It is generally accepted that oceanic plate subduction has occurred along the eastern margin of Asia since about 500 Ma ago. Therefore, the Japanese Islands have a >500 Ma history of oceanic plate subduction in their geological records. In this paper, the accretionary history of the Japanese Islands is divided into six main stages based on the mode and nature of tectonic events and the temporal gaps in the development of accretionary processes. In the first stage, oceanic plate subduction and accretion started along the margin of Gondwana. After detachment of the North and South China blocks in Devonian time, accretionary complexes developed along island arcs offshore of the South and North China blocks. After the formation of back arc basins such as the Japan Sea, accretionary processes occurred only along the limited convergent margin, e.g. Nankai Trough. Detrital zircons of sandstones revealed the accretionary history of Japan. An evaluation of a comprehensive dataset on detrital zircon populations shows that the observed temporal gaps in the development of the Japanese accretionary complexes were closely related to the intensity of igneous activity in their provenance regions. Age distributions of detrital zircons in the accretionary complexes of Japan change before and after the Middle Triassic period, when the collision of the South and North China blocks occurred.