Colonizers Who Established Control over Japan

Travel Destinations

By Meagan Drillinger

Japan has a diverse and complex history, shaped by various influences and colonizers throughout the centuries. Understanding the colonizers that have left their mark on Japan is crucial in comprehending its unique culture, traditions, and societal norms. While Japan is generally known for being a highly homogeneous society, it is important to recognize the historical impact of outside forces that have influenced the country’s development.

One of the first significant colonizers of Japan were the Chinese. Chinese civilization and culture had a profound effect on Japan, particularly during the Asuka and Nara periods. This influence was mainly transmitted through Buddhism, which was introduced from China. The Chinese writing system was also adopted in Japan, leading to the development of the kanji characters that are still used today.

During the 16th century, Japan experienced European colonization through the arrival of Portuguese traders, followed by other European powers such as the Dutch and the Spanish. However, this colonization was mostly economic in nature, as Japan fiercely resisted foreign influence and expelled most European powers by the end of the 17th century. Nonetheless, this period of contact with Europe had a lasting impact on Japan’s trade relations and the spread of Christianity, which still has a presence in the country today.

Perhaps the most influential and transformative colonization of Japan occurred during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the country was colonized by itself. The Meiji Restoration in 1868 marked the end of the feudal shogunate system and the beginning of Japan’s modernization. The government implemented a series of reforms inspired by Western nations, particularly Germany, France, and the United States. This self-imposed colonization transformed Japan into a modern industrialized nation and set the stage for its emergence as a major world power in the following decades.

Understanding the various colonizers of Japan is essential in appreciating the rich tapestry of influences that have contributed to its unique culture and history. From the Chinese influences of ancient times to the European interactions of the 16th and 17th centuries, and finally the self-imposed colonization during the Meiji era, Japan’s story is one of resilience, adaptation, and cultural blending. By examining these historical colonizers, we can gain deeper insight into Japan’s identity and its remarkable journey through the ages.

The History of Colonization in Japan

Japan has a long history of colonization by various foreign powers. The first recorded instance of colonization in Japan occurred in the 16th century when the Portuguese arrived on its shores and established trade relations. However, it was during the 19th century that Japan experienced its most significant period of colonization.

In the 1850s, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy arrived in Japan and forced the country to open its ports to foreign trade. This event, known as the “Opening of Japan,” marked the beginning of a new era for the country. It led to a series of unequal treaties with Western powers, which granted them extraterritorial rights and control over certain areas of Japan.

One of the most notable instances of colonization in Japan was the establishment of foreign concessions in cities such as Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki. These concessions were controlled by Western powers, primarily the United States, Britain, France, and the Netherlands. They had their own legal systems, police forces, and even currency. The foreign concessions played a significant role in Japan’s modernization and the introduction of Western ideas and technology.

Another prominent example of colonization in Japan was the annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom by the Meiji government in 1879. The Ryukyu Islands, located between Japan and Taiwan, were formally incorporated into Japan as Okinawa Prefecture. This move further extended Japan’s control and influence in the region.

Japan also experienced colonization efforts by its neighboring countries. In the early 20th century, Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and ruled over it until the end of World War II. This colonization had a profound impact on Korea’s culture, language, and identity.

Overall, the history of colonization in Japan is complex and multifaceted. It involved various foreign powers exerting control and influence over different regions of the country. These colonization efforts had a lasting impact on Japan’s development and shaped its modern identity as a nation.

Ancient Eras of Colonization in Japan

Japan has a rich history of colonization that dates back to ancient times. Throughout its early history, Japan experienced several waves of colonization that greatly influenced its culture, society, and government.

One of the earliest known instances of colonization in Japan occurred during the Yayoi period (300 BCE – 300 CE). This era saw the arrival of migrants from the Korean Peninsula who brought with them advanced agricultural techniques and metalworking skills. These migrants settled in various parts of Japan, and their influence can still be seen in the country’s agricultural practices and pottery styles.

Another significant period of colonization in Japan was during the Asuka period (538 – 710 CE). This era marked the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, which had a profound impact on the country’s religious and cultural landscape. Buddhist temples and artwork were constructed, and religious practices from China and Korea were adopted.

During the Heian period (794 – 1185 CE), Japan experienced colonization through cultural and political influence from China. The ruling elite in Japan adopted Chinese writing systems and Confucianism, and Chinese-style architecture and clothing became popular among the aristocracy.

The influence of colonization continued during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333 CE), when Japan came under the control of the Mongol Empire. Although the Mongols’ attempts to invade Japan were ultimately unsuccessful, their presence had a lasting impact on Japanese military tactics and defense strategies.

Colonization in Japan reached a peak during the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), when the country underwent rapid modernization and Westernization. Western ideas, technology, and institutions were adopted, and Japan transformed into a global power. This era marked a significant shift in Japan’s relationship with the West, as it transitioned from being a colonized nation to a colonizer itself.

Overall, the ancient eras of colonization in Japan shaped the country’s history, culture, and identity. The influences from various colonizers, such as migrants from the Korean Peninsula, Buddhist teachings from China, and Western ideas during the Meiji period, have contributed to the unique blend of traditions and modernity that defines Japan today.

The Influence of Chinese Colonizers in Japan

China has had a significant impact on the development of Japanese culture and society throughout history. The influence of Chinese colonizers can be seen in various aspects of Japanese life, including language, religion, philosophy, and art.


Chinese colonizers introduced the Chinese writing system to Japan, which eventually evolved into the modern Japanese writing system. Many Japanese words and characters have their roots in Chinese, and the two languages share similar grammatical structures.


Buddhism, which originated in India, was introduced to Japan via China. Chinese colonizers played a crucial role in spreading Buddhism throughout the country, and it became a major religion in Japan. Today, various Buddhist sects and temples can be found all over Japan.


Chinese philosophy, particularly Confucianism and Taoism, had a profound influence on Japanese thought. These belief systems shaped the way the Japanese understood concepts such as morality, ethics, and social order.


Chinese art forms, such as calligraphy, painting, and sculpture, greatly influenced Japanese artistic traditions. Japanese artists adapted and incorporated Chinese techniques and styles into their own artistic expressions.

The influence of Chinese colonizers in Japan extended beyond these areas, impacting various other aspects of Japanese society, including governance, architecture, cuisine, and technology. This cultural exchange between China and Japan has created a rich and unique blend of traditions that continue to shape Japanese culture to this day.

The Impact of Mongolian Invasions on Japan

The Mongolian invasions had a significant impact on Japan during the 13th century. Led by Kublai Khan, the Mongols attempted to conquer Japan in both 1274 and 1281. While the invasions were ultimately unsuccessful, they had a lasting impact on Japan’s politics, culture, and military strategies.

One of the most significant impacts of the Mongolian invasions was the introduction of new military technologies and tactics. The Mongols brought with them advanced cavalry forces, superior archery skills, and siege warfare techniques, which greatly influenced the development of the Japanese samurai warrior class. The Japanese learned from their Mongol adversaries and adapted their own military strategies accordingly.

The invasions also had a profound effect on Japan’s political landscape. The threat of the Mongols forced the Japanese to come together and unite under a central government, led by the shogun. This strengthened the authority of the shogunate and reduced the power of regional daimyo. In addition, the national defense system was reorganized, improving the country’s overall military capabilities.

The cultural impact of the Mongolian invasions cannot be overstated. The Mongols brought with them a variety of cultural influences, such as cuisine, clothing, and language. These influences enriched Japan’s cultural heritage and contributed to the development of new artistic forms, including Zen Buddhism, which had a profound and lasting influence on Japanese culture.

Overall, the Mongolian invasions played a crucial role in shaping Japan’s history. While the invasions brought about significant challenges and changes, they also provided Japan with valuable opportunities for growth and development. The lasting impact of the Mongolian invasions can still be seen in Japan today, making them a pivotal chapter in the country’s history.

The Arrival of European Explorers and Traders

During the Age of Exploration, European explorers and traders started to arrive in Japan in the 16th century. The first European to reach Japan was the Portuguese explorer Fernão Mendes Pinto, who arrived in 1543.

These European arrivals were initially seen as mere curiosity by the Japanese, as their ships and often strange appearance were vastly different from anything the Japanese had seen before. However, the arrival of the Portuguese opened up a trading relationship between Japan and Europe.

One of the most significant impacts of this interaction was the introduction of firearms, specifically muskets, to Japan. The Portuguese traders brought with them advanced European weaponry, which greatly influenced the military landscape in Japan. The introduction of firearms played a crucial role in shaping the tactics and strategies of the warring Japanese factions during the Sengoku period.

Furthermore, European traders, particularly the Portuguese, also introduced various goods and products to the Japanese, including tobacco, potatoes, and new textile patterns. These goods quickly gained popularity among the Japanese, thus further enriching their material culture.

The arrival of European explorers and traders marked the beginning of a new era for Japan, as it opened up the country to the outside world and introduced new ideas, technologies, and goods. However, this also laid the groundwork for future conflicts and interactions with European powers, ultimately leading to Japan’s colonization in the subsequent centuries.

The Role of Portuguese Missionaries in Japan

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Portuguese missionaries played a significant role in Japan’s history. They were part of the larger European colonization efforts in Asia and had a profound impact on the spread of Christianity in the country.

The arrival of Portuguese missionaries in Japan was primarily driven by religious motives. They sought to spread the teachings of Catholicism and convert the Japanese people to Christianity. The missionaries saw Japan as a fertile ground for conversion due to its political stability and relatively tolerant attitude towards foreign ideas at the time.

The Portuguese missionaries introduced the Japanese people to new religious concepts, rituals, and practices. They built churches and established religious communities, attracting a growing number of converts. The missionaries also actively engaged with the Japanese society, learning the language and adapting their religious practices to fit the local culture.

One of the notable achievements of Portuguese missionaries was the creation of the “Kirishitan” (Christian) communities in Japan. These communities were known for their fervent belief in Catholicism and played a vital role in the spread of Christianity across the country. The missionaries also translated religious texts into Japanese, making them more accessible to the local population.

However, the activities of Portuguese missionaries in Japan eventually led to tension with the ruling authorities. As the Portuguese influence grew, they became a perceived threat to the shogunate’s control and the stability of the Japanese social order. The shogunate issued decrees restricting the activities of missionaries and ultimately banned Christianity altogether in the early 17th century.

Despite their eventual expulsion, the influence of Portuguese missionaries in Japan cannot be underestimated. They left behind a lasting impact on the religious and cultural landscape of the country. The introduction of Christianity by the Portuguese missionaries laid the foundation for future interactions between Japan and European nations, shaping the course of Japanese history for centuries to come.

Dutch Trading Posts and the Arrival of Western Influence

The arrival of the Dutch traders in Japan during the 17th century marked a significant turning point in the country’s history.

Known as the “Nanban trade,” this period saw the establishment of Dutch trading posts in several cities, most notably Nagasaki. These trading posts not only facilitated the exchange of goods between Japan and the Western world, but also introduced new ideas, technologies, and cultural practices.

Through the Dutch traders, the Japanese were exposed to European art, science, and philosophy. This resulted in the adoption of Western techniques in various fields, including medicine, navigation, and shipbuilding.

Furthermore, the Dutch trading posts became important centers of cultural exchange, attracting Japanese scholars and artists who sought to learn more about the Western world. It was during this time that the Japanese began to create detailed maps of the world and incorporate Western artistic styles into their own works.

Although the Dutch trading posts were primarily driven by commercial interests, their presence in Japan ultimately paved the way for a broader Western influence in the country. The Dutch not only acted as intermediaries between Japan and the rest of the world, but also played a significant role in shaping Japan’s modernization efforts in the 19th century.

In conclusion, the establishment of Dutch trading posts in Japan brought about a significant influx of Western influence. This period of trade and cultural exchange laid the foundation for Japan’s later interactions with the West and played a crucial role in shaping the country’s modernization and development.


The Entire History of Ancient Japan

Photo of author

Meagan Drillinger

Meagan Drillinger, an avid travel writer with a passion ignited in 2009. Having explored over 30 countries, Mexico holds a special place in her heart due to its captivating cultural tapestry, delectable cuisine, diverse landscapes, and warm-hearted people. A proud alumnus of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, when she isn’t uncovering the wonders of New York City, Meagan is eagerly planning her next exhilarating escapade.

Leave a Comment