Japan pre-1891: historical events
Page last modified 30/4/2019
29/11/1890, In Japan, the Meiji Constitution came into effect.
11/7/1890, The first ever elections in Japan; the electorate comprised only 450,000 people.
11/2/1889. The Meiji Emperor in Japan, dressed for the occasion in a European field-marshal’s uniform, took his seat on a Prussian armchair in the European-looking throne room of the palace of his new capital, Tokyo, and announced a new constitution providing for Japan’s first parliamentary elections. ‘Meiji’ denoted an Age of Brightness and it was hoped this would be the start of Japan as one of the great modern nations of the world. Japanese cities did indeed become more ‘modern’ and European; cinemas and dance halls appeared, frequented by ‘liberated’ young Japanese. However the constitution was based on a Prussian model, tied to the Confucian tradition of respect for authority, and the electorate was very limited; ministers were still picked by the emperor, not parliament. Japan remained a nation where the Emperor and the military had most of the real power, leading ultimately to its participation in the Second World War. Some see 1964, when the Olympics were held in Tokyo, as the turning point when the war and US occupation were put behind and Japan became a ‘western’ nation.
24/9/1877. In Japan, a Samurai rebellion which began in Satsuma in January 1876 was over with the suicide of its leader Saigo Takamori. Saigo resigned from the Japanese government when it decided not to invade Korea, and became leader of some 40,000 disaffected samurai, frustrated at being deprived of a foreign war. More seriously for them, the samurai have been overtaken by the establishment of a modern Japanese army, with firearms and other technology. The Samurai were forbidden to wear their distinctive military dress or carry swords; the Japanese government had assumed responsibility for their stipends and cut them sharply. In effect the samurai had become low grade civil servants.
10/1874, China agreed to pay compensation to Japan, and Japan withdrew its invasion force from Taiwan.
1871, The Meiji Government in Japan outlawed discrimination against the Burakumin, the lowest-caste people in the country who worked in industries such as tanning.
1870, The city of Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan, was founded. The Japanese population of Hokkaido began to rise significantly. Japanese Meiji Emperor Mutsuhito ordered his subjects to take surnames.
3/1869, The Meiji Emperor of Japan accepted the surrender by four of the most powerful Japanese clans (Choshu, Tosa, Hizen and Satsuma) of their territories. The Clan Chiefs were reappointed as Provincial Governors, on reduced incomes.
4/7/1868, The last resistance in Japan by pro-Tokugawa forces ceased, as they were defeated at the Battle of Ueno, near Edo (eastern capital), now known as Tokyo.
6/4/1868, The Japanese Government under Emperor Meiji issued a general policy statement known as the Charter Oath, following the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate. This Oath declared that ancient feudal social ranks and other practices would be eliminated from Japanese society, and that a programme of moderniasation based on Western values would be followed. Feudal rule that had prevailed in Japan since 1185 ceased, and the Tokugawa Shogunate that had endured since 1603 ended.
3/1/1868, The 16-year-old Emperor Meiji seized control of Japan from the Tokugawa Shogun, ending 700 years of military rule. Japan was now more open to the outside world.
9/11/1867, The Japanese Shogun Yoshinobo abdicated as pressure increased to end the Shogun rule and restore the pre 12th century rule by the Emperors. The late Emperor Komei’s son Mutsohito took power, aged 15.
14/10/1867, Okubo Toshimichi, a senior courtier of the feudal Japanese House of Satsuma, travelled from the capital, Edo, to the provincial town of Yamguchi to meet with leaders of the Choshu clan. Toshimichi proposed to overthrow the ruling Satsuma House, and succeeded in forming the secret Satcho alliance, along with the Toza and Hizen clans.
1867, The Japanese Meiji Emperor Mutsuhito ascended the throne, aged 15, and ruled until his death in 1912. He was without real power until the Tokugawa Shogun Yoshinobu abdicated in November 1866, after less than a year in office ending the military government that had ruled Japan for nearly seven centuries. This paved the way for the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
8/1866, Japanese Shogun Iemochi died. He was succeeded briefly by his kinsman, Yoshinobu, the last Tokugawa Shogun.
1/1/1863, Under the Treaty of Edo (1858), from this date British citizens could reside in Osaka, Japan, for the purposes of trade.
25/6/1862. A Japanese imperial decree expelled all foreigners, contrary to advice from the Shogun.
1/7/1859, The port city of Nagasaki was opened to foreign commerce, according to the provisions of the Treaty of Edo.
1858, The Japanese Tokugawa Shogun Iesada died aged 34 without an heir. He was succeeded by the 12-year-old Iemochi, whom Iesada had nominated as his successor. Iemochi ruled until 1866.
29/7/1858, The Treaty of Edo was signed between Japan and the USA. This extended US trading rights gained under the Treaty of Kanagawa (1854) and further opened up Japan to Western influence.
31/3/1854. The USA and Japan signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, opening up the Japanese ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade.
8/8/1853, A Russian fleet arrived at Nagasaki on a trading mission.
23/7/1853, The Japanese Tokugawa Shogun Ieoshi died, aged 61 after a 16-year reign. He was succeeded by his 29-year-old brother, Iesada, who agreed to open two Japanese ports to foreign trade.
8/7/1853. US Commodore Matthew Perry steamed into Japan’s Edo Bay (now Tokyo) with his ‘black ships’ and demanded that the country open up to US trade. He backed up his demand with cannon fire. For 250 years Japan had been a feudal state run by the Tokugawa shoguns.
14/6/1838, Birth of the Japanese statesman Yamagata Aritomo (see 1/2/1922).
1837, The Japanese Tokugawa Shogun Ienari abdicated, aged 64, after a 44-year reign. Ienari attempted extensive governmental reforms, which were resisted; he also improved the education system. He was succeeded by his 45-year-old son, Ieyoshi, whose reign was marked by increasing demands for restorarion of imperial power, and for increased trade links with the outside world. Ieyoshi ruled until 1853.
1786, Japan’s feeble-minded Tokugawa Shogun Ieharu died aged 49 after a 26-year reign. He was succeeded 13-year-old Ienari, who took power in 1793 after a 6-year regency. Ienari ruled until his abdication in 1837.
1760, Tokugawa Shogun Ieshige abdicated, aged 40, ill and addicted to alcohol, after 15 years in power. He was succeeded by the 23-year-old son of the late Shogun Yoshimune, who ruled until 1786 as Shogun Ieharu despite mental incompetence.
1745, Tokugawa Shogun Yoshimune resigned and was succeeded after 29 years in office by Ieshige, who remained Shogun until 1760.
1720, The ban on Western books being imported into Japan was lifted; only religious books remained proscribed.
1716, Japanese Tokugawa Shogun Ietsogu died aged 7 after a 4-year reign. He was succeeded by the 39-year-old Yoshimune, who ruled until 1745. Yoshimune allowed the Dutch to import books at Deshima, he encouraged trade with the West, and he orgsanised irrigation projects to improve agriculture.
1712, The Japanese Tokugawa Shogun Ienobu died aged 50 after a 3-year reign. He was succeeded by his 3-year-old son who ruled as Ietsugu until 1716.
1709, The Japanese Tokugawa Shogun Sunayoshi died aged 62, after a reign of nearly 29 years. He was succeeded by his 47-year-old cousin who ruyled until 1712 as Ienobu.
1703, The Incident of the Forty Seven Ronin. In 1701 a quarrel between a minor feudal lord and a powerful official of the Court of the Shogun resulted in the Shogunate official being wounded by the feudal lord, at the Shogun’s Court in Edo. For this incident, the feudal lord was ordered to commit suicide and his lands were confiscated. As aresult the lord’s Samurai retainers then became ronin, or masterless Samurai, much diminished in status. Forty Seven of these ronin then vowed to take revenge and waited for an opportunity to kill the Shogunate official, which time came in 1703; this despite the fact that the ronin knew they themselves would have to die for this act. For their unflinching loyalty to their former master, these ronin then became heroic symbols of self-sacrifice.
19/1/1657, The Japanese city of Edo was destroyed in a huge fire; over 100,000 people died.
30/10/1654, The Japanese Emperor Go-Komyo died (born 1633).
28/2/1638, Japanese peasants occupying Hara Castle, near Nagasaki, surrendered to Shogun Iemitsu’s besieging 124,000-strong army because of lack of food. The army then massacred most of the 37,000 peasants. Furhermore Iemitsu expelled the Portuguese traders from Japan, suspecting them of complicity in stirring up the peasant’s demands, and prohibited the building of large seagoing ships that might carry Japanese to other countries. The isolation of Japan began.
12/1637, The Japanese Shogun Iemitsu began besieging the peasant rebels on the Shimabara Peninsula.
1636, The Japanese Shogun Iemitsu forbade foreign travel.
4/6/1615, The Japanese Shogun Ieyasu took Osaka after a 6-month siege.
1601, The Regent Ieyasu established a chain of 53 inns between Edo and Osaka at which travellers could stay overnight and obtain fresh horses.
1600. Tokugawa Ieyasi forbade foreign travel.
18/9/1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japanese statesman (born 6/2/1537) died. A feudal lord of peasant origin, he completed the unification of Japan under Oda Nobunaga. This was accomplished by the defeat of the feudal barons (daimyo). He instituted a rigid system of class divisions, having farmers, merchants, monks and warriors living in different quarters of Japanese towns. In 1592 he attempted to take the Korean Peninsula from China, but his army was too small for this task. In 1597 he tried again, also unsuccessfully. He even harboured ambitions of much wider conquests, including China, the Philippines and India. His death left a power vacuum that plunged Japan into civil war.
5/2/1597, In Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi crucified 26 Christians in Nagasaki, then told all remaining missionaries to leave the country. When most defied the order, Hideyoshi took no action for fear of alienating Portuguese traders.
1592, Hideyoshi invaded Korea; he failed, and also failed on a subsequent invasion attempt in 1597.
1590, Tokyo, then known as Yedo (estuary-gate) was chosen by Tokugawa Iyeyasu as national capital.
1586, Kabuki Theatre began in Japan.
1585, General Toyotomi Hideyoshi became Shogun, military dictator, of Japan.
1583, General Toyotomi Hideyoshi laid the foundations of Osaka Castle.
1577, Hideyoshi built Himeji Castle.
1575, At the Battle of Nagashino, Nobunaga armed his 3,000 foot soldiers with muskets. They succeeded in defeating a much larger force of mounted Samurai.
1568, Oda Nobunaga captured Tokyo.
15/8/1549, Francis Xavier entered the Japanese port of Kagoshima to begin a conversion work.
1543, Guns first entered Japan. A Chinese ship was wrecked off Kyushu, with two Portuguese on board carrying muskets. The local governor bought these muskets and replicated them. Firearms eventually made the Samurai redundant, as they did the European knights.
6/2/1537, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japanese statesman, was born (see 18/8/1598).
9/6/1526, Emperor No-Gara became ruler of Japan.
1541, First Portuguese visit to Japan.
1467, In Japan, Shogun Yoshimasa named his brother Yoshime as his successor, but this was challenged by supporters of his son, Yoshihisa. 10 years of civil war began in Japan.
1392, 56 years of civil war between northern and southern dynasties in Japan ended with the agreement that power would alternate between the two branches of the Imperial family. In practice, the north never relinquished power.
1336, Daigo II was exiled. The Ashikaga family ruled as Shoguns until 1568. Civil war broke out, lasting until 1392.
1325, The No plays were developed in Japan.
26/11/1288, Go-Daigo, Emperor of Japan, was born.
12/8/1281, Battle of Kōan (Hakata Bay). The invaders were contained on a beachhead and for two months Samuria warriors fought to repel them, The second Mongol invasion of Japan was foiled, as, once again (as in 1274) a large typhoon – famously called a kamikaze, or divine wind – destroyed much of the combined Chinese and Korean fleet and forces, numbering over 140,000 men and 4,000 ships.
20/11/1274, Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty attempted the first of several invasions of Japan (30,000 soldiers and support personnel sails from Korea); after the Mongols captured outlying islands, they were repulsed on the main island at the Battle of Bun'ei by amassed Japanese warriors and a strong storm which battered their forces and fleet. Credit for the storm — called a kamikaze, or divine wind — was given by the Japanese to the god Raiden. See also 12/8/1281.
1192, Minamoto no Yoritomo became the first Shogun of Japan.
1191, Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan by the 50-year old priest Aeisai, who had returned from China.
1185, In Japan, the ruling Taira Clan was deposed by the Minamoto. The Japanese Emperors had by now become mere puppets, with the Shoguns (military generals) holding the real power). The Emperors did not regain power until 1868.
1168, Japanese Emperor Rokujo was deposed, aged 4, and succeeded by his 7-year-old uncle who ruled until 1180 as Emperor Takakura.
1165, Emperor Nijo abdicated, and died soon after, He was succeeded by his infant son who ruled until 1168 as Emperor Rokujo.
1158, Emperor Goshirakawa abdicated after a 3-year reign. He was succeeded by his 15-year-old son, Nijo, who began a 7-year reign.
1155, Japanese Emperor Konoe died aged 16, after a 14-year reign. He was succeeded by Emperor Goshirakawa, in the middle of a succession struggle which Goshirakawa survived in 1156.
1141, Japanese Emperor Sutoku abdicated aged 22 after an 18-year reign. He was succeeded by his 2-year-old half-brother Konoe, who ruled until 1155.
1123, Emperor Toba abdicated, aged 20, in favour of his 4-year-old uncle and stepson, Sutoku, son of the late Shirakawa. Sutoku reigned until 1141.
1107, Emperor Horikawa died aged 28 after a 21-year reign. He was succeeded by his 4-year-old son, Toba, who reigned until 1123.
1072, Emperor Gosanjo abdicated, aged 38, due to illness; he died in 1073. He was succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Shirakawa, who reigned until 1086.
1068, Emperor Goreizei died aged 39, after a 23-year reign. He was succeeded by his 34-year-old brother, Gosanjo, who ruled until `1072.
1045, Emperor Gosuzako died aged 36 after a 9-year reign, He was succeeded by his 16-year-old son, who ruled until 1069 as Emperor Goreizei.
1036, Japanese Emperor Goichijo died aged 28 after a 20-year reign. He was succeeded by his 27-year-old brother who ruled until 1045 as Emperor Gosuzako.
1016, The blind Emperor Sanjo abdicated at age 40. He was succeeded by the 8-year-old son of the late Ichijo, who ruled until 1036 as Emperor Goichijo.
1011, Japanese Emperor Ichijo died aged 31 after a 25 year reign He was succeeded by his 35 –year-old cousin, Sanjo, who ruled until 1016, but began to lose his eyesight soon after acceding.
1000, Emperor Ijicho, now aged 20, made his 25-year-old wife ruler as Empress Sadako (Teishi). However she died after 10 months. 12-year old Akiko now became Empress.
986, Emperor Karzan abdicated at age 18, and became a Buddhist priest one year after the death of his wife in childbirth. He was succeeded by his 6-year-old half brother, who ruled until 1011 as Ichijo.
984, Japanese Emperor Enyu abdicated in favour of his 16-year-old son, who ruled until 986 as Karzan.
969, The insane Japanese Emperor Reizei was removed by the Fujiwara family after a reign of nearly 2 years. He was replaced by his 10-year-old brother, who ruled as Emperor Enyu until 984.
967, Japanese Emperor Murakami died aged 41 after a 21-year reign. He was succeeded by his 17-year-old son, Emperor Reizei, who ruled until 969 despite his insanity.
946, Japanese Emperor Suzako died after a 16-year reign aged 23. He was succeeded by his 2-year-old brother, Murakami, who ruled until 967.
941, Fujiwara Tadahira became ‘civil dictator’.
930, Emperor Diago died aged 45 after a 33-year reign. He was succeeded by his 7-year-old son, who ruled until 946 as Emperor Suzaku.
897, Japanese Emperor Uda abdicated aged 30 after a 10-year reign. He was succeeded by his 12-year-old son who ruled until 930 as Emperor Daigo.
887, Japanese Emperor Koko abdicated and died soon after, aged 57. He was succeeded by his 20-year-old son, who ruled as Emperor Uda until 897. Fujiwara Mototsune became chief advisor to the Japanese Emperor.
884, Iapanese Emperor Yozei, who had devoted his time mainly to his horses, was forced to abdicate aged 16 after an 8-year reign. He was succeeded by the 54-year-old half-brother of his grandfather, who ruled until 887 as Emperor Koko.
876, Emperor Seiwa abdicated, aged 26, and was succeeded by his mentally and ohysically weak son, 8-year-old Yozei, who ruled until 884.
858, The powerful Fujiwara Clan bergan to gain control over Japan’s Emperors.
858, Emperor Montoku died aged 31, and was succeeded by his 8-year-old son Seiwa, who ruled until 876.
850, Emperor Ninmio died aged 40. After a succession struggle, he was succeeded by his 23-year-old son who ruled as Emperor Montoku until 858.
833, Emperor Junna abdicated aged 47. His 23-year-old nephew succeeded him and ruled until 850 as Emperor Ninmio.
823, Japanese Emperor Saga abdicated, aged 37, after a 14-year reign He was succeeded by his 31-tear-old briother who ruled until 833 as Emperor Junna.
813, In Japan, Watamaro was appointed Sei-i-Shogun (Barbarian-Subduing-General) for the duration of his campaign against the Ainu.
809, Emperor Heizei abdicated after a 3-year reign. He was succeeded by his 23-year-old brother, Saga, who ruled until 823.
806, Emperor Kannu died aged aged 69 after a 24-year reign. He was succeeded by his 32-year-old son, Heizei, who reigned until 809.
802, The Ainu, inhabitants of the island of Hokkaido, were conquered by the Japanese under Tamura Maro. However very few Japanese ever settled in Hokkaido until the 1870s.
794, The capital of Japan was transferred to Heian-Kyo (now Kyoto), where it remained until 1868. This was the start of the Heian Era, which ended in 1185 with the shift of power from the Emperors to the warrior Shoguns.
781, Emperor Konin died aged 73. He was succeeded by his half-Korean son, aged 44, who ruled as Emperor Kanmu until 806.
770, Japanese Empress Koken (Shotuku) died aged 52 She was succeeded by the 62-year-old grandson of the late Tenji, who ruled until 781 as Emperor Konin.
758, The Japanese Empress Koken abdicated after a 9-year reign. She was succeeded by her 25-year-old cousin Junin, who ruled until 764. However Koken and the Fujiwara family retained power behind the scenes.
2/5/756, Shomu, Emperor of Japan, died.
749, Japanese Emperor Shomu abdicated, aged 48, after a 25-year reign. He was succeeded by his 31-year-old daughter Koken, who ruled until 758.
741, Japan decreed that Buddhist Temples were to be established across the country.
736, The Kegon School of Buddhism arrived in Japan, from Korea.
726, The first annual Sumo tournaments began under Emperor Seibu. See 8/9/23 BCE.
724, Japanese Empress Gensho abdicated and was succeeded by her 23-year-old nephew, Shomu, son of Momu, who ruled until 749.
715, Japanese Empress Gemmei abdicated aged 54 after an 8-year reign She was succeeded by her 35-year-old daughter who ruled until 724 as Empress Gensho.
712, Japan’s oldest book, the Kojiki, was completed. It covered the nation’s history from mythical beginnings to around 600 AD. It reinforced the imperial family’s claim to be descended from the Shinto Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. It was the first work written on the Japanese script Kana; before then only Chinese writing was used in Japan.
710, Nara became the capital of Japan.
707, Japanese Emperor Momu died aged 24 after a 10-year reign and was succeeded by his 46-year-old aunt who ruled as Empress Gemmet until 715.
706, The Japanese city of Nara was founded.
697, Japanese Empress Jito abdicated, aged 32, after an 11-year reign And was succeeded by the 14-year-old grandson of the late Tenmu. He ruled until 707 as Emperor Momu.
686, Japanese Emperor Tenmu died after a 14-year reign and was succeeded by his 21-year-old widow and neice. She had her late husband’s son executed on charges of treason so that her own son by Tenmu could succeed. However he was taken ill and died. His mother then ruled as Empress Jito until 697.
671, Japanese Emperor Tenji died, aged 45, after a 10-year reign. He was succeeded by his 23-year-old son Kobun. However Kobun’s mother, the mistress of Tenji, was not of royal descent and Tenji’s brother, Ooama, objected to his succession. In 672 Kobun was deposed by Ooama, and committed suicide. Ooama took the throne as Emperor Tenmnu, and reigned until 686.
661, Empress Saimei died aged 67; she was succeeded by a son of the late Emperor Jomei. He ruled intil 671 as Emperor Tenji.
654, Emperor Kotoku died and Empress Kogyoku, now aged 60, was reinstated, She began a further 7-year reign as Empress Saimei.
646, The Fujiwara Clan enacted the Taika Reforms, bringing all land into Imperialownership. Power was centralised,following the Chinese model.
645, In the middle of a severe famine, Japanese Empress Kogyoku was deposed and the 49-year –old grandson of Bintas was inaugurated as Emperor Kotoku.
641, The Japanese Emperor Jomei died aged 48 and was succeeded by his 47-year-old widow, who ruled until 645 as Empress Kogyoku.
628, The Japanese Empress Suiko died aged 74 after a 35-year reign. She was succeeded by a grandson of her late husband, Bintas, who ruled ass Emperor Jomei until 641.
621, Emperor Shotoko Taishi of Japan died (born 552). Beginning of the Asuka Period.
593, Empress Suiko issued the Flourishing Three Trees Edict, officially recognising the Buddhist religion in Japan.
592, Emperor Sushun of Japan was assassinated on order of his uncle Umako, who was jealous of his power. Sushun was succeeded by the widow of the late Emperor Bintas, aged 38; she ruled for 35 years from 593 as Empress Suiko. Under her rule, Buddhism was firmly established in Japan, which became increasingly Sinoised. In 593, Suiko’s 19-year-old son, Crown Prince Shotoku, was made Prime Minister; he held power, with strongman Umako, for the next 30 years.
587, The Japanese Emperor Yomei died aged 47. He was succeeded by the 66-year-old nephew of strongman Iname Soga. Emperor Sushun now ruled until 592. Iname Soga ordered the assassination of the anti-Buddhist Morio Nomomobe The introduction of Buddhism had been opposed by some in Japan who wanted to preserve the indigenous agrarian-naturist Shinto religion. Shinto adapted to Buddhism by adopting Buddhist counterparts to every kami (diety) in the Shinto pantheon.
587, The first Buddhist monastery was established in Japan.
585, Japanese Emperor Bidatsu died aged 47, after a 14-year reign, He was succeeded by his 45-year-old brother Yomei, who ruled for 2 years.
571, The Japanese Emperor Kinmei died aged 62 after a 32-year reign, He was succeeded by 33-year-old son, Bidatsu, who ruled until 585.
552, Buddhism was introduced to Japan from Korea. It became the State Religion of Japan 40 years later.
539, The Japanese Emperor Senka died aged 72. He was succeeded by his 30-year-old half-brother, Kinmei, who ruled until 571. End of the Kofun Era and start of the Asuka Era, the second half of the Yamato Period.
478, First Shinto shrines in Japan.
390, Japan conquered Korea.
200, The Japanese Empress Jingu sent a huge fleet to invade Korea, which capitulated without a fight at the sight of the large ships.
8/9/23 BCE. The first recorded ritual Sumo wrestling bout took place. Each year a priest still officiates for the Ceremony of the Crows at the Kamo shrine, Kyoto, Japan. See 726 CE.
81 BCE, The Japanese Emperor Sujin began a major shipbuilding programme to expand supplies of seafood.
200 BCE, Yamato clan dominant in Japan.
6,500 BCE, Jomon pottery spread across the Japanese archipelago.
10,000 BCE, Estimated age of world’s oldest pottery vessels, discovered in Honshu, Japan.