Japan

November 25, 2012 6:32 pm

Japan is sometimes called the “land of the rising sun.” The Japanese themselves call their country Nihon or Nippon, which means “origin of the sun.” You can see an image of the sun on Japan’s flag: a red circle on a plain white background.
In many ways, Japan is old and traditional. It’s also one of the world’s most modern, and densely populated, countries.
Facts About Japan
Capital
Tokyo
Official language
Japanese
Population
127,000,000 people
Rank among countries in population
10th
Major cities
Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya
Area
146,000 square miles
378,000 square kilometers
Rank among countries in area
61st
Highest point
Fuji
12,387 feet/3,776 meters
Currency
Yen
ISLANDS AND MOUNTAINS
Japan is an island nation located off the northeast coast of the mainland of Asia. The Japanese islands lie in the North Pacific Ocean. They’re separated from Asia by the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Japan has thousands of tiny islands, but there are four main ones: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku.
Mountains cover about three-fourths of Japan, giving the country rugged and spectacular scenery. The most famous mountain is the majestic Fuji, a dormant volcano on Honshu. For many people, Fuji is sacred. It’s often shown in Japanese paintings.
EARTHQUAKES AND VOLCANOES
The Japanese islands are actually the summits of an underwater chain of mountains. The forces that lifted the mountains are still at work. Japan has hundreds of earthquakes every year. Sometimes they are powerful and cause severe damage. Underwater earthquakes can cause destructive tidal waves called tsunamis.
There are more than 150 major volcanoes in Japan. About 40 of these are still active. Japan is home to 1 out of 10 of the world’s active volcanoes.
FOOD FROM THE SEA
The Japanese islands have thousands of miles of coastline. That’s why fishing is a big industry in Japan. The traditional Japanese diet includes lots of seafood. Sashimi is a Japanese specialty of raw fish. Sushi is a cold rice dish often served with sashimi or with dried seaweed called nori.
CROWDED CITIES
Japan is home to about 127 million people. Most of them live in towns and cities in the narrow plains along the coasts. This makes Japan one of the most crowded countries in the world. How crowded? In Tokyo, some people work as people pushers. They push people onto crowded subway trains!
The people of Japan are almost all Japanese. There is little ethnic diversity. One exception is the Ainu. They are the native people of Japan. The Ainu once nearly disappeared, but today they are reviving their traditions. Most Ainu live on Hokkaido.
TOKYO
Japan has many big cities such as Yokohama, Osaka, Sapporo, and Kyoto. But Tokyo, on the island of Honshu, is by far the biggest. How big is Tokyo? It’s the biggest city in the entire world! There are more than 26 million people living in and around Tokyo. The city is the capital of Japan and the nation’s economic and cultural center.
Tokyo has something for everyone. It has more than 100 universities. It has museums such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Museum of Science. It has theaters for modern plays as well as traditional Japanese theater. It has old religious sites such as the Meiji Shrine and the Kanda Shrine. It even has an imperial palace. That’s where the emperor of Japan, the nation’s symbolic leader, still lives.
Tokyo is very modern. High-speed trains, called bullet trains, connect Tokyo to other parts of Japan. Tokyo is a center for services such as banking and insurance, new technology, and manufacturing.
SHOGUNS AND SAMURAI
For many centuries Japan was a feudal state. In feudalism, some people were given land in return for military service to a nobleman. Many common people had to work a noble’s land as servants called serfs.
By the 12th century, Japan was led by an emperor who shared power with strong military rulers called shoguns. Each shogun was supported by loyal noblemen called daimyo. The daimyo relied on the famous samurai warriors to fight for and protect them.
The samurai were much like the knights of Europe. They followed a code called bushido, or “the way of the warrior.” This meant a samurai had to be honest, polite, and brave, and be loyal to his nobleman.
The shogun and samurai disappeared in 1871, when Japan changed its political system. The changes opened up Japan to the modern world. But the shogun and samurai remain an important part of Japanese history. They are often the subject of Japanese art, novels, and films.
BASEBALL AND SUMO WRESTLING
Did you know that the most popular team sport in Japan is baseball? Baseball was first brought to Japan in 1872. It quickly caught on. Today Japan has its own professional league. In recent years, Japanese players such as Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki have become star players in the United States.
A popular traditional sport in Japan is sumo wrestling. In sumo, two large, heavy men try to shove each other out of a small ring. Sumo wrestlers follow a difficult training program and strict way of life. Each tournament begins with a ritual performed by all the wrestlers. Tradition even determines a wrestler’s dress and hairstyle.
A WEALTHY COUNTRY
Today, Japan is one of the richest countries in the world. After 1945, following Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Japanese embraced modern technology and manufacturing. Japan’s economy grew rapidly for decades.
Japanese technology remains on the leading edge, even as Japan maintains many of its traditions. Today, many of the world’s great makers of automobiles, electronics, and computer games are Japanese.
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