Was or is Japan an empire


As excavations show, humans must have lived on the Japanese islands as early as 20,000 BC. Lived in BC, with the first loose residential communities as early as around 1000 BC. Has given. Numerous ceramic vessels from cave settlements serve as evidence, which gave their name to the Jomon culture after their sometimes ornate decoration in a kind of "dew pattern" style. The people at this stage of development were hunters, gatherers and fishermen.

A samurai near Tokyo. At the Spring Festival in Japan, he reenacted a warrior in full gear. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)


As excavations show, humans must have lived on the Japanese islands as early as 20,000 BC. Have lived. The first loose residential communities existed at least 1000 years BC. Given. Numerous ceramic vessels were found in cave settlements across the country, which gave their name to the Jomon culture after their sometimes ornate decoration in a kind of "dew pattern" (Japanese jomon = "dew pattern"). The people at this stage of development were hunters, gatherers and fishing.

Samurai sculpture. Remembrance of the premodern leadership elite of the empire. (& copy Japan Photo Archive)
The early cultures of the Japanese islands received between 300 BC. BC and 300 AD by immigrants from the Asian mainland further civilizing impulses, which triggered a rapid development of handicraft skills (bronze and iron processing) and in agriculture (wet field rice cultivation). The excavations also show that permanent settlements (village communities) now emerged.

Early history

The earliest written evidence about Japan can be found in Chinese sources from the period between 200 BC and 200 AD. The chronicles mention an island empire with about 100 sub-states. Some of these principalities maintained close exchanges with China, and their rulers recognized the obligation to pay tribute to the Chinese emperors. Basic elements of Chinese civilization came to Japan through the regular tribute embassies, especially the Chinese script. Around 350 AD the local ruler of the Yamato region (area around Kyoto, Nara) succeeded in uniting the remaining principalities under his rule. As a religious legitimation of this new claim to power, the family deities of the other princely families were subordinated to the house deities of the Yamato princes in a "family" hierarchy. China and smaller kingdoms on the Korean peninsula recognized the supremacy of the Yamato princes over the entire then known Japan - a new state was born.

The cultural exchange with China via the Korean peninsula as a "cultural bridge", but also with the culture of Korea itself, intensified especially in the 6th century: From this time on, Korean scholars and craftsmen traveled to Japan again and again. They brought house building technology, medical knowledge, music, literature and, above all, Buddhist scriptures with them. In this way, Korea became a link between the culturally highly developed Chinese empire and the comparatively "primitive", young Japanese state. In the 6th century Buddhism came to Japan, which after lengthy power struggles between the leading families under the regent Shotoku Taishi became the "state religion" (approx. 600 AD). Under Shotoku, the emperor (Tenno), based on the "17 articles" (a kind of "constitutional work" Shotoku), became the divine sole ruler over an otherwise loosely assembled clan association as a state. This "empire" took over the Chinese administrative system, the centralized official state, in the 8th century. The new central state expanded its borders in the north after hard fighting against the Ainu (a population of Siberian descent) to eastern Honshu; in the west, remnant peoples of Southeast Asian descent were defeated on Kyushu. Before that, Japan was involved in the power struggles between empires in Korea until the middle of the 7th century, it owned a "colony" (the Mimana area) in the south. These early contacts with Korea were of decisive importance for the further development of Japanese civilization and culture: in the centuries that followed, the Korean peninsula became a "cultural bridge" between the Chinese Empire and Japan.


Up until the end of the Nara period, when Nara was the capital of Japan for 75 years, frequent relocations of the capital cities marked "urban development". After the death of a Tenno, his previous place of residence was covered with unlucky taboos and a new place of residence had to be found. The relocation of the capital from Nara to Heiankyo (today's Kyoto) in 794 had other reasons: The Buddhist temple sects had gained such political influence that the imperial court could only shake off these influences by relocating the capital. Heiankyo / Kyoto remained the imperial residence ("capital") for a thousand years, only in the 19th century Tokyo became the new capital.

A courtly culture of extreme refinement developed at the court of Heiankyo: the court nobility was materially secured by the income from their estates, the administrative tasks were largely left to the provincial governors and the landed aristocracy on these estates, only the central state tasks were carried out by court officials (on behalf of the Kaisers) perceived.

In courtly leisure, the fine arts developed to their highest bloom: painting, sculpture, the art of writing and above all literature reached a heyday that can rightly call this epoch "Japanese Classics". Ladies and gentlemen at court lived in separate living quarters in the castle, gallant adventures - not infrequently triggered by a strikingly sophisticated wardrobe or by a witty diary that went from hand to hand - were the order of the day. Court ladies who were not on duty with the empress (or the numerous high-ranking concubines) devoted themselves to these gallant games - and enjoyed complete freedom in this epoch. They even set the standards in literature: in the 10th and 11th centuries women set the tone in Japanese literature, some of the greatest literary works were written by court ladies (for example the "Story of Prince Genji", collections of poetry, diaries).

The dominant political influence at the imperial court was exercised by the Fujiwara family, who had various family ties to the imperial family. The Fujiwara made high-ranking civil servants and not infrequently steered the decisions of the Tenno as regent from the background. Initially this only happened for a few underage Tenno, but later also for adult emperors. Fujiwara people held military positions and a number of Tenno were married to daughters of the Fujiwara family. The Fujiwara also produced famous poets and scholars, so that the highest flowering of court culture in the Heian period is also known as the "Fujiwara period". Their power ended in the 11th century with the rise of the sword nobility.