Japan, also known as the “Land of the Rising Sun”, is an island country in East Asia, in the Pacific Ocean. It is an archipelago of 6,852 islands! The four main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, which constitute about 97% of Japan. It has a population of about 126 million, the tenth largest in the world.
About 73% of Japan is forests or mountains and unsuitable for agricultural, industrial, or residential use. So, the remaining areas are very densely populated. Japan’s islands lie on a volcanic zone. There are about 108 active volcanoes in Japan!
Japan is a constitutional monarchy in which the Emperor is a ceremonial figurehead whose power is very limited. The Prime Minister is the head of the government. Japan’s legislative body is the National Diet (in Tokyo).
The oldest written reference to Japan is in the Chinese Book of Han (3rd century). Korea first brought Buddhism to Japan and it became widespread from the late 6th century onwards. A strong Japanese state emerged during the Nara period (8th century). Now, an imperial court was created. During this period, literature and Buddhist-inspired art and architecture began developing. Next came the Heian period (794–1185). It was now that a unique Japanese culture, noted for its art, poetry and prose, started appearing.
Perhaps the most famous period of Japanese history is its feudal era, when a ruling class of warriors, the samurai, first appeared. In 1185, samurai Minamoto no Yoritomo became the first appointed shogun (military commander). It is said that the samurai could kill a commoner for the slightest insult and so they were greatly feared by the general population. The Zen school of Buddhism came to Japan from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class.
Japan’s first interaction with the West was in about 1542, when an off course Portuguese ship entered Japanese waters. This opened the pathways for many European traders as well as Christian missionaries. But the samurai were suspicious of them and eventually prohibited almost all international trade.
Japan’s modern era was heralded by the US Navy forcing the opening up of Japan’s economy through the Convention of Kanagawa, in 1854. Many more treaties were signed with other western countries after that, but they led to economic and political crises and finally the fall of the shogunate and the establishment of a centralized state under the Emperor.
This chain of events that restored imperial rule in Japan in 1868, under Emperor Meiji, is called the Meiji Restoration. The goals of the new government were jotted down in Charter Oath. The Meiji period (1868 to 1912) and was responsible for the emergence of Japan as a modernized nation.
Japanese is the first language of over 99% of the population. However, most schools require students to learn English as well.
Japan’s climate, though mostly temperate, varies greatly from North to South. Japan has been divided into six principal climatic zones in which the climate ranges from a humid continental climate to a humid subtropical climate to mild weather all year round. While visiting Japan, one should find out about the weather of the individual regions being visited. The average winter temperature is 41.2 °F and the average summer temperature is 77.4 °F. The rainy season is from May to July. Heavy rains are brought by typhoons (tropical cyclones) in late summer and early autumn.
There is only one time zone in Japan: GMT + 9 (9 hours ahead of GMT). There is no concept of Daylight Saving Time here.