Some General Information

I’ve been doing some traveling lately, and I realized that before I write about it, I should probably provide a little more general information about Japan.  I know some things about Japan because I’ve studied it for a few years, but there’s a lot of useful information that I really don’t know.

So here we are: Japan, the overview.  Just in case you wanted to know.

Map does not include Okinawa to the southwest

Japan is a little smaller than California in terms of land mass.  It has aprox. 127 million people.  The capital is Tokyo (around 13 million people) and is located in the middle of the country.  There are 47 prefectures (~states) throughout the country.  AIU is located in Akita Prefecture, which is part of the Tohoku Region (aka, the backwoods).  Akita City is around 300 thousand people (though I’m not sure how….)

Japan is an island country.  There are four primary islands: Hokkaido in the north, Honshu in the center, Shikoku tucked under the southern end of Honshu, and Kyushyu to the south.  Okinawa is farther south, between China and the Pacific.  There are also many more tiny islands that are part of  the country.  The country is small but also skinny, so in the north it’s at about 45• latitude (comparable to mid-Wisconsin or Minn.), and in the south it ends around 25• (around the south tip of Florida).  Japan borders North and South Korea and China in the north eastern  part of Asia.

Rice is a primary food for the Japanese.  Rice cultivation was imported a few hundred years BCE from China or Korea, and gave people another reliable food source other than the ocean.  Rice and fish are still very important.  Seaweed and vegetables are also readily available.  Hokkaido is a too far north to easy grow rice, so their main agriculture comes from potatoes, corn, and diary.  Items are usually seasonally available, and Japanese love to have special seasonal flavors.  (Apples were ripe a few weeks ago.  Lately I’ve been seeing pumpkin flavors, and I’ve heard that corn/corn soup is a popular winter dish.)

Volcanoes formed the country, and there are still active ones throughout the islands.  There’s still a noticeable amount of geological activity: numerous earthquakes and plenty of hot springs.  The mountains are beautiful, but they make traveling, navigation, and living difficult. To get from one prefecture or another it is often necessary to go around the highest peaks.  Most of the land is difficult to use for agriculture–73% of the land is mountainous, and rice paddies depend on flat, low-lying (or at least well-irrigated) land.

Japan had a rich classic period (around 1000 AD) where they imported many ideas from Chinese culture.  During this time, the first novel in world was written (by a woman, thank you very much).  The classical age dissolved into a period of wars that lasted for about 500 years.  After that point things stabilised into the Edo (old name for Tokyo) Period.  Japan was united under one ruler and moved routinely through everyday life, and cut itself off from the rest of the world.  In 1868, the Meji Restoration brought Japan into the modern world, encouraging foreign exchanges of information, goods, and people.  Since ancient times, Japan has been ruled over by emperors, though they currently do not hold political power.  They are supposedly descended from a goddess, and if truth is told they hold the longest unbroken line of monarchial succession.

That (in a not-so-little nutshell) is some information about Japan.  It’s small, it’s crowded, there’s lots of rice, and it has a rich history that is still very much a part of it’s everyday life.

Japanese word of the day :  nihon / にほん  (knee-hone)  noun: Japan

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