Translated in Japanese Japan is called Nihon. Nihon means the rising of the sun. The first part of the word (Ni) means 'sun' and the second part of the word (hon) means 'rising'. Nippon, a word that is known better in the world, is the alternative word for Nihon. The extended name of Japan is Nippon Koku, which means land of the rising sun.
The flag of Japan is connected with its name. The flag is a white square with in it a red circle. The red circle is the rising sun. The flag has been a national symbol since the 17th century. The national song exists since the 19th century. However, the text of the national song has been written 1000 years ago.
Japan has many islands, of which four are the biggest and most important. These islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Honshu is the capital island of Japan. It consists of big cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, Hiroshima, Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka. Next to these four big islands there are over 3900 small islands.
Most people have the thought Japan is small, but that is an incorrect idea. Japan has a total surface of 377,800 square kilometres and has a population of 125 million people. It has a population density of 330 persons per square kilometre. That's an average comparable with the Netherlands. But almost 80 percent of the land consists out of mountains or has a mountainous surface. People aren't able to live there so in reality Japan is even more densely populated. Above that, the most people leave the country and try to get a better live in the cities. Tokyo has the highest population density, it has an average of 1000 people per square kilometre. The result of this is that the prices of houses and ground in Tokyo are immensely high.
Japan is divided in prefectures. These are comparable with provinces. Japan has a total of 47 prefectures. Most of them consist out of 1 or more islands. The biggest islands are divided in two or more prefectures.
Japan consists of a chain of islands, there are 4 major ones and a great number of small ones. There is about 3000 km of land consisting of an arc of mountains, of which the tallest (and most famous one) is perfectly symmetrical, this is the Mt Fuji. It is about 3776 m and very popular among tourists. Many of these mountains are volcanic, consequences: very hot springs and from time to time spectacular scenery. But, it also brings the danger of an earthquake or a tidal wave along. Not that earthquakes are very special in Japan. It has been calculated that the country gets around 1000 earthquakes a year. Because of this the Japanese are used to rebuild their world every 20 or 30 years.
In Japan you will find a wide diversity of flora and fauna, because of Japan’s latitudinal spread (which is the reason for the large temperature differences between north and south. The north has short summers and long winters with heavy snowfalls, whereas the southern islands, which enjoy a subtropical climate. Most of Japan falls between these extremes)
Japan’s largest carnivorous mammals are bears. Mammals unique to Japan include the macaque, a medium-sized monkey, and the giant salamander. The Iriomote wildcat, found in the Okinawa island group is classified as a ’living fossil’…
The history of Japan
The Japanese population is a cultural mix. It is probably a mix between immigrants from Siberia and Korea who came to Japan over land and from sailing immigrants from Polynesia.
The Jomon period from 10.00 BC to 300 BC is called after the rope motives in pottery, which proved first civilisation.
In the Yayoi period from 300 BC to 300 AD was a transition between the bronze and iron culture.
The Kofun period is the following period, which was from 300-710. Grave-mounds were very common in central- and West-Japan. Buddhism replaced this threw cremation. Around 300 the Yamato-clan made a pact with all tribes in Japan, and introduced the emperor, called tennõ. Japan became one nation. In the sixth century Buddhism was introduced from China threw Korea in Japan. Yamato weakened, but prince Shõtoku stopped that by making some kind of constitution and rules for a state controlled by one leader. Buddhism became the state religion. Chinese culture was introduced in Japan, most important was the Chinese writing. More direct contacts were made with China. In 907 all land became property of the emperor and the whole population became his subjects.
In 710 the first capital was chosen, Nara which continued being the capital too 794, this is also called the Nara period. Buddhism was strongly promoted but when the Buddhist clergy interfered too much with the politics, emperor Kammu decided to make Heian-kyo the new capital.
In 794 the Heian period started and in 1185 it ended. Less attention was paid at ruling the state. The Fujiwara-family provided by taking important court posts and they increased their power by sho-en (donated land property). But because they were only fixated on capital politics, Yoritimo Minamoto conquered in 1192 whole Japan. And so the Kamakura period started. Yoritimo got as an emperor the title of honour: shõgun. Until 1868 the shõguns had all power, and the emperor only had his name, not the power. Yoritimo made Kamakura the new capital. In 1199 he died.
In 1205 the Hõjõ-family took control. Buddhism became more popular and Zen Buddhism was introduced among the samurai. The samurai regained popularity.
The next period was the Muromachi period, it started in 1333 and lasted too 1568. In 1467 the Õnin-war started which developed into a civil war.
After that the Azuchi-Momoyama period from 1568-1600 came. Oda Nobunaga broke the Buddhism’s power. In 1582 Toyotomi Hideyoshi took over. In 1590 he had control over the whole country. In 1593 and 1598 he failed in attacking Korea and China, he died in the last attempt. When Christianity arrived in Japan in 1549 Oda liked it, but Toyotomi didn’t like it, he was afraid that they were against his leadership. In 1600 Tokugawa beat Toyotomi’s army. He became shõgun in Edo.
The Edo period started. Christians became outlawed. The Christian period ended. The Tokugawa-family prohibited Japanese to travel in foreign countries. Samurai became the highest level. Japan was isolated from the whole world.
Because the rice and money became more important the merchants became also more important which was bad for the samurai. De shõgun government signed in 1854 a pact in which the Shimoda and Hakodate harbours were thrown open. More pacts were made.
In 1867 the last shõgun, Tokugawa resigned. Emperor Meiji got the power.
The Meiji period started around 1868. Edo became the Emperor's capital, from that time called Tokyo. A new coin and federal post offices were introduced. The first railway (Tokyo-Yokohama) was opened. In 1872 compulsory school and in 1873 conscription were introduced. In 1882 the Bank of Japan opened. From 1882-1885 modern politics arose. In 1885 the first modern cabinet was formed. In 1888 the Secret Stateboard was established. In1889 the Constitution was excepted. The parliament first gathered in 1890. In 1885 Korea became independent. A Chinese-Japanese war about Korea started in 1894 and lasted till 1895, Japan won. Taiwan and China had to pay war subsiding to Japan. Korea became independent again. In 1902 a pact was made between Great Britain and Japan, in 1904 Japan declared war to Russia, Manchuria and Korea. Japan won and felt good about itself. Japan annexed Korea totally in 1910. In 1912 Meiji died and his son Yoshihito took over.
A new period began, the Taisho period, which lasted till 1926. During WW1 Japan build a strong economic position in Asia. Japan became more democratic and liberal, the first non-noble politician became Prime Minister. In 1920 Japan joined the Nations League. In 1926 Emperor Hirohito ascend the thrown.
The Showa period starts in 1926. A world-wide crisis strengthened the crisis in Japan in 1929. In 1924 the United States decided to prohibit the immigration of Japanese. In 1932 the Prime Minister was killed in Tokyo. In 1933 Japan quits the Nations League. In 1936 more important politicians were murdered. In this year Japan also made a pact with Germany against the Komintern of the Soviet- Union. The American-Japanese trade-pact was cancelled in 1940. In the same year Japan made a pact with Italy and Germany. The political parties were undone. In 1941 the Americans stopped exporting goods to Japan. Japan reacted with the attack on Pearl-Harbour on December the seventh. In 1945 Japan lost their Airforce. Japan wouldn’t surrender and the atom bomb was thrown on Hiroshima.
After the war (which Japan lost) Japan was taken until 1952 under command of the American general MacArthur. Then they became independent again but now with a democratic constitution. The army was abolished, a democratic school system was introduced, political and press freedom were re-established. Female-suffrage was also introduced. In 1956 Japan joined the United Nations, which is the successor of the Nations League.
In 1989 the Heisei period started and we’re still in this period. For the first time in 38 years the LPD was not in the government in 1993. In 1995, Japan had an earthquake that cost more than 5300 lives. The next disaster was the terrorist attack on the metro of Tokyo, which cost 12 lives and made about 5500 other victims.
The social life in Japan
The society of Japan is built out of groups. It is important to belong to one or more groups. If you don't belong to a social group in Japan, you can't have a social life.
There are all sorts of groups: the most important ones are the employee-group for men and the family-group for the children and the women. These groups are rather separated from each other, because in a common family, the man works from 8 o'clock in the morning till late in the evening. This means that men and women have totally different lives in Japan.
As said before, the man has to work from early in the morning till late in the evening (around six, or seven, or even eight o'clock), and after work he has his activities with his colleagues, such as sitting in a bar or eating together (or having a mistress). So he doesn't see his family often.
Because the man is often not home, the woman has to take care of the household and the raising of the kids. From the outside it seems that the man is the head of the house, but from the inside the woman is. The married women in Japan seldom work, because they are not expected to do so. Having a career and having a husband and a family does not go together in Japan.
When the kids are at school, the woman has to do the household. Of course she isn't busy with it all day, so she has a lot of spare time in which she does other things with other women. They go shopping, or having a tea ceremony, or they are simply just chatting with each other.
Japan's society is built up out of many rules. The Japanese have many rules concerning manners and behaviour. It is important to know these rules, because there are certain circumstances in which you can offend the Japanese people (but often they don't blame foreigners (Gaijin) for not knowing the exact rules). The Japanese don't wear shoes in house but they wear slippers. It is very offending wearing shoes in the house of a Japanese.
It is important for a Japanese to stick to these rules, otherwise he will be full of shame, and shame is the worst thing to have in Japan. Often when a man is ashamed, he excludes himself from his group and the society, to live somewhere else as a homeless in a park.
School is very important in modern Japan. Without a good education you can't have a good, job. This means that from a very young age children have to learn and study a lot. They go full days to school, having lessons from around 7.30 till 4 o'clock, and after that there is a widespread opportunity of after-school activities. At school there are strict rules, children have to wear a school uniform, and school starts at 7.30 in the morning.
Children go to kindergarten from the age of 3 to 6. However, during this time they often learn reading, writing and mathematics. After that they go to primary school, and when they're twelve years old, they go to Junior High school. Then, when they are around 15, they go to the most important stage of their education: Senior High school. Here the students have to work very hard to be admitted at a good university. When an adolescent is admitted a good university, he doesn’t have to work hard anymore. At a good university, you are guaranteed to get a good, well-paid job.
Since it's existence, Japan always has had a ruling emperor. Until the Second World War the emperor had a divine status. For centuries the emperor had ruled Japan. Sometimes, the army ('bakufu') took the ruling, and during those times the emperor had a inferior position. Often the ruling was taken back by the emperor.
After the Second World War, America had taken Japan in control. They abolished the divine status of the emperor and they created a democratic government. The emperor had no power anymore, he became a symbol of Japan. His duty is reduced of choosing the Prime Minister and the president of the Supreme Court.
Nowadays, Japan has a two-Chamber system, also known as 'kokai'. The First Chamber is called 'sangi-in' and the Second 'sugi-in'. The sugi-in counts 480 members; elections for the sugi-in are for a period of 4 years. The sangi-in counts 247 members. Every 3 years half of the sangi-in changes. The nation chooses the members by elections. The Liberal Democratic Party has in both rooms the most members.
The kokai chooses the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister chooses a maximum of 20 ministers. Just like in the Netherlands, the government brings out bills and the kokai approves the bills.
Before the Second World War, only men above the age of 20 had the right to vote. In the Meiji-period the age was even 25 years. After the war all men and women above the age of 20 have gained a passive right to vote. You'll have to be 30 years old if you want an active right of vote.
The first fundamental law comes from the Meiji-period. It said that most power was in the hands of the emperor. When the American people came in, many fundamental laws changed. Japan wasn't allowed to have an army, the emperor had no power anymore and the power over Japan was placed into a democratic system.
The main religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto. These religions are not contradictory with each other. Many Japanese even combine these religions with each other. Other religions in Japan are Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and several new-founded religions.
Shinto is the original religion of the Japanese, grown out of believes in spirits, the kami’s. These spirits live in every thing around us. They live in stones, animals, trees, etc. Shinto does not have a founder or a holy book. The common Japanese practises Shinto more unconscious, because it is more the way of life what the Shinto religion means. Important in the Shinto religion are the sacred places, where kami’s live. These places are mainly to be found at special rock formations in the mountains, at waterfalls, or at other special natural phenomenon’s. At these places shrines have arisen, which indicates that ‘here is a sacred place’. There are many shrines in Japan.
Buddhism is practised conscious. It came to Japan in the sixth century, via Korea and China. Desire has to be suppressed, because it causes all the suffering in life. The way to achieve this higher state of being in Buddhism is by meditating and thinking. After this the nirvana follows.
As said before, Buddhism and Shinto is practised together in Japan (around 84% of the Japanese follow these religions). The Shinto is the religion during life, while Buddhism is the religion for the afterlife. This can be seen in customs: wedding rituals are being held following the Shinto, while the funeral is being held following the Buddhist rites. Most homes have two altars of prey, one for Shinto and one for Buddhism.
Another religion in Japan is Confucianism, which came from China. In Confucianism there have to be lived following strict rules, to regulate social behaviour. Another religion is Christianity, introduced by the Portuguese Francis Xavier in 1549. First the Japanese government approved it, but later it was forbidden to practise the Christian religion. It survived underground, until it was approved again in the 19th century. There are Muslims too in Japan, mainly Indonesians who came to Japan.
Until the opening of the country in 1854, Japans economy has been based on agriculture. It was illegal to have contact with foreign countries, with exception for trade with the Dutch people. Japan was able to provide itself with food. It didn't need help from other countries. After the opening Japan gained a lot off western techniques. It started with an industrialisation that could not be stopped anymore. Soon, Japans economy rose above countries like China and Korea.
After the Second World War Japans economy was almost killed. The American army had bombed Japan and many growing corporations were destroyed. It was also America who helped Japan to build up its economy again. America needed material to fight in the Korea-war. They bought this material in Japan because it was fast at the place where they needed it. The offers from America appeared to be a great stimulation for the economy of Japan. It wasn't only America who helped the economy. Also Japan itself tried to improve its economy. They did that by the foundation of Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). The MITI supervised and checked developments of corporations. Important to the MITI were technical improvements and developments. They supported projects of technical innovations and lend out money to the corporations that needed more money to develop. Since the foundation of the MITI the economy grew so fast that Japan became an export-land. Nowadays many residents blame the government that they have put to much money in the economy in stead of social security. However, the result of the government's action is that Japan is the third biggest economy after America and Europe.
The recent developments are more negative. A couple of years ago East Asia had an economic crisis. The crisis was a reaction on the fact that people were too positive about the economy. Japan didn't suffer much compared with other East-Asian countries. The government of Japan tried to help building up the economy, but the latest actions haven't showed positive developments. The growth of the last decades has stopped, however the economy of Japan has a good future.
Thanks to the growth and the high production Japan had never known of unemployment until 1973. It's a shame in Japan if you don't have a job, it's an unwritten rule that you should work. After 1973 unemployment grew for a short time up to 3 percent. As fast as it came, the unemployment disappeared. The latest crisis has caused a second growth of unemployment. The production lowered so there were fewer employers needed. Due to the crisis 6 percent of the work-able population became unemployed. That's a large number for Japanese standards. Probably the unemployment will disappear when the economy and production will grow again.
For the tourist
Japan is probably the most expensive country in the world to travel in. If you don’t want to spend your money in one day, you should carefully watch your wallet. Stay in the cheapest hotels, eat modestly and travel short distances. Especially travelling (long-distance travel) is a budget buster in Japan.
The Japanese are used to a very low crime-rate and often carry their worthy possessions with them. Of course travellers can safely copy this habit, yet you should still take the usual precautions.
Tokyo - Japan’s capital city, this isn’t a city of architectural brilliance flooded with monuments, Ginza is the most famous shopping area in Tokyo, a nice place for emptying your wallet. It’s opulent, vital and popular. Ueno-Koen, a park north of the centre, where you can find some of Japan’s best museums:
- THE TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM, holds the world’s largest selection of Japanese art
- THE NATIONAL SCIENCE MUSEUM, with of course scientific goodies.
- SHITAMACHI HISTORY MUSEUM, this is a recreation of the plebeian downtown quarters of old Tokyo. Long considered the heart of old downtown.
- Asakusa, north-east of the centre, one of the few places where you can still experience something of the real-life of old Shitamachi. The big attraction here is the senso-ji Temple, probably the liveliest place of Buddhist worship in all Japan.
Shinjuku, west of the centre, is nowadays Tokyo’s most popular entertainment quarter.
Of course, visiting the Mt Fuji is a must. Officially the climbing season is in July and August. But it can also be done in other seasons. However, climbing in midwinter is only recommended for experienced mountaineers. No matter whenever you feel like facing the Mt Fuji, the climb should be taken very seriously: it’s just high enough for altitude sickness and the weather can be treacherous changeable.
The Fuji Five Lakes, lying around the northern side of the mountain, are frequently used by one-day tourists from Tokyo. The place offers water sports, amusement parks, ice caves and good views of Mt Fuji.
Kyoto - with it’s hundreds of temples and gardens, the imperial capital between 794 and 1868, is some kind of cultural centre. Still the most impressive sightseeing spot is the Imperial Palace.
Nagasaki - a busy city, unfortunate as it was, it was the target for the second atomic bomb. As a reminder of the horror of nuclear destruction, today there stands the BOMB MUSEUM and the HYPOCENTRE PARK.
An hour north of Nagasaki you can find HUIS TEN BOSCH, an astounding recreation of a Dutch town, complete with windmills, dykes, a replica of the royal Dutch residence, tulips and cheese shops. This is an example for a lot of Japanese who would like to live in a sanitised version of the Netherlands.
Many of Japan’s national parks have hiking routes. (Nikko and Chichibu national park, Gumma and the Kansai region)
But also skiing is possible, (from December to April) just like cycling and golf.
Travelling by train is the way to travel in Japan, the trains are fast, frequent and clean (and often very expensive). Some services range from small local lines to the Shinkansen (bullet train), which have become a symbol of modern Japan.
Of course you can also take the bus, they are generally slower than trains, but certainly cheaper. And, if it’s not your meaning to empty your wallet you’re better off not taking a taxi.
You can stay in a hotel for a price varying from normal to expensive, except when you only want to sleep, that’s when you can also stay in a so-called tube hotel. There you can rent a room (2 by 2m) where a bed (and only a bed) stands. Of course these hotels are not the expensive ones. Other hotels can be pretty expensive, depending on the attributes you wish to have in you room.
Sport is an important factor of the Japanese society. It leans children to have discipline and perseverance. Many students practise a sport in after school activities. The Japanese children are in good health, because it is forbidden to smoke for them.
Sport is also a social binding factor in which people feel connected to each other. The most popular sports in Japan are baseball and martial arts, like karate, jiu-jitsu, judo, Aikido, kendo and sumo wrestling.
Martial arts are divided in budo and bujutsu. Budo means ‘the way of the warrior’. Jiu-jitsu is budo. Bujutsu means ‘the technique of the warrior’. Kendo, karate, judo and Aikido are bujutsu. Japans martial arts are now widespread all over the world, and judo is even an Olympic sport.
Skiing is also a very popular sport in Japan. There are many mountains in Japan, which are covered with snow in the winter. At school Japanese students go to the piste to go skiing with their schools. Skating is also a popular winter sport.
In 1964 Tokyo organized the Olympic Games, it was a huge success. In 1998 Nagano organized the Olympic Winter Games, and also this tournament was a success. Next summer, Japan will organize the World Football Championship together with South Korea. The popularity of football is growing rapidly now, and Japan even has a professional soccer league now, the J-league.
After America, most (world-wide) trends come from Japan. Naming some very famous trends from Japan isn't hard: tamagotchi, Furby, Pokemon, Nintendo and Playstation, Miffy (Nijntje, Mitty in Japanese), electric dogs, anime series like Dragonball, Hello Kitty, etc.
Mainly teenagers are affected by new, popular trends. There are many different ways of clothing among youngsters in Japan. It is also very popular to colour your hair, but it isn’t allowed to do this during High School.
-1 asia 2 japan
Lonely planet Japan, 7th edition (October 2000). ISBN: 0 86442 693 3
Map of Japan, National Geographic Society, revised edition 1996
De grote bosatlas, 51e editie - Wolters-Noordhoff