A chronology of key events:
1853 - US fleet forces Japan to open up to foreign influence after over 200 years of self-imposed isolation.
1868 - End of centuries of rule by Shogun military caste, Empire of Japan proclaimed, and country enters period of rapid industrialisation and trading dominance over East Asia.
1894-95 - Japan goes to war with China, and its better-equipped forces win victory in just nine months. China cedes Taiwan and permits Japan to trade on mainland.
1904 - Japan becomes first Asian country in modern times to defeat an European power when it routs Russia in Manchuria.
1910 - Japan annexes Korea after three years of fighting, becoming one of the world's leading powers.
1914 - Japan joins World War I on the side of Britain and her allies, gaining some Pacific islands from Germany at the end of the war.
1918-1922 - Japan tries to establish buffer zone against Bolshevik regime in Russia's Pacific provinces, forced out by British and US diplomatic pressure and domestic opposition.
1923 - Earthquake in Tokyo region kills more than 100,000 people.
British Empire ends 21-year alliance with Japan, signalling Western and US apprehension of Japan's growing power in East Asia.
1925 - Universal male suffrage is instituted. The electorate increases fivefold.
Ultra-nationalism and war
Late 1920s - Extreme nationalism begins to take hold in Japan as world economic depression hits. The emphasis is on a preservation of traditional Japanese values, and a rejection of "Western" influence.
1931 - Japanese army invades Chinese province of Manchuria, installs puppet regime.
1932 - Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi killed during failed coup by nationalist army officers. Military holds increasing influence in the country.
1936 - Japan signs alliance with Nazi Germany.
1937 - Japan goes to war with China, capturing Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing amid atrocities like the "Rape of Nanjing", in which up to 300,000 Chinese civilians were killed.
1939 - Outbreak of Second World War in Europe. With fall of France in 1940, Japan moves to occupy French Indo-China.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
1941 - Japan launches a surprise attack on US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. US and main allies declare war on Japan.
1942 - Japan occupies succession of countries, including 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
1945 - US planes drop two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. Emperor Hirohito surrenders and relinquishes divine status. Japan placed under US military government. All Japanese military and naval forces disbanded.
1947 - New constitution comes into force, establishes parliamentary system with all adults eligible to vote. Japan renounces war and pledges not to maintain land, sea or air forces for that purpose. Emperor granted ceremonial status.
1951 - Japan signs peace treaty with 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 independence. US retains several islands for military use, including Okinawa.
1955 - Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) formed. Apart from brief interludes, party governs into 21st century.
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 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.
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.
2001 March - A Japanese court overturns compensation order for Korean women forced to work as sex slaves during WW II.
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.
2001 October - Koizumi visits Seoul and offers an apology for the suffering South Korea endured under his country's colonial rule.
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. Five Japanese nationals return home.
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.
2005 September - PM Koizumi wins a landslide victory in early general elections.
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 first Chinese prime minister to address the Japanese parliament. Mr Wen says both sides have succeeded in warming relations.
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.
2008 June - 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.
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.
2010 June - Prime Minister Hatoyama quits over failure to close US military base on Okinawa. Finance Minister Naoto Kan takes over.
2010 July - Ruling coalition loses majority in elections to the upper house of parliament.
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 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 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 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.
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 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 - which runs the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant - be indicted on criminal charges for their role in the 2011 disaster.
2014 December - The LDP-led government retains its large parliamentary majority in snap elections called by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to seek a fresh mandate for his economic policies, after Japan's economy slips back into recession mid-year.
2015 February - Economy re-emerges from recession in last quarter of 2014, although growth remains sluggish.
2015 July - Lower house of parliament backs bills allowing troops to fight overseas for first time since Second World War, prompting protests at home and criticism from China.
2015 August - Japan restarts first nuclear reactor at Sendai plant, under new safety rules following 2011 Fukushima disaster.
2016 April - At least 44 people die and more than 1,000 are injured as a result of two major earthquakes on the southern island of Kyushu.
These and major aftershocks also leave at least 100,000 people displaced.
2016 August - Emperor Akihito indicates his readiness to abdicate in a rare video message to the public.
2017 June - Parliament passes a landmark bill allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate.
2017 October - Prime Minister Abe's party and coalition partner win snap elections.
2017 November - Japan is to expand its military base in Djibouti, a move observers say may counterbalance China's growing international influence.
2019 April - Emperor Akihito abdicates in favour of his son, Crown Prince Naruhito.
2020 September - Shinzo Abe steps down as prime minister on health grounds, is succeeded by chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga.