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Japan History
Japan History - TravelPuppy.com
The earliest recorded history of Japan dates to the reign of the emperor Jimmu in the sixth century BC. Japan was under strong Chinese and Korean influence thereafter, but was not able to create a strong centralised State based on the Chinese model. Economic and political power was held by a group of noble dynasties which operated on a mainly feudal basis. The 12th century AD experienced the emergence of the shogun, a military governor from one of the great families, who lead with the consent of the others, however most of their energies were dedicated to internecine warfare. Only an external threat, such as the attempted Mongol invasions during the late 13th century, brought together the various families against the common enemy. This helped build a latent national consciousness which gradually developed over the next 300 years.

The actual unification of Japan started during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), during this time a national administrative hierarchy was formed from the family structures of the ruling class. During this period the shogun maintained supreme executive power. Among the hallmarks of this period from an outsider’s view was Japan’s unyielding resistance to foreign influence; in spite of its powerful status in the region, which brought it into association with the European imperial powers, Japan promoted a kind of anti-foreign policy. In the late 19th century, as the Tokugawa regime gradually declined into inertia and profligacy, a new group of rulers gained power and embarked on a programme of rapid industrialisation, as well as creating a Western-style system of administration.

The military was the primary power behind this process. However, formal executive power was held by the Emperor, who inherited his position and was regarded by the majority of his subjects as a demi-god – all-powerful and remote. Japan’s imperial aspirations in the Far East developed during this time, amplified by the occupation of Korea in 1905 after the defeat of its primary imperial rival, Russia, in a war that had started the previous year. The Japanese took little active role in World War I, in spite of a formal declaration of war on Germany, however Japanese factories manufactured munitions and supplies for the Allies throughout. During the 1920s and 1930s, Japan continued its expansionist regional policies (in spite of economic problems caused by the global recession) with China as the primary target. Japan’s subsequent collision with the British, who had great political and economic interests in China, contributed to her alliance with Germany in World War II.

Japan’s forces occupied China and South-East Asia between 1938 and 1941 and ousted the British from Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. At its zenith, the Japanese empire, which used the Orwellian title ‘Co-Prosperity Zone’, reached as far south as Indonesia and eastwards far into the Pacific. The American participation in the war in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed the balance against the Japanese, who were gradually pushed back during the following 4 years, finally surrendering after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan was under occupation by American troops, and in 1946, the Americans imposed the constitution that still governs Japan today.

From 1950 to 1990 a period of exceptional economic growth carried Japan from the brink of annihilation to the 2nd most powerful economy in the world (please see the Business section). This amazing achievement was not matched, however, in the political arena, where the government’s domestic policies were often self-serving and border line corrupt. Foreign policy, however, was all but non-existent until the demands of international trade forced Japan to address the outside world. All through the East Asian region – much of which was occupied by the Japanese during the 1930's and 1940's, there was still great resentment, particularly in China and the Koreas, of Japan’s horrible treatment of its subject populations. This was further compounded by the fact that, in stark contrast to the de-nazification process which changed post-war Germany, Japan was (and, to some extent, still is) in denial concerning this period of its history.

Japan’s primary postwar political party has been the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP, or Jiyu Minshu-to) which was created in 1955 from a coalition of centre-right groups. It maintained a continuous grip on political power from up to 1993. What defines the LDP is its factional make-up. Most modern political parties are broad alliances of groups which might differ on specific policies or methods but subscribe to the same overall objectives promoted by the party leadership. In the LDP, by contrast, the greater interests of the party were second to the interests of the factions. Therefore the factional leaders of the LDP have often enjoyed more power than senior ministers. Successive Japanese governments have often been beholden to the whims of these faction leaders.

The latest phase of Japan’s political growth dates approximately from 1989. In that year, Japan acquired a new Emperor when Akihito succeeded his father, Hirohito. The status and role of the Emperor is still a sensitive issue. While Hirohito was never completely rehabilitated due to his knowledge of Japanese war crimes, Akihito symbolizes a new generation of Emperor because he has adopted the more personable style of European monarchs, rather than assume the inaccessible demi-god status of his predecessors.

The accession of Akihito coincided with the 1st signs that the Japanese economic expansion was declining (see Business Profile section). The 1990s brought other significant changes as Japan was assuming a more substantial foreign policy in line with its economic muscle. A modification to the constitution in 1992 permitted Japanese troops to be stationed overseas, albeit in a peacekeeping role only. Ten years later, this is still a controversial subject: the Koizumi government (see below) plan to send Japanese peacekeepers to Iraq caused furious national debate (as of November 2003, the plan had been halted pending a review of security in Iraq).

More generally, Japan now enjoys great influence throughout Asia and Australia due to its investments and aid programmes. As a member of the G8 group of the world’s most powerful states, Japan began to exert substantial influence on the world stage. Relations with most of its neighbours and trading partners have experienced some improvement, however there have been regular trade disputes, particularly with the European Union and the United States of America. The only huge territorial dispute is with the Russian Federation over the Kurile Islands located off the coast of Hokkaido: this still is not resolved.

In July 1993, the LDP lost control of the Diet for the 1st time since 1955. It found itself in opposition to a 7-party coalition made up of leftists, centrists and LDP defectors lead by Morihiro Hosakawa, head of the Nihon Shinto (New Japan Party). The unwieldy coalition collapsed after one year, permitting the LDP to recover power. The LDP was now led by ex-finance minister Ryutaro Hashimoto who had earned his name as a tough and effective trade negotiator. At the next general election held in October 1996, the LDP was reconfirmed as the party of government.

The 1997 Asian currency crisis revealed deep structural and administrative difficulties in Japan. 6 years later, in spite of the abundant evidence of Japan’s continuing financial malaise, the problems still haven't t been properly addressed by the successive government. In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, LDP faction leaders turned on Hashimoto (who was also very unpopular in the country) and he was ignominiously forced out of office. 2transitional leaders, ex-Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi and faction leader Yoshiro Mori, then held the premiership in quick progression. After the November 2000 general election, the LDP was ready to recall Hashimoto when an unlikely would-be saviour appeared in the form of Junichiro Koizumi, a former minister with a large popular following by virtue of his flamboyant personal style and evident desire and determination to break with the past. The LDP’s overwhelming victory in upper house parliamentary elections in July 2001 ensured d his position.

In October 2002, the Koizumi government finally unveiled plans to work on the country’s financial crisis. Barring unemployment, which has is now an unprecedented 6 %, the programme had begun to reap results by late 2003 as government measures started to take effect. This was the primary reason for Koizumi’s successful re-election campaign which saw the LDP returned as the majority party. The LDP now governs in alliance with Komeito, a nominally religious party which runs its campaigns on an anti-corruption platform.