Cherry blossom in front of Mount Fuji, Japan

Japan - The Land of the Rising Sun, in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 11th August 2023
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A Very Brief History of Japan

  • Evidence for human inhabitation of the Japanese archipelago dates back to the Palaeolithic, around 38-40,000 years ago.
  • Around the 3rd century BC, the Yayoi people from the Asian continent immigrated to the Japanese archipelago. They brought with them iron technology and agriculture. overwhelming the native Jōmon hunter-gatherers.
  • Between the fourth and ninth centuries, kingdoms and tribes were formed and gradually unified under an Emperor. This imperial dynasty continues to this day, although now the role is almost entirely ceremonial.
  • Power gradually passed first, to great clans of civilian aristocrats – most notably the Fujiwara – and then to the military clans and their armies of samurai warriors. The Minamoto clan, under Minamoto no Yoritomo, emerged as the strongest Yoritomo set up his capital in Kamakura and took on the title of shōgun.
  • Their rule lasted until 1333, when it was toppled by the Muromachis. This was the time of the regional warlords called daimyō and eventually, Japan descended into civil war.
  • During this feudal period, wealthy Japanese lords built homes with deliberately squeaky floors (known as Nightingale Floors) as a defence measure against ninjas. The highly trained, legendary mercenaries of feudal Japan were so steeped in myth and folklore, they were said to be capable of walking on water, turning invisible and controlling natural elements. That’s got to be motivation to put down some new flooring.
  • Samurai would offer tangerines or melons to their shogun as a token of appreciation. So,, these precious fruits play a large role in the country’s gift-giving culture today and are specially cultivated, by hand. They can cost up to 200 USD.
  • In the late sixteenth century, Japan was reunified under the leadership of the prevailing daimyō Oda Nobunaga and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was followed by another shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. by the emperor. The Tokugawa shogunate, governed from Edo (modern Tokyo), , and was a prosperous and peaceful era, with Japan cutting off almost all contact with the outside world.
  • Portugal managed some limited interaction, in the sixteenth century introducing firearms to Japanese warfare. The American Perry Expedition in 1853–54 more completely ended Japan's seclusion, contributing to the fall of the shogunate and the return of power to the emperor.
  • The following Meiji period transformed Japan into an empire which more closely followed Western models. Democracy developed but Japan's military remained powerful and invaded Manchuria in 1931, leading to a prolonged war with China.
  • Japan's joined the Axis powers in World War II, attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941. Emperor Hirohito finally announced Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.
  • The Allies occupied Japan until 1952, leaving behind a constitutional monarchy. Japan prospered and became a world economic powerhouse.

Facts and Factoids

  • The western word Japan actually derives from the Mandarin for Japan - Cipan. The Japanese call themselves Nippon. Japan is known as the Land of The Rising Sun, as the sun seems to rise there, from the west (China).
  • Japan is an archipelago of nearly 7000 islands (421 of these are inhabited)
  • Around 70% of Japan is made up of forest and mountains, which aren’t suitable for farming or habitation. Hence the pressure on land, to house the population, the propensity for small rooms and the embarkation on World War II, in an effort to expand territory
  • Japan is on The Pacific Ring of Fire. There are over 100 active volcanoes, and its tallest mountain is the famed Mount Fuji, (3,776 feet). Japan experiences around 1500 earthquakes every year.
  • The number four (‘shi’) is widely avoided in Japan -it sounds too similar to the Japanese word for death
  • The traditional Christmas Eve meal here is KFC
  • In Japan, people don’t have signatures – they have their own seal, known as a Hanko.
  • Life expectancy in Japan is 84, the second highest in the world (after Hong Kong). It's highest in some of the islands of Okinawa, where the seaweed diet is being studied.
  • Japanese Kongo Gumi is the oldest operating business in the world, established in 578.( It specialises in the construction of temples and shrines).
  • Japan produces half the world's zips. They are mainly made by YKK (Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha of Tokyo). They manufacture about 7 billion zips each year.
  • Japan is well-known for its weird and wonderful TV and festivals non-stop festivals, At Hadaka Matsuri, for example, thousands of Japanese men strip naked, in public, to secure a fortune-filled year.

What to See in Japan?

  • Japan is an utterly fascinating country, overwhelming on first impression, but actually very easily navigated alone. You buy a train pass at a very reasonable price, (only available to foreigners). The trains arrive on the dot (the average delay is 18 seconds) and there are a multitude of apps which tell you exactly which platform to go to and where to stand. Walking directions on Google are given in minute detail. It's difficult to get lost. and even if you do. the reserved Japanese will help, willingly, once approached.
  • Eating out is expensive, but feast on sushi (and assorted fried goods) from the many corner shops (mainly 7-11s) and booths or vending machines (one for every 24 people). The food is probably the most alternative, in the world, for a western palate. when properly explored. There are, of course, the widely travelled noodles, sushi and sashimi and Yakitori barbecue or Tepanyaki grilling. But how about tea or eel flavoured ice cream, sea urchins, pickled jellyfish and other slimy beasts from the ocean, or basashi (raw horsemeat slices with ginger and onions)? N.B. Slurping your noodles is a sign of enjoyment and also cools down the noodles as you eat.
  • Stay in ryokans, Japanese traditional inns with paper walls and tatami mat bedding and sample a hot spring (onsen) at least once.
  • Amazing scenery, historic cities, vibrant technology, blossom (cherry, wisteria and more), monkeys and more. Read about what I did:

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