Few places in the world have had a more colourful and rich history than Japan. Since as early as 35,000 BC, Japan has seen the rise and fall of emperors, samurai rule and rebirths. Now a popular local and international tourist destination, Japan is now home to a population over 126 million, on a historic island that melds the old with the new.

What better place to visit for inspiration and reconnecting with your inner self than by visiting Japan? If you’re planning a trip here, get a head start to your preparations by getting to know some facts and history about Japan’s rich history and traditions.

Overview of Japan

The Japanese archipelago, located in East Asia on the northwest Pacific Ocean, includes more than 3,000 islands, covering a total area of 377,835 square kilometers. The four main islands in Japan are Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Hokkaido.

Beyond its iconic landmark of Mount Fuji and its snowy white peak that rises to 3776 metres above ground, Japan is also located astride the Pacific Ring of Fire, making the archipelago unique for its volcanoes, geysers and hot springs.

Japan’s long history is believed to have begun as far back as the prehistoric era, and can be divided into four key historical periods: the Prehistoric Period (35,000 BC—538 AD), the Classical Period (538—1185), the Medieval Period (1185—1600) and Modern Period (1600—Present).

History of Japan

The earliest human beings that lived on the Japanese archipelago can be traced back to the Stone Age. These human beings were believed to have built the foundation of the Jomon culture—one of the world’s oldest societies—and are known for their hunting and gathering practices.

The earliest documented history of Japan goes back to the years 250—538 AD (Kofun Period), which saw the rise of the Imperial House of Japan, and the introduction of Shintoism, which still has its influences on Japanese culture today. Also having influences on present-day Japan is the Classical Period, which opened with a big leap in the political, social, and artistic aspects of Japanese society, and closed out with the peak of Taoism, Buddhism, poetry, literature and art.

The Medieval Period in Japanese history lasted for more than four centuries and saw the rule of powerful families (daimyo), the military power of warlords (shogun), and their warriors (the samurai). The establishment of Tokugawa shogunate signified the commencement of the Modern Period, which saw improvements in the overall social, political and economic stability of the country. When Japan was defeated in World War II, it underwent major restructuring in its economy and politics, shifting to a democratic, constitutional monarchy.

Where Old Meets New

Today, Japan has gained much international recognition for its economic progress, tourist landmarks, culture, and food. But much of its uniqueness comes from its influences from history, creating a beautiful destination where the old meets the new.

The vast majority of Japan today speak Japanese as their primary language. As Shintoism was the native religion in historic Japan, most Japanese today practice a syncretic blend of Shintoism and Buddhism.

When you visit Japan, you can expect a timeless journey that transits seamlessly between two identities: from the bright and busy metropolis, to the calm of Shinto sanctuaries. Discover old Japan with Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine, or the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nikko temples and sanctuaries. Then explore modern Tokyo with its neon-lit streets, vibrant Harajuku fashions and ultra-connected culture at the crossroads of Shibuya crossing.

With a deeper understanding on the fascinating culture, you are probably looking forward to a vacation that is rich in tradition and history. Visit Club Med Tomamu and Club Med Sahoro at the heart of Hokkaido island for a prime mountain getaway all-year round, or dive into the blend of elegant tradition and modernity that Japan is famous for at Club Med Kabira, tucked away on a beach island in Ishigaki in the far south of Japan. You’ll be surprised how the different sides of Japan can make you see the country in a new light.

You may also be interested in...