Japan's involvement with rockets started in 1954 with the "pencil rocket", which is... a pencil sized rocket.
The development of the rocket was supervised by Hideo Itokawa.(remember that name, it will pop out later on!)
(you might want to skip to 1:58)
It was launched horizontally most of the time, because it was made just for tests. Not very exciting.
Then came the "baby rocket" which was slightly long than a meter.
Oh, and that guy is Itokawa.
After that, the rockets got bigger and bigger, and with the L-4S rocket, Japan's first satellite, Osumi, was launched and put in orbit.
The weirdest thing about the L-4S rocket is that it doesn't have guidance, navigation and control (GNC) built in! It was because some people in Japan said that the technology like GNC could be put into missiles, which they couldn't accept. (the Japanese constitution prohibits the act of war.)
And the engineers did come up with a way. The 1st and 2nd stages used the aerodynamic effects of the tail assembly. The 2nd(again) and 3rd stages used a motor to spin the rocket like a giant gyroscope, thus holding the rocket steady. The 4th stage stopped the spinning, and before it lit the engine did a little bit of maneuvering to put it steady,(and the boosters weren't firing at that time so it wasn't really GNC.) then made the rocket spin again, then finally, put it to orbit.
All this hard work paid off, and Japan became the 4th country(following Russia, America and France) to put a satellite into orbit.