Japan - Country of my dreams
Japan (Nihon or Nippon in Japanese) is the country occupying 377,835 sq km at an archipelago off the coast of East Asia. Estimated population 5 years ago was 125,506,000. The capital is Tokyo, which, along with neighboring Yokohama, forms the world's most populous metropolitan region.
In 1990 Tokyo's population was 8,163,573. Tokyo is also a capital of Tokyo prefecture, east-central Honshu, at the head of Tokyo Bay. The Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area is the world's most populous metropolitan area, with over 28,000,000 people. Tokyo proper consists of an urban area divided into wards, a county area with farms and mountain villages, and the Izu Islands stretching to the south of Tokyo Bay. Tokyo prefecture (1990 pop. 11,854,987), is governed by a popularly elected governor and assembly. The wards and other subsidiary units of the city have their own assemblies.
The city of Tokyo is the administrative, financial, educational, and cultural center of Japan and a major industrial hub surrounded by numerous suburban manufacturing complexes. Tokyo is also one of the world's most important cities in terms of economic power and influence, and it serves as the corporate and communications hub for the E Pacific Rim. Frequent rebuilding in the wake of disasters has made Tokyo one of the most modern cities on the globe. Because space is so precious, it is also one of the most crowded and expensive cities in the world.
Japan proper has four main islands, which are (from north to south) Hokkaido (most sparsely populated of the major islands of Japan; once called Yezo, it received the name Hokkaido [region of the northern sea] in 1869), Honshu (the largest island, where the capital and most major cities are located), Shikoku (separated from Honshu and Kyushu by the Inland Sea; the smallest of the major islands of Japan, its has high mountains and steep slopes), and Kyushu (the third largest, southernmost, and most densely populated of the major islands of Japan. It is separated from Shikoku by the Bungo Strait and from Honshu by the Shimonoseki Strait; a railroad tunnel under the strait and a bridge link Kyushu with Honshu).
There are also many smaller islands stretched in an arc between the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea and the Pacific proper. Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu enclose the Inland Sea. The general features of the four main islands are shapely mountains, sometimes snowcapped, the highest and most famous of which is sacred Mt. Fuji; short rushing rivers; forested slopes; irregular and lovely lakes; and small, rich plains. Mountains, many of them volcanoes, cover two thirds of Japan's surface, hampering transportation and limiting agriculture.
On the arable land, which is only 11% of Japan's total land area, the population density is among the highest in the world. The climate ranges from chilly humid continental to humid subtropical. Rainfall is abundant, and typhoons and earthquakes are frequent. (For a more detailed description of geography, see separate articles on the individual islands.) Mineral resources are meager, except for coal, which is an important source of industrial energy. The rapid streams supply plentiful hydroelectric power. Imported oil, however, is the major source of energy. One third of Japan's electricity comes from nuclear power; in the mid-1990s it had 49 nuclear plants and six more under construction or being planned. The rivers are generally unsuited for navigation (only two, the Ishikari and the Shinano, are over 200 mi/322 km long), and railroads and ships along the coast are the chief means of transportation. The Shinkansen bullet train, the second fastest train system in the world after France's TGV, was inaugurated in 1964 between Tokyo and Osaka and later extended.
Japan is an extremely homogeneous society with non-Japanese, mostly Koreans, making up less than 1% of the population. The Japanese people are primarily the descendants of various peoples 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 physically somewhat similar to Caucasians.
Japan's principal religions are Shinto and Buddhism; most Japanese adhere to both faiths. While the development of Shinto was radically altered by the influence of Buddhism, which was brought from China in the 6th cent., Japanese varieties of Buddhism also developed in sects such as Jodo, Shingon, and Nicheren. Numerous sects, called the new religions, formed after World War II and have attracted many members. One of these, the Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist sect, grew rapidly in the 1950s and 60s and became a strong social and political force. Less than 1% of the population are Christians. Confucianism has deeply affected Japanese thought and was part of the generally significant influence that Chinese culture wielded on the formation of Japanese civilization.
Climatically Japan is a country with four distinct seasons, and many annual events are associated with the changing of the seasons. These annuals are very interesting, so I write something more about them.
Most important annuals in Japanese's live are:
. New Year
. Doll Festival
. Children's Day
. Tanabata Festival
. Bon Festival
The Japanese celebrate the passing of one year and the arrival of the next with great fervor. The period of celebration is called shogatsu, which in its broadest sense refers to the first month of the year. On January 1 families gather to drink a special kind of sake that is supposed to ensure a long life, eat a special kind of soup containing glutinous rice cakes, and generally wipe away any bitter memories remaining from the previous year.
People decorate the entrances to their homes with branches of pine and with straw festoons, which symbolically prevent the entrance of anything impure. They also visit shrines to pray for good fortune in the coming year and the homes of relatives and friends to exchange New Year's greetings. Nowadays many children spend the holidays engrossed in computer games, but there are still a good number who enjoy traditional New Year's amusements like battledore, spinning tops, kites, and sugoroku, a Japanese version of parcheesi. The New Year's celebration is the biggest event on the calendar in Japan, and all companies and government offices are closed for the first three days of the year.
In the past the word setsubun referred to any of the many seasonal changes on the old calendar, but now it refers specifically to February 3 or 4, the traditional beginning of spring. On the old calendar the first day of spring marked the start of the new year, and the preceding day, or setsubun, represented the final day of the old year. The traditional way of celebrating this day is by scattering beans about the home to ward off evil spirits.
The Doll Festival (or hina matsuri in Japanese) takes place on March 3. Families with girls display a set of dolls representing the ancient imperial court and celebrate by drinking a special kind of sweetened white sake.
The fifth day of the fifth month has been celebrated in China and Japan since ancient times. In Japan May 5 was made a national holiday in 1948. Though it is called Children's Day, this festival is really only for boys. Families with boys hang streamers depicting carp outside their homes as symbols of strength, display samurai dolls and armor inside, and celebrate by eating special rice cakes.
Celebrated on July 7, or in some places on August 7, the Tanabata Festival has its origins in a Chinese folk legend about the romantic once-a-year meeting of two stars in the Milky Way: the Cowherd Star (Altair) and the Weaver Star (Vega). On this festival day people write their wishes on strips of colored paper, which they attach to branches of bamboo.
The Bon Festival traditionally took place for several days around July 15 on the lunar calendar, when the souls of the dead are believed to return to their homes. These days it is usually held around August 15. Many people make trips back to their hometowns at this time of the year to visit the graves of relatives. During this festival people set up lanterns to guide the souls of the dead to and from their homes, make offerings of food to the deceased, and enjoy a special kind of dancing called bon odori. The lanterns are often floated down rivers.
The Japanese educational system, established during the Allied occupation after World War II, is one of the most comprehensive and effective in the world. Nine years of schooling is compulsory, although the great majority of citizens are in school much longer. The two leading national universities are at Tokyo and Kyoto. The standard of living improved dramatically from the 1950s on, and the Japanese have the highest per capita income of all Asians (excluding the citizens of the major oil producers). Programs for social welfare and health insurance are fairly comprehensive. Since 1961, Japan has a health-insurance system that covers all of its citizens. Major concerns confronting policy planners are the large and growing portion of the population that is elderly and the overcrowding of the nation's habitable land.
The more highly developed religious architecture of China came to Japan with the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century. Late in the 7th cent. the great monastery of Horyu-ji, near Nara, was near completion. The gateway, temple, and pagoda remained practically untouched until the 20th cent., when they were faithfully restored. These buildings illustrate the first epoch of Japanese architecture (6th-8th cent.), which was characterized by gravity, frankness of construction, and simple, vital compositions, sparsely ornamented.
Wood has always been the favorite material, and wooden construction was brought to a structural and artistic culmination as complete as any of the great styles of masonry architecture. The regard for a natural environment is also consistently reflected in secular building. In the Heian period complex building schemes, known as shinden-zukuri, were devised for the court nobles. A number of elegant rectangular houses were joined by long corridors that surrounded a landscaped garden and pond. During the Kamakura period (late 12th-14th cent.), the shinden-zukuri was modified for the samurai class, and clusters of separate buildings were united under one roof. During this period the standard for domestic architecture was set and has been maintained to the present day.
The opening of Japan to the West in 1868 led to the adaptation of the European architectural tradition. After World War I the Japanese began to make their own original contributions to the development of the International style in modern architecture. Japanese architects incorporated Western technical innovations into buildings combining traditional and modern styles during the period following World War II. At first strongly influenced by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and, to a lesser degree, by Frank Lloyd Wright, by the mid-1960s major Japanese architects developed highly individual and imaginative visions that had worldwide following. Among the principal Japanese architects to gain international acclaim since 1950 are Kenzo Tange, Sutemi Horiguchi, Kunio Maekawa, Togo Murano, Yoshiro Taniguchi, Noriaki Kurokawa, and Arata Isozaki.
Japan's farming population has been declining steadily and was about 6% of the total population in the 1990s; agriculture accounted for only 2% of the GNP. Arable land is intensively cultivated; farmers use irrigation, terracing, and multiple cropping to coax rich crops from the overworked soil. Rice and other cereals are the main crops; some vegetables and industrial crops, such as mulberry trees (for feeding silkworms), are also grown, and livestock is raised. Fishing is highly developed, and the annual catch is one of the largest in the world. The decision by many nations to extend economic zones 200 mi (322 km) offshore has forced Japan to concentrate on more efficiently exploiting its own coastal and inland waters.
Japanese industry is concentrated mainly in South Honshu and North Kyushu, with centers at Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya. In the 1950s and 1960s textiles became less important in Japanese industry while the production of heavy machinery expanded. Japanese industry depends heavily on imported raw materials, which make up a large share of the country's imports. Japan receives all of its bauxite, phosphate, steel scrap, and iron ore from imports, as well as virtually all of its crude oil and copper ore. Manufactured goods make up the vast majority of the nation's exports. Japan is one of the world's leading producers of machinery, motor vehicles, ships, and steel, and by the 1980s it had become a leading exporter of high-technology goods, including electrical and electronic appliances. It has increasingly shifted some of its industries overseas through outsourcing and has made massive capital investments abroad, especially in the United States and the Pacific Rim. Since the late 1960s its economy has been marked by a large trade surplus, with the United States and Europe accounting for more than half its exports. Japan has also become a global leader in financial services, with some of the world's largest banks.
Government in Japan is based on the constitution of 1947, drafted by the Allied occupation authorities and approved by the Japanese diet. It declares that the emperor is the symbol of the state but that sovereignty rests with the people. Hirohito was emperor from 1926 until his death in 1989; he was succeeded by his son, Akihito.
Akihito is an emperor of Japan from 1989. As crown prince, he traveled widely, visiting Great Britain, Canada, the United States, and many countries of Asia and South America. Like his father, Akihito is an accomplished amateur marine biologist. In April 1959, he married Michiko Shoda, a commoner; it was the first time that an heir to the Japanese throne had wed outside the court nobility. Tradition was also abandoned when their three children, Crown Prince Naruhito, Prince Aya, and Princess Nori, were raised at home. When Akihito ascended to the throne, the Heisei ("achieving peace") era was proclaimed.
Today Japan's national diet has sole legislative power. The diet is composed of the house of representatives, a body of 500 members elected for terms of four years, with 300 representatives chosen by single-seat constituencies and the rest proportionally; and the house of councilors, having 252 members elected for terms of six years. Executive power is vested in an 18-member cabinet appointed and headed by the prime minister, who is elected by the diet and is usually the leader of the majority party in that body. A supreme court heads an independent judiciary.
Most political parties in Japan are small and do not have broad, mass memberships; their members are mainly professional politicians. Japan currently has more than 10,000 parties, most of them local and regional. The Liberal Democratic party (LDP) held the majority of seats in the diet from 1955, when the party was formed, to 1993, when an opposition coalition formed a government; however, it was back in power in 1996. Relatively conservative, the LDP has supported the alliance with the United States and the mutual security pacts between the two countries. The Social Democratic party (SDP, formerly the Socialist party), which has opposed the security treaties with the United States, was long the chief LDP rival; in 1994-99, however, the party formed a governing coalition with the LDP. Other significant parties have tended to be somewhat fluid groupings in the 1990s; important ones currently include the Democratic party of Japan, New Komeito, the Liberal party, and the Japan Communist party.
Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, each governed by a popularly elected governor and unicameral legislature. Cities, towns, and villages elect their own mayors and assemblies.
Official language of Japan is of course Japanese. It is spoken by virtually all of the country's approximately 125 million inhabitants, and by Japanese living in Hawaii, the Americas, and elsewhere. It is also spoken as a second language by Chinese and Korean people who lived under Japanese occupation during the first half of the 20th century. For most of its history, the Japanese language developed in isolation. As a result, linguists have found it difficult to establish any links between the components of the Japanese language - its vocabulary, sound system, and grammar - and those of other languages, although in its more recent history the Japanese language has been influenced by the Chinese language and by some Western languages. A discussion of the components of Japanese follows.
Although Japanese language is very difficult to learn, most of Japanese spokes also English, so we can go there and see on our own eyes this interesting country. And this is my dream.