On April 12, 1955 a group at the University of Tokyo launched a tiny pencil rocket. The rocket was 23 cm in length, 1.8cm in diameter and 200gr in weight. It was fired at Kokubunji in the outer area of Tokyo.
The idea came from Professor Hideo Itokawa
(Photo), who had formed the group to use rocketry to develop a high altitude flying vehicle to replace aircrafts. As part the plan a research group named "Avionics and Supersonic Aerodynamics" (AVSA) was founded in the beginning of 1954.
The rocket was fired horizontal. Later a two-stage version was developed. Step by step Japan developed larger and larger rockets. Three years later the university took part in the International Geophysical Year: IGY by launching a rocket to an altitude of 60 km.
Finally on February 11, 1970 Japan launched it's first satellite OHSUMI (24 kg) marking Japan as a space nation of it's own right.
Today Japan is launching both scientific and commercial payloads with the H-II rocket. It all started with a small pencil rocket.