi succeeded Nobunaga and united Japan in 1590. Hideyoshi invaded Korea twice, but following several defeats by Korean and Chinese forces Japan withdrew in 1598.
Edo Period (1603-1868)
After Hideyoshi's death, Tokugawa Ieyasu gained political and military support by leveraging his position as an advisor to Hideyoshi's son. War broke out and he defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu was appointed shÅgun in 1603 and established his capital at Edo (modern Tokyo).
In 1639, the shogunate began the isolationist sakoku ("closed country") policy that isolated Japan for two hundred and fifty years. However, the study of Western science continued during this period through contacts with the Dutch.
In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with his "Black Ships". Soon similar treaties followed and this bought Japan into an economic and political crises.
Meiji Period (1868-1912)
The Boshin War led to the establishment of a unified Japanese state under the Emperor (Meiji Restoration). A western style government, judiciary and military were adopted. A Cabinet, Privy Council and Imperial Diet were introduced along with a new constitution (Meiji Constitution).
The Meiji Restoration transformed Japan into an industrialized world power. Japan became an expansionist state that embarked on a number of wars to establish a colonial empire. Japan had victories in the Sino-Japanese War (1894â€“1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904â€“1905). Eventually Japan gained control of Taiwan, Korea, and parts of southern China.
Taisho Period (1912-1926)
Although the Taisho Emperor was a rather weak figure there were experiments with democracy during his rein. However, this brief period of "Taisho democracy" was overshadowed by the continued rise of right wing nationalism, expansionism and militarization.
Showa Period (1926-1945)
Japan sided with the victorious Allies in World War I and was able to expand its territorial holdings as a result. Japan continued its expansion by occupying Manchuria in 1931. There was international condemnation of this occupation and Japan resigned from the League of Nations two years later. In 1936, Japan signed a military pact with Nazi Germany and joined the Axis powers.
In 1937, Japan expanded further in China (Second Sino-Japanese War). This caused the United States to place an oil embargo on Japan.
On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. This brought an isolationist United States into World War II. The United States had a vastly superior economy and more access to natural resources. It was not long before the US was winning the war in the pacific.
In August 1945 the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August 15. The Japanese lost millions of lives during the war and its infrastructure was in ruins.
The Allies established a tribunal to prosecute Japanese war criminals for crimes such as the Nanking Massacre.
Postwar Period (1945)
During the Allied occupation Japan adopted a pacifist and democratic constitution. The occupation ended in 1952 and Japan entered the United Nations in 1956. In the postwar period Japan has achieved spectacular economic growth and is now the second largest economy in the world.