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Chapter 14. Medieval Japan. Early Japan. Reading Strategy Complete the diagram on page 484. Honor the Kami at shrines. Animism. Shinto Religion. Ritual cleansing to remove spiritual stains. Ask the Kami for help. Japan’s Geography.

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Chapter 14
Chapter 14

Medieval Japan

Early Japan

Reading Strategy

Complete the diagram on page 484

Honor the Kami at shrines


Shinto Religion

Ritual cleansing to remove spiritual stains

Ask the Kami for help

Japan’s Geography

  • Japan is a chain of islands that stretches north to south in the northern Pacific Ocean.

  • The four largest islands of Japan are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu.

  • The islands of Japan’s are mountaintops that rise from the floor of the ocean.

  • Many of the mountains are volcanoes.*

Japan’s Geography

  • *Very little of Japan’s land is farmable.

  • Throughout history, Japanese people have fought for good farming land.

  • Many Japanese people settled in coastal villages to fish for food.

  • Because Japan is surrounded by water, merchants could travel easily on ships from town to town for trade.

Japan’s Geography

  • The ocean around the islands kept Japan isolated from outside influences.

  • As a result, Japan developed an independent society with its own distinct culture.

Japan’s Geography

Sum It Up

How did Japan’s geography shape its society?

The ocean surrounding the islands isolated Japan from the rest of Asia. Japan developed its own independent society with unique religion, art, literature, and government.

The First Settlers

  • The first people to arrive in Japan probably came from northeast Asia between 30,000 and 10,000 B.C.

  • At that time, Japan was connected to the mainland of Asia.

  • Wandering groups of people developed the Jomon culture around 5000 B.C.*

  • The Jomon people settled along the coast of Japan and fished for food.

The First Settlers

  • Around 300 B.C., the Yayoi people appeared.*

  • The Yayoi are ancestors of the Japanese people.

  • The Yayoi were skilled farmers, potters, and metalworkers.*

  • The Yayoi people were organized in clans, or groups of families related by blood or marriage.

The First Settlers

  • Warrior chiefs headed each clan and protected the people in return for a share of the rice harvest each year.

  • The Yayoi buried their chiefs in large mounds called kofun.*

The First Settlers


  • *Legend says that Japan was created when two gods dipped a spear into the ocean. The drops of salty water that fell from the spear are the islands of Japan.

  • Adding to the legend, the two gods who created the islands are said to have created Amaterasu, the sun goddess, to rule over the Earth. Susanowo, the storm god, was created to be Amaterasu’s companion.

  • Ninigi, Amaterasu’s grandson , ruled from the Earth.*

The First Settlers

  • *The Yamato clan brought most of Japan under its rule in the A.D. 500s.

  • According to myth, a Yamato leader named Jimmu founded a line of rulers of Japan that has never been broken.

  • Jimmu took the title “emperor of heaven” claiming to be a descendent of Amaterasu.

The First Settlers

Sum It Up

  • What do historians know for sure about the Yamato?

During the A.D. 500s, a clan called the Yamato became strong enough to bring most of Japan under its rule.

Prince Shotoku’s Reforms

  • About A.D. 600, a Yamato prince named Shotoku took charge of Japan for his aunt, the empress Suiko (Swee-Koh).

  • Shotoku wanted to reform Japan and based his reforms on the Chinese government, which had a strong emperor and trained officials.

  • Shotoku created a constitution, or plan of government.

Prince Shotoku’s Reforms

  • The constitution set out rules officials had to follow that were based on the ideas of Confucius.

  • The constitution gave the emperor all the power and the ability to appoint all officials.

  • *Shotoku sent officials and students to schools in China and ordered Buddhist temples and monasteries to be built throughout Japan.

Prince Shotoku’s Reforms

  • Horyuji is Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple and the world’s oldest surviving wooden building.

  • *The Great Change in A.D. 646. This divided Japan into provinces run by officials who reported to the emperor.

  • Government officials, instead of clan leaders, were responsible for collecting taxes.*

Prince Shotoku’s Reforms

  • Sum It Up

  • What happened during the Great Change?

The Yamato divided Japan into provinces run by officials who reported to the emperor, and all land came under the emperor’s control.

What is Shinto?

  • *Animism is the belief that all natural things are alive and have their own spirits.

  • Early Japanese people believed in animism.

  • The kami were nature spirits.

What is Shinto?

  • Japanese people worshiped at shrines, or holy places, to honor the kami.

  • Shinto developed from animism and means “way of the spirits.”*