Japan 2: Japan Today

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Japan today is a country of some 377,955 sq km, and as an island country it has 29,769 km of coastal boundary. It rises to 3,778m with Mount Fuji as its highest point. Natural dangers include:

  • Tsunamis.
  • Earthquakes.
  • Typhoons.
  • Active volcanoes.

The country is divided into 47 prefectures and is governed by a democratically elected two house system the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors.

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


Japan is known for its technology, it ranks as the second most technologically powerful economy in the world, 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.


Gardening also takes place indoors and outdoors. Outside traditional landscape gardens such as:

Tsukiyama Gardens (hill gardens, showing nature in miniature).
Karesansui Gardens (dry gravel zen gardens with rocks representing landscape features).
And the Chaniwa Gardens (tea gardens) can be found.

Inside garden arts such as Ikebana and Bonsai are practised which reflect on the beauty and nature of the outdoors.

Japan is the home of over 30 of the most beautiful and famous gardens in the world:

  • In Kanazawa The gardens of Kenrokuen Castle. Spectacular landscapes, over 200 years in the construction.
  • In Tokyo The gardens of Rikugien. The gardens of six poems, finished in c 1,700.
  • In Kamakura The gardens of Zuisenji Zen Temple. A rock and flower gardens in the temple grounds.
  • In Mito The Kairakuen garden of the plum tree forest (3,000 trees and 100 different types). A must visit in Spring blossom time.

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 moribana 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 there are over 660 species of birds such as the crane, copper pheasant and the bush warbler. over 180 species of animals are native to Japan these include the Japanese deer (Kamoshika), the fox (kitsune), and the raccoon dog (tanuki). Brown bears have been found living in Hokkaido, tropical snakes in Okinawa and Japanese monkeys (Saru) 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 students) 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

Junichiro Koizumi Japanese Prime Minister - 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.

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