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Japan History Overview

local geishas

Japan has a history full of turmoil and intrigue, and has formed the backdrop for thousands of films and novels over the years. From its violent feudal times to the Edo period, the country has always been ahead of its time and remains endlessly fascinating. Want to learn more about Japan’s fascinating past (in a nutshell)? Have a peek at our Japan history overview…

buddha statue


The Samurai started off as noble warriors-for-hire, but soon began to form powerful clans during the Heian period, and eventually created their own military government called the Shogunate. Samurai were hugely powerful, elaborately armoured, and equipped with some of the finest swords in the world. The intense connection between a warrior and his sword has become the stuff of legend.

Feudal Japan

This 700 year period between 12th till 17th century was an uneasy time in Japan’s history. With the country fragmented into warring states, Shogun’s fighting the weakened Emperor, it was a constant struggle for power. Japan became a lot like Medieval Europe, with powerful families owning areas, and the land was worked on by peasants (in Feudal systems). In the 17th century the Shogun took control of Japan, closings its borders to the outside world and reintroducing traditional Japanese values, traditions & religion (this period was known as Sakoku).

stone monuments
Tokyo painting

The Edo Period

This period in Japan’s history was a turning point in culture, and Edo was the epicentre. The new city grew at a rapid rate, and although this time was considered to be a conservative time ruled by austerity, the underground “Floating world” created a new breed of creatives, artists, poets, and kabuki theatre. Edo grew so much, that eventually the name changed in the 19th century to Tokyo (Eastern Capital), and Japan began to open its borders to the outside world once again.

Castles, Temples & Gardens

Japan is famous for its castles and temples, and puts a huge amount of effort into their preservation. No place is better known for this than Kyoto – with some of the best-preserved gardens, shrines, temples and castles, it’s a real glimpse into the past. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto alone, you’ll be in awe of it from start to finish!

Japan garden
Memorial building

Hiroshima & Nagasaki

Possibly one of the most tragic events in Japan’s history, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs is a truly heartbreaking moment in mankind’s history. During the Second World War, Japan declared war on the USA (by bombing Pearl Harbour in Hawai). This brought America into the war on side of the Allies and unfortunately led to the death of over 90,000 people, most of which were civilians.

Hiroshima is now a vibrant city, and worth a visit to see the monuments to the fallen and “shadows” of people who died during the blast. A haunting, but eye opening experience.


The mysterious Ninja (or Shinobi) were not really written about until the 15th century when dedicated mercenaries were trained to carry out covert acts of war. These stealthy soldiers were experts at espionage, sabotage and silent assassinations – practices which infuriated the honourable Samurai. Tales of invisibility, super-human leaping and walking on water are common but untrue…..probably.

woman in city
Bite-sized trip

Let’s Go Tokyo!

  • Tokyo
  • 3 days / 2 nights (flexible)
  • from £ 549.- per person (excluding flights)
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couple by temple
Bite-sized trip

Uncover the Heart of Kyoto

  • Kyoto
  • 3 days / 2 nights (flexible)
  • from £ 331.- per person (excluding flights)
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city by river
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Hiroshima: Peace & Paper Cranes

  • Hiroshima
  • 3 days / 2 nights (flexible)
  • from £ 285.- per person (excluding flights)
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Bite-sized trip

Turrets & Temples of Kanazawa

  • Kanazawa
  • 3 days / 2 nights (flexible)
  • from £ 231.- per person (excluding flights)
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