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Japan Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Japan
Japan is a country that lives life between two worlds. Older rituals and traditions like kendo, bonsai, geisha, tea ceremonies and sumo coexist with contemporary attitudes and technological advances. The modern generation - who are a decidedly online, high-tech, fashion-forward crew - have adapted to a fast-paced world and generally work long hours, keep up with fashion trends and display a more ostentatious image in public. With a culture based on modesty, respect and discipline, it's no wonder that older, more traditional Japanese people are often at odds with this more flamboyant, modern generation.
Despite the difference in attitude and appearance, many traditions and ways of living endure in modern Japan. No matter what age, etiquette is important to the Japanese and guides people when eating, travelling, working and interacting with others. Traditions and rituals like tea ceremonies, bowing, kendo, geisha and sumo endure, as do festivals that have been in existence for centuries. Japan holds many festivals all over the country, ranging from large national celebrations to small regional fairs. Cherry blossom festivals - Hanami - are celebrated all over Japan in spring and other traditional festivals and celebrations can be stumbled upon in small towns and cities alike.
Although modern cuisine and convenience foods have infiltrated Japanese society, authentic Japanese cuisines like bento boxes, sushi and ramen remain ever popular. The contradictions of Japan are endless - kimonos and karaoke, contemporary art and calligraphy, bonsai and bullet trains - the modern collides with the ancient everyday, and makes for a truly fascinating place to visit.
Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world, with the average woman expecting to live for 86.1 years and the average man 78 years
Geography and Environment of Japan
Located in the Pacific Ocean, the island nation of Japan is an archipelago of more than 6,000 islands, with the main islands being Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. Lying on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan is prone to destructive earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity.
Japan has much forested, mountainous terrain, unsuitable for agriculture and development, so much of the population live in the coastal cities, which creates overpopulation. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and as a result, most people are used to living in very small spaces and with a heavy reliance on public transport. Although life is fast-paced and crowded in cities like Tokyo and Osaka, rural areas typically feature low-density, traditional housing and a slower pace of life.
History and Government of Japan
This timeline highlights the important moments in Japan's early history:
- 710 to 794: Nara Period - Buddhism becomes the national religion
- 794 to 1185: Heian Period - The Tale of Genji and the Pillow Book are written and the samurai grow in importance and influence
- 1333 to 1573: Muromachi Period - Tea ceremonies and flower arranging are born
- 1600 to 1868: Edo Period - Haiku flourishes and the art of woodblock printing is first created
- 1868 to 1912: Meiji Period - Western influences grow and modern Japanese literature is born
- 1912 to 1926: Taisho Period - Cultural life expands with mass media (newspapers and magazines) becoming popular, as well as translations of Western books
Japanese civilisation can be traced back thousands of years to prehistoric times. Over the centuries, Japan alternated between feudal, empirical and government rule, with each period birthing different styles of art, architecture and ways of living. Agriculture, particularly rice-growing, was a very important part of life in early Japan, and craftsmanship like metal working was also highly developed and respected in Japan's early days.
Over the decades, Tokyo has grown to become an economic powerhouse and one of the most cosmopolitan, modern cities in the world. Enduring an earthquake in 1923 that caused widespread damage and civilian fatalities, as well as several bombings during World War II, Tokyo remains a global city focused on trade, tourism and technological advances.
The Japanese Army were very aggressive during World War II, playing an important part in the war and therefore suffered many losses. Many troops were lost but the most notable losses were the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - two cities which were destroyed by atomic bombs dropped by the United States towards the end of the war. After World War II Japan slowly found its feet, creating a strong economy based on manufacturing and telecommunications. Enjoying decades of prosperity and abundance, Japanese arts, culture and cuisine flourished, allowing the rest of the world to see and enjoy Japan's unique heritage.
Emperor Hirohito passed away in 1989 after reigning for many decades. This signified the end of the Showa era and the beginning of the Heisei era. In 1998, Japan hosted the Winter Olympics and fast became known as one of the hottest new places to enjoy snow sports.
Currently, Japan is still in recovery from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011. But with large parts of the country unaffected, Japan is still a very special place to visit.
Japan at a glance
- Tokyo (population 12.5 million)
- 127.2 million
- (GMT+09:00) Osaka, Sapporo, Tokyo
- Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin), Type B (American 3-pin)
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