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Chapter 5: Japan. Early Japan Shoguns and Samurai Life in Medieval Japan. Japan’s Geography. Japan’s mountains and islands isolated Japan and shaped its society Because of Japan’s mountains, only 20% of its land can be farmed

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Chapter 5 japan

Chapter 5: Japan

Early Japan

Shoguns and Samurai

Life in Medieval Japan

Japan s geography
Japan’s Geography

  • Japan’s mountains and islands isolated Japan and shaped its society

  • Because of Japan’s mountains, only 20% of its land can be farmed

  • The rugged terrain forced many Japanese to turn to the sea for a living

  • The vast ocean around Japan kept it isolated and as a result, Japan developed its own intensely independent society with its own religion, art, literature, and government

The first settlers of japan
The First Settlers of Japan

  • The Yayoi people were the early settlers of Japan

  • Around 300 CE the Yayoi organized themselves into clans

  • A clan is a group of families related by blood or marriage

  • During the 500’s a clan called the Yamato became strong enough to rule all of Japan

  • Yamato chiefs claimed they were descendents of the Sun God and the emperor of Japan today is a descendent of these ancient rulers

Prince shotoku s reforms
Prince Shotoku’s Reforms

  • Around 600 CE, a Yamato prince named Shotoku took charge of Japan

  • He wanted to create a strong government so he looked to China as an example of what to do

  • Shotoku created a constitution and gave all power to the emperor

  • The emperor had the power to appoint all of the government officials

  • Government officials were sent to China to study Chinese art, medicine, government, Buddhism, and philosophy (much which came from Korea)

  • Shotoku ordered Buddhist temples and monasteries to be built throughout Japan

  • In 646 CE the Yamato began the Taika, or Great Change

  • They divided Japan into provinces and they were all run by officials who reported to the emperor

  • These reforms created the first strong central government in Japan

The shinto religion of japan
The Shinto Religion of Japan

  • The Japanese religion called Shinto was based on nature spirits

  • They believe that all things in nature have their own spirits

  • This idea is called animism

  • Nature spirits are called kami

  • The word Shinto means “way of the spirits”


  • During the same time the emperor’s government was growing strong, Buddhism became popular

  • Buddhism became a major religion in Japan and had an important role in government


  • Nobles formed private armies to protect their land

  • To create their armies they gave land to warriors who agreed to fight for them

  • These warriors were called Samurai

  • Samurai lived by a code of conduct called Bushido

  • A Samurai would rather die in battle than betray his lord


  • By the early 1100’s the most powerful Japanese families had begun fighting each other using their Samurai armies

  • In 1192, Yoritomo, the leader of a powerful family, was given the title of shogun

  • The shogun is the commander of all of the emperor’s military forces

  • The military government was known as the shogunate

  • Japan’s government was run by a series of shoguns for the next 700 years

  • In 1274 and 1281, the shogunate successfully held off attacks by the Mongols

The daimyo divide japan
The Daimyo Divide Japan

  • As the shogun’s power weakened, Japan broke into warring kingdoms run by rulers known as daimyo

  • The daimyo pledged loyalty to the emperor and the shogun, but they ruled their lands as if they were independent kingdoms

  • To protect their lands they created their own local armies made up of Samurai warriors

  • Samurai became vassals when they pledged to serve their daimyo in times of war and in return the daimyo gave them land

  • This bond of loyalty between a lord and a vassal is known as feudalism

Japanese religion and culture
Japanese Religion and Culture

  • Buddhism and Shinto shaped much of Japan’s culture

  • These religions affected Japanese art, architecture, novels and plays

  • The arts of Japan revealed the Japanese love of beauty and simplicity

  • The art of folding paper, know as Origami, was invented in Japan

  • Calligraphy, the art of writing beautifully, was much admired in Japan

  • Japan’s oldest form of poetry was the tanka

  • Tanka was an unrhymed poem of five lines

  • Tanka poems capture nature’s beauty and the joys and sorrows of life

  • By the 1600’s, tanka poems changed into a new form called haiku

  • Haiku consisted of 3 lines of words with a total of 17 syllables

  • The oldest type of Japanese plays were called Noh and they were written to teach Buddhist ideas

  • Some Japanese nobles, merchants, and artisans grew wealthy during the shogun period, but the lives of women remained restricted in many areas of life