Ancient Japan

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Ancient Japan has made unique contributions to world culture which include the Shinto religion and its architecture, distinctive art objects such as haniwa figurines, the oldest pottery vessels in the world, the largest wooden buildings anywhere at their time of construction, and many literary classics including the world's first novel. Although Japan was significantly influenced by China and Korea, the islands were never subject to foreign political control and so were free to select those ideas which appealed to them, adapt them how they wished, and to continue with their indigenous cultural practices to create a unique approach to government, religion, and the arts.

More about: Ancient Japan


  • c. 14500 BCE - c. 300 BCE
    Jomon Period in Japan.
  • 660 BCE - 585 BCE
    Traditional reign dates of Emperor Jimmu, Japan's first emperor.
  • c. 300 BCE - c. 250 CE
    The Yayoi Period in ancient Japan.
  • 97 BCE - 30 BCE
    Possible reign dates of Japan's Emperor Sujin.
  • 4 BCE
    Traditional founding date of the Ise Grand Shrine in honour of the Shinto goddess Amaterasu.
  • c. 82 CE
    Contact between Han China and Yayoi Japan.
  • c. 183 CE - 248 CE
    Life of Queen Himiko of Japan.
  • c. 189 CE - 248 CE
    The reign of Queen Himiko.
  • 238 CE
    Queen Himiko of Japan sends a tribute delegation to China.
  • c. 250 CE - 538 CE
    The Kofun Period in ancient Japan.
  • c. 250 CE - 710 CE
    The Yamato Period in ancient Japan, consisting of the Kofun Period and Asuka Period.
  • c. 300 CE - c. 700 CE
    Haniwa terracotta figurines are placed outside Japanese mound tombs or kofun.
  • 366 CE
    Japan establishes diplomatic relations with Korea.
  • 413 CE - 478 CE
    Japanese kings send ambassadors and tribute to China.
  • c. 531 CE - 571 CE
    Reign of Emperor Kimmei in Japan.
  • 535 CE - 539 CE
    Reign of Emperor Senka in Japan.
  • 538 CE - 710 CE
    The Asuka Period in ancient Japan.
  • 538 CE
    Alternative date to 552 CE for the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from Korea.
  • 552 CE
    Traditional date for the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from Korea.
  • 572 CE - 585 CE
    Reign of Emperor Bidatsu in Japan.
  • 585 CE - 587 CE
    Reign of Emperor Yomei in Japan.
  • 587 CE - 592 CE
    Reign of Emperor Sushun in Japan.
  • 587 CE
    The Soga clan establish control of government in Japan.
  • 592 CE - 628 CE
    Reign of Empress Suiko, Japan's first empress.
  • 593 CE
    The Buddhist Gango-ji temple, the oldest in Japan, is founded at Asuka.
  • 593 CE
    The Shitennoji Buddhist temple is built in Japan.
  • 594 CE - 622 CE
    Reign of Prince Shotoku as regent for Japanese Empress Suiko.
  • 596 CE
    The Hokoji Buddhist temple is built in Japan.
  • 604 CE
    Prince Shotoku draws up his Seventeen Article Constitution in Japan.
  • c. 607 CE
    Prince Shotoku of Japan sends the first of many official embassies to Sui China.
  • 607 CE
    The Horyuji Buddhist temple is built in Nara, Japan during the reign of Regent Prince Shotoku.
  • 629 CE - 641 CE
    Reign of Emperor Jomei in Japan.
  • 642 CE - 645 CE
    Reign of Empress Kogyoku in Japan.
  • 645 CE - 654 CE
    Reign of Emperor Kotoku in Japan.
  • 645 CE
    The Fujiwara clan in Japan is founded by Fujiwara no Kamatari.
  • 645 CE
    The Japanese capital is moved from Asuka to Naniwa.
  • 645 CE
    Fujiwara no Kamatari leads a coup d'etat in Japan, removing the Soga clan from power.
  • 655 CE - 661 CE
    Reign of Empress Saimei in Japan.
  • 661 CE - 671 CE
    Reign of Emperor Tenji in Japan.
  • 671 CE - 672 CE
    Reign of Emperor Kobun in Japan.
  • 671 CE - 672 CE
    The Jinshin Incident in Japan which establishes Temmu as emperor.
  • 672 CE - 686 CE
    Reign of Emperor Temmu in Japan.
  • 680 CE
    Yakushiji temple is founded in Fujiwara-kyo.
  • 686 CE - 697 CE
    Reign of Empress Jito in Japan.
  • 694 CE - 710 CE
    Fujiwarakyo is made the Japanese capital.
  • 697 CE - 707 CE
    Reign of Emperor Mommu in Japan.
  • 707 CE - 715 CE
    Reign of Empress Gemmei in Japan.
  • 708 CE
    Japan's first coinage, the Wado kaiho, is introduced.
  • 710 CE
    The Buddhist Kofukuji temple is established at Nara, main temple of the Japanese Fujiwara clan.
  • 710 CE - 784 CE
    Nara is the capital of ancient Japan.
  • 710 CE - 794 CE
    The Nara Period in ancient Japan.
  • 710 CE
    The Japanese capital is moved from Fujiwara-kyo to Nara (aka Heijokyo).
  • 711 CE
    The Fushimi Inari shrine, dedicated to the Shinto rice god Inari, is founded near Kyoto.
  • 712 CE
    The Kojiki is written, a collection of oral myths forming the basis of the Shinto religion.
  • 713 CE
    The Japanese Fudoki are composed and record local kami and associated legends.
  • 715 CE - 724 CE
    Reign of Empress Gensho in Japan.
  • 720 CE
    The Nihon Shoki is written, a collection of oral myths forming the basis of the Shinto religion.
  • 724 CE - 749 CE
    Reign of Emperor Shomu in Japan.
  • 725 CE
    The Usa shrine is founded in northern Kyushu and dedicated to the Shinto god Hachiman.
  • 735 CE - 737 CE
    Japan suffers two smallpox epidemics which kills 25-35% of the population.
  • 740 CE
    A rebellion led by the Fujiwara exile Hirotsugu is quashed by Emperor Shomu.
  • 749 CE - 758 CE
    First reign of Empress Koken in Japan.
  • 751 CE
    The Kaifuso anthology of Japanese poems is compiled.
  • 752 CE
    The Buddhist Todaiji temple is founded at Nara, Japan.
  • 758 CE - 764 CE
    Reign of emperor Junnin in Japan.
  • c. 759 CE
    The Manyoshu or 'Collection of 10,000 Leaves' is written, an important Shinto source and classic of Japanese poetry.
  • 764 CE - 770 CE
    Second reign of Empress Koken, now known as Shotoku, in Japan.
  • 767 CE - 822 CE
    Life of Saicho, founder of Tendai Buddhism in Japan.
  • 768 CE
    Official founding date of the Kasuga Taisha Shinto shrine at Nara, Japan.
  • 770 CE - 781 CE
    Reign of Emperor Konin in Japan.
  • 774 CE - 835 CE
    Life of the monk Kukai (aka Kobo Daishi), founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.
  • 781 CE - 806 CE
    Reign of Emperor Kammu in Japan.
  • 784 CE
    Emperor Kammu moves the Japanese capital from Nara to Nagaokakyo.
  • 785 CE
    Saicho establishes the first Buddhist shrine at what would become the Enryakuji temple complex on Mt. Hiei, Japan.
  • c. 793 CE - 864 CE
    Life of Ennin, the Buddhist scholar-monk and abbot of Enryakuji, who brought many esoteric teachings from China to Japan.n
  • 794 CE - 1185 CE
    The Heian Period in ancient Japan.
  • 794 CE
    Japanese Emperor Kammu sends an expedition led by Otomo no Otomaro against the Emishi.
  • 794 CE
    Emperor Kammu builds the Shinto Herano shrine at Heiankyo (Kyoto).
  • 796 CE
    The Buddhist To-ji temple near Heiankyo (Kyoto), Japan is founded.
  • 801 CE
    Japanese Emperor Kammu sends an expedition led by Sakanoue no Tamuramaro against the Emishi.
  • 806 CE
    The Shinto shrine of Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha is built on Mount Fuji.
  • c. 807 CE
    Imibe-no-Hironari writes the Kogoshui, a collection of oral myths forming the basis of the Shinto religion.
  • 819 CE
    Kukai (Kobo Daishi) establishes a monastery and headquarters for Shingon Buddhism on Mount Koya in Japan.
  • 826 CE
    A five-storey pagoda is added to the To-ji temple complex in Heiankyo (Kyoto).
  • 838 CE
    Last Japanese embassy to China during the Heian Period.
  • 845 CE - 903 CE
    Life of the deified scholar and court official Sugawara no Michizane, aka Tenjin.
  • 866 CE
    Fujiwara no Yoshifusa becomes the first Japanese regent not of royal blood.
  • 874 CE
    The Buddhist Daigoji temple is founded by Shobo at Heiankyo (Kyoto).
  • 897 CE - 930 CE
    Reign of Japan's Emperor Daigo.
  • 947 CE
    The Tenmangu Kitano shrine is founded in honour of Sugawara no Michizane, aka Tenjin.
  • 995 CE
    Fujiwara no Michinaga becomes the Fujiwara clan leader in Japan.
  • c. 1002 CE
    Sei Shonagon completes The Pillow Book, a Japanese classic describing court life during the Heian Period.
  • c. 1004 CE
    Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu writes her 'Izumi Shikibu Diary'.
  • c. 1020 CE
    The Tale of Genji is completed by Murasaki Shikibu in Japan.
  • 1042 CE - 1103 CE
    Life of the legendary Japanese warrior Minamoto no Yoshiie.
  • 1046 CE
    Yorinobu claims Hachiman patron god and founder of the Minamoto clan in Japan.
  • 1052 CE
    The Buddhist temple site Byodo-in is founded in Japan by Fujiwara no Yorimichi.
  • 1073 CE - 1087 CE
    Reign of Emperor Shirakawa in Japan.
  • 1073 CE - 1087 CE
    Reign of Japan's Emperor Shirakawa.
  • 1147 CE - 1199 CE
    Life of Minamoto no Yoritomo, clan leader of the Minamoto and first shogun of Japan.
  • 1156 CE
    Hogen Disturbance in Japan.
  • 1160 CE
    Heiji Disturbance in Japan.
  • 1180 CE
    Taira forces defeat an army led by Minamoto no Yorimasa.
  • 1180 CE - 1185 CE
    The Genpei War in Japan between the Taira and Minamoto clans.
  • 1181 CE
    Taira forces defeat an army led by Minamoto no Yukie.
  • 1183 CE
    Kiso Yoshinaka defeats a large Taira army at Kurikara in Etchu and occupies the Japanese capital Heiankyo (Kyoto).
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