Japan – a short introduction to its history geography and culture


Some few hundred million years back earth underwent quite a few changes. The boiling core cooled down to create a bobbing little land mass. Vapor in the sky cooled down into water. Oceans formed. The land was one piece of island in between the vast ocean. The picture somewhat changed over in next few million years. The land mass fragmented, floated apart, some pieces rejoined, the oceans shrunk as Ice age set, and flooded back at the end of the ice age. So far geography was concerned all continents and counties within formed up through this process. But oddly, Japan came up in a different way. It rose up from beneath the Pacific Ocean, riding on top of volcanic eruption. Reason enough for Japan to still act kind of young and restive. It is still growing, supported by more than 100 active volcanoes. There are four major islands Hokkaido Honshu Shikoku and Kyushu. Hundreds of smaller islands spread all the way approaching Russian territories in the North, and China/ Korea /Taiwan /Philippines in West South-West. Longitudinally the main islands are aligned through the median of Australia, and in terms of latitude the islands are roughly aligned with median of the United States. Terrain wise Japan is 80% hills.



historically also Japan claims some uniqueness. Originally settled by two distinct groups from Russia and greater China, over time the majority population evolved into a more or less homogenous race. One evolutionary family known as the Ainu evolved separately but is limited in mostly northern pockets. Historians trace back to early settlement period referred to as Jomon period around ten thousand years back. In more recent times such as early after Christ Japan was an island community engaged in trading with neighbors China and Korea. Kanji writing script came from China as did Buddhism. Japanese possessed advanced knowledge in metallurgy as evidenced by the superior quality of steel produced. Regional rulers ruled for the most part till Tokugawa Shogun fought and subjugated Japan under one rule. Kyoto was the Capital city under the emperors rule. Shoguns, the military commander of the Emperor, wielded their political power from base in Tokyo.



Sociologically Japanese can be described as following largely either Shintoism or Buddhism or a mix of both. Shintoism was the original practice of revering nature. There was no particular God. Buddhism was embraced in the late first millennium after Christ. The Shoguns followed Buddhism. Major religious and cultural cities like Kyoto, Kamakura, Nicco all have both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. After the fall of the Shoguns post Meiji restoration new nationalism brought Shintoism into Focus. Over time people came to practice edicts of both religions, infact Christianity as well which entered Japan in last to last century. There is a saying that Japanese are born Shinto, married Christian and die Buddhist as the corresponding practices are followed at the different life stages.
The social norms are deeply entrenched around family as a unit. Fathers elder son inherits property as well as family responsibility. Women play supporting role as daughter wife mother, with or without job of her own. Thus business and industries are male dominated. Education percentage is high, elementary education being mandatory and free of cost. Medium of education is Japanese, though English is taught as secondary language. Social exchanges follow strict decorum of hierarchy. During the feudal times the warrior class was the upper class. Within family circle the elderly have the rights. The young folks live a sheltered childhood compared to western counter parts. Infact childishness or cuteness is adored in all walks of life. The official age of adulthood also stood several years later at twenty compared to most other counties. There is a festival to celebrate attainment of adulthood as girls and bouts turn twenty. Only this year in 2015 the voting age has been revised down to eighteen.

There are many festivals followed around the year. Seasons play a big role in Japan’s society. The spring Sakura blossom festival brings in a festive holiday mood. National TV Channels regularly air the progress of Sakura as weather change progresses through the island nation. Summer is short but hot and humid during the one and half months of July-August. Summer is the time to light the lanterns and invite departed relatives for a visit to earth. This is the Obon festival. Town folks empty out heading back to their village towns. Autumn is pleasant and is particularly beautiful during the late November fall color season. The nature loving Japanese population heads to places well known for their maple trees such as Kyoto, Nicco and others. Winter months during January till March brings in lot of snow in western Japan. This is also the time for reveling in festivals such as lighting the lights in village ground, making ice sculptures and skiing. West of Honshu and Hokkaido get celebrating the skiing season.
Apart from the seasons there are other government sanctioned holidays celebrating various facets of nature such as marine day, Equinox day etc. Religious festivals are also celebrated in gusto, with processions bearing decorated mounts walking through the towns.
It is mandatory to exchange gifts during festivals. Money if presented use be put in an envelope. New year is one time when every body is expected to send greetings to their acquaintances. Christmas is not a holiday but celebrated nonetheless as the global economy takes hold.

Food is rice / noodle based, sea food being a favorite. Fish/ Squid/ octopus/ scallops are served fresh cut and served in fine pattern. Presentation is of prime importance, leading to the fame of Sushi food as prime example of culinary art.

Office culture is similar to family culture, with boss being expected to play a patronly role. Strict obedience, and timeliness are appreciated. Long hours of work for the office is normal given that office is more like an extension of family. These days though government is encouraging no overtime more family time culture through various measures.

Modern Japan stands as a successful marriage between unlikely partners – old tradition and modern technology. Every neighborhood has its prayer temple, as well as the street corner vending machines. The western attired office worker returns back to wood- floored tatami clad home and changes into traditional Yukatas. Sony Toyota Honda are as much a recognizable name around the world as are concepts of Bonsai, origami, ikebana and Sumo wrestling.

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