c.7500 BC-250 BC: The Jomon culture spread throughout the islands that constitute modern-day Japan.
c.250 BC-AD 250: During the period of Yayoi culture, rice cultivation was introduced from China.
4th century: The unification of Japan is thought to have taken place.
6th century: Buddhism was introduced to Japan from Korea. Around the same time the existing body of religious practices, associated with sun worship and animism, became known as Shinto (‘The Way of the Gods’).
8th century: Buddhism became the national religion.
794: The foundation of the city of Heian-kyo (later known as Kyoto)—the home of the Japanese imperial family until 1868—marked the beginning of the Heian age, which lasted until 1185 and was remarkable for the artistic sophistication of the court and the urban aristocracy.
10th century: Provincial officials began to acquire land and armed forces; some, such as Masakado Taira, extended their power over several provinces. In the same century the hiragana and katakana scripts were created for the writing of Japanese, which had previously been represented using Chinese characters.
1072: Emperor Go-Sanjo abdicated and, not wishing to relinquish his political role, established a retired emperor’s office. Although this had been done before, Go-Sanjo institutionalized insei (‘cloistered government’—so-called because the retired emperor took Buddhist vows and entered a monastery).
12th century: Effective power in Kyoto was held by a warrior household, the Taira. The head of the family, Kiyomori, ruled Japan in the Emperor’s name for a generation.
1185: Following the death of Kiyomori in 1181, the Minamoto family annihilated the Taira at the Battle of Dannoura. The leader of the Minamoto, Yoritomo, established a new system of government, known as the Bakufu (‘camp office’), at Kamakura in the east of the country. Yoritomo appointed his gokenin (vassals) as shugo (military governors) in the provinces and jito (military stewards) on landed estates.
1192: The Emperor awarded Yoritomo the title Sei-i Tai Shogun (‘Barbarian-subduing Generalissimo’).
1199: Following Yoritomo’s death, the Hojo family assumed leadership of the Bakufu.