Japan is one of the most developed countries in the world today. Japan is rich in its economic and social achievements. Japan is an island nation that is located in East Asia. Japan is sometimes known as “The Land of the Rising Sun” and even though its history goes back for thousands of years and they retain a lot of their ancient culture, they are also headliners in some of the most modern technology, fashions and trends. The country is a very homogeneous one, meaning that almost 99 percent of the country is made up of only Japanese people. The people in this country are well known for their politeness, so if you find yourself lost or bewildered while visiting, you will probably find someone who is most willing to help you.
Japan likely was settled about 35,000 years ago by Paleolithic people from the Asian mainland. At the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, a culture called the Jomon developed. Jomon hunter-gatherers fashioned fur clothing, wooden houses, and elaborate clay vessels. According to DNA analysis, the Ainu people may be descendents of the Jomon.
A second wave of settlement around 400 B.C. by the Yayoi people introduced metal-working, rice cultivation, and weaving to Japan. DNA evidence suggests that these settlers came from Korea. The first era of recorded history in Japan is the Kofun (250-538 A.D.), characterized by large burial mounds or tumuli. The Kofun were headed by a class of aristocratic warlords; they adopted many Chinese customs and innovations.
Buddhism came to Japan during the Asuka Period, 538-710, as did the Chinese writing system. Society was divided into clans, ruled from Yamato Province. The first strong central government developed in Nara (710-794); the aristocratic class practiced Buddhism and Chinese calligraphy, while agricultural villagers followed Shintoism.
Japan’s unique culture developed rapidly in the Heian era, 794-1185. The imperial court turned out enduring art, poetry and prose. The samurai warrior class developed at this time, as well.
Samurai lords, called “shoguns,” took over governmental power in 1185, and ruled Japan in the name of the emperor until 1868. The Kamakura Shogunate (1185-1333) ruled much of Japan from Kyoto. Aided by two miraculous typhoons, the Kamakura repelled attacks by Mongol armadas in 1274 and 1281. A particularly strong emperor, Go-Daigo, tried to overthrew shogunate rule in 1331, resulting in a civil war between competing northern and southern courts that finally ended in 1392. During this time, a class of strong regional lords called “daimyo” increased in power; their control lasted through the end of the Edo period, also known as the Tokugawa Shogunate, in 1868.
In that year, a new constitutional monarchy was established, headed by the Meiji Emperor. The power of the shoguns was broken.
After the Meiji Emperor’s death, his son became the Taisho Emperor (r. 1912-1926). His chronic illnesses allowed the Diet of Japan to democratize the country further. Japan formalized its rule over Korea and seized northern China during World War I. The Showa Emperor, Hirohito, (r. 1926-1989) oversaw Japan’s aggresive expansion during World War II, its surrender, and its rebirth as a modern, industrialized nation.
Japan is located in the North Pacific off the coast of Russia and the Korean peninsula. The area of Japan is 377,873km2, which makes it slightly smaller in land mass than California. Japan consists of four main larger islands and more than 4000 smaller islands. The main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Honshu is the largest with an area of 231,000km2. A modern railroad system connects the major islands with Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen connecting major urban areas.
Japan is over 70% mountainous terrain with approximately 18% of the land mass suitable for settlement. Japanese cities are typically sprawling and densely populated. Tokyo, a megalopolis and capital of Japan, is located on Honshu island. Central Tokyo has a population of 12 million people, with the population of the Greater Tokyo Area estimated at over 35 million people.
The islands of Japan are located in an area known as The Ring of Fire in the Pacific. This is an area with many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Japan is very seismically active with over 1,500 earthquakes per year. In 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake killed more than 143,000 people in the Tokyo area. Tsunamis and volcanic eruptions are other natural destructive forces in Japan. In 1896 in Sanriku, Japan, 27,000 people were killed by a Tsunami caused by an earthquake.
The vast majority of Japan’s citizens (99%) speak Japanese as their primary language. Japanese is in the Japonic language family, and seems to be unrelated to Chinese and Korean. However, Japanese has borrowed heavily from Chinese, English, and other languages. In fact, 49% of Japanese words are loan-words from Chinese, and 9% come from English. Three writing systems coexist in Japan: hiragana, used for native Japanese words, inflected verbs, etc.; katakana, used for non-Japanese loanwords, emphasis, and onomatopoeia; and kanji, which is used to express the large number of Chinese loan-words in the Japanese language.
Stretching 3500 km (2174 miles) from north to south, Japan includes a number of different climate zones. It has a temperate climate overall, with four seasons. Heavy snowfall is the rule in the winter on the northern island of Hokkaido; in 1970, the town of Kutchan received 312 cm (over 10 feet) of snow in a single day! The total snowfall for that winter was more than 20 meters (66 feet). The southern island of Okinawa, in contrast, has a semi-tropical climate with an average annual temperate of 20 Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). The island receives about 200 cm (80 inches) of rain per year.