History 17/Asian 25—Japan to 1700s
A Periodization of Early-Japanese History
Caveat: Time periods are useful only as heuristic devices; they should not be taken as self-evident divisions of societies, polities, economies, or cultures. The following periodization is offered for two purposes only—to familiarize you with standard “period names” employed in Japanese historiography and to help organize the themes and materials covered in this course.
Jōmon Period: 10,500~300 B.C.E.
Named after rope-patterned pottery. Livelihood based on hunting, fishing, and gathering. Settlements were semi-permanent with diverse cultures. Evidence of trace across the archipelago.
[Dispersed Agricultural Society: 400 B.C.E.~1250 C.E. (growth 400 BCE~700 CE; stasis 750~1250 CE)]
Yayoi Period: 300 B.C.E.~250 C.E.
Named after simpler pottery style discovered in the Yayoi neighborhood of Tokyo. The period is marked by a transition to agriculture-based livelihoods, especially the introduction of wet rice cultivation to northern Kyushu from Korean peninsula. Agricultural production and surplus resulted in larger social organizations with internal hierarchies. Numerous regional chieftains emerge.
Kofun (Tomb) Period: 250~ca. 550 C.E.
Marked by the construction of increasingly large tombs for political figures, indicating increased consolidation of power. Chieftains based in Yamato (Kinai plains) achieve basic hegemony—forming the basis for the “imperial house.” Little is reliably known about this period, with disagreement over the reach and degree of control possessed by the nascent Yamato court.
Asuka Period: 552~645 C.E.
Named after the location of an early capital in the Kinai plains, the period is marked by the construction of “roaming capitals” in the area. Close contact results in the introduction of political and cultural institutions from China and many Buddhist temples are built. More reliable, written records indicate considerable political instability as chieftains/aristocrats clashed for power and resources.
Nara Period: 645~794 C.E.
Relatively stable succession of rulers following the Jinshin Disturbance of 672. Codification of political order and laws (ritsuryō) and creation of early aristocratic bureaucracy—zenith of the ritsuryō system reached during the middle of the 8th century. Construction of multiple capitals—Fujiwara, Heijō (Nara), Nagaoka, and Heian. Capital moved to Nara in 710. Significant cultural developments: Kojiki, Nihongi, Manyōshū compiled. Ends with the removal of the capital to Heian-kyô (Kyoto).
Heian Period: 794~1185 C.E.
Height of classical aristocratic rule noted for the splendor of its literary and artistic culture. Political influence of Buddhist temples in Nara lessened. Esoteric Buddhism (Tendai and Shingon sects) introduced from China. Kana (syllabic) script emerges to complement use of Chinese characters. The ritsuryō system declines and the period moves politically from the ascendance of the Fujiwara family (900~1050), to the cloistered rule of retired emperors (insei, 1050~1186), and ends with open conflict between two of the earliest samurai clans (Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji), 1181~1185).
[Intensive Agricultural Society: 1250~1870 C.E. (growth 1250~1700; stasis 1700~1870)]
Kamakura Period: 1185~1336 C.E.
The Kamakura shogunate (bakufu), first under the Minamoto (1185~1250), then under the Hōjō (1250~1336), splits authority with the imperial court, creating two focal points of political power in Kyoto and Kamakura. Mongol invasions (1274, 1281) underscore the structural weakness of the samurai regime. New forms of Buddhism spread (Zen, Pureland and Nichiren). Samurai culture develops. Ends with the rise of the Ashikaga shogunate and the split of the imperial court into “northern” and “southern” factions.
Muromachi Period: 1336~1567 C.E.
Imperial court split between two emperors competing for legitimacy (a southern court in Yoshino, a northern court in Kyoto; 1336~1392). Fifteenth century relatively peaceful under the weakening authority of the Ashikaga shogunate. Tea ceremony, flower arrangement, shoin architecture, and No drama develop. Sixteenth century marked by open warfare (the “warring states” (sengoku) period, 1467~1567). Period of international trade and cosmopolitanism; firearms introduced by Portugueses in 1543; Catholicism introduced in 1549. In 1569, Oda Nobunaga marches into Kyoto and supplants with Ashikaga family.
Azuchi-Momoyama Period: 1568~1600 C.E.
Period of unification under the successive leadership of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Weapons are confiscated from non-samurai classes, Korea is invaded, and Christianity is banned. Tokugawa Ieyasu is named shogun in 1603, inaugurating the long Tokugawa period (1603~1868) of peace and stability.
Tokugawa/Edo Period: 1600~1868 C.E.
Steady economic and demographic growth through the 17th century. Urban, popular
culture flourishes in the three cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo.