The history of Japan is long, unique, and blighted by many conflicts. The ancestors of the indigenous Ainu and Yamata people arrived on the islands around 12,000 BC. The country’s first permanent capital, Nara, was established in 710 AD, at the same time as the emergence of the present-day Imperial dynasty. Buddhism was introduced from China in the mid-6th century and the temples at Nara became a power in the land.
By the 16th century, the country was divided into feudal fiefdoms, controlled by powerful Daimyo families who were protected by their samurai warriors. Constant conflict and civil war flourished since 1467, with Imperial Kyoto, the Japanese capital since 794 AD, the prize to be claimed. The unrest spurred the rise of a new leader, Oda Nobunaga, who successfully entered Kyoto only to be forced to commit ritual suicide (seppuku). He was succeeded by a commoner, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, whose grand plan for the country’s reunification was taken over by Tokugawa Ieyasu on his death.
Finally, at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Ieyasu’s samurai won and their master was established as Shogun. The Tokugawa Shogunate held power until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, ruling over a unified country which was completely closed off to the outside world. As part of the Meiji Restoration, the semi-divine Emperor’s powers were restored, and Tokyo became the seat of the Imperial dynasty. The country was open for trade and developed apace, although the same conflicts between powerful families continued, resulting in the rise of Japanese nationalism, which culminated in WWII with the attack on Pearl Harbor and led to Japan’s ultimate defeat in 1945.
Present-day Japanese culture is a fascinating mix of tradition and modernity as is observed in all aspects of everyday life. One unchanging concept is the “loss of face,” an idea which embodies personal dignity and peer status. Any conflict, criticism, insult, or request which cannot be fulfilled causes loss of face, and must be avoided at all costs. In society as a whole, harmony is the premier philosophy, essential in both family and business. Children are taught to value peace above their own needs, and are trained to work together rather than to aspire to be independent.
The resulting group-dependency relies heavily on body language in communication as words can have many underlying meanings. A passive facial expression is recommended for visitors, with eye contact discouraged as it invades the Japanese sense of privacy, invaluable in this crowded country. The hierarchy of status and age is important, with every person having his or her own place within the group. Formal greetings are standard (your name-san), and bowing the head is a sign of respect, although unwrapping a gift in the giver’s presence is not.
If you’re invited to a Japanese home for dinner, there’s a minefield of protocols to follow, beginning with the removal of your shoes before entering. Arrive on time, dress appropriately and conservatively, and wait to be told where to sit. Don’t point or pierce your food with your chopsticks, and try whatever is offered. If you don’t want second or third helpings, leave a little food in your bowl or drink in your glass as its good manners to never leave the guest with an empty plate. Finally, conversation while eating isn’t polite, as your hosts prefer to savour the food.
Japanese (日本語, Nihongo) is a language spoken by over 130 million people, in Japan and Japanese emigrant communities around the world. It is an agglutinative language and is distinguished by a complex system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary to indicate the relative status of speaker, listener and the person mentioned in conversation. The sound inventory of Japanese is relatively small, and has a lexically distinct pitch-accent system.
As Mount Fuji and the coastal Japanese Alps provide a rain shadow, Nagano and Yamanashi Prefectures receive the least precipitation in Honshu, though it still exceeds 900 millimetres (35 in) annually. A similar effect is found in Hokkaido, where Okhotsk Subprefecture receives as little as 750 millimetres (30 in) per year. All other prefectures have coasts on the Pacific Ocean, Sea of Japan, Seto Inland Sea or have a body of salt water connected to them. Two prefectures —Hokkaido and Okinawa—are composed entirely of islands.
Japan’s varied geographical features divide it into six principal climatic zones.
• Hokkaido belongs to the humid continental climate, with long, cold winters and cool summers. Precipitation is sparse; however, winter brings large snowfalls of hundreds of inches in areas such as Sapporo and Asahikawa.
• In the Sea of Japan, the northwest seasonal wind in winter gives heavy snowfall, which south of Tōhoku mostly melts before the beginning of spring. In summer, it is a little less rainy than the Pacific area but sometimes experiences extremely high temperatures because of the foehn wind phenomenon.
• Central Highland: a typical inland climate gives large temperature variations between summers and winters and between days and nights. Precipitation is lower than on the coast because of rain shadow effects.
• Seto Inland Sea: the mountains in the Chūgoku and Shikoku regions block the seasonal winds and bring mild climate and many fine days throughout the year.
• Pacific Ocean: the climate varies greatly between the north and the south, but generally winters are significantly milder and sunnier than those of the side that faces the Sea of Japan. Summers are hot because of the southeast seasonal wind. Precipitation is very heavy in the south and heavy in the summer in the north. The climate of the Ogasawara Island chain ranges from a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa) to tropical savanna climate with temperatures being warm to hot all year round.