A chronology of key events:
1894 - Japan goes to war with China. Japan's better equipped forces win victory in just nine months.
1895 - China cedes Taiwan to Japan and permits Japan to trade in China.
Quake-prone Tokyo lies at the intersection of continental plates
- Comprises the 'shi' (inner city) and 'to' (metropolis)
- Population: 12.4 million (2003 estimate)
1904 - Japan goes to war with Russia. Japanese victory in 1905.
1910 - Japan annexes Korea after three years of fighting. Japan is now one of the world's great powers.
1914 - Japan joins World War I on the side of Britain and her allies. Japan has limited participation.
1919 - Treaty of Versailles gives Japan some territorial gains in the Pacific.
1923 - Earthquake in Tokyo region kills more than 100,000 people.
1925 - Universal male suffrage is instituted. The electorate increases fivefold.
Ultra-nationalism and war
Late 1920s - Extreme nationalism begins to take hold in Japan. The emphasis is on a preservation of traditional Japanese values, and a rejection of "Western" influence.
World's oldest monarchy
Emperor Akihito, heads the world's oldest hereditary monarchy
- Until 1945 emperors had the status of living gods
- Currently, only males can succeed to the throne
- Princess Kiko gave birth to a baby boy in September 2006, potentially resolving a succession crisis
1931 - Japan invades Manchuria, renames it and installs a puppet regime.
1932 - Japanese prime minister is assassinated by ultra-nationalist terrorists. The military holds increasing influence in the country.
1936 - Japan signs an anti-communist agreement with Nazi Germany. It concludes a similar agreement with Italy in 1937.
1937 - Japan goes to war with China. By the end of the year, Japan has captured Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing. Japanese forces commit atrocities, including the "Rape of Nanjing", in which up to 300,000 Chinese civilians are said to have been killed.
1939 - Outbreak of World War II in Europe. With the fall of France to Nazi Germany in 1940, Japan moves to occupy French Indo-China.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
1941 - Japan launches a surprise attack on the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Twelve ships are sunk, with a further 9 damaged; nearly 2,500 people are killed. The US and its main allies declare war on Japan the following day.
1942 - Japan occupies a succession of countries, including the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Burma and Malaya. In June, US aircraft carriers defeat the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. The US begins a strategy of "'island-hopping", cutting the Japanese support lines as its forces advance.
1944 - US forces are near enough to Japan to start bombing raids on Japanese cities.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Devastation at Hiroshima: Atomic attacks are said to have forced Japan's WWII surrender
1945 - US planes drop two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima (6 August), the second on Nagasaki (9 August). Emperor Hirohito surrenders and relinquishes his divine status. Japan is placed under US military government. All Japanese military and naval forces are disbanded.
1947 - A new constitution comes into force. It establishes a parliamentary system, with all adults eligible to vote. Japan renounces war and pledges not to maintain land, sea or air forces for that purpose. The emperor is granted ceremonial status.
1951 - Japan signs peace treaty with the US and other nations. To this day, there is no peace treaty with Russia, as the legal successor to the Soviet Union.
1952 - Japan regains its independence. The US retains several islands for military use, including Okinawa.
1955 - Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) formed. Apart from a brief interlude in the early 1990s, the party governs almost uninterruptedly for the rest of the century and beyond.
1956 - Japan joins United Nations.
1964 - Olympic Games held in Tokyo.
1972 - Japanese prime minister visits China and normal diplomatic relations are resumed. Japan subsequently closes its embassy in Taiwan.
Okinawa is returned to Japanese sovereignty, but US retains bases there.
1982 - Japanese car firm Honda opens its first plant in the US.
1989 - Emperor Hirohito dies, succeeded by Akihito.
Aum Shinrikyo cult
- 1995 attack on the Tokyo underground claimed 12 lives, injured more than 5,500
- Aum Shinrikyo was founded by Shoko Asahara in 1987 and drew thousands of followers
- Asahara was sentenced to death in 2004 over the Tokyo attack
1993 July - Elections held against a background of bribery scandals and economic decline see the LDP ousted for the first time since 1955. A seven-party coalition takes power.
1993 August - Government issues historic "Kono statement" apologising for Japanese military's war-time use of sex slaves.
1994 - The anti-LDP coalition collapses. An administration supported by the LDP and the Socialists takes over.
Natural and man-made disasters
1995 January - An earthquake hits central Japan, killing thousands and causing widespread damage. The city of Kobe is hardest hit.
1995 March - A religious sect, Aum Shinrikyo, releases the deadly nerve gas sarin on the Tokyo underground railway system. Twelve people are killed and thousands are injured.
Rape of a local schoolgirl by US servicemen based on Okinawa sparks mass protests demanding the removal of US forces from the island.
1997 - The economy enters a severe recession.
1998 - Keizo Obuchi of the LDP becomes prime minister.
2000 - Obuchi suffers a stroke and is replaced by Yoshiro Mori. Obuchi dies six weeks later.
2001 March - Mori announces his intention to resign as LDP leader and prime minister.
2001 March - A Japanese court overturns a compensation order for Korean women forced to work as sex slaves during WW II. The ruling causes outrage in South Korea, but is in line with Tokyo's argument that it need not pay compensation to the women as all claims were settled by peace treaties that formally ended the war.
Koizumi at helm
2001 April - Junichiro Koizumi becomes new LDP leader and prime minister.
2001 April - Trade dispute with China after Japan imposes import tariffs on Chinese agricultural products. China retaliates with import taxes on Japanese vehicles and other manufactured goods.
2001 August- Koizumi pays homage at the Yasukuni shrine dedicated to the country's war dead, provoking protests from Japan's neighbours. The memorial also honours war criminals.
- Remembers Japan's 2.5m war dead
- Monument also venerates convicted war criminals
- Ceremonies at the shrine raise hackles across Asia
2001 October - Koizumi visits Seoul and offers an apology for the suffering South Korea endured under his country's colonial rule.
2001 December - Birth of Japan's new princess - first child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako - reignites debate over male-only succession law.
2002 September - Koizumi becomes the first Japanese leader to visit North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il apologises for abductions of Japanese citizens in 1970s and 1980s and confirms that eight of them are dead.
2002 October - Five Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea return home to emotional family reunions.
2003 December - Government announces decision to install "purely defensive" US-made missile shield.
2004 February - Non-combat soldiers arrive in Iraq in first Japanese deployment in combat zone since World War II.
2004 September - Japan, along with Brazil, Germany and India, launches an application for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
2004 October - More than 30 people are killed in powerful earthquakes in the north, the deadliest quakes in almost a decade.
2004 December - Dispute with North Korea over the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea during the Cold War. Pyongyang says any imposition of sanctions by Tokyo will be treated as declaration of war.
2005 April - Relations with Beijing deteriorate amid sometimes-violent anti-Japanese protests in Chinese cities, sparked by a Japanese textbook which China says glosses over Japan's World War II record.
2005 September - PM Koizumi wins a landslide victory in early general elections called after the upper house rejects plans to privatise the postal service - the key part of his reform agenda. Parliament approves the legislation in October.
2006 July - The last contingent of Japanese troops leaves Iraq.
Abe takes over
2006 September - Shinzo Abe succeeds Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister.
2006 December - Parliament approves the creation of a fully-fledged defence ministry, the first since World War II.
2007 April - Wen Jiabao becomes the first Chinese prime minister to address the Japanese parliament. Mr Wen says both sides have succeeded in warming relations.
2007 July - The ruling LDP suffers a crushing defeat in upper house elections.
2007 August - On the 62nd anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, almost the entire cabinet stays away from the Yasukuni shrine. Prime Minister Abe says he has no plans to visit the shrine for as long as the issue continues to be a diplomatic problem.
Abe steps down
2007 September - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigns, is replaced by Yasuo Fukuda.
2007 November - A Japanese whaling fleet sets sail on a six-month mission Tokyo describes as scientific research. Australia and other nations call the programme a front for commercial whaling.
- Shinto rites are central to the daily life of followers
- Rigidly enforced state religion until the 1950s
- Followers venerate "kami", spirits who number in the millions
- Shinto has no founder, major scriptures or ethical laws
- Tens of thousands of Shinto shrines dot the country
2008 June - The opposition-controlled upper house passes a censure motion against Mr Fukuda for his handling of domestic issues, but the lower house backs a confidence motion in him.
Japan and China reach a deal for the joint development of a gas field in the East China Sea, resolving a four-year-old dispute.
2008 September - Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda resigns. Former foreign minister Taro Aso appointed as new premier.
2008 November - General Toshio Tamogami, head of Japan's air force, loses his job after writing an essay seeking to justify Japan's role in the second world war.
2009 February - Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano says Japan is facing worst economic crisis since World War II, after figures show its economy shrank by 3.3% in last quarter.
Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa resigns amid claims that he was drunk at a G7 meeting.
2009 July - Prime Minister Taro Aso calls an election for 30 August following his party's emphatic defeat in local elections held in Tokyo.
The outlook for Japan's economy remains uncertain as consumer confidence increases but fears remain over output and deflation.
2009 August - Opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) wins general election by a landslide, ending more than 50 years of nearly unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.
2009 September - DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama elected PM at head of coalition with Social Democratic Party and People's New Party.
Futenma: Controversial base
The US base on Okinawa has been a source of friction between the allies
2010 January - Prime Minister Hatoyama says Japan may rethink US military bases after a city on Okinawa elects a mayor opposed to hosting a major air base.
2010 March - Japan's economy grew by less than first estimated in the final quarter of 2009. On an annualised basis, economic growth was 3.8%, down from the initial estimate of 4.6%.
2010 May - PM Yukio Hatoyama apologises for not keeping an election promise to move the United States' Futenma military base - unpopular with many locals - from Okinawa.
2010 June - Prime Minister Hatoyama quits. Finance Minister Naoto Kan takes over after a vote in the party's parliamentary caucus.
2010 July - Ruling coalition loses majority in elections to the upper house of parliament.
2010 September - Diplomatic row erupts with China over Japan's arrest of Chinese trawler crew in disputed waters in East China Sea. Japan later frees the crew but rejects Chinese demands for an apology.
2010 October - Japan's central bank cuts interest rate to almost zero in effort to stimulate faltering economy.
2010 November - Tensions surface with Russia after PM Kan criticises visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to the disputed Kuril Islands.
2011 February - Japan is overtaken by China as world's second-largest economy.
2011 March - Huge offshore earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastate miles of shoreline. Damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant causes a radiation leak that leaves extensive areas uninhabitable and contaminates food supplies.
2011 August - Following severe criticism of his handling of the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Prime Minister Naoto Kan steps down. He is succeeded by Yoshihiko Noda.
2011 December - The government announces a relaxation of Japan's self-imposed ban on arms exports. It says the move will allow the country to supply military equipment for humanitarian missions.
2012 May - Exports rise 10% on the year, the largest increase in 17 months, on the back of sales to the US and China. This eases concerns about the impact of a global slowdown on the economy.
2012 June - The lower house of parliament approves a bill to double sales tax, in order to make up the income tax shortfall caused by an ageing population. The governing Democratic Party splits, but retains its lower house majority.
2012 July - Japan restarts the Ohi nuclear reactor, the first since the meltdown at the Fukushima power plant last year, amid local protests.
2012 August - Japan's economic growth slows to 0.3% from 1% in the second quarter as eurozone crisis hits exports and domestic consumption.
Japan recalls its ambassador to Seoul in protest at a visit to the Liancourt Rocks by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Both countries claim the islets, which Japan calls Takeshima and South Korea calls Dokdo.
2012 September - China cancels ceremonies to mark the 40th anniversary of restored diplomatic relations with Japan because of a public flare-up in a dispute over ownership of a group of islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan as the Senkaku Islands and claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands. Taiwan also claims the islands.
2012 October - A government audit reports that funds intended for reconstruction after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami were spent on unrelated projects, including roads on Okinawa, an advertising campaign for Japan's tallest building, and support for whaling research.
2012 December - Opposition conservative Liberal Democratic Party wins landslide in early parliamentary elections. Former prime minister Shinzo Abe forms government on pledge of stimulating economic growth.
2013 February - Tension rises over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands after a Chinese frigate puts a radar lock on a Japanese naval ship in the area.
2013 May - Exports rise 10.1% - the fastest annual rate since 2010 - thanks to weaker yen, boosting Prime Minister Abe's economic recovery plan.
2013 July - Prime Minister Abe's coalition wins upper house elections, giving him control of both houses of parliament - a first for a prime minister in six years.
2013 September - Tokyo is chosen to host the 2020 Olympics.
2013 November - Japan warns that a newly claimed Chinese "air defence identification zone" over disputed islands in the East China Sea is dangerous and could lead to "unpredictable events."
New security strategy
2013 December - Japan approves the relocation of a US military airbase on its southern island of Okinawa. The base, which houses over 25,000 US troops, will be relocated to a less densely populated part of the island.
Japan's cabinet approves a new national security strategy and increased defence spending in a move widely seen as aimed at China.
2014 February - Government announces review of evidence used as basis for landmark 1993 apology for war-time use of sex slaves.
The move sparks anger in neighbouring countries and prompts fresh accusations that Japan is seeking to rewrite history.
2014 March - Prime Minister Abe insists the government has no plans to withdraw the 1993 sex slaves apology.
2014 June - Parliament votes outlaw the possession of child pornography, bringing the country into line with other developed countries.
2014 July - Japan's government approves a landmark change in security policy, paving the way for its military to fight overseas.
A judicial panel recommends that three former executives of the TEPCO utility - that runs the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant - be indicted on criminal charges for their role in the 2011 disaster.
2014 November - Japan's economy slips back into recession amid poor economic results. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calls a parliamentary election for mid-December, two years ahead of schedule, to seek a fresh mandate for his economic policies.