People first came to Japan about 30,000 years ago. At the time, the main islands were connected to Siberia and Korea by bridges of dry land, so people crossed on foot. The first society, called the Jomon culture, arose about 12,000 years ago. Around the same time, the Ainu people arrived by boat from Siberia.
The Jomon and Ainu survived for thousands of years, hunting, fishing, and gathering plants. In 300 B.C., the Yayoi people came to Honshu Island from Korea and China. They were skilled weavers, tool makers, and farmers who began cultivating rice in flooded paddy fields.
In 660 B.C., Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu Tenno, came to power. Emperors controlled Japan until the 12th century A.D., when military rulers, called shoguns, took control and ruled by might.
Europeans first arrived in Japan in 1543, bringing guns and Christianity. In 1635, the ruling shogun closed Japan to foreigners and forbade Japanese to travel abroad. This isolation lasted more than 200 years. In 1868, the shoguns were overthrown and emperors returned. This was a time of great change and modernization for Japan.
During World War I (1914-1917), Japan fought on the side of the U.S. But on December 7, 1941, Japan bombed the United States navy fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the U.S. entered World War II. From 1941-1945, Japan’s military leaders fought against the U.S. and the allied forces. In August 1945, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing about 115,000 people. Japan surrendered a few days later.