Learn About Japan

Japan has had one single royal family for well over a thousand years. For much of that time, Japan's emperors were weak. From 1185 until the mid-1800s, Japan was under the control of powerful warlords called shoguns. Each shogun controlled a group of fighting men called samurai. From the 17th century until the mid-1800s, Japan completely cut itself off from other nations.

The United States wanted to expand its power and influence in the region. In the 1860s, U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry came to Japan with several U.S. warships. He demanded that Japan open up to trade, which it did.

Tensions between Japan and Western nations grew over many decades, as Japan sought to gain control east Asia and the Pacific. In 1941, Japan attacked a U.S. base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, causing the U.S. to enter World War II. Japan lost in the war after the U.S. dropped atom bombs on two Japanese cities. Deeply affected by the war and the killing, Japan wrote a new constitution setting up a peaceful, democratic nation. Today the country spends a smaller percentage of its government budget on the military than most large nations.

Since World War II, Japan's economy has become very powerful among world nations. It is known for its electronic equipment, computers, and financial business. Despite its very modern economy, Japan's long cultural traditions remain strong today.

History highlights:

660 B.C.: Emperor Jimmu founds Japan.

Fifth century A.D.: Buddhism is introduced to Japan, coexisting with Shintoism.

1185: Shoguns control Japan.

1542: A shipwrecked Portuguese boat introduces the Japanese to guns and the West. Trade begins.

1641: Foreigners are banned from Japan. Many Christians are martyred. Japan experiences extreme isolation and peace.

1853: U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his fleet arrive in Japan and force Japan to open the country's doors to foreign trade.

1941: The Japanese military bombs Pearl Harbor and invades a number of Asian countries.

1945: U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders.

1998: Winter Olympic Games take place in Nagano, Japan.

Source: Learn About Japan
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