Japan (literally "the origin of the sun" or less literally "Land of the Rising Sun" ) is an island country east of the Asian continent on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises over 6,800 islands having a coastline 100 meters or longer. The largest and main islands are, from north to south, Hokkaidō, Honshū (the largest island), Shikoku, and Kyūshū .
According to traditional Japanese mythology, Japan was founded in the 7th century BC by the ancestral Emperor Jinmu, who started a line of emperors that remains unbroken to this day. Nonetheless, for most of its history, real power was in the hands of the court nobility, the shoguns, the military, or, recently, prime ministers.
Recorded Japanese history began in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, when the Chinese writing system, Buddhism, and other Chinese culture was introduced by Baekje, a kingdom in Korea. Through the Taika Reform Edicts of 645, Japanese intensified the adoption of Chinese cultural practices, and reorganized government in accordance with the Chinese administrative structure. This paved the way for the dominance of Chinese Confucian philosophy in Japan until the 19th century.
During the 16th century, traders and missionaries from Europe reached Japan for the first time, initiating the "Nanban" ("Southern barbarian") period of active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West. Around the same time, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, established increasingly strong control over the warring states of Japan. Nobunaga's barbaric and authoritarian handling of the country made him an unpopular warlord, though his military genius was not to be ignored. Hideyoshi's disastrous invasion of Korea in 1592 also gave him a bad name in Japanese History, especially after the Japanese were repulsed by the Ming Dynasty Chinese forces and Korean naval forces.
The Tokugawa shogunate, suspicious of the influence of Catholic missionaries, barred all relations with Europeans except for severely restricted contacts with Dutch merchants at the artificial island of Dejima. In 1854, U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa. The perceived weakness of the shogunate led many samurai to revolt, leading to the Boshin War of 1867-8. Subsequently the shogunate resigned and the Meiji Restoration returned the Emperor to power. Japan adopted numerous Western institutions in the Meiji period, including a modern government, legal system, and military. These reforms transformed the Empire of Japan into a world power which defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War and Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. By 1910, Japan controlled Taiwan, half of Sakhalin, and Korea.
The early 20th century saw a brief period of "Taisho democracy" overshadowed by the rise of Japanese expansionism. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact and joined with Germany and Italy to form the axis alliance. In 1937, Japan invaded Manchuria which led to the the second Sino-Japanese War (1937). In 1941, Japan attacked the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor, bringing America into World War II. After a long campaign in the Pacific Ocean, Japan lost its initial territorial gains, and the United States moved into range to begin strategic bombing of Tokyo, Osaka and other major cities as well as atomic bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan eventually agreed to an unconditional surrender to the Allies on August 15, 1945 (V-J Day).
Official American occupation lasted until 1952, although U.S. forces still retain important bases in Japan, especially in Okinawa. Japan adopted a new constitution, establishing the country as a pacifist democratic nation, in 1947 under the occupation authority. After occupation, under a program of aggressive industrial development, protectionism, and deferral of strategic defense to the United States, Japan's gross national product rose to build one of the largest economies in the world. Despite a major stock market crash in 1990, from which the country has not fully recovered, Japan remains a global economic power and has recently begun to re-emerge as a strategic power, lending non-combat support to the Gulf War, the UN efforts to rebuild Cambodia, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.