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History of Japan

Japan (Japanese: Nihon or Nippon) is an island country located on the Pacific Ocean, east of China and Korea, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to Taiwan in the south. It is composed of over 3,000 islands, the largest of which are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Most of Japan's islands are mountainous, and many are volcanic; the highest peak is Mount Fuji.

Japan is the third-largest economy in the world and one of the world's leading industrialized countries. It is a unitary constitutional monarchy with an emperor and an elected parliament, one of the oldest legislatures in Asia. Despite its rugged terrain, it is one of the most populous—and one of the most densely populated—countries in the world. Its capital, Tokyo, is the largest metropolitan area in the world with over thirty million residents.

Historically, Japan adopted many Chinese customs and institutions beginning in the 7th and 8th centuries. From the 12th century to the mid-1800s, Japan was a feudal country led by clans of warriors. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan adopted many European and American customs and institutions. Its culture today is a mixture of these influences.

Japan's name in Chinese characters is often translated as "Land of the Rising Sun", and comes from the country's location on the east coast of Asia. Its English name is derived from Chinese names for Japan.



Archaeological research indicates that the earliest inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago migrated over land bridges from Northeast Asia about 30,000 years ago. Other evidence also suggests that some may have later come by sea from Southeast Asia during a period of migration toward the Pacific Ocean. The first signs of civilization appeared around 10,000 BC with the Jomon culture, characterized by a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer lifestyle of pit dwelling and a rudimentary form of agriculture. Weaving was still unknown and clothes were often made of bark. Around that time, however, the Jomon people started to make clay vessels, decorated with patterns made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks (Jomon means "patterns of plaited cord"). This led to the introduction of the earliest known type of pottery in the world.

The start of the Yayoi period around 300 BC marked the influx of new practices such as rice farming, shamanism, and iron and bronze-making brought by migrants from Korea. These formed the basic elements of traditional Japanese culture, still seen today. As the population increased and society became more complex, they wove cloth, lived in permanent farming villages, constructed buildings of wood and stone, accumulated wealth through landownership and the storage of grain, and developed distinct social classes.

The ensuing Kofun era, beginning around AD 250, saw the establishment of strong military states centered around powerful clans. The Yamato court, concentrated in the Asuka region, suppressed the clans and acquired agricultural lands, increasing their power. Based upon the Chinese model, they developed a central administration and an imperial court system (the Ritsuryo state) and society was organized into occupation groups: farmers, fishermen, weavers, potters, artisans, armorers, and ritual specialists.

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