Portal:Ancient Japan

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THE ANCIENT JAPAN PORTAL

Showcased content about Ancient Japan

Depiction of bearded Emperor Jimmu with his emblematic long bow and an accompanying wild bird.

The first human habitation in the Japanese archipelago has been traced to prehistoric times. The Jōmon period, named after its "cord-marked" pottery, was followed by the Yayoi in the first millennium BC, when new technologies were introduced from continental Asia. During this period, the first known written reference to Japan was recorded in the Chinese Book of Han in the first century AD. Between the fourth century and the ninth century, Japan's many kingdoms and tribes gradually came to be unified under a centralized government, nominally controlled by the Emperor. This imperial dynasty continues to reign over Japan. In 794, a new imperial capital was established at Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto), marking the beginning of the Heian period, which lasted until 1185. The Heian period is considered a golden age of classical Japanese culture. Japanese religious life from this time and onwards was a mix of native Shinto practices and Buddhism.

Over the following centuries the power of the Emperor and the imperial court gradually declined and passed to the military clans and their armies of samurai warriors. The Minamoto clan under Minamoto no Yoritomo emerged victorious from the Genpei War of 1180–85. After seizing power, Yoritomo set up his capital in Kamakura and took the title of shōgun. In 1274 and 1281, the Kamakura shogunate withstood two Mongol invasions, but in 1333 it was toppled by a rival claimant to the shogunate, ushering in the Muromachi period. During the Muromachi period regional warlords called daimyōs grew in power at the expense of the shōgun. Eventually, Japan descended into a period of civil war. Over the course of the late sixteenth century, Japan was reunified under the leadership of the daimyō Oda Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After Hideyoshi's death in 1598, Tokugawa Ieyasu came to power and was appointed shōgun by the Emperor. The Tokugawa shogunate, which governed from Edo (modern Tokyo), presided over a prosperous and peaceful era known as the Edo period (1600–1868). The Tokugawa shogunate imposed a strict class system on Japanese society and cut off almost all contact with the outside world.

The American Perry Expedition in 1853–54 ended Japan's seclusion; this contributed to the fall of the shogunate and the return of power to the Emperor in 1868. The new national leadership of the following Meiji period transformed the isolated, feudal island country into an empire that closely followed Western models and became a great power. Although democracy developed and modern civilian culture prospered during the Taishō period (1912–26), Japan's powerful military had great autonomy and overruled Japan's civilian leaders in the 1920s and 1930s. The military invaded Manchuria in 1931, and from 1937 the conflict escalated into a prolonged war with China. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 led to war with the United States and its allies. Japan's forces soon became overextended, but the military held out in spite of Allied air attacks that inflicted severe damage on population centers. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's unconditional surrender on 15 August 1945, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.

The Allies occupied Japan until 1952, during which a new constitution was enacted in 1947 that transformed Japan into a constitutional monarchy. After 1955, Japan enjoyed very high economic growth, and became a world economic powerhouse. Since the 1990s, economic stagnation has been a major issue. An earthquake and tsunami in 2011 caused massive economic dislocations and a serious nuclear power disaster.

Selected article

Nagara River flowing through Gifu
Gifu (岐阜市, Gifu-shi) is a city located in the south-central portion of Gifu Prefecture, Japan, and serves as the prefectural capital. The city has played an important role in Japan's history because of its location in the middle of the country. During the Sengoku period, various warlords, including Oda Nobunaga, used the area as a base in an attempt to unify and control Japan. Gifu continued to flourish even after Japan's unification as both an important shukuba along the Edo period Nakasendō and, later, as one of Japan's fashion centers. It has been designated a core city by the national government.

Located on the alluvial plain of the Nagara River, Gifu has taken advantage of the surrounding natural resources to create both traditional industries (including Mino washi and agriculture) and tourism opportunities such as cormorant fishing. Mount Kinka, one of the city's major symbols, is home to a nationally designated forest and Gifu Castle, a replica of Nobunaga's former castle. Gifu also hosts many festivals and events throughout the year.

Two major rail lines connect Gifu to Japan's national and international transportation infrastructure. JR Central's Tōkaidō Main Line runs through the city, connecting it with Nagoya, one of Japan's largest cities, and the surrounding area. The city has a direct train route to Chubu Centrair International Airport and facilities capable of hosting international events. Gifu has active relationships with six sister cities.

Selected picture

BonsaiTridentMaple.jpg
Credit: Peggy Greb

Travelers from ancient Japan had been returning from mainland China with souvenirs, including container planting, since the 6th century. This may be when the bonsai was first introduced to Japan.

Did you know...

Heishi Rock is an attraction at Kamome Island.

  • ...that in Shinto, yorishiro, such as sacred trees, attract spirits, give them a physical space to occupy and make them accessible to people for religious ceremonies?
  • ...that according to a legend, the Heishi rock (pictured) represents the God of the Sea of Japan?
  • ...that the stone "lions" seen at the gates of Shinto shrines are actually Chinese dogs?

Selected National Treasure

Kofun soldier, 5th century Japan.
Haniwa armored man (埴輪武装男子立像 haniwa busō danshi ritsuzō) or Warrior in keikō type armor is a terra cotta Haniwa (burial figure of an armored man with a sword, a bow, and a quiver of arrows). It stands at a height of 131.5 cm (51.8 in).

Selected biography

Tokugawa Ieyasu as shogun.
Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康, January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, which effectively ruled Japan from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shōgun in 1603, and abdicated from office in 1605, but remained in power until his death in 1616. His given name is sometimes spelled Iyeyasu, according to the historical pronunciation of the kana character he. Ieyasu was posthumously enshrined at Nikkō Tōshō-gū with the name Tōshō Daigongen (東照大権現). He was one of the three unifiers of Japan, along with his former lord Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

In the news

November 2010: A 35,000 year old stone tool with a ground edge is found in Australia, predating the earliest ancient Japanese example by at least 5,000 years. (1)


August 2010: Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan promised to return a “small portion” of the estimated 61,000 artifacts that were taken from Korea during colonial rule. (2)


March 2009: For the first time since World War II, a complete set of ancient Japanese dolls was displayed at the week-long "Session Road in Bloom" to celebrate the 14th Panagbenga Festival. (3)

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