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Japan Information
By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 3, 2003, 14:41

Japan ( Nippon/Nihon, literally "the origin of the sun") is a country in East Asia situated east of the Korean peninsula on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. Its name, often translated as "The Land of the Rising Sun", comes from China and refers to Japan's eastward position relative to the Asian continent. Before Japan had relations with China, it was known as Yamato . Wa was a name early China used to refer to Japan, around the time of the Three Kingdoms Period.

Japan comprises a chain of islands, the largest of which are, from south to north, Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu (the largest island), and Hokkaido .

Origin of name

The Japanese names for Japan are Nippon and Nihon. They are both written the same in Japanese. The Japanese name Nippon is used for most official purposes, including money, stamps, and international sporting events. Nihon is a more casual term used in Japan. For example, Japanese people call themselves Nihonjin and their language Nihongo: literally "Japanese People" and "Japanese Language" respectively. In Japan today, Nippon has more of a nationalistic role, and is used more by the elderly, while Nihon is a casual term, and is used by the majority of the Japanese population.

The English word for Japan came to the west from early trade routes. The early Mandarin Chinese word for Japan was recorded by Marco Polo as Cipangu. However, the Cantonese word for Japan, from which the word Japan was probably originally born, is Jatbun. In Malay the Cantonese word became Japang and was thus encountered by Portuguese traders in Malacca in the 16th century. It is thought the Portuguese traders were the first to bring the word to Europe. It was first recorded in English in 1577 spelled Giapan.

In English, the official title of the country is simply "Japan". Previously, the full title had been the "Empire of Japan" but this was changed after the adoption of the post-war constitution. The official Japanese title is Nihonkoku, literally "State of Japan."


Archeological research indicates that Japan had already been occupied by early humans at least 500,000 years ago, during the Lower Paleolithic period. Over repeated ice-ages during the last million years, Japan was regularly connected by land bridges to the Asian mainland (by Sakhalin to the North, and probably Kyushu to the South), facilitating migrations of humans, animals and plants to the Japanese archipelago from the area that is now China and Korea.

With the end of the last ice age and general warming, the Jomon culture emerged around 11,000 BC, characterized by a mesolithic to neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer lifestyle and the manufacture of the earliest known pottery in the world. It is thought that Jomon populations were the ancestors of the Proto-Japanese and today's Ainu.

The start of the Yayoi period around 300 BC marked the influx from the Asian mainland of new technologies such as rice-farming, as well as rather massive migrations from various part of Asia like Korea and China, especially around Beijing and Shanghai, and from the South by marine route. However, several recent studies have pointed out that the Yayoi period is 5 to 6 centuries longer than previously believed, making massive immigrations unneeded in order to explain the increase in population.

According to traditional Japanese mythology, Japan was founded in the 7th century BC by the ancestral Emperor Jimmu. During the 5th and 6th centuries, the Chinese writing system and Buddhism were introduced with other Chinese cultures first via the Korean peninsula and later directly from China. The emperors were the nominal rulers, but actual power was usually held by powerful court nobles, regents, or shoguns (military governors).

Ancient political structure held that, once battles between rivals were finished, the victorious Shogun would migrate to the capital Heian (fully Heian-kyo-to, 'kyo-to' meaning capital city, and the full name now shortened to the suffix, 'Kyoto') to rule under the grace of the Emperor. However, in the year 1185, general Minamoto no Yoritomo was the first to break this tradition, refusing to relocate and subsequently holding power in Kamakura, just south of present-day Yokohama. While this Kamakura Shogunate was somewhat stable, Japan soon fell into warring factions and suffered through what became known as the Warring States or Sengoku Period. In the year 1600, at the Battle of Sekigahara, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu either co-opted or defeated his enemies and formed the Tokugawa Shogunate in the small fishing village of Edo (formerly transcribed as 'Yeddo'), what is now known as Tokyo (eastern capital).

From the middle of the 16th century, traders from Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and England, as well as Christian missionaries, had reached Japan for the first time, and initiated the "Nanban" ("Southern barbarian") period of active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West. In particular, Japan enthusiastically adopted and mass-produced Western gun designs, which was to be a key factor in the unification of the country under Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603.

By the first part of the 17th century however, Japan's shogunate suspected that Catholic missionaries were actually forerunners of a military conquest by Iberian powers and ultimately barred all relations with the Europeans except for severely restricted contacts with Protestant Dutch merchants at Dejima off Nagasaki, though Chinese ships were permitted to enter Nagasaki and Korean envoys to proceed to the capital.

This isolation lasted for 251 years, until Commodore Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

Within several years, renewed contact with the West profoundly altered Japanese society. Following the 1867-1868 Boshin War the shogunate was forced to resign, and the emperor was restored to power. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished and numerous Western institutions were adopted, including a Western legal system and government, along with other economic, social and military reforms that transformed the Empire of Japan into a world power. As results of the Sino-Japanese war and the Russo-Japanese war, Japan acquired Taiwan and half of Sakhalin, and later annexed Korea in 1910, over Korea's immense popular protest.

The early 20th century saw Japan come under increasing influence of an expansionist military, leading to the invasion of Manchuria, a second Sino-Japanese War (1937). Japan allied with Germany and Italy and formed the Axis Pact. Japanese leaders felt it was necessary to attack the US naval base in Pearl Harbor (1941) to ensure Japanese supremacy in Southeast Asia. However, the entry of the United States into World War II would slowly tilt the balance in the Pacific against the Japanese. After a long Pacific campaign, Japan lost Okinawa in the Ryukyu islands and was pushed back to the four main islands. The United States made fierce attacks on Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities by strategic bombing, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki with two atomic bombs. Japan eventually agreed to an unconditional surrender to the United States on August 15, 1945.

A defeated post-war Japan remained under US occupation until 1952, whereafter it embarked on a remarkable economic recovery that returned prosperity to the islands. The success of 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games is regarded as many as the sign that Japan had finally regained its national status. The Ryukyu islands remained under US occupation until 1972 to stabilize East Asia, and a major military presence remains there to this day. Such return included the disputed Senkaku Islands, claimed by both Mainland China and Taiwan. The Soviet Union seized the Kuril islands north of Hokkaido at the end of WWII, and despite the collapse of the Soviet state and friendly relations between countries, Russia has refused to return these islands. Japan has territorial disputes over the Liancourt Rocks with South Korea, which now occupies the fish-rich territory.

In 2003, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi decided to send troops to Iraq, a move that would be the first military act of Japan without a UN agreement after almost fifty years.


Japan is generally considered to be a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament, the Kokkai or Diet. Japan has a royal family led by an Emperor, but under the current constitution he performs only ceremonial duties and holds no real power, not even emergency reserve powers. The executive branch is responsible to the Diet, consisting of a Cabinet composed of a Prime Minister and ministers of state, all of whom must be civilians. The Prime Minister must be a member of the Diet and is designated by his colleagues. The Prime Minister has the power to appoint and remove ministers, a majority of whom must be Diet members. Sovereignty, previously embodied in the Emperor, is vested in the Japanese people by the Constitution, and the Emperor is defined as the symbol of the State and of national unity.

The legislative branch consists of a House of Representatives (Lower House or Shugi-in) containing 480 seats, elected by popular vote every four years, and a House of Councillors (Upper House or Sangi-in) of 247 seats, whose popularly elected members serve six-year terms. Each house contains officials elected either directly or proportionally by party. There is universal adult (over 20 years old) suffrage with a secret ballot for all elective offices.

The Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) has been in power almost continuously since 1955 (except for 1993), when it was formed as a merger of the two Japanese conservative parties, the Liberal and Democrat parties. Today's Prime Minster, Junichiro Koizumi is from the LDP. The LDP governs in coalition with the conservative yet theocratic buddhist New Clean Government Party. In opposition are the Democrat Party, the Social Democrat Party, and the Japanese Communist Party. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has introduced radical reform in all fields, like taking steps to de-nationalize Japan Post as well as the Japan Highway Public Corporation. Another controversial move was the sending of the SDF (Self Defence Forces) to Iraq without a UN resolution. The opposition DPJ (Democrat Party of Japan) has recently been gaining momentum, gaining more seats than the LDP in the July, 2004 House of Coucillors election where half of the seats were up for election. However, the governing coalition of the LDP and the New Komeito Party maintained their majority.


Japan, a country of islands, extends along the eastern or Pacific coast of Asia. The main islands, running from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu (or the mainland), Shikoku, and Kyushu. Naha on Okinawa in the Ryukyu archipelago is over 600 km to the southwest of Kyushu. In addition, about 3,000 smaller islands may be counted in the full extent of the archipelago that comprises greater Japan. About 73% of the country is mountainous, with a chain running through each of the main islands. Japan's highest mountain is the famous Mount Fuji at 3,776 m.

Since so little flat area exists, many hills and mountainsides are cultivated all the way to the summits. As Japan is situated in a volcanic zone along the Pacific deeps, frequent low intensity earth tremors and occasional volcanic activity are felt throughout the islands. Destructive earthquakes occur several times a century, often resulting in tsunamis. Hot springs are numerous and have been developed as resorts.

The Japanese Archipelago extends from north to south along the eastern coast of the Eurasian Continent, the western shore of the Pacific Ocean. Japan is a temperate region with four distinct seasons, but because of its great length from north to south, its climate varies from region to region: the far north is very cold in the winter, while the far south is subtropical. The climate is also affected by the seasonal winds blown from the continent to the ocean in winters and vice versa in summers.

Late June and early July are a rainy season (except in Hokkaido), as a seasonal rain front or baiu zensen stays above Japan. In the late summer and early autumn, typhoons develop from tropical depressions generated near the equator, and track from the southwest to the northeast, often bringing heavy rain.

Japan's varied geographical features divide it into six principal climatic zones.

  • Hokkaido: Belonging to the cool temperate zone, Hokkaido has long, cold winters and cool summers. Precipitation is not heavy, but the islands usually develop deep snowbanks in the winter.
  • Sea of Japan: The northwest wind in the wintertime brings heavy snowfall. In summers, the region is less hot than the Pacific area, but it sometimes experiences extremely hot temperatures due to the Foehn wind phenomenon.
  • Central Highland (Chuo-kochi): A typical inland climate, with large temperature differences between summers and winters and between days and nights. Precipitation is not large throughout a year.
  • Seto Inland Sea (Setonaikai): The mountains in Chugoku and Shikoku regions block the seasonal winds and bring mild climate and many fine days throughout a year.
  • Pacific Ocean: Experiences cold winters with little snowfall and hot, humid summers due to the southeast seasonal wind.
  • Nansei-shoto (Ryukyu) or Southwest Islands: Has a subtropical climate with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very heavy, especially during the rainy season, and also due to typhoons.

Politically and culturally, Japan is commonly divided into ten regions. From north to south, these are Hokkaido, Tohoku region, Hokuriku region, Kanto region, Chubu region, Kinki region (commonly called Kansai), Chugoku region, Shikoku region, Kyushu region, and the Ryukyu Islands.

Japan has outstanding territorial disputes over the southern four islands of the Kuril Islands, administered by Russia, as well as the Liancourt Rocks (Kr. Dokdo, Jp. Takeshima), occupied by South Korea. The Senkaku Islands (Chinese Diaoyutai) are claimed by China and Taiwan.


Government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, emphasis on education and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) have helped Japan advance with extraordinary speed to become one of the largest economic powers in the world along with the US and EU.

Notable characteristics of the economy include the working together of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and banks in closely-knit groups called keiretsu; the powerful enterprise unions and shunto; cozy relations with government bureaucrats, and the guarantee of lifetime employment (shushin koyo) for up to a third of the urban labor force, usually big corporations and highly unionized blue-collar factories. Small and medium enterprises, women, and foreign employees typically do not enjoy such benefits. Most of the these features are now eroding, however, and the economy is currently characterized by stagnation.

Industry, the most important sector of the economy, is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and fuels. The much smaller agricultural sector is highly subsidised and protected, most notably for rice which currently charges a 490% tariff on imported rice and enforces a quota of only 3% of the total rice market. Considerable efforts are expended on developing better tasting fruits and vegetables and while pricey, even after taking into account the high cost of living in Japan, quality is exceptional (if you're willing to spend $20 for a single Japanese pear). Usually self-sufficient in rice (except for its use in making rice crackers and processed foods), Japan must import about 50% of its requirements of other grain and fodder crops. Japan maintains one of the world's largest fishing fleets and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch, prompting some claims that Japan's fishing is leading to overdepletion in fish stocks such as tuna. For three decades overall real economic growth had been spectacular: a 10% average in the 1960s, a 5% average in the 1970s, and a 4% average in the 1980s. Growth slowed markedly in the 1990s largely because of the after effects of overinvestment during the late 1980s and contractionary domestic policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets. Government efforts to revive economic growth have met with little success and were further hampered in 2000-2001 by the slowing of the US and Asian economies.

The crowding of habitable land area and the ageing of the population are two major long-run problems, as is the rising cost of health care. Robotics constitutes a key long-term economic strength, with Japan possessing 410,000 of the world's 720,000 "working robots".


Japanese society is known to be ethnically and linguistically very homogeneous, with small populations of primarily North and South Koreans (1 million), Okinawan (1.5 million), Chinese and Taiwanese (0.5 million), Filipinos (0.5 million), and Brazilians (250,000), as well as the indigenous Ainu minority in Hokkaido. 99% of the population speaks Japanese as their first language.

The Japanese population is one of the most rapidly aging on Earth. Fertility rates dropped in the wake of World War II, and dropped again in the mid-1970s, as more women have remained in the workplace and choosen not to get married. Japan now also has the highest life expectancy in the world. By 2007, when Japan's population growth is expected to stop completely, over 20% of the population will be over the age of 65. The changes in the demographic structure have created a number of social issues, particularly potential decline in workforces and increase in the cost of social securities like public pension plan. Japanese government planners are currently in a heated debate over how to cope with this problem.

Japanese people usually have indifferent feelings regarding religion and see it as something cultural or traditional; such attitude is pervasive in East Asia. When asked to identify their religion, most Japanese people would profess to believe in Buddhism, merely because their family has belonged to some sect of Buddhism. Shinto, though it originated in Japan, is hardly practiced today and its teachings are known only among a few scholars. Many practices that Buddhism and Shinto teach remain largely as customs, like manners for wedding ceremony. A minority profess to Christianity, Shamanism, and New Religions, such as Soka Gakkai, which are related to either Buddhism.


Japanese culture consists of the interaction between a strong original Jomon culture and subsequent influences from the rest of the world. China and Korea were first mostly influential, starting with the development of the Yayoi culture from around 300BC. Classical Greek and Indian cultural traditions, combined into Greco-Buddhism, influenced the arts and religions of Japan from the 6th century AD, culminating with the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism. From the 16th century onward, European influence prevailed, with American influences becoming predominant following the end of WWII.

Japan developed a unique original culture, in its arts (ikebana, origami, ukiyo-e), crafts (dolls, lacquerware, pottery), performances (bunraku, dance, kabuki, noh, raku-go), and traditions (games, onsen, sento, tea ceremony), as well as a unique cuisine.

Today, Japan is one of the world's largest exporters of popular culture. Japanese cartoons, comic books, fashion, films, literature, and music have gained popularity around the world, especially in the other countries of Asia.

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