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Japan In 5 Minutes

 

WRITTEN BY: Jim Becker     ADDED: Mar 09, 2008

 

Japan has a little fewer than 127 million people yet is roughly the size of California. The country is made up of 47 prefectures. Tokyo Metropolitan prefecture itself consists of 23 wards, 27 cities, one county and four island districts. Japan is a living paradox and a land of contrasts. You walk through central Tokyo and will see a briefcase toting businesswoman off to a power lunch alongside a woman in an elegant kimono headed for tea ceremony. Pop culture abounds, but the traditional arts also remain. Modernization and commercialism have been wholeheartedly embraced but in a uniquely Japanese way that could not be replicated elsewhere in the world.

 

Japan is also arguably the most homogenous society in the world.  However. if you live in one of the commercial centers it's easy to stay immersed in the international community - western restaurants and foreigner watering holes. Foreigners in Japan often comment on the pinpoint efficiency of the transportation system, remark on how such a crowded place runs so harmoniously and that it would never work that well in there home country. Then, they try and find a cash machine after 8pm or follow the paper trails at banks or government offices. Japan's natural environment is just as varied as its social landscape.

The country itself is 78% mountainous, yet most of the population is concentrated in the major metropolitan areas. Most visitors that come Japan fall into two categories: business travelers that mainly stay in the metropolitan centers or tourists who've come to see the unique cultural areas such as Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura. Surprisingly, Japan has the most diverse climate and natural environment in Asia. Head north and ski or snowboard world-class resorts in Hokkaido. The central mountainous area features the Northern, Central and Southern Alps and was the host to the 1998 winter Olympics. Western Japan has moderate temperatures, while southern Kyushu area is more tropical. The country is an island nation, so beach lovers can easily escape to a number of sandy destinations, Okinawa being the most popular.

 

Japanese practice two religions - Shinto and Buddism. Both of these religions have a tremendous influence on Japanese culture. The ideals and rituals of both influence the daily lifestyles of the people.  They are the mainstream religions of Japan.

  • Shinto: The gods and goddesses, kami, populate their world. Kami are believed to dwell in all natural creations such as waterfall, trees, woods, plants, rocks and even animals. Some kami protect people and the most important is called amaterasu who is the sun goddess. She is the symbol of Japan and the sun in the Rising Sun flag is her symbol. It is believed that all emperors descended from amaterasu. The emperor of Japan is the head of the Shinto religion.

    The believers find all living things share the same life source and practice respect for nature. Family members are encouraged to fulfill the hopes of ancestors and honor the heroes of the past. Shinto shrines are constructed in beautiful natural surroundings where worshippers can appreciate nature and feel close to the gods and the spirits of their dead ancestors.  The Torii gates (seen in the picture on the right) serve as entrances to the spiritual worlds. These gates serve as frames through which nature can be adored.

  • Buddism: This religion spread to Japan from India. It came from the teachings of Sakyamuni who became known as Buddha, or awakened one.  Buddhists believe that you are born over and over again and that your actions in your life determine how you will be rewarded in the next round of your life cycle. Many Japanese homes have small Buddhist altars with photographs and memorabilia of the deceased ancestors.

 

 

Jim Becker has graciously allowed Englipedia to host this article. Professor Becker spent three weeks in Japan on a Fullbright trip with U.S. educators. As of 2008, he is a professor at the University of Northern Iowa.


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This page was last modified on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 11:34:07 AM