Timeline of Modern Japan (1868-1945)

Timeline of Modern Japan (1868-1945)



January 3
Restoration of Imperial rule is declared. In opposition, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu attacks Kyoto, commencing the Boshin War. Yoshinobu surrenders unconditionally in Edo in May, but fighting between pro-Tokugawa and pro-imperial forces continues in eastern Japan until May 1869.

March 14
Charter Oath, or Five-Article Oath, is promulgated. This brief document articulates in vague and idealistic terms the aims of the new government with regard to public discussion, social equality, and the pursuit of knowledge.

March 28
Separation of Shinto and Buddhism is decreed, sparking popular attacks on Buddhist temples.

July 17
City of Edo is officially renamed “Tokyo” (eastern capital).

September 8
“Meiji” (enlightened rule) is officially designated as the imperial reign name.


Mixed bathing is outlawed in public baths in Tokyo. The ordinance is reissued often due to non-compliance.

May 9
Ice Cream introduced to Japan

June 17
The emperor announces that the domains shall be placed under the control of the central government. Daimyo are subsequently appointed local governors, a practice that ends in 1871 when the domains are abolished altogether.

August 15
Ezochi is renamed Hokkaido. Through the Hokkaido Colonization Office, the government begins to send settlers, including former samurai, to open farmland in the territory.

December 25
Telegraph line between Tokyo and Yokohama is opened.


Commoners are permitted to assume surnames, a privilege that had been reserved for samurai and only select commoners in the Edo period.

First daily newspaper, the Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun (Yokohama Daily) begins publication.


Postal service begins between Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

July 14
Domains are replaced with prefectures. The central government is to appoint governors and collect taxes.

Council of State issues the Emancipation Edict, abolishing the titles of eta and hinin, terms for outcaste groups, and calling for equal treatment. In separate decrees, samurai are allowed to cut off their topknots and lay down their swords, and marriage among samurai, aristocrats, and commoners is permitted.

November 12
Iwakura Mission departs on an 18-month tour of the United States and Europe to make diplomatic visits and study foreign social and political systems. The party includes fifty-eight students, five of them girls, who are to remain abroad for several years following the mission.

Japanese translation of Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help is published. The connections Smiles draws between individual success and national prosperity resonate with the ideals of many Meiji youths, and the book reportedly goes on to sell more than a million copies.


January 29
Family Registration, a national system established the previous year for recording household composition, reveals a total population of 33,110,825. (As of 2005, the population of Japan was 127.8 million.)

August 3
Education Ordinance aimed at the establishment of universal compulsory education is enacted.

September 13
Railway service begins between Tokyo and Yokohama.

October 4
Tomioka model filature begins production. The government spent great sums building and equipping this facility in the hopes of raising much-needed foreign capital, and although the quality of the silk receives international recognition the business is plagued by mismanagement and financial difficulty—a fate typical of the government’s model factories.

November 8
Ordinances aimed at the civilizing of the populace are enacted in Tokyo. Pornography and public nudity are among the targets. In 1876, 10,960 people are punished under the regulations.

November 9
Gregorian (solar) calendar is adopted, replacing the former lunar calendar.


January 10
Following several years of samurai resistance to the idea of a mass conscript army, the Conscription Ordinance is promulgated. In theory, conscription is universal, but the system includes a number of exemptions and loopholes. Protests ensue and lead to nearly 100,000 arrests. The ordinance is revised in 1889 to make conscription universal.

Emperor Meiji announces his opposition to proposals to invade Korea, which refused to formally recognize the Meiji government out of respect to its tributary relationship with China. Saigo Takamori and other supporters of invasion resign from the government, return to their home territories, and lead rebellions expressive of samurai discontent. The final rebellion, lead by Saigo, is squashed in 1877, although a group of his followers assassinate Home Minister Okubo Toshimichi the following May. These events mark the end of organized, violent samurai resistance to the Meiji government.


January 17
Memorial calling for the establishment of a National Assembly is submitted.

Meirokusha (Meiji Six—i.e. 1874— Society), a society devoted to the promotion of “Civilization and Enlightenment,” is founded. The journal it publishes becomes a leading vehicle for the introduction of Western ideas in Japan. Publication ceases the following year in the face of government criticism.

Expeditionary force of 3,000 soldiers is dispatched to Taiwan in response to the 1871 killing of shipwrecked sailors from the Ryukyu Islands, territory claimed by both Japan and China. The maneuver leads to few military gains other than a modest reparation payment from China, but it makes clear the intention of the Meiji government to assert Japan’s authority southward. Five years later, the Ryukyu Islands are formally incorporated into Japan proper as Okinawa Prefecture.


June 28
Anti-slander and Newspaper Ordinances are issued in the interest of circumscribing public criticism of the government and its policies.


March 28
Wearing of swords is prohibited except in Imperial ceremonies and by soldiers and the police.

April 1
Legal age for males is set at 20.


April 12
Tokyo University, Japan’s first national university, is established. Its origins can be traced to two schools founded by the bakufu government in the Edo period.

August 18
First National Industrial Exposition opens in Ueno Park. Over 102 days, some 450,000 spectators visit buildings devoted to such themes as machinery, horticulture, and farming. A steam locomotive and a spinning machine are especially popular among the nearly 100,000 items displayed by more than sixteen thousand exhibitors.


Cholera epidemic spreads across the country, killing over 100,000 people.


The words and music of “Kimigayo”, the song that will become the national anthem of Japan in 1888, are composed, and performed for the first time in honor of the Meiji Emperor’s birthday. The words are taken from a classical poem, and the music is composed by an Imperial court musician and harmonized by a German bandmaster. The compulsory singing of the anthem and hoisting of the national flag in schools proves to be a contentious issue in the post-World War II period.


March 20
Ueno Zoological Gardens, Japan’s first and most famous zoo, opens to the public.


November 28, 1883
Opening ceremony is held for the Rokumeikan, a storied social hall built by the Meiji government for the benefit of dignitaries and aristocrats. The dances held there come to symbolize the cultural Westernization of Japanese politics.


October 31–November 10
Over 10,000 farmers in Chichibu (Saitama Prefecture) attack local government offices and sack the homes of moneylenders in the largest of numerous peasant protests in the region. Reduced agricultural prices due to deflationary government policies had been pressing agricultural incomes for several years. In restoring order, government troops arrested more than 3,000 peasants, five of whom were hanged the following year.


927 workers depart for Hawaii, the first of many such migrations.

December 22
Cabinet system is adopted and Ito Hirobumi is named the first Prime Minister.


June 12
Nearly 100 factory girls march out of the Amamiya Silk Reeling Company filature in Kofu (Yamanashi Prefecture), initiating Japan’s first organized industrial strike. Grievances concerned management’s plan to reduce wages, lengthen the workday (to over 15 hours), apply heavy fines for failing to comply with the new schedule, and institute restrictions against moving to another mill. The employees return to work on June 16 after management settles most of their grievances.


First installment of Futabatei Shimei’s serialized novel “The Drifting Cloud” (Ukigumo), widely considered the first important Japanese realist novel, is published. The writing of the novel approximates spoken Japanese, contributing to a movement to unify the written and spoken styles of the language. The story concerns the personal trials of a youth who has lost his job as a government employee.

October 5, 1887
Ernest Fenollosa and Okakura Tenshin found the Tokyo School of Art. Fenollosa, who came to Japan in 1878 to teach philosophy, and Okakura, one of his students, are at the forefront of a movement to elevate so-called Japanese aesthetics in the face of the Westernization of the arts. In keeping with their mission, their school offers no course in Western-style art. Opponents found their own societies and schools, furthering the divide in the Japanese art world between the use of “Japanese” and “Western” techniques.

December 26
Peace Preservation Law, which restricts public assemblies and other political activity, is issued. The law authorizes the Tokyo Chief of Police to expel from the city any person deemed “detrimental to public tranquility.”


February 11, 1889
Constitution of the Empire of Japan is promulgated. On the same day, the House of Representatives Election Law limiting voting to men over 25 who pay at least ¥15 in national taxes (approximately 1% of the population) is issued.


Ban on men and women performing together on stage, a holdover from the Edo Period, is lifted.

October 30, 1890
Imperial Rescript on Education is promulgated. This document is distributed to all schools and conjoins the concepts of filiality, civic responsibility, and imperial loyalty in articulating a moral foundation for education. It will be displayed together with a portrait of the emperor and read on ceremonial occasions until its repudiation in 1948.

December 16
Telephone service begins in and between Tokyo and Yokohama.


March 29
Tonghak Rebellion, the ostensible cause of the Sino-Japanese War, breaks out in Korea.

Cholera outbreak results in 56,000 ill and 39,000 dead. 

August 2
Opening of the Sino-Japanese War



Meiji Civil Code goes into effect. Articles include guarantees of exclusive rights and privileges for fathers and husbands with regard to marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

February 7
First automobile runs in Japan


April 30
“Japanese Underclass Society” (Nihon no kaso shakai), Yokoyama Gennosuke’s study of urban labor conditions, is published.


March 10
Public Order and Police Law is enacted.


February 8
Russo-Japanese War commences.

June 1
The first boxed lunch sold at a train station to be eaten at on a train, or ekiben (eki is Japanese for station and bento is Japanese for boxed lunch) is sold at Kyoto station. This invention will become an enduring part of Japanese train and food culture into the 21st century.


September 5
Treaty of Portsmouth signed, ending the Russo-Japanese War

Protest march against the treaty erupts in Hibiya Park, marking what many consider the take off point of a period of increasing political protest and political participation by the broader society


August 1
Office of the Resident General in Korea is established.


June 18
791 Japanese board a ship bound for Brazil, marking the first group of Japanese immigrants to Brazil.


September 1
“Bluestockings” (Seito), the first magazine in Japan devoted exclusively to literature written by women, begins publication.



July 30
Emperor Meiji dies, setting off a period of national mourning and officially launching the Taishō Era

August 1, 1912
Friendly Society (Yuaikai), a self-help group of artisans and factory workers, is founded.

February 11, 1913
Cabinet headed by Katsura Taro resigns in face of Movement to Protect Constitutional Government.

March 20, 1914
Taisho Exposition opens in Tokyo.

October 1, 1914
Mitsukoshi Clothier opens remodeled department store, replete with the first working escalators and elevators in Japan.

January 18, 1915
Japanese government addresses Twenty-One Demands to China.

November 1915
Akutagawa Ryonosuke’s short story “In a Grove” (Rashomon) is published.

October 23, 1917
Tokyo Opera begins regular performances in Asakusa (Tokyo).


August 13
Rice riot erupts in Hibiya Park (Tokyo)

September 29
Hara Kei (Takashi) named prime minister, marking the first time a member of the lower house lead a cabinet – often referred to as the first “commoner” prime minister

March 1, 1919
Declaration of Independence is issued by Korean nationalist organizers.

March 28, 1920
New Women’s Society (Shin Fujinkyokai), the first civic feminist organization in Japan, is founded. Leading members include Hiratsuka Raichō and Ichikawa Fusae.

March 3, 1922
Levelers Association (Suiheisha), a national organization devoted to fighting discrimination against “outcastes” (burakumin), is founded.

July 15, 1922
Japanese Communist Party is founded.

July 2, 1923
Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is completed.

September 1, 1923
Great Kanto Earthquake strikes Tokyo and the surrounding region.

January 1, 1925
King (Kingu), a popular magazine based on the Saturday Evening Post, begins publication.

March 1, 1925
Radio broadcasting begins.

March 19, 1925
Peace Preservation Law is enacted.

March 29, 1925
Universal Manhood Suffrage Law is enacted.


August 6, 1926
First public apartment housing project is completed in Tokyo.

December 30, 1927
Subway between Ueno and Asakusa (Tokyo) opens.

March 15, 1928
Large number of suspected communists are rounded up in March 15th Incident.

May 31, 1929
Film “Tokyo March” (Tokyo shinkokyoku) opens.

September 18, 1931
Train track of Manchurian Railway explodes in the Manchurian Incident, the ostensible grounds for the conquest of Manchuria by the Japanese Army.


March 1
The nation of Manchukuo is declared independent by Japan

March 18
Osaka National Defense Women’s Association is founded.

May 15, 1932
Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi is assassinated during an attempted coup by young naval officers in May 15th Incident.

February 20, 1933
Proletariat author Kobayashi Takiji is tortured to death by the Special Higher Police.

December 26, 1934
First professional baseball team is founded.


July 7
Japanese troops clash with Chinese troops in Marco Polo Bridge Incident, commencing the China War (1937-1945).

December 13
Japanese troops enter the city of Nanjing. Over the next six weeks, in what comes to be know as the Nanjing Massacre, they proceed to kill and rape large number of civilians and prisoners, as well as pillaging the city.


August 1
Declaration of intention to create a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” which becomes a euphemism for Japanese imperialism in East Asia

September 27
Tripartite Pact signed by Japan, Germany, and Italy

Imperial Rule Assistance Association forms, signaling the end to multiple political parties in Japan


Japan completes Occupation of entirety French Indochina (Occupation of portions had begun in 1940)

July 25
United States Government freezes all Japanese assets in the United States

December 7 (December 8 in Japan)
Japanese forces attack the Malay Peninsula and Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), and Japanese diplomatic staff in America submit ultimatum to American Secretary of State, commencing the Pacific War (1941-1945).


March 9-10
Firebombing of Tokyo, over 100,000 killed

August 6
Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima

August 8
Soviet Union enters the war against Japan Society

August 9
Atomic Bomb dropped on Nagasaki

August 15
Emperor announces surrender plans in famous radio address, effectively ending World War II

August 28, 1945
Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) arrives in Japan to oversee Occupation of Japan (1945-1952).

May 3, 1946
International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Trial) commences.

May 1, 1948
Singer Misora Hibari makes her debut.

June 13, 1948
Author Dazai Osamu commits suicide with his lover.

September 8, 1951
San Francisco Peace Treaty and the first of the United States-Japan security treaties are signed.

February 1, 1953
Television broadcasting begins.

February 19, 1954
First international professional wrestling competition in Japan opens, featuring the former Sumo wrestler Rikidozan.

June 9, 1954
Defense Agency and Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are established.

November 3, 1954
Movie “Godzilla” (Gojira) is released.

July 1955
Ishihara Kentaro’s “Season of the Sun” (Taiyo no kisetsu) is published.

August 6, 1955
First World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs opens in Hiroshima.