An Introduction

  • Our Records…
  • Japan does not appear in history until 57 CE when it is first mentioned in Chinese histories. In these histories, it is referred to as “Wa.”
  • The Chinese historians tell us of a land divided into a hundred or so separate tribal communities without writing or political unity.
  • Their Records…
  • The Japanese do not start writing their histories until around 600 AD; this historical writing culminates in 700 AD in the massive chronicles, The Record of Ancient Matters and the Chronicles of Japan.
  • These chronicles tell a much different and much more legendary history of Japan, deriving the people of Japan from the gods themselves.

Some Questions…

  • Where did the Japanese come from?
  • Why did they settle the islands?
  • What did life look like before history was written down?
  • Geography

The Islands

  • Japan consists of over 400 Islands but only the four largest are of historical importance (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu)
  • Islands formed originally by violent volcanic activity on the sea bottom
  • Mountainous land with numerous small rivers flowing directly to the sea.
  • Let’s look at size…
  • Total land area of Japan is 380 000km2 (smaller than Baffin Island)
  • Today’s population is 125 million (five times that of Canada)
  • 1/5th of the land sufficiently level enough to be cultivated -> therefore Japanese agriculture is one of the most intensive in the entire world

Baffin Island vs. Japan

  • Temperature
  • Major Islands have temperate climate and abundant rainfall
  • Experiences few extremes in temperature


  • Japan has few natural resources
  • Must import almost all energy requirements (oil, minerals, and a great deal of food)
  • Has an abundance of fish and a wide range of vegetable crops
  • Has one of the world’s healthiest diets (lifespan of the average Japanese person longest in the world)

The Situation…

  • Japanese Islands at the extreme edge of the Eurasian land mass
  • At its closest point, 240 km from the Asian continent
  • The Sea of Japan (difficult to cross)
  • Japan deeply influenced by Chinese and Korean civilization, but historical interaction never continuous -> Japan borrows and adapts


  • Because of isolation -> high degree of continuity prior to the impact of Western imperialism in the 19th century
  • No real social disruptions, no revolutionary thinkers -> therefore the catalysts of change were external influences (Chinese and Korean cultures)
  • 10 000 BCE-710CE
  • The Formative Period
    • And so we begin…
    • During last ice age (ended 11, 000 years ago) Japanese island joined with Asian mainland by a land bridge
    • People from Korea, Northeast Asia crossed land mass and settled
    • Earliest archaeological remains 9500 BCE (earliest pottery remains in world history)
    • Over time…
    • Joined by peoples from South China or Polynesian Islands
    • Peoples blending together
    • Creation of a distinct culture, Jomon (lasted until 300 BCE)
    • The Ainu
    • During same time another people came to Hokkaido.
    • These people were called the Ainu.

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