Official Name Japan
Capital City Tokyo (8.2 mil ) metro (31.3 mil)
Official Currency Yen
Religions Buddhist, Shinto, others
Land Area 376,520 sq km (145,374 sq miles)
Highest Point Fujiyama (Mt. Fuji) (3,776 meters)
Japan is a country on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. The "Land of the Rising Sun" lies to the east of the Asian continent and is comprised of over 3,000 islands. The largest and main islands are, from north to south, Hokkaid, Honsh (the largest island), Shikoku, and Kysh.
Economy - Government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, emphasis on education, and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) have helped Japan advance with extraordinary speed to become one of the largest economic powers along with the US and European Union. For three decades, overall real economic growth had been spectacular: a 10% average in the 1960s, a 5% average in the 1970s, and a 4% average in the 1980s. Growth slowed markedly in the 1990s largely because of the after-effects of overinvestment during the late 1980s and domestic policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets.
Government efforts to revive economic growth have met with little success and were further hampered in 2000-2001 by the slowing of the US and Asian economies.
Distinguishing characteristics of the Japanese economy include the working together of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and banks in closely-knit groups called keiretsu; the powerful enterprise unions and shunt; cozy relations with government bureaucrats, and the guarantee of lifetime employment (shushin koyo) in big corporations and highly unionized blue-collar factories. Recently, Japanese companies have begun to abandon some of these norms in an attempt to increase profitability.
The current government of Junichiro Koizumi has enacted or attempted to pass (sometimes with failure) major privatization and foreign-investment laws intended to help stimulate Japan's dormant economy. While some of these laws have been enacted, the economy has yet to respond, and Japan's aging population is expected to place further strain on the economy in the near future.
Religion: The Japanese people's concern with religion is usually related to mythology, traditions, and neighborhood activities rather than just the source of morality or the guidance for one's life. For one, Confucianism, or even Taoism tends to serve as the basis for the moral code and shakai-tunen (social common idea). When asked to identify their religion, most would profess to believe in either Shintoism (54%) or Buddhism (40%), for simple reasons like their family has belonged to some sect of Buddhism or to avoid contention with religious foreigners. Nonetheless, most of the people are by no means atheists, and the tendency is often identified with syncretism. This results a variety of practices such as parents and children celebrating Shinto rituals, students praying before exams, couples holding a wedding at a Christian church and funerals being held at Buddhist temples. A minority profess to Christianity (0.7%) and other religions (4.7%) like shamanism. Also since the middle of the 19th century many religious sects called Shinkosyukyo and later shinshukyo emerged.
Compulsory education was introduced into Japan in 1872 as one result of the Meiji restoration. Since 1947 compulsory education consists of elementary school and middle school, which last for 9 years (from age 6 to age 15). Almost all children continue their education at a three-year senior high school, and 96% of high school graduates attend a university, junior college, trade school, or other post-secondary institution.
Before the 5th century, the Japanese had no writing system of their own. They began to adapt the Chinese writing script along with many other aspects of Chinese culture.
At first, the Japanese wrote in Classical Chinese or in a mixture of Chinese used both ideographically, phonetically, and otherwise to create Japanese meanings. An example of this mixed style is the Kojiki, which was written in 712 AD. They then started to use Chinese characters to write Japanese in a style known as many gana, a ten thousand syllabic script which used characters depicting their own values.
Over time, a writing system was constructed. Chinese characters (kanji) were used to write either words borrowed from Chinese, or Japanese words with the same or similar meanings. Chinese characters were also used to write grammatical elements and were simplified and eventually became two syllabic scripts: hiragana and katakana.
Japanese literature reached a high point during the 11th century with the Genji Monogatari ("Tale of Genji") by Lady Murasaki Shikibu. Many other Japanese literary works were also written by women.
Modern Japanese is written in a mixture of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Modern Japanese texts may also include r'maji (the way of writing Japanese with the Latin alphabet), eimoji (non-Japanese words written in their own script), and various special symbols.
Japanese culture has evolved greatly over the years, from the country's original Jomon culture to its contemporary hybrid culture, which combines a number of influences from Asia, Europe, and America.
Historically, China and Korea have been the most influential starting with the development of the Yayoi culture from around 300 BC. This culminated with the introduction of rice farming, ceremonial burial, pottery, painting, writing, poetry, etiquette, and Mahayana Buddhism by the 7th century AD. In the pre-modern era, Japan developed a distinct culture, in its arts (ikebana, origami, ukiyo-e), crafts (dolls, lacquerware, pottery), performances (bunraku, dance, kabuki, noh, rakugo), traditions (games, onsen, sento, tea ceremony, architecture, gardens, swords), and cuisine.
From the mid-19th century onward, European influence prevailed, with American influences becoming predominant following the end of World War II. This influence is apparent in Japan's contemporary popular culture, which combines Asian, European, and, 1950 onward, American influences in its fashion, films, literature, television, video games, and music. Today, Japan is a major exporter of such culture, which has gained popularity around the world, particularly in the other countries of East Asia. Especially notable contributions of modern Japan to the rest of the world include animation (anime) and graphic novels (manga). Traditional and modern Japanese culture have attracted many devotees in Europe and the Americas as well.