This nation with an ancient history has played a far more pivotal role in world events than its small size would seem to warrant. Through a succession of kings, the country saw its culture develop and thrive from the 3rd century on. By 1603, the region was controlled by Tokugawa Ieyasu who established his government in Edo (later Tokyo). At this time the structure of Japanese feudalism was established, including uncompromising class divisions and Christianity was suppressed (the Jesuits had sent Francis Xavier to Japan during the late 16th century). Tokugawa and those who succeeded him were successful in isolating the country from nearly the entire outside world. With the exception of a minor Dutch trading site, Japan had no contact other peoples and cultures for 250 years to come. But in 1854, Commodore Perry came to Japan and forced the reluctant country to open diplomatic relations with the US and engage in commercial exchanges. In 1889, a constitutional monarchy was established with a parliamentary government. Now, Japan seemed bent on following an imperial drummer, entering into wars with China in 1894 and Russia in 1904. Korea became a Japanese colony in 1910. Japan took the Allied side in World War I but during the 1920s a more sinister sort of right-wing nationalism came to the fore. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria, creating a puppet government there. In 1940, Japan allied itself with fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and proceeded to enter into war with the United States following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December, 1941. Though Japan was successful in acquiring much of the Pacific and southeastern Asia, the war in the Pacific turned around for the US in mid-1942 and Japanese expansion was largely halted from then on. Japan's surrender in 1945 paved the way for its postwar rebuilding as an economic giant. It was admitted to the UN in 1956.

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