Introduction to the History of Ancient Japan


Kelly Macquire
published on 18 September 2022

The History of Ancient Japan dates back to the fifteenth century BCE, and spans thousands of years until the beginning of the Medieval period in Japan. The Jōmon period was the first historical period of Japan, and the name Jōmon comes from the name of the pottery that was crafted during this period (which also happens to be the oldest pottery in the world). The traditional religion of Japan was Shinto (which would later be replaced by Buddhism as the dominant religion of the region). In Shinto mythology, the gods Izanami and Izanagi dipped a jewelled spear into the primordial sea and created the Japanese islands.

After the fist period of ancient Japan, the Jōmon period, then comes the Yayoi period which is also named after a type of pottery crafted during this time. Then comes the Kofun period, a time in ancient Japan named not after pottery, but after the monumental burials which were commonly built for the elite on the Korean Peninsula. Next, there is the Asuka period, during which the most significant ruler of Japan, Prince Shotoku ruled as regent until his death in six twenty-two CE. Following the Asuka Period is the Nara period which was a prosperous time for literature with two incredibly famous and important works being produced at this time, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki which are works on the Shinto gods, their creation myths and royal genealogies.

Finally, there is the Heian period which spanned from seven ninety-four to eleven eighty-five and is named after the capital of this time, Heiankyo, which is known today as Kyoto.



0:00​ Introduction
1:04 The Jōmon Period
3:34 The Yayoi Period
6:11 The Kofun Period
8:44 The Asuka Period
11:02 The Nara Period
14:15 The Heian Period
18:06 Outro

Ancient Japan
Shinto Religion
Japanese Emperor
Jomon Period
Yayoi Period
Kofun Period
Asuka Period
Nara Period
Heian Period

Ghost Stories from the Ancient World
The Concept and Symbol of Yin and Yang Explained
Oracle Bones of the Ancient Chinese Shang Dynasty
The History of Tea and the Spread of "Cha" and "Tea" Around the Globe

You can find all attribution and credits for images, animations, graphics and music here -

The music used in this recording is the intellectual copyright of Michael Levy, a prolific composer for the recreated lyres of antiquity, and used with the creator's permission. Michael Levy's music is available to stream at all the major digital music platforms. Find out more on:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Open Access

World History Encyclopedia

#ancientjapan #japanesehistory #historyofjapan

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About the Author

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2022, September 18). Introduction to the History of Ancient Japan. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Introduction to the History of Ancient Japan." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified September 18, 2022.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "Introduction to the History of Ancient Japan." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 18 Sep 2022. Web. 19 Apr 2024.