Yayoi Era (about 300 B.C. to about 300 A.D)
Kofun or Yamato Era (300 – 710 A.D)
Struggle for control of the Yamato plains. Warrior’s tombs, known as Kofun, were often surrounded by small clay sculptures of warriors, suggesting this was an important period.
Imperial Power (645)
From the mid 600s one family group began to dominate, declaring itself the imperial household. The first emperor, Kotoku, was crowned in 645A.D. A central government formed the next year which employed most citizens as farmers. Following the Chinese model, the building of cities and social reform begin.
Heian Era (794 – 1100’s)
Imperial Family moved to what we call Kyoto today (Heian-Kyo). Fujiwara family gained power by intermarrying with the imperial family. Gaining ownership of public lands became a trend and by the late 1200’s more than half of Japan’s rice growing land had been converted into private estates. With this, government power declined as less tax revenue was brought in to support its activities. The warriors known as Samurai, who protected the land and whose duties were to keep order in the countryside, were introduced. In 1180 after two large military families, the Minamoto and Taira clans clashed in a series of battles for power. It was Minamoto who won in the end. Following this, the Minamoto clan established a new government headquarters in Kamakura, a town far from Heian-Kyo located near today’s Tokyo. The new title for the head of power was called Shogun. And his military followers became known as shogunate. The shogunate began to influence power in Japan – both the imperial government as well as the private estates.
By 1200, Japan’s political power became very unstable. After years of battling and conflict between various families for land ownership, by 1460, Japan had no effective central political authority. This meant Japan became an armed camp with peasants owning swords to protect their communities, temples trained their own armies of warrior monks to protect their assets, and Samurai without a leader travelled around in search of getting paid to protect peoples land.
Following this, the most powerful samurai became regional lords known as Daimyo, who ended up fighting each other to gain military superiority in the 1500s, which lead to a civil war in Japan.
Weapons were slowly introduced after trade negotiations began with Europe (Portugal). One daimyo who made use of these weapons was Oda Nobunaga, a man keen for power. In 1560 he led his troops to Kyoto where he brought some sort of order. Just as he was seeing control, he was killed in 1582.
His successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi challenged the position of uniting Japan. During his time, he carried out several reforms; disarmed the peasantry, brought crazy samurai under his control, and surveyed most of the usable farmland in the country.