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Kimigayo wa, Chiyo ni yachiyo ni, Sazareishi no, Iwao to narite, Koke no musu made. which translates as May the reign of the Emperor continue for a thousand, nay, eight thousand generations and for the eternity that it takes for small pebbles to grow into a great rock and become covered with moss.
-Japanese National Anthem (kokka)

The modern islands of 'The Land of the Rising Sun', (more commonly known as
, Nippon or Nihon), date back to 8000 BC. It is situated in the Pacific Ocean, east of China and Korea, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea in the south.

Japan's long narrow shape in a north/south orientation and mountainous terrain, made up of 200 volcanoes (kazan) of which 40 are still active today, are caused by Japan's location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the juncture of three tectonic plates. Japan's location also enables Japan to experience different climates (Kiko). For example, the north experiences long cold snowy winters while the south has hot summers and mild winters. Heavy rains and typhoons (taifu) are also common in Japan during the summer and the Japanese live in fear that tidal waves (tsunami) or earthquakes (jishin)will break out. Recent major earthquakes include the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and the 2004 Chuetsu Earthquake.

Japan is made up of 3,000 islands that make up an area of 377 815km. The biggest islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, which form most of the country. Many of Japan's cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Kobe, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Kawasaki, Hiroshima, Saitama, Kitakyushu and Sendai have been built on flat coast.

Getting There

Getting to Japan has never been easier and cheaper thanks to the Japanese government’s campaign to encourage foreigners to 'Visit Japan' and competition between airlines. The major airlines Japan runs are Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), but various other airlines fly into Japan such as Singapore Airlines and United Airlines. The three main airports in Japan are Tokyo's Narita Airport, followed by Osaka's Kansai Airport and Nagoya's Central Japan Airport.

The ferry is an alternative and often preferred mode of transport of getting around Japan quickly. The major ports in Japan can be found in Osaka and Kobe and weekly trips occur to nearby China, Taiwan and Korea as well as to Russia.

Travelling to Japan by Trans-Siberian rail route is lengthy and drawn out, but at the same time makes for an interesting and well organised excursion. Trains depart daily from London and travel through Europe to Moscow.

Visitors to Japan usually arrive in the country by plane, but on landing there are many ways to get around the country. The train is a firm favourite among foreigners and the locals. The Shinkansen (or 'bullet train') is the second fastest train, after the French TGV, on the planet and unlike many places in Europe the trains in Japan are rarely late and are never cancelled. Another way to see Japan is by car or bicycle. Ferries also enable visitors to see places in Japan that would otherwise be missed, and trams and taxis also operate within the country.


In The Beginning

The Japanese are primarily the descendants of various people who migrated from Asia in prehistoric times; the dominant strain is North Asian or Mongoloid, with some Malay and Indonesian admixture. One of the earliest groups, the Ainu, who still persist to some extent in Hokkaido, are similar in appearance to Caucasians.

Legend however suggests that Japonic history begins with the sun goddess and all Japanese emperors were her descendants. By law the Emperors of Japan were men but until the birth of this baby boy, the law nearly had to be changed to let a female heir in. The mythical Jomon period (10,000 - 300 BC) represents the earliest known Japanese culture. Jomon Japan (although the nation did not exist at the time) was home to a hunter-gatherer society, and is named after its characteristic pottery decoration. This period covers the mythical foundation of Japan by Prince Jimmu Tenno, though no evidence for this exists. The following Yayoi, Yamato and Nara Periods saw Japan develop politically, economically and religiously.

The Heian Period

By the time of the Heian Period (794 - 1192), when the capital was moved to Kyoto, Japan's first feudal system was developing. Local authorities owed loyalty to the Emperor (tenno) who controlled their own domains, instead of direct control of the land from the centre. The Imperial Army stopped conscription, which meant the warriors from the military clans now dominated the army. As the Emperor depended on these clans for any military action, they gained influence and importance.

The Diamyo

The feudal system developed over time, with land given in recognition for military service. The diamyo (landowning nobles, literally translated 'great name') possessed the political power and recruited private armies made up of an elite warrior class (the samurai). The diamyo held the power and without a unified central government the country was repeatedly in a state of civil war in the 15th and 16th centuries.


The original samurai were palace guards, though the term is now synonymous with the ruling class of warriors who dominated Japan from when the Kamakura Bakufu (1192 - 1333) was in charge to when the Tokugawa Shogunate lost all power during the during the Meiji Restoration (1867 - 1868).

The Meiji Period

In 1867, Emperor Mutsuhito was restored to power and took on the name Meiji. The Meiji period lasted from 1868 to 1912 and during the emperor’s reign Japan saw in the start of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and the annexion of Korea (1910). Japan has also survived other periods, such as the Taisho [1912-1926] period, the Showa period [1926 -1989] and Heisei period, which laid the foundations for its future.

World War Two

Just before and during WWII Japan attempted to take over
China and joined the Tripartite Pact in 19401. This caused America to stop exporting aviation fuel to Japan and help China instead. At the beginning of 1941 Japan signed a neutrality pact with Russia and increased pressure on Britain, France and the Dutch colonies regarding economic matters. Come summer Japan invaded French Indochina and occupied its naval and air bases. Japan then attacked Pearl Harbour, prompting America to become further involved in the Second World War. During August in 1945 America dropped two atomic bombs2 on Japan. Japan soon surrendered and signed a formal Instrument of Surrender on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

After the war the Emperor lost all his powers and became just a symbol of Japan. The Allied Powers, especially the USA, occupied Japan between 1945 and 1952, when the 'Treaty of Peace with Japan' was signed, and Japan regained full sovereignty. The post-war constitution of Japan prohibited it from maintaining military forces, and going to war as an aggressor. However, they do maintain a force for self-defence purposes only. The Self Defence Force is divided into three branches: Ground Self Defence Force, Maritime Self Defence Force and Air Self Defence Force. The country made a remarkable economic recovery to the point it is now the world's second biggest economy (keizai), aided by its supply of the United Nations forces during the Korean War, and due in a large part to its political3 and military4 stability. However, Japan suffered an economic downturn during the early 1990s, with several periods of recession, forcing changes in major banking, public spending and the private sector. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries there was tension with both China and Korea over Japan's view of its past; and the involvement of Self Defence Force troops in the 2003 invasion of Iraq was criticised for possibly violating the constitution.


In some areas of Japan foreigners are still a novelty. Therefore, don't expect all Japanese people to understand foreign languages and make sure to pack a handy phrase book with Japanese sayings.

Although Japanese speech has always differed a lot from Chinese speech and Japanese grammar has differed from Chinese grammar; the Japanese writing system kana was originally derived from China. Over 2,000 Kanji, making up kana, are created from complex symbols, to create words and parts of words. Kanji began as pictures and over time look less like the original kanji. Historically, only very limited people like aristocracy and educated men could read Chinese (Kanji, but today children are taught about a thousand kanji at elementary level and another thousand at intermediate level. The biggest kanji dictionary contains 50,300 kanji. Newspapers contain 3328 kanji, while to be considered able to read most newspapers and magazines, you will need to learn the most common 2000.

Japanese is made even more difficult by two sets of phonetic scripts called hiragana and katakana, which originate from kanji. A very ancient poet invented Hiragana as Japan’s own written language. Primarily, Hiragana was supposed to be written by well-educated and aristocratic women, but there were very few Japanese women who could write Japanese. Then, the ancestors of the Japanese people developed a written language, which combined Hiragana and Kanji.

Hiragana and katakana are each made up of 46 characters, which stand for syllables (usually including a consonant and a vowel, like 'ka'). Hiragana is usually used for Japanese words, such as Konnichiha. Katakana is used for all foreign words. For example, names of foreign people are written in Katakana and so are words introduced from other languages, places, sounds, and animal noises. Dots are also used to show a difference from the original sounds.

Although basic Japanese is simple, lacking such complications as distinctions between singular and plural, it has a complicated system of 'honorifics', where words change depending on the relative status in society of the speaker and the listener. This can be difficult for westerners to grasp.

There are many different local dialects (hogen) in Japanese. Each of them using different words to mean the same things as well as using different endings, intonations and accents. Therefore, people in Japan use standard Japanese, but because of this derivations of Japanese are dying out and are no longer being taught to younger generations.

The Arts

Japanese literature (bungaku) dates back to the Nara period (AD 710-94) when Japanese was written with Chinese characters in the chronicles Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan).

The Heian period saw the world's first true novel in the form of The Tale of Gengi by Murasaki Shikibu (973-1014). Shintokinshu originated during the Kamakura period (1185-1335). This was followed by Noh plays in the 15th century, which are based on the Buddhist belief of detachment. Noh plays are still acted out today and consist of four types of dance representing ritual, comedy, worship and warriors. Music (Hogaku) played during Noh performances is called Nogaku. It basically consists of a chorus, the Hayashi flute, the Tsuzumi drum, and other instruments. Other types of performance such as the Bunraku (puppet plays, usually accompanied with shamisen music) and Kabuki are also popular today and date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Kabuki plays and dances feature male actors in all of the roles, colourful make up, rhythmical/poetic lines and elaborate sets. Kabuki actors have similar status in Japan to rock stars and footballers.

Haiku is a mode of Japanese poetry, developed from the older hokku style by Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902). was popular during the Tokugawa period (1603-1867) taking over from Tanka and was written in calligraphy (shodoh). Matsuo Basho (1644-94) demonstrated this style magnificently. The fine novel was brought about in the 17th century and is reflected in Ihara Saikaku (1642-93). Then in 1887-89 The Drifting Cloud came into being by Futabatei Shime.

Anime (animated cartoons) and Manga (comics/graphic novels) are one of the more modern types of Japanese art, and cover a wide variety of genres, ages and themes.

There are several types of traditional, Japanese music such as Gagaku, which is ancient court music from China and Korea and is the oldest type of Japanese, traditional music, Biwagaku, Sokyoku, Shakuhachi, Shamisenongaku and Minyo. These can be split into different categories of folk music and art music. Folk music is reflective of work, dance, ceremony and feasts and is sometimes accompanied by hand clapping and instruments, such as the Biwa, koto or zither, Shamisen and Shakuhachi (flute). Art music reflects the court and Shinto ceremonies and is accompanied by a male choir and musical instruments.

Dancing takes place in festivals, plays and various other events. In some of these there is even audience participation. Ballet, Kabuki, Rakugo, Awa Odori (Tokushima Prefecture) and Eisa are just some of the dances on offer in Japan.

Geisha - gei means 'of the arts' and sha means 'person' so ultimately Geisha translates as a person of the arts. Geisha are not prostitutes but women specially trained in the arts such as nihon-buyoh (Japanese dance), playing the Shamisen, Ikebana, poetry, etiquette, conversation, social graces and the tea ceremony. In the past there were male geisha, but the term has evolved to refer specifically to women.

Today in Japan, the sword is not considered a weapon but rather a unique cultural artefact and art form. The curved, single edged katana is distinctly Japanese item (probably best known due to Hollywood’s love affair and deification of it above all other edged weapons, and the legends of the samurai and ninja). Several different craftsmen will work on the sword: the smith, the polisher, a hilt maker who makes thehabaki - a collar that fits around the blade, just above the tsuba(guard), the tsuka or grip, which is usually wrapped with silk cord; and the kashira or pommel cap and a scabbard (or saya) maker. The distinctive curve of the blade comes from the differential hardening process that gives the blade a hard edge and a softer spine. In Japan only a licensed sword smith can make a nihonto a traditionally made sword with a hamon and a mekugi ana (a hole in the nakago or tang which secures the tsuka to the sword via a bamboo peg), made from traditional material (tamahagane – a specific type of steel) and using traditional methods of forging. A maximum number of blades may be made in any one month. Some smiths attain the status of 'living national treasure'.

Ukiyo-e are the 'pictures of the floating world', woodblock printing/paintings, from the Edo period (and onwards) typically featuring landscapes, geisha, samurai, sumo, probably one of the most famous of which is 'In the Well of the Great Wave of Kanagawa' from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai. Other well known artists in this style include Suzuki Harunobu and Ando Hiroshige.


Below are a few customs that occur in Japan, but if all else fails usually saying 'Shitsurei shimasu' (Please excuse me) will get the foreigner by.

  • Many Japanese bathe every day and wash their bodies before getting into the bathtub. Inside the tub no soap or towels are used and the bath water is re-used by the rest of the family. The same occurs when visiting a hot spring or public bath.
  • Don't forget our washing machines come with a pump and hose attached to take the water from the bath. My bath is 100cm x65wx50h I put the plug in and press the pink button 5mins later my bath tells me the bath is half full 5mins later the bath tells me it is full summer the temp is set at 40c winter its 43c I then remove my clothes drop them in the washing machine and enter the bathroom ,sit on a low plastic seat ,take water from the bath with a bath bucket and drench myself wash hair swill from the bath or shower head put soap on my towel ,scrub my body with MY SCRUBBER that’s what I call it its the best thing to have been reinvented here in Japan just put some soap on it and enjoy. I fell in love with towel 25 yrs ago. Swill and repeat you should wash twice, then you can get in the bath half laying half sitting and soak in the water, sitting, will cover your nipples lay back bend your legs and the water comes up to my neck. After about 10 minus I stand and using a flannel I pat dry my body get out of the bath and pat dry my feet and exit the bathroom. Their are towels washbasin mirror and washing machine in the changing room dry with a towel put on nightclothes and exit the room. Next is my daughters turn after she has finished my wife will take her bath when she is finished she puts the powder in the washing machine puts the hose in the bath presses the button. Next morning the clothes are taken out of the machine and hung outside the hose is rerolled onto its bracket on the side of the machine and the plug pulled to let the remaining water out. The water temp is preselected and the amount of water is preset but we just turn it up in winter then each day its the same, the water will stay the same temp until you press the pink button for off , the green button will reheat the water. The bath floor and bottom20c of the walls is all one piece quite a hard ivory plastic, the floor is tile pattern so the bath itself has a dimple pattern, both are slip proof.
  • Instead of the shaking of hands, Japanese greet each other for the first time with a bow.
  • Business cards or name cards known as meishi are exchanged when meeting someone.
  • On entering someone's home, an inn or restaurant it is tradition to remove your shoes and sometimes slippers are offered in replacement. No shoes are used on the tatami, or areas without carpet, which is a similar floor used in temples. Slippers should be changed on entering and exiting the restroom. The soles of the feet should never be shown.
  • Guests are the first to be served a meal. Before eating it is customary to say 'itadakimasu'('I receive'). Do not pick up the food with the ends of the chopsticks that will touch your mouth. It is also rude to wave your chopsticks around while talking. And don’t stab your food. After finishing say “Gochiso-sama deshita” (Thank you for the feast).
  • Usually the hostess doesn't sit down during a meal and should not be asked to either. When sitting a low table without chairs, men should sit cross-legged, women should tuck their legs neatly behind them to be feminine.
  • At drinking parties people refill each others cups and when this is done the cup should be held in two hands. It is rude to fill your own glass unless you are drinking with friends.
  • At the end of a meal with friends or other people, the bill is divided evenly or paid by one person.
  • A contract or application sometimes carries a personal seal as well as the person's signature.
  • New Year Cards are sent out during December and are delivered on New Year's morning.
  • A gift (omiyage) is given when paying a visit to somebody and on returning from a journey. The gift should be from the destination you travelled to. Colleagues and family usually receive gifts from each other and return the favour as soon as they can. On special occassions money or a small gift is also customary.
  • Money is also offered at funerals. Green tea is drank then too and the only time when chopsticks should be placed inside the bowl after a meal is at a funeral. Men wear black suits, white shirts and black ties. Women wear black clothing.

Religion and Festivals

In Japan the search for spirituality continues every hour, every day, every month.Dennis Banks - American Educator

Just as the West celebrates with festivals relating to Christianity, the East celebrates with festivals relating to their own religions. The two main religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism, though the two co-exist, and many Japanese follow both traditions. Christianity (kirisutokyo), Judaism, Islam and Hinduism are minority religions in Japan.

Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan reveres nature, not differentiating between the spiritual and natural worlds. Kami (loosely translated as 'spirits') including gods, ancestral spirits and natural phenomena such as oceans, mountains, storms and earthquakes can influence different aspects of life, and respond to human prayers. Shinto has no sacred texts or icons, no founder. While there is no congregational worship per se, as well as private worship rituals within the home, followers make visits to public shrines (jinja) for personal reasons (to request help or to give thanks) or at times of festivals.

Buddhism (bukkyo)5, specifically Zen Buddhism, spread to Japan in the 12th Century BC, and is a mixture of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. Based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, Buddhists try to achieve enlightenment through practice and development of morality, meditation, and wisdom via the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths. Similar to Shinto, worship can be at home or at temples (tera).

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!
- 'Happy New Year!' in Japanese

Japan celebrates New Year’s Day over three days, which are classed as Bank Holidays and unlike the west celebrates with a special meal called 'Osechi Ryori' (Ryori means Cook) rather than fireworks and dancing. calendars are also different!

Japan also celebrates Valentines Day, Setsubun, Hina Matsuri (the doll/girls festival), Hana Matsuri (flower festival), Golden Week, White Day, Children’s Day and Aoi Matsuri (Aoi Festival). For travellers in search of festivals it is probably best to go during July to August, when the Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival), Gion Matsuri, Hanabi Taikai and O Bon (the festival of the dead) take place. Hanabi Taikai and O Bon occur on water but Hanabi Taikai also uses fireworks, while O Bon uses little lanterns. Around the same time rival firework companies in Tokyo come together and produce Sumida-gawa. The best place to see this display is on the river or from Asakusa's Sumida Park, one of 28 national parks in Japan. Two other festivals worth mentioning are Jidai which occurs in Kyoto during October and the Mount Tsukuba Toad Festival in August, which commemorates the toads that are used to make toad grease, which is used in the healing of cuts and wounds and traditionally believed to provide protection against spears and swords.

Food and Drink

As far as food goes, I'm pretty easy. I love Japanese food. I love meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I love spaghetti. I'm easy. - Frank Oz

The Japanese are used to eating both native and foreign food at home and in restaurants and like many other countries they have special foods for special occasions too. For example, mochi (rice cakes) are created for New Year and candies are created for White Day in March.

Steamed rice known as gohan in Japan is used in a wide variety of meals. Therefore, the word gohan has gone on to refer to any meal, including those from the west. A typical Japanese meal consists of rice (kome), meat or fish, vegetables, soup and pickled vegetables. This is often eaten in a ritualistic manner starting by eating some of the main or side dish, then the rice and then drinking the soup before tucking into the pickled vegetables and using up the rest of the rice. Traditionally the Japanese use chopsticks to eat their meals and say thanks to everyone and everything that helped make the food, such as God, the farmer, the fisherman, the cook, the waitress and even the fish or animal that gave its life, before and after they have eaten it.

Other typical Japanese dishes revolve around the sea and contain things like fish and seaweed. For example, Fugu Fish, Sushi and Wasabi. Seafood is also used in the creation of Bento and Onigiri dishes that are typically eaten at mid-day while at school or in work.

Tea (ocha) is commonly drunk with meals, although this is often oolong cha, not the machya drunk in tea ceremonies (Sadoh, a custom strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism). Tea ceremonies are separate 'events' and rarely feature as part of a meal, being a highly ritualistic ceremony requiring a number of years to understand, before mastery.


Today Japanese people usually can be found imitating the fashion trends of the west in extreme ways. For example, Kogal reflects how young wealthy upper class westerners dress, Gothic Lolita (GothLoli) reflects the Victorian era and dolls from that period and Ganguro (black-face) supports hair dyeing, tans, false eyelashes and platform shoes derivative of perhaps Janet Jackson or Naomi Campbell.

Japan has not forgotten or abandoned their traditional clothing range though, which includes the kimono that is now only used on formal occassions. Yukata that are worn in summer and sandals (geta and zori) and tabi socks. Sometimes women fasten a comb matching their kimono to their hair and have a matching handbag too. Happi coats are also worn by the Japanese whether the wearer is a shopkeeper or attending a festival (matsuri).

Japanese clothing and traditional outfits reflect the seasons as well as the person wearing them, through the colours and designs that are used. As well as the fabric: cotton fabric is used in spring and summer outfits whereas the fabric used for autumn and winter clothes is heavier or lined.


The only English words I saw in Japan were Sony and Mitsubishi. - Bill Gullickson

Japan is known for its technology, not only in terms of invention, but in terms of taking existing products and ideas and adapting, improving and developing them. They have patents on various products, in particular those related to the classes of photography, office machines, consumer electronic goods and information technology. Japan is also known for its input in creating cars (which are sometimes eco-friendly) and creating the Grand Turismo and the driving technique 'drifting'. They have also helped in creating inductively-heated rice cookers, which were put into use because of the number of women that entered the workforce during the 1950s. Hitech toilets, canned hot drinks (such as canned coffee, tea and hot chocolate), robots, video games (such as Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda), the walkman, mobile phones (keitai denwa), the
Shinkansen (bullet train)
quality management tools
and vending machines have all evolved through Japanese expertise. There are about 5.6 million vending machines in Japan selling a range of different things, including eggs, flowers, drink, cigarettes, clothing and tickets. Japanese filmmakers created the film Godzilla.
the Subaru telescope
Although this 21st century infra-red telescope is owned by the Japanese, it was built in Hawaii and has been used to examine the outer fringes of the universe. tsunami forecaster, fare cards (Suica and ICOCA) and the convenience food known as instant ramen.


I had an American girl visiting me once , My wife took her to a friends old fashioned house , she forgot shoes and just stepped up into the house with shoes on >PANIC they immediately took her to the local temple n did a lot of praying It frightened her. - Anoldgreymoonraker

On visiting the country foreigners are likely to see a vast array of different buildings, which are reflective of the country's past, its people and their culture. Japanese buildings include Bath Houses, Castles, Traditional Houses and places of worship (such as Buddhist Temples, Shinto shrines). Traditionally, Japanese houses have been built from wood that withstands the climate and is easy to obtain. There is also a raised floor to help air-flow and a low hanging roof covered in ceramic tiles (or thatch) is put in place to protect the house from heavy rain. Screens and paper panels partition off parts of the house for privacy and let in light. Many of the houses also have a veranda which connects the outside of the house with the inside.

Temples and shrines were built in the same way but some are influenced by the nagare style, where one side covered the stairs and many of them are built around special Japanese features. There are also outdoor and indoor museums in Japan each reflecting a part of Japanese life and its history. For instance, there is the Historic Village of Hokkaido, Abashiri Prison Museum, Meiji Mura, the Button museum, Kite museum, Cigarette Lighter Museum and Drum Museum.


Gardening also takes place indoors and outdoors. Outside traditional landscape gardens such as the Tsukiyama Gardens (hill gardens, showing nature in minature), Karesansui Gardens (dry or zen gardens or rock garden) and Chaniwa Gardens (tea gardens) can be found. Inside, arts such as Ikebana and Bonsai are practised which reflect on the beauty and nature of the outdoors.

Ikebana is the art of flower arranging. It takes up to three to five years to be a specialist in Ikebana, as there are many different ways of arranging flowers to be learned. Many of these styles of arrangement have names such as rikka (standing flowers), seika or shoka (living flowers), nageire (flung flowers) and moribana (piled-up flowers). The intention of all who do Ikebana is to create harmony between both flower and the pot it lives in. These beautiful arrangements are created through the use of scissors (hasami), a tall vase (kabin) for use in heika arrangements or a low shallow container (utsuwa) for use in maribana arrangements and a holder with sharp points known as kenzan.

Bonsai are another part of traditional Japanese culture and require a lot of looking after. They are a reflection on what Japanese society regards as beautiful as well as being significant of the respect Japanese people have for living things. To find out more about growing Bonsai visit Bonsai for Beginners.


Japan is home to many animals, such as the crane, the Japanese deer, the fox (kitsune), and the raccoon dog (tanuki). Brown bears have been found living in Hokkaido, tropical snakes in Okinawa and Japanese monkeys live all over Japan (except Hokkaido). Though illegal in many countries Japan also takes part in whaling.


Japan is commonly known around the world for its martial arts such as Judo, Karate, Aikido, Puroresu, Kendo, Bushido and Sumo wrestling and Tae Kwon Do. Japan is also heavily influenced by western sports such as hiking, cycling, skiing, baseball, cormorant fishing and climbing. The highest peak in Japan is Fujiyama (Mount Fuji)it is climbed by 400,000 people each year. Formula One, Grand Prix motorcycling is also favoured amongst the Japanese who have had a number of 125cc and 250cc world champions and Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki (and to a lesser extent Kawasaki) have dominated the Grand Prix scene for decades. Soccer (football)has also been gaining popularity amongst the Japanese, especially since the Korea/Japan 2002 Cup and Japanese International football fans are famous for turning up at a venue, cheering on their team, then at the end, producing plastic bags and clearing up after themselves. Japan also sends many of its athletes to the summer and winter Olympic Games and has held them three times in 1964, 1972 and 1998. The first Olympic games the Japanese participated in was in July 1912 at the 5th Olympic Games in Stockholm.

Child’s Play

When Japanese children aren't playing computer games or sport, they may be seen taking part in origami (the art of paper folding), listening to folk legends or partaking in a game that dates back to the middle ages such as Fuku Warai (the Japanese version of pin the tail on the donkey). Kendama is also a popular pastime for many children and has become a recognisable sport, while Menko involves pictured discs and the aim of the game is to turn the opponents disc over like POGs. Onsen, sento, budo, spinning tops (koma), kites (tako), karuta (such as Hyakunin-isshu, which is a a popular card game), chess (shogi) and an alternative version of badminton (hanetsuki) are all very popular too, as are graphic novels (manga) and animated films (anime).


In 1872 education (kyoiku) became compulsory in Japan as a result of the Meiji Restoration. Compulsory education consists of elementary school (lasting six years), middle school (three years), high school (three years), and university (four years). Education is only compulsory for nine years through elementary and middle school, but 97% of students go on to university, junior college, trade school, or other post-secondary institution. Many students progress in education with the help of cram schools (juku), which improve their chances of passing exams.

The Japanese education system is valued highly around the world and is reflective of the French education system, which is very rigid and holds little scope for creativity, unlike the UK and America. Education is taught through lectures but there is little to no interaction between the students and their highly regarded teachers. The Japanese are particularly good at maths and study this alongside other subjects from Monday through to Friday. Like the French the Japanese would also sometimes go to school on Saturdays but this is no more.


America's health care system is second only to Japan... Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, ... well all of Europe. But you can thank your lucky stars we don't live in Paraguay!Dan Castellaneta

Apart from smoking, cancer, heart disease, strokes, suicide (especially amongst the elderly and students6) and what used to be seen to the Japanese as a foreign illness AIDS,
the Japanese live particularly healthy lives mainly due to their low fat fish-based diets and high levels of healthcare and public hygiene.
Japan has the highest concentration of centenarians in the world; there being 25,000 in a population of 127 million in 2006. By 2050 the number of Japanese centenarians is expected to rise to one million. The average life expectancy for Japanese women is 85.6 years; for men it is 79.6 years. It was recorded in the 2002 Guinness Book of World Records that the oldest male was 120-year-old Shigechiyo, who also had the longest career, working for 98 years as a farmer. Izumi died in 1986. 'Respect the Aged Day' is held every year on 19 September and celebrates the latest legion of 100 year-olds, who are presented with a silver cup and a letter from the Prime Minister.

In 2005 Blue Peter presenters visited Japan and were surprised to see people wearing white masks over their nose and mouth, which block out germs and colds and carries an antiseptic.

Chinese medicine has been practised in Japan since 6AD and is related to Shinto. Herbal drugs, acupuncture and shiatsu are just some of the methods used to cure patients. Bufotoxin (Cane Toad poison) is used in oriental medicine; and a derivative of bufotoxin is an ingredient of a Japanese hair-restorer.

Famous Japanese people

It's interesting to find a band in Japan that sounds just like Yes and a band in Germany that do just Yes covers.Jon Anderson

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi - Born in Yokosuka on 8 January 1942, Koizumi attended Yokosuka High School and Keio University, where he studied economics. He also attended University College London and returned to Japan in August 1969 having heard news of his father’s death. Over the years he has experienced marriage and divorce and won leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2001. He is an advocate for reform, is focused on Japan’s government debt and the privatisation of its postal service and although many people support him, neighbouring countries have suffered due to him. In his spare time the Prime Minister has had fun impersonating Elvis and has recorded a CD of Elvis songs with Elvis' backing singers. Koizumi performed a duet with Tom Cruise 'live' for an audience when Tom visited Japan. Cruise described Koizumi as an extraordinary man, and a pretty good singer.

Yoko Ono - Born in 1933, Yoko Ono was already a well-known artist before she became John Lennon's wife. She was rumoured to have helped break up the band The Beatles and appeared in the video for the song 'Imagine' performed by John Lennon.

Yoko Kanno- Yoko Kanno shot to fame as a keyboardist for the band Tetsu 100% in 1987. She went on to join the computer game company Koei in '88 and to date has composed soundtracks to Anime and computer games, created orchestral compositions with world-class orchestras such as the Israel, Czech and Warsaw Philharmonics and has produced a range of music including jazz, pop and opera tracks.

Aikawa Nanase - Aikawa Nanase, born 16 February, 1975 in Osaka, Japan, shot to fame in Japan as a rock singer singing 'Dandelion', 'Bye Bye', 'Break Out' and 'Cosmic Love'. Nanase is a very private person and rarely gives interviews and when she does she is very careful in what she chooses to tell people. She is so private that on the day of her wedding (16 February, 2001) only her official website told of the fact she had got married and was pregnant with her first child a baby boy which arrived on the 6 September, 2001. This caused many broken hearts amongst her male fan base. By January 2002, Aikawa Nanase had released five albums, plus one compilation album and the mini-album, a total of 19 singles, and no less than three separate concerts and two music video collections on video and DVD.

Takeshi Kitano - Takeshi Kitano is a very talented man having become a director, writer, actor, artist, poet, novelist, newspaper columnist, comedian, musician and daily talk-show host. He has had a rags to riches up bringing through life and like a lot of other famous Japanese people is barely known in the west. His love of baseball has also led him to partake in the game and manage an amateur baseball team and he unleashed an English language film called Brother during 2000 in the west.

The Japanese band Shonen Knife also broke into the western music scene with the Japanese take on rock called J-Rock.

Many more famous Japanese people exist such as singer and actor Takuya Kimura (nicknamed Kimutaku), actor Ken Watanabe who was in Memoirs of a Geisha and The Seven Samurai, comedian and movie director Beat Takeshi Kitano, singers Ayumi Hamazaki and Hikaru Utada, sumo brothers Takanohana and Wakanohana, Hayao Miyazaki - Director of Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, Akira Kurosawa of The Seven Samurai, Sadako Sasaki famous for origami, soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata, and young baseball pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka but they are not known in the west.7

1 The Tripartite Pact saw Germany, Italy and Japan unite as one against the Allied Powers.2Enola Gay was the name of the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb. The name of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima by Enola Gay was called 'Little Boy'. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki was called 'Fat Man'.3Only one political party was voted in, so it didn't have any upheavals that follow the transition from one party to another.4Japan fell under America's defence network, and its own defence force is smaller than many standing armies. Hence the billions of yen that it would have spent on rocket launchers and hand grenades and suchlike was pumped into regenerating the Japanese economy.5Buddhism breaks up into subdivisions such as Jodo, shingon (which emphasizes the mystical symbolism of mudras and mantras and believes in the Buddha’s ideal which is inexpressible), Nichiren and Soka Gakkai. Some Japanese also believe in a philosophical approach to life developed by Confucius (jukyo), which stresses the hierarchical relationships in life.6Since the 1970s it has widely been reported that bullying has been a major concern and many young students have comitted suicide because of it.7Japan had a population of 127.76 million in 2005.

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