This page is a kind of a notebook for me to learn Japanese history. The first part is about the general history of the whole nation and the second part is about the local history of Wakayama City. As I hope this notebook will help someone get interested in the history of Japan and Wakayama, I’d like to show it here. As these contents are entirely based on my limited understanding and knowledge, there might be mistakes in the contents. Please forgive me in such cases.
A Simple Outline of the Japanese History
The Old Stone Age (until a little more than 10,000 years ago)
- The natural environment was quite different from present one. Global climate was much colder, and sea level was around 120 meters lower than now.
- Most of the Japanese Islands were covered with coniferous forests like those are in present Siberia.
- Large-sized animals like Nauman's elephants inhabited the land.
- People didn’t have permanent settlements. They always moved to chase those animal to hunt. They used javelins with stone spearheads.
The Jomon Period (until around 2,500 years ago)
- A little more than 10,000 years ago, global climate became much warmer.
- A lot of ice which had covered continents melted, and sea level rose. Around 6,000 years ago, sea level became a few meters higher than now.
- Evergreen broad-leaved forests spread, large-sized animals became extinct and smaller-sized animals like sika deer and wild boars increased.
- People began to live on hunting those nimble animals, gathering plant foods and shellfish, and catching fish.
- People used bows and arrows to hunt animals. When they preserved plant foods, they used primitive pottery called Jomon pottery. The word "Jomon" means "cord-mark" in Japanese.
The Yayoi Period (until the mid 3rd century)
- The name "Yayoi" of the period is from a place name in Tokyo where archeologists excavated hard pottery they had not been familiar with in 1884.
- Rice cultivation changed people’s life in the Japanese islands drastically.
- Thanks to the nutritious grain, population became much larger than before. They worked together in organized way to grow the plant.
- They were led by powerful leaders. Hierarchy was created in their settlements.
- They preserved surplus rice. And they began to make wars over the food. Small settlements united with each other to defend themselves. The small unions joined together and they gradually formed larger unions which can be called "kuni (or countries) ".
- In the last half of the Yayoi period, there appeared small countries in the Japanese Islands. An official Chinese book compiled in those days says that there were more than 100 countries and they made wars one after another around the 2nd century. And then small countries allied with other countries, and they formed larger political alliances.
The Kofun Period (until the 7th century)
- In the 3rd century, people in the Japanese Islands began to build stylized tumuli called "kofun&quo;. The shapes of the burial mounds were were keyhole-shaped ones, round ones, square ones and so on. "Kofun" in Japanese literally means "old burial mound."
- The first huge kofun tumulus appeared in Asuka, Nara Prefecture in the 3rd century. Then, in the first part of the Kofun period, large-sized kofun tumuli were built at various places almost all over Japan. All of the large-sized kofun tumuli were keyhole-shaped ones. Some of them were more than 200 meters long.
- Keyhole-shaped kofun tumuli are estimated to have been a symbol of political alliance among powerful regional leaders. Only regional leaders built keyhole-shaped kofun tumuli.
The Asuka Period (593 – 710)
- Leaders in Asuka of Nara succeeded in establishing a new centralized government by controlling regional leaders in the Japanese Islands.
- Political alliance in the early Kofun period was originally a federation consisting of powerful clans, but it gradually changed into a tightly organized one, responding external pressure from the Korean Peninsula and China.
- That was the beginning of the Asuka Regime. The government had an imperial court, and the head of the court was began to be called "ten-no (or emperor)." in the 7th century.
- In the first half of the 6th century, leader of the Asuka Regime introduced new systems including "Ritsuryo Legal Code" and advanced teachings including Buddhism from China through the peninsula into Japan. And they accepted and utilized the new systems to build one new centralized country.
- In the 6th century, leaders in Asuka accepted Buddhism from the Korean Peninsula and adopted it as an important teaching to form a centralied country. They stopped building kofun tumuli and began to build large Buddhist templs.
The Nara Period (710 - 794)
- In 710, Emperor Gemmu relocated the capital from Asuka, which is in the southern part of Nara Basin to present Nara City. That was the beginning of the Nara period.
- The administration of the centralized country was controlled by high-ranking aristocrats and, of course, emperors, who had already become more powerful than before through a war over the imperial succession in 672.
- The government continued implementing policies based on Ritsuryo legal code. The code included tax systems and land ownership. As a general rule, all lands and serfs were owned by the emperor.
- But the rule was fraught with challenges. There were exceptions to the rule. For example, high-ranking members of the court and some powerful Buddhist temples privately owned lands as their manors. And serfs who were in hard straits escaped from their lands and taxes and ran into the manors.
The Heian Period (794 – around 1185)
- Emperor Kammu transferred the capital to Kyoto in 794. That was the beginning of the Heian period.
- One of the reasons is said to have been that he needed to be free from influence of traditional Buddhist temples in Nara. The word "Heian" means "peace" in Japanese. The capital in Kyoto was called "Heian-kyo." It means "capital in peace."
- Emperors and high-ranking aristocrats (the Fujiwara clan) who were regents generally kept on seizing power until around 1160. Then samurai (the Taira clan) came to powerful.
- Public ownership of lands based on Ritsuryo legal code did not function sufficiently. While lands owned by the government continued to exist, broad manors privately owned by high-ranking aristocrats including emperors, powerful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines enormously increased.
- In the first half of the period, various Chinese culture including modern teachings of Buddhism was introduced into the capital.
- After the envoy to the Tang Dynasty was abolished in 894, Japan’s original national (aristocratic) culture such as waka poetry became prosperous in the second half of the period in Kyoto.
The Kamakura Period (around 1185-1333)
- In the history of Japan, members of military class have been called "samurai."
- In the late Heian period, the Taira clan, who were one of two leading samurai clans, had already become very powerful. Kiyomori Taira had controlled even an emperor and the imperial court.
- In 1185, Yoritomo Minamoto, a leader of the Minamoto clan, who had had been made to be confine himself at a place near Kamakura by the Taira clan, succeeded in suppressing the Taira clan under an order of an emperor.
- He founded his government in Kamakura, which was the first bakufu (a government led by samurai) in Japan.
- As a shogun (a great general who subdues the barbarians), Yoritomo directed regional samurai leaders to administrate the whole country in his own way.
- After the Yorimoto's family lost his successor, the Hojo family, who had been the top aide samurai to Yorimoto, took over the government until 1333.
The Muromachi Period (1333-1573)
- Emperor Godaigo succeeded in defeating the Hojo family, who had monopolized leading positions in the Kamakura samurai government in 1333.
- In the early Muromacchi period, the emperor tried to govern the country by himself for a short time, and then the imperial line branched into two. (The period of the Northern and Southern dynasties.)
- Then, Takauji Ashikaga was appointed as a shogun and founded his samurai government (bakufu).
- However, as many other leading samurai dominating their regions became more and more powerful, the shogun's power was not as strong as in the Kamakura period.
- And successor problems in both the Imperial Family and powerful samurai families led to internal conflicts. As the result, situations in the whole country became chaotic in the late Muromachi period.
- The caotic situations led to the Warring States Period (1467-1573), when a lot of warlord samurai fought against each other in succession.
The Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603)
- Azuchi is a name for the place where Nobunaga Oda, the conqueror in the Warring States period, built his important castle in 1579.
- Since the Muromachi period, Emperors and aristocrats had kept their ostensible positions but they had lost their substantial power, and powerful samurai had competed for real power to dominate Japan during the Warring State period. Then Nobunaga Oda succeeded in controlling even an emperor and became the conqueror.
- Nobunaga Oda almost carried out his plan to dominate the whole country, but he was killed by one of his subordinates in 1582.
- Hideyoshi Toyotomi was one of Nobunaga's subordinates. He took over Nobunaga's plan and completed it.
- The separation of warriors and peasants was one of Hideyoshi's important measures to establish a military samurai government which Ieyasu Tokugawa would take over after Hideyoshi's death.
- Momoyama is a name for the placer where Hideyoshi built Fushimi Castle in Kyoto in 1592.
- After Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu Tokugawa defeated his rival to be Hideyoshi's successor and won power.
- Ieyasu elaborately designed his new administrative system and founded his bakufu (shogun's government) which would be in power for 265 years. "shogun" in the ancient times originally means a great general who subdues the barbarians and a shogun was appointed only by an emperor.
- Ieyasu ordered feudal lords both to obey the shogun and to manage their own feudal domains called "han" independently.
- Size and economic power were different from han to han, but all of the lords had to preserve the peace and to activate the local economy by producing their special products.
- Until the shogun's government was obliged to open several ports to international ships, Japanese culture and economy developed inside the Japanese islands in their own ways.
- It can be said that some of the elements of he development leaded to the next development to be a modernized country in a rapid way.
- One of the top priorities of leaders of the new Meiji government, who had defeated samurai of the Tokugawa bakufu, was to maintain the independence of Japan.
- They rushed to modernize the country by installing western systems. "Wealth and military strength of a nation" and "Promotion of industry" are two well-known slogans in the Meiji period.
- Japan became opposed to China over rights and interests in the Korean Peninsula and the two nations began war in 1894. Japan came out victorious in the next years.
- Then Japan became opposed to Russia over control in Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula and the two nations began war in 1904. Japan won a victory over the large country.
- In 1945, World War II ended.
- I would like to refrain from summarizing the Japanese history in the 20th century, because it is not the purpose of this website and also because it is very difficult for me to sum up the contemporary history including the relation with countries in East Asia, which has various complicated elements.
The Edo period (1603-1868)
The Meiji period (1868-1912)
Japan in the 20th century.
Basic Points of the Local History in Wakayama City
The Old Stone Age (until a little more than 10,000 years ago) in Wakayama City
- The area of present Wakayama Plain was covered with coniferous forests which were like those in present Siberia.
- Large-sized animals like Nauman's elephants inhabited the land.
- People must have come to the present Wakayama City area and they must have hunted those large animals with spears.
- It is said that people in those days always moved to one place to another to follow the animals and they did not have permanent houses.
- About 40 sites of the period of the Old Stone Age have been found in Wakayama Prefecture.
- The Sando Oike site is the oldest one in Wakayama City. Stone tools resembling a knife in the Old Stone Age and arrowheads in the Jomon period have been found there.
- In the Japanese history, the term "the New Stone Age" is not used and "the Jomon period" corresponds to the period.
- Around 12,000 years ago, the global climate became warmer and warmer. It is said that the shift in positional relation of the sun and the earth led to the climate change. As a result, glaciers melted and the surface of the sea which had been about 120 meters lower than today kept on rising until about 5,000 years ago. It was the end of the Ice Age.
- The present Wakayama Plain was totally under the sea for a certain time in the middle of the Jomon period.
- The present landform including Wakayama City formed after that. When sea level began to go down to the current level, the Wakayama Plain appeared at the mouth of the Kinokawa River. A lot of earth from the deep mountain area in the Kii Peninsula was carried by the river and it shaped the plain.
- In Wakayama Prefecture, a hundred and several tens of sites and kitchen middens in the Jomon period have been found. Pieces of Jomon pottery which are archeologically very important was excavated in Tanabe City
- Kitchen middens found in Wakayama City are located at places which are 7 to 10 meters above sea level, and shells from both brackish water and sea water were found there. This fact shows that sea level was a few meters higher than today in the past.
- In Wakayama Prefecture, around 400 Yayoi period sites have been found. Ota-Kuroda Site and Udamori Site in Wakayama City are two of them. Each of the sites had a moat surrounding the settlement. Tachibana-dani Site in Wakayama City is on a hill which is 60 to 70 meters higher than sea level and it is classified as an upland settlement.
- It seems that the Kinokawa Plain in the Yayoi period had large wetlands and some area of them were utilized as rice paddies. The mouth of the Kinokawa River was at a different place from the present one, and it has become clear that the mouth was in present Kataonami in Waka-no-ura area.
- Akizuki Site is one of the oldest burial mounds excavated in Wakayama City. The mound has a keyhole-shaped ditch surrounding it. It seems to have been in built in the 3rd century, when the first large-sized kofun tumulus (Hashihaka) in Japan. However, the mound at Akizuki Site is not judged to be a kofun tumulus.
- In Wakayama City, around 20 keyhole-shaped kofun tumuli and a lot of round kofun tumuli were built in the 5th and 6th centuries. Especially, Iwase-senzuka Site has almost 900 kofun tumuli in the area. Kii-fudoki-no-oka Museum is at the foot of the hills there. Leaders and powerful members who were buried in the kofun tumuli are estimated to be related to the Ki family, who have been the heads of Nichizen-gu Shrine since the ancient times.
- The Kinokawa Plain in the Kofun period was important as a place for rice paddies and it was also important as a place for ports. Tens of holes for large pillars in line in an orderly way were found at Narutaki Site in Wakayama City in 1982. The fact indicates that the place near the river had a transportation facility and a port in those days. The present Wakayama area was not far from Asuka, which would be the capital city in the next Asuka period.
- In Wakayama Prefecture, two powerful clans were appointed as local chiefs ( "kokuzo" in Japanese) of the northern region (Ki) and the southern region (Kumano). The local chief in charge of the area including present Wakayama City was from the Ki family, whose ancestors had been buried in kofun tumuli at Iwase-senzuka. It means clans who had been relatively independent became under control of the Asuka Regime in the Asuka period.
- There were seven districts called "Kori or Gun" in Wakayama Prefecture in those days. They were Ito, Naga, Nagusa, Ama, Arida, Hidaka and Muro. Many of these place names are still used even now.
- In 724, Emperor Shomu visited Waka-no-ura in present Wakayama City. He was very much pleased with the beautiful view of the place and ordered the scenery to be protected and deities of the place to be enshrined. That was the beginning of Tamatsushima Shrine. A waka poem composed by an imperial poet attending to the emperor became very popular and the place also became famous among aristocrats.
- Here in present Wakayama Prefecture, Kukai, who had become a master monk of Mantra (Shingon in Japanese) Esoteric Buddhism, founded a temple at Mt. Koya (Koya-san in Japanese) in 816. Emperors and high-ranking aristocrats visited Koya-san one after another around the beginning of the 12th century.
- In the Nara period, the Kumano region was already well-known as the place for religious practice among ascetics. In the Heian period, three grand shrines were influenced by Buddhism and they worshiped their deities each other. And they began to be called Kumano Three Grand Shrines. In the 12th century, visiting the shrines became very popular among emperors and high-ranking aristocrats.
- There were a lot of privately owned manors in in present Wakayama Prefecture in the Heian period. The owners were emperors and powerful shrines in Kyoto, dominant Buddhist temples at Koya-san and Negoro, an important shrine (Nichizen-gu) in present Wakayama City and so on.
- When samurai of the Taira clan was seizing power in Kyoto, leaders of Kumano Three Grand Shrines and in present Yuasa Town seem to have been already in a friendly relationship with the military class in the capital. It was because samurai of the Taira clan had come to Kumano and Yuasa guarding emperors and had met the local leaders. But the relation ended up changing when the Taira clan was being defeated at the end of the Heian period.
- Though the military class called samurai established their government in Kamakura, daily lives of peasants seem to have not changed so much except that government officials changed into samurai.
- While the ruling class in Kyoto lost their power, regional armed groups became more and more powerful than before. A corps called the Saika-shu, which was composed of provincial samurai who engaged in agriculture in peacetime, and armed monks of Negoro Buddhist Temple, were two major troops around present Wakayama City in the 17th century.
- The two groups were well known for their guns.
- In 1576, Nobunaga Oda began his campaign to attack Wakayama. But, before he completed his military operations, he was killed by one of his subordinates in 1582.
- In 1583, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who was the successor to Nobonaga, began an assault against the southern part of Osaka under the control of Saika-shu in Wakayama.
- In 1585, Hideyoshi finally succeeded in capturing Ota Castle by using inundation tactics. The castle was located several hundred meters away in the north of present JR Wakayama Station.
- After that, Hideyoshi built Wakayama Castle in the same year.
- In 1600, Yukinaga Asano became the first lord of Wakayama Castle in the Kii domain. He improved the castle and the castle town of present Wakayama City.
- In 1619, Yorinobu Tokugawa, the 10th son of the first shogun (Ieyasu), was appointed to the lord of the Kii domain. The Tokugawa family in Wakayama became one of the Three Privileged Tokugawa Families.
- In 1716, Yoshimune, the grandson of Yorinobu, became the 8th shogun.
- In 1871, Wakayama Prefecture started.
- In 1945, the main building (castle tower) of Wakayama Castle was destroyed during the World War II.
- In 1958, the castle tower was rebuilt with reinforced concrete.
The Jomon Period (until around 2,500 years ago) in Wakayama City
The Yayoi Period (until the mid 3rd century) in Wakayama City
The Kofun Period (until the 7th century) in Wakayama City
The Asuka Period (593 – 710) in Wakayama City
The Nara Period (710 - 794) in Wakayama City
The Heian Period (794 – around 1185) in Wakayama City
The Kamakura Period (around 1185-1333) in Wakayama City
The Muromachi Period (1333-1573) in Wakayama City
The Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603) in Wakayama City
The Edo Period (1603-1868) in Wakayama City
The Meiji period (1868-1912) in Wakayama City
The 20th Century in Wakayama City