Although Japan is much smaller than China, Japan is not a small country. In fact, it comprises approximately 142,707 square miles, which is almost 50% larger than the British Isles. Unfortunately, 80% of the country is too mountainous for agricultural production. In early Japan, the mountain ranges were so high that they would impede transportation and communication. As a result, many areas were isolated from each other and political power was fragmented. Eventually, these mountain barriers were overcome.
At its closest point Japan is only 120 miles from Korea. It was at this point, in the area called the Korean Strait, that people chose to enter Japan from the main continent. Historians tell us that during the Tomb period, the Japanese and the Koreans occupied this area jointly and they maintained a close relationship. At this time, Japan was too far away to be dominated by the mainland powers. During this early period, Japanese culture remained firmly grounded in native traditions. This was largely due to the fact that the Japanese language, the Korean language, and the Chinese language are not related.
Then in 552 A.D., things would change dramatically when the Koreans introduced Buddhism to the imperial Soga family and their leader Prince Shotoku. Prince Shotoku opened direct relations with the Chinese. It didn't take long before the Japanese adapted the Chinese calendar. This was quickly followed by the adoption of the Chinese governmental style, and taxation system. The Japanese government would now take tax payments in rice, textiles, and labor. At this time trade flourished as the Japanese desired anything Chinese.
Before long, the Chinese “equal field” agricultural system was also adopted, and the peasants were organized into village units. Each member of the unit was responsible for the others members behavior. This included paying their tax bills. After each generation, the land, as in China, would now be returned to the state for redistribution. As a result, the government began taking census in 670AD.
During the 8th century Japan dispatched seven huge expeditions to China in what became literary and cultural exchanges. These expeditions were large in nature, and sometimes involved more than 600 people. Also, Japanese Hojo regents strongly supported trade with the Chinese during the Kamakura period. Japanese merchants traded gold for Chinese silk and copper coins. Trade relations ended when the Mongols took control of China. However, during the Ming dynasty trade would once again resume. At this time the Japanese exported horses, swords, and laquerware to China.
Despite existing fairly close to one another, trade between Japan and Korea was never very extensive until the 15th century. Then, more than a hundred years later trade would again be brought to a halt when Japanese General Toyotomi Hideyoshi attempted to conquer both Korea and China. Hidesyoshi conducted several invasions into Korea in the 1590's. Then, in 1603 Tokugawa Ieyasu became the first Tokugawa shogun. Tokugawa, realized the importance of re-establishing trade with China, and he did so.