By Jonathan Appel
Japan is made up of a four main island chain with other small islands in the western Pacific Ocean volcanic mountain range. The main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. Many of the major cities including Tokyo, the capital, are found on the island of Honshu. Many of the islands of Japan are volcanically active to this day. There are approximately fifty active volcanoes known to the Japanese and about 1,500 minor earthquakes occur each year. Mt. Fuji, probably the most photographed mountain in the world, is found just outside the city of Tokyo, and is a dormant volcano. Mt. Fuji is Japan's tallest mountain and rises 12,389 ft. above sea level. Seventy five percent of Japan is uninhabitable due to mountainous terrain and is too steep for settlement and farming. The country has a very restricted living area, only 25% of the land. The present population of Japan is more than 125,000,000. Seventy seven percent of the people live in urban areas, leaving only 23% for rural farming communities.
Japan has about ten major cities on the island of Honshu. Many of the cities on Honshu are on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean or the Sea of Japan. Tokyo is built on a protective bay that leads to the pacific. Many of the rural sections of Japan, comprising 75% of the land, lie in northern Honshu and most of Hokkaido. The total area of the country is a little less than the state of California and has four times the population.
Japan lies from approximately 23 degrees to 47 degrees north latitude, and has a variety of climates, that are typical of middle latitude countries. Hokkaido for example has a humid continental climate, which has short, cool summers and long, cold, and snowy winters. As you move further south the climates become much more subtropical. Japan gets a fair amount of rainfall each year; the average is about 50 inches, but some places get 100 inches.
Japan has approximately 130 million people. Virtually 100% of the population is literate. The dominant ethnic group in Japan is the Japanese, a Mongoloid people. The population density is among the greatest in the world. Japan has approximately 858
people per square mile. Seventy seven percent of the population lives in 645 cities with populations of 30,000. The Tokkaido megalopolis is the largest urban concentration in Japan, and it runs from Tokyo in the northeast to Kobe in the southwest.
The Japanese people practice two major religions, Buddhism and Shinto. Buddhists make up about 75% of the population. Buddhism came to Japan from the Chinese. Buddhism arrived from China in the middle of the sixth century. Buddhists believe in a man named Buddha, which means enlightened one. Buddha's original was Siddharta Gautama and he was born in the 500's or 400's BC. When Siddharta was about thirty years old he realized how many needy people there were in the world and he devoted the rest of his life to religion and prayer. Buddhism is a very complex religion emphasizing cycles of death and rebirth, enlightenment and happiness. Buddhism stresses the immortality of life and reincarnations.
Shinto parallels Buddhism and 96% of the Japanese practice Shinto. Until the mid 1940's Shinto was the state religion of Japan. People of Japan always believed that their emperor was a god, but on the day of Japan's surrender in World War II, United States General Douglas MacArthur made emperor Hirohito get on the Japanese national radio and say "I am not a god." The reason for the Japanese belief in their emperor being a god comes from the Shinto creation myth.
Shinto in Japanese means the way of the gods. Japanese belief in their emperors being gods comes from Shinto mythology, which states that the sun goddess is the ancestor of the imperial family. Shintoists believe in deities of nature call Kami. Shinto is very strict in the lines of ritual and moral standards and ancestral worship.
The Japanese language uses forty-eight syllabaries (written characters representing syllables). This type of language was developed during the ninth century. Spoken Japanese is associated with Korean; the written is derived from Chinese. The typical Japanese spoken today is the Kanto dialect, which is spoken in the Tokyo area.
Basically, the whole population of Japan is literate. Education is compulsory and free to all children from the age of six through fifteen. Before the age of ten, Japanese children are taught simple algebra and reasoning. By age fifteen, they are already doing complex college mathematics. Many people believe Japanese children learn math so well because of the structure of their language.
Approximately 90% of all students above the age of fifteen continue on through high school and graduate. One third of all students continue on to college and graduate schools. There are about 500 universities, colleges and graduate schools. Competition is very great when you are applying to Japanese universities. The universities base acceptance on your entrance examination score. Many juku (extra-hour schools) are set up to help students prepare for these.
Japan has the second largest gross national product in the world. Japan's industry expanded quite rapidly after the 1950's with an emphasis on export items. Tokyo houses one of the largest stock exchanges in the world and the yen is a very important currency. Japan also has a tremendous ship building industry and the world's largest fishing fleet (over 400,000 vessels employing more than 1% of the nation's workers). They catch around 13 million tons of fish every year. What will happen if they keep that up?
Japan imports manufacturing goods, farm equipment, produce, golf equipment, etc. Japan exports far more than it imports. Today, Japan is one of the leading countries to export electronics and automobiles. Many big electronic companies are based in Japan, such as Sony, Canon, and Zenith. Many automobiles we see in the United States, like Honda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi, are made in Japan. Japan exports a large portion of the world's steel and iron. Japan makes a lot of precision instruments such as microscopes and binoculars. Most Japanese have become incredibly dependent upon technology, because their country keeps up with every technological advancement.
Japan has a constitutional monarchy, with a hereditary emperor and a parliament system of government. The present Japanese constitution was adopted on October 7, 1946. The emperor is the ceremonial head of state with minimum power. The present emperor is Akihito, son of Hirohito. Japan also has a House of Representatives, where each member is elected to a four-year term. Aside from that there is a House of Councilors who serve six-year terms. All executive work is carried out by the cabinet and headed by the Prime Minister. There are many liberal-democrats and many conservative-republicans in Japan. The liberal-democrats were the majority of officers from 1955 until 1993.
Japan's present government system was adopted from western society over the past 150-200 years. The first record of a Japanese emperor was from 660-585 BC. If that were a true fact, that emperor would have lived at least 2600 years ago. You have to take into consideration there very well could have been emperors before there were written records. Japanese people take their first fourteen emperors to be legendary, and no one will ever know if the legends are true.
Japan has about eight major historical periods. They are from oldest to most recent; Yamato Period, Nara Period, Heian and the Fujiwaras, Kamakura Period, Ashikaga Period, Period Of Unification, Tokugwana Period and the The Meiji Period.
The earliest written recordings of Japan come from the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) written in approximately 712 AD, and Nihon shoki (Chronicles of Japan) written about 720 AD. These documents include legends of the origin of the Japanese people and they attribute the founding of a state to a mythological emperor Jimmu, in approximately 660 BC. Another legend contains a myth of an empress named Jingo who conquered Korea.
In the beginnings of the third and fourth centuries during the Yamato period, new cultures appeared all over the Japanese state, many of which came from the Asian mainland. Many new arts were developed, such as pottery, figurines, armor, jewelry and weapons. Many people began to worship deities, such as the sun goddess during this period.
During the Nara Period, the first permanent capital of Japan was established in Nara, in the year 710 AD. Around the same time the government had just changed from a tribal government to an aristocratic government. Patronage during this period in Japanese history made Buddhism a major force. In the year 752 the statue of the Great Buddha was built in Japan.
During the Heian Period most Japanese were safe from Buddhist interference, imperial authority increased drastically and the government was influenced greatly by the Fujiwara family. The Fujiwara family was a very noble family who was allowed to intermarry with the imperial family.
In the year 1180 AD the Mimamoto revolted and fought the Taira in the Gempei War, which lasted from 1180 to 1185. The Mimamoto won the war and established the Kamakura Shogunate, the first of many military governments that would rule Japan until 1868.
During the many shogun periods, there were military governors and military land stewards. This was the time when the samurai was the all mighty warrior. In the years 1274 and 1281, the Mongolians invaded Japan and the samurai tested their true strength. The outcome was an excellent victory for the Japanese samurai. From then on the samurai was the best a warrior could be, an elite.
During the Ashikaga Period Europeans began to trade. In 1543 a British ship showed up wanting to trade for silk. The Portuguese began to trade with Japan in 1545 and in 1549 they brought a missionary with them. Because the Japanese were losing faith in the Shinto religion and converting to Catholicism, all Europeans, except the Dutch were banned from Japan in 1639. Until 1855 one ship from the Dutch East India Company was allowed to dock at the port of Nagasaki once each year. In 1854 U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry insisted that they give up this policy of isolation and trade with the United States, so they might advance technologically. In 1855, Japan abandoned isolationism and came up to date with the world.
In the next half a century during the Meiji Period, Japan would go from an isolated and virtually unknown country to an industrialized world power. Japan formed a new and powerful army to replace that of the samurai, based on the western philosophy "Rich country, Strong Army" so they could become equal with western society. The government also stayed very stable and in control during this time of reformation. During 1872, a primary education system was established for all children to improve the literacy of the country as a whole. Beginning in 1873 a brand new tax system provided a very stable financial base for Japan and they abolished the feudal system. In 1881 a new currency was established and named the yen, and civilians called for a new constitution by 1889 and a new form of government by 1890. In 1889 the new constitution was written and by 1890 a bicameral legislature had been created.
Between 1904 and 1905 Japan fought to gain territory in Manchuria and Korea in the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese came home victorious and in 1910 they annexed Korea. On August 23, 1914, Japan sided with Britain in World War I. The Japanese army proved its worth when they seized German holdings in East Asia.
Ten years later in 1926 an emperor named Hirohito came to power. He formed a military dictatorship for the next 19 years. Hirohito was a complete dictator. He made every decision to run the military. When Military General Tojo Hideki, assumed role of Prime Minister he plotted the invasion of Pearl Harbor and Hirohito approved. On the morning of December 7, 1941, 360 planes attacked Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. The Japanese caught the Americans when they were completely off guard. The U.S. was immediately drawn into World War II. Over the next four years, Japanese and American forces were fighting on islands all over the Pacific Ocean. Then the U.S. began to use a strategy of island hopping so they could get closer and still closer to the Japanese mainland. Early in 1944, U.S. B-29 bomber crews were already fire bombing Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
On August 6, 1945, a U.S. B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb named Little Boy on the Japanese City of Hiroshima and three days later on August 9th; another atomic bomb named Fat Man was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Japan is the country in history to be attacked with nuclear weapons. On September 2, 1945, Japan surrendered aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, in Tokyo Bay and World War II was finally over.
Directly following the surrender, Japan lay in absolute ruin. A decade later, in the 1950's, Japan was rebuilding from the ashes of World War II to become one of the most productive countries in the world. In 1972 Okinawa was officially returned to Japan. In 1989 when Emperor Hirohito died, it marked the end of an era for the Japanese. He was succeeded by his son, Akihito.
Modern Japan was formatted by western society and western society looks to Japan for the latest and best. Japan is truly the symbol of a modern society.
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2) Kornhauser, David H., Japan, Grolier Multimedia, Los Angeles, 1997
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