Japan has 126 million people. The Yamato Japanese ethnic group comprises 98.5 percent of the population; the other 1.5 percent includes Koreans (0.5 percent), Chinese (0.4 percent), and the indigenous Ainu (50,000 people). The Japanese archipelago includes more than 3,000 islands, covering a total area of 377,835 square kilometres. The four main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. In 1854, a USA fleet forced Japan to open trade to the West. It resulted in Emperor Meiji pursuing a program of industrialisation and modernisation – learning from the West. By 1900, Japan became the most developed nation in Asia. As an industrialized world power, Japan pursued military conflict to expand its sphere of influence. During the 1930s, some radical nationalist groups became prominent, and they shared a hostility to liberal democracy and a dedication to expansion in Asia. The Empire of Japan invaded China in 1937, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 to 1945). In 1940, the Empire invaded French Indochina, then Malaya, Singapore, Philippines, Burma (Myanmar) and Indonesia (known as Dutch East Indies at that time). Throughout areas occupied by Japan during the war, numerous abuses were committed against local inhabitants, with many women forced into sexual slavery. USA, upon its Pearl Harbor being bombed by Japan in 1941, declared war the next day against the empire. USA fought successfully against Japan and started bombing many Japanese cities. The atomic bombs dropped by USA on two cities in Japan in 1945 resulted in the empire’s surrender – ending World War Two. In the aftermath, USA was relatively kind during its seven-year occupation of Japan – and Japan subsequently grew economically very quickly (in the double digits per annum for many years). Japan had its best decades of economic growth between 1960 and 1990. Many of its manufactured goods were exported to all over the world – resulting in many Japanese brands becoming household names. Since 1990, its economic growth has slowed to 2% per annum, still respectable. Today, Japan continues to be one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world – and has the world’s third largest economy by GDP (after USA and China). The per capita income in Japan remains high; and its average life expectancy of 84.47 years is the highest in the world (according to a 2018 United Nations study). Its population however is declining – as is the case in many other rich countries.

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Japan from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1900 – Japan has 44 million people.
  3. 1902 – Japan becomes the first Asian nation to sign a mutual defence pact with a European nation, England.
  4. 1904 – Russo-Japanese War. Japan launches a surprise torpedo attack on the Imperial Russian Navy at Port Arthur on the coast of Manchuria.
  5. 1905 – Japan becomes the first Asian country in modern times to defeat a European nation (Russia) – and Russia ceded territory to Japan. This changed the global order where Japan becomes the main Asian power.
  6. 1910 – Japan annexes Korea after three years of fighting, becoming one of the world’s leading powers.
  7. 1914 – Japan joins World War One on the side of England and her allies, gaining Qingdao (Tsingtao) in China and some Pacific islands from Germany at the end of the war.
  8. 1912 – Japanese Emperor Meiji dies at age 59. Yoshihito becomes Emperor.
  9. 1923 – British Empire ends 21-year alliance with Japan, signalling Western and USA apprehension of Japan’s growing power in East Asia.
  10. 1925 – (1935) After the death of its master, the world’s most loyal dog Hachiko for 10 years keeps walking to the railway station (in Shibuya, Tokyo, capital of Japan) waiting for his master. 
  11. 1926 – Emperor Yoshihito dies at age 47. Hirohito becomes Emperor.
  12. 1927 – Extreme nationalism takes hold in Japan as world economic depression hits. The emphasis is on a preservation of traditional Japanese values, and a rejection of Western influence.
  13. 1928 – Japan has 65 million people.
  14. 1931 – Japanese army invades Chinese province of Manchuria. 
  15. 1932 – Manchukuo (new name for Manchuria), a puppet state of Japan, is established.
  16. 1933 – Japan withdrew from the League of Nations since she was heavily criticized for her actions in China.
  17. 1936 – Japan signs alliance with Nazi Germany.
  18. 1937 – Japan’s army man Hideki Tojo is promoted to Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army – largest army group of the Japanese Army.
  19. 1937 – Japan goes to war with China, capturing Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing amid atrocities including the “Rape of Nanjing”, in which 300,000 Chinese civilians are killed and 100,000 women raped.
  20. 1939 – Japan establishes a research laboratory for biological warfare in Harbin, China, and tests biological weapons on war prisoners – 10,000 people die.
  21. 1940 – Hideki Tojo is appointed Minister of War of the Japanese government.
  22. 1940 – Japan has 73 million people.
  23. 1940 – Germany, Japan and Italy sign pact of the “Axis”.
  24. 1940 – Outbreak of Second World War in Europe. With the fall of France in 1940, Japan moves to occupy French Indo-China.  
  25. 1941 – Hideki Tojo becomes Prime Minister. He oversees the Japanese Empire’s decision to go to war and its ensuing conquest of Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands. During his tenure, he presided over numerous war crimes including the massacre and starvation of civilians and prisoners of war.
  26. 1941 – Faced with severe shortages of oil and other natural resources and driven by the ambition to displace USA as the dominant Pacific power, Japan decided to attack USA and British forces in Asia and seize the resources of Southeast Asia.
  27. 1941 – Japan launches a surprise attack on USA Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Japanese Command reasoned that a decisive destruction of USA’s Pacific Fleet and conquest of its remote outposts would ensure that the Japanese Empire would not be overwhelmed by America’s industrial might. USA and its main allies declare war on Japan the next day.
  28. 1941 – Japan occupies Hong Kong.
  29. 1941 – Japanese forces sink the British ships of Prince of Wales and Repulse off Malaya, eliminating British naval power in the area.
  30. 1942 – Japan occupies succession of countries, including Philippines, Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Burma (Myanmar), Malaya and Singapore. General Douglas MacArthur of USA was forced to flee Philippines.
  31. 1942 – The war starts to turn bad for Japan. USA aircraft carriers defeat the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. USA begins a strategy of “island-hopping”, cutting the Japanese support lines as its forces advance.
  32. 1944 – USA forces are near enough to Japan to start bombing raids on Japanese cities.
  33. 1944 – As the war’s tide decisively turned against Japan, Hideki Tojo is forced to resign as Prime Minister.
  34. 1945 – USA planes drop two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders and World War Two ends.
  35. 1945 – Japan placed under USA military government – with General Douglas MacArthur in charge. All Japanese military and naval forces are disbanded. Japan is devastated economically. In all the large cities (with the exception of Kyoto), the industries and the transportation networks are severely damaged. A severe shortage of food continued for several years. USA flew food to Japan.
  36. 1947 – New democratic constitution comes into force which establishes a parliamentary system. Japan renounces war and pledges not to maintain land, sea or air forces for that purpose.
  37. 1948 – Hikeki Tojo and others, who are found responsible for Japan going to war in Asia and for its atrocities, are hanged. Tojo’s remains are enshrined at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Any high-level government politician showing respect at this shrine attracts condemnation from China and Korea.   
  38. 1948 – Soichiro Honda founds a motorcycle manufacturing company.
  39. 1952 – The USA Occupation of Japan ends. Japan regains independence, but USA retains several islands for military use, including Okinawa.
  40. 1952 – TDK begins producing magnetic tapes.
  41. 1954 – Fujitsu enters the computer market.
  42. 1956 – Japan joins the United Nations.
  43. 1955 – Japanese electronic company TTK, later known as Sony, introduces its first transistor radio.
  44. 1959 – Hitachi builds its first transistor computer.
  45. 1959 – Japan’s Honda is the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.
  46. 1963 – Honda introduces its first car.
  47. 1964 – The first high speed train becomes operational.
  48. 1964 – Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan – first time the Games are held in Asia.
  49. 1966 – TDK begins selling compact cassette tapes.
  50. 1967 – Seiko introduces the first quartz wristwatch.
  51. 1968 – Japan surpasses West Germany to become the second largest economy in the world (after USA).
  52. 1969 – Annual GDP growth averages 10.4% during 1960s.
  53. 1970 – Japan launches a satellite in orbit.
  54. 1970 – Japan has a record high economic growth. Japan is now third economic power (after USA and Soviet Union), having overtaken all European economies.
  55. 1972 – Japanese prime minister visits China and normal diplomatic relations are resumed. Japan subsequently closes embassy in Taiwan.
  56. 1973 – Canon introduces the first colour photocopier.
  57. 1974 – Hitachi produces its first IBM-compatible mainframe computer.
  58. 1975 – Japan has 112 million people.
  59. 1979 – Sony launches the ‘Walkman’ portable stereo.
  60. 1980 – Japan becomes the biggest motor vehicle producing country in the world.
  61. 1981 – Sony introduces the first 3½ inch floppy disks.
  62. 1981 – Toshiba enters the market for laptop computers.
  63. 1982 – Sony launches the compact disc.
  64. 1984 – Canon demonstrates the first electronic camera.
  65. 1986 – Mr Izumi dies at 120 – the oldest man in the world.
  66. 1988 – 8 out of 10 largest companies by market capitalization are based in Japan.
  67. 1988 – Sharp introduces the first commercial LCD television.
  68. 1988 – Fujitsu introduces the first digital camera.
  69. 1989 – Japan owns half of the world’s shipbuilding market.
  70. 1989 – The market capitalization of Japanese companies represents 42% of all the stocks in the world and the value of land is the highest in the world.
  71. 1989 – Emperor Hirohito dies at age 87. Akihito becomes Emperor.
  72. 1990 – (2003) The Japanese “bubble economy” bursts, with stock prices declining for 13 years, erasing some trillions of US dollars in wealth; and land prices declining 80% in 13 years. 
  73. 1993 – Japanese government issues historic “Kono statement” apologising for Japanese military’s war-time use of sex slaves.
  74. 1995 – Tokyo subway sarin attack. A religious sect release sarin gas on the Tokyo subway system killing 13 and injuring 1,000.
  75. 1996 – The first DVD player is introduced by Toshiba.
  76. 1997 – Asian Financial Crisis – Japanese economy enters a severe recession.
  77. 1997 – Toyota introduces the Prius, the world’s first commercially mass-produced hybrid automobile.
  78. 2005 – Japan’s population starts to decline.
  79. 2007 – Toyota becomes the world’s largest car manufacturer.
  80. 2009 – Japan faces worst economic crisis since World War Two, after figures show its economy shrank by 3.3%.
  81. 2009 – None of the 10 largest companies by market capitalization is based in Japan.
  82. 2010 – 30% of Japan’s electricity is nuclear generated.
  83. 2011 – Japan is overtaken by China as the world’s second-largest economy, although China’s GDP per head (US$4,500) is only 11% of Japan’s (US$40,000).
  84. 2010 – Between 2001 and 2010 Japan’s economy grows at 0.7% per annum (not high).
  85. 2011 – Huge offshore earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastate kilometres of shoreline, with 15,899 deaths; 6,157 injured; and 2,529 people missing. Damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant causes a radiation leak that leaves extensive areas uninhabitable and contaminates food supplies.
  86. 2012 – Japan’s economic growth slows to 0.3% from 1% in the second quarter as eurozone crisis hits exports and domestic consumption.
  87. 2013 – Tokyo, capital of Japan, is chosen to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
  88. 2015 – Economy re-emerges from recession in last quarter of 2014, although growth remains sluggish.
  89. 2015 – Lower house of parliament backs bills allowing troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two, prompting protests at home and criticism from China.
  90. 2018 – Japan activates a Marine Unit (first since World War Two) to counter invaders occupying Japanese islands.
  91. 2019 – Emperor Akihito abdicates – his son Naruhito becomes Emperor.
  92. 2020 – 117 year old Mr Tanaka dies – becomes the third longest-living person ever.
  93. 2020 – Summer Olympics in Tokyo is postponed by one year.
  94. 2020 – (2021) COVID-19 pandemic caused more than 8,800 deaths in Japan.
  95. 2021 – Japan has 126 million people.

© Comasters April 2021.

  • Jim KABLE
    Posted at 14:34h, 09 April

    As one who lived more than 16 years in Japan – 1990s/2000s – who first studied about Japan in detail (The Meiji Era to the MacArthur Occupation conclusion) as my Modern History Honours subject in 1965 for the Leaving Certificate – and who has had a Japanese pen-friend since early 1963 and family connections since that time – I could probably offer shifts of emphasis and add or subtract from the details you have placed here – but overall a creditable summary, Jeffrey!

    Emperors in Japan are NOT known by their “Given Name” but by another name for their period of Rule: 1868-1912 Meiji; 1912-1926 Taishō; 1926-1989 Shōwa; 1989-2019 Heisei; and currently 2019-> Reiwa. I would NOT say that the US was “relatively kind” durings its post-war occupation – nor that the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. That was sheer US ugliness demonstrating to the USSR that it had “the bomb” and see-what-they-could-do-with-it demonstration. The US never does anything out of kindness. Only for what it can get!

    • comasters1
      Posted at 19:36h, 10 April

      Thanks for another distinction score (by my English teacher in you).
      By most accounts, General Douglas MacArthur heading USA’s occupation of Japan between 1945 and 1952 was carried out with distinction and generally applauded even by local Japanese civilians. Food was also brought into Japan by USA. Hence, I use the words ‘relatively kind’ in referring to USA’s treatment of Japan. From an orderly transfer of power to the local government, Japan expanded economically very quickly in the next three decades.