The Nara period is characterized by the appearance of a nascent literature as well as the development of Buddhist-inspired art and architecture. This marked the beginning of the Heian period — , during which a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged, noted for its art , poetry and prose.
Murasaki Shikibu 's The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of Japan's national anthem " Kimigayo " were written during this time. Feudal era Samurai warriors facing Mongols during the Mongol invasions of Japan ; Suenaga , Japan's feudal era was characterized by the emergence and dominance of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. The Zen school of Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period — and became popular among the samurai class. Emperor Go-Daigo was himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in Samurais could kill a commoner for the slightest insult and were widely feared by the Japanese population.
Edo period , Ashikaga Takauji established the shogunate in Muromachi, Kyoto. This was the start of the Muromachi period — The Ashikaga shogunate achieved glory at the age of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu , and the culture based on Zen Buddhism the art of Miyabi prospered. This evolved to Higashiyama Culture , and prospered until the 16th century. His consolidation of power began what was known as the Azuchi—Momoyama period — After Nobunaga was assassinated in by Akechi Mitsuhide , his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the nation in and launched two unsuccessful invasions of Korea in and Tokugawa Ieyasu served as regent for Hideyoshi's son and used his position to gain political and military support.
When open war broke out, Ieyasu defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in The Edo period also gave rise to kokugaku "national studies" , the study of Japan by the Japanese. Subsequent similar treaties with Western countries in the Bakumatsu period brought economic and political crises.
The Meiji Restoration transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that pursued military conflict to expand its sphere of influence. Although France and Britain showed some interest, the European powers largely ignored Japan and instead concentrated on the much greater attractions of China.
France was also set back by its failures in Mexico and defeat by the Germans. This process accelerated during the s, spawning a number of new Radical Nationalist groups which shared a hostility to liberal democracy and a dedication to expansion in Asia. Japanese expansionism and militarization along with the totalitarianism and ultranationalism reshaped the country. In Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria and following international condemnation of this occupation , it quit the League of Nations in After Allied victories across the Pacific during the next four years, which culminated in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in , Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August The Allies led by the United States repatriated millions of ethnic Japanese from colonies and military camps throughout Asia, largely eliminating the Japanese empire and restoring the independence of its conquered territories.
In , Japan adopted a new constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied occupation ended with the Treaty of San Francisco in  and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in Japan later achieved rapid growth to become the second-largest economy in the world, until surpassed by China in This ended in the mids when Japan suffered a major recession.
In the beginning of the 21st century, positive growth has signaled a gradual economic recovery. The main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaido , Honshu , Shikoku and Kyushu. The Ryukyu Islands , which include Okinawa , are a chain to the south of Kyushu. Together they are often known as the Japanese archipelago.
Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. They are primarily the result of large oceanic movements occurring over hundreds of millions of years from the mid-Silurian to the Pleistocene as a result of the subduction of the Philippine Sea Plate beneath the continental Amurian Plate and Okinawa Plate to the south, and subduction of the Pacific Plate under the Okhotsk Plate to the north.
Japan was originally attached to the eastern coast of the Eurasian continent. The subducting plates pulled Japan eastward, opening the Sea of Japan around 15 million years ago. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunami , occur several times each century.