Research Project on Japan
Japan is a country that consists of four main islands and thousands of smaller ones (Allinson 32). The country's independence was gained in 660 B.C. ("Japan-General Information" 3). The name "Japan" originated from the Italian name, "Zipangu", given by Marco Polo (Allinson 32). It has the fifth largest population in the world with more than eighty-nine million people (Yelen 5). Japan's inhabitants call it "Nippon" or "Nihon", which means source of the sun (Allinson 32). Japan is a country that reflects culture of both the east and west.
Japan is located in the North Pacific Ocean. Japanese society began when people from parts of Asia migrated to the islands of Japan (35). Many of the ancestors came in waves through the Korean Peninsula, while others may have ventured from islands south of Japan. By 10,000 B.C. people who fished and gathered fruit and plants for food, were on the islands. This early culture was known as "Jomon", which means cord-marked. These individuals began the Japanese language that is still spoken today ("Japan-General..." 3).
The land in Japan is considered to have beautiful scenery. The jagged peaks, rocky gorges, and thundering mountains are some of the spectacular sceneries (Allinson 45). Seventy percent of the Japan is composed of mountains and hills (45). Many of the mountains are as high as two thousand meters above seal level (Yelen 12). Mt Fuji, the highest mountain, is an example of this. Mt Fuji towers three thousand three hundred seventy-three meters above sea level (Yelen 12). Extensive plains are few in Japan, but ones that do exist serve great economic importance as they provide much food supply. The coastline is about seventeen thousand one hundred fifty miles long (Yelen 12). Japan has several short, swift rivers that cross its rugged surface (Allinson 45). These waters are used to irrigate farmland, and the rapid falls supply power for hydroelectric plants (Allinson 45). Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu are the four main islands that make up Japan (Yelen 12). These islands are abound with earthquakes and volcanoes both active and dormant(Yelen 12). Japan is located on an unstable part of the earth's crust (Allinson 45). The country has about one thousand five hundred earthquakes per year ("Japan-General..." 2). However, most of these earthquakes are minor and cause little damage (Allinson 45). Japan has more than one hundred fifty volcanoes and about sixty are active (Yelen 12).
The climate in Japan varies from tropical weather in the south to cool temperature in the north ("Japan-General..." 2). The island Honshu has warm, humid summers with mild winters toward the south and cold snowy winters in the north (Allinson 48). Hokkaido has cool summers and extremely cold winters. Kyushu and Shikoku have long summers and mild winters. The above climates are affected by monsoons and precipitation. Monsoons bring cold air to the northern areas of Japan. Precipitation occurs in all seasons (34). Rainfall is heavy with forty to one hundred inches annually throughout Japan (Yelen 13).
With regards to its government, Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government (Allinson 33). The government is based on the constitution that took effect in 1947 ("History" 5), giving several rights to the people (Allinson 33). Some of these include: freedom of religion, speech, and press. In addition, the constitution established three branches of government, the judicial, legislative, and executive. In the national government, the emperor, who inherits his throne, is a symbol of the nation. He performs ceremonial duties, but has no real power to govern. The Diet is the highest law making body in Japan. It consists of two houses the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. The House of Representatives has more power and is made up of four hundred eighty members ( Allinson 33). The House of Councillors has two hundred fifty-two members (Allinson 33). All members of the Diet elect the Prime Minister, who must be a civilian. The Prime Minister leads the government and selects members of the cabinet to govern the country. The local government is divided into forty-seven political units called prefectures (Allinson 35). The residents in the prefecture elect a governor and representative to a legislative assembly. The residents also elect the mayor and local council (Allinson 35).
The judicial system of Japan differs from that of the United States ("Courts" 1). Japan has a unitary court system. There are no separate federal, state, county, and municipal systems as in the U.S ("Courts" 1). The largest court is the supreme court (Allinson 35). It is led by a chief justice, who the emperor appoints, and fourteen associate justices that are appointed by the cabinet ("Courts" 1). The supreme court oversees training of Japan's judges and attorneys (Allinson 35). The court sits either as a full court or in divisions ("Courts" 1). The full court listens to constitutional cases for which there are no precedents ("Courts" 1). There are eight regional courts and fifty district courts (Allinson 35). The district courts are courts of first instance for both cruel and criminal matters ("Courts" 1). The family courts handle domestic cases, such as, juvenile crimes, divorces, and family property dispute ("Courts 1"). However, compared to the United States, Japan is less likely to use their courts to decide disputes ("Courts" 1).
One of the world's number one economic giants is Japan (Allinson 32). Japan's economy is dependent on foreign trade (Ward 29). The United States is the only country whose economic output exceeds Japans. Japan has some of the most advanced equipment in the world (Allinson 32). The country's manufacturing products range from tiny computer components to ocean going ships (49). Therefore, the manufacturing sector plays a major role in economy. The industries employ more than twenty percent of the labor force and generates twenty-five percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) (49). The important part of Japan's manufacturing sector is known as the large-firm sector. The large-firms assemble parts and components then sell the products significantly higher than the cost of the components. In addition, another part of the manufacturing sector consists of thousands of small factories. These smaller factories are responsible for making the components.
Construction also plays a major role in Japan's economy. Construction consists of several giant national firms, hundreds of medium sized regional firms, and thousands of small local firms. It employs ten percent of the labor force and generates ten percent of the GDP (49). The industry began to grow after World War II. The main reason was that firms were needed to rebuild Japan's demolished cities. Then, the nations growing economy brought a demand for offices, roads, harbors, and several other needs. Today, the construction firms in Japan spend most of their time building huge hotels, and handle projects in Asia, United Kingdom, and United States (49).
Despite Japan's economic power, it is poor in many aspects (Ward 26). Japan has few natural resources, therefore, it suffers in food deficiency (Allinson 32). In the 1950's, the agricultural sector employed forty-five percent of the labor force (49). Unfortunately, as the industries grew, the importance of agriculture declined. By the mid 1900's, farmers made less than six percent of the labor force and produced less than two percent of the GDP. One reason for this is that Japan is covered by mountains and only fifteen percent of the land can be cultivated (49).
Japanese society imposes strong expectations on women and men (41). Women are usually married in their mid 20's and soon after become mothers. The role of a woman is to attend to the needs of her husband and children. They also play a dominant role in the family finances. However, a majority of the women in Japan obtain a job at one time or another. Usually a woman will have a job before they are married or after her children are in school and grown. Unfortunately, female employees have a low income and very few benefits. The men in Japan have one basic role and that is to support his family. At work they receive family allowances. These gender roles are accepted by most of the society, although today these roles are beginning to change among the young women. Women now postpone marriage until their late 20's and early 30's. Furthermore, they are reluctant to give up a job or income (41).
Clothing worn in Japan is similar to that in western Europe (32). The well-to-do people wear designer made garments, opposed to the majority of people who wear moderately priced clothing (39). For instance, a business man wears a dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, black shoes, and dark woolen overcoat for winter. The young men will sometimes wear patterned sports coats and colorful ties. The clothing worn by a typical man who is not at work is different from one who is. Men at home will wear slacks with a casual shirt and sweater. A woman who is employed wears a skirt and blouse to the office. On the other hand, a women without a job will dress in moderately priced dresses or blouses with skirts or slacks. Fine jewelry and silk scarves are worn also. During special occasions people will wear kimonos (39). The kimono originated in the 7th century ("A Brief History of Japanese Clothing" 1). The word kimono means "thing to wear". The kimono is a long, narrow, obi-tied silhouetten (1). The kimono is worn with sandals called "zori" (Allinson 39).
The food variety in Japan differs from that in the United States. The Japanese word for meal is "gohan" ("Japanese Food" 1). While at home, families eat traditional Japanese food (Allinson 39). A traditional serving includes the main dish, fish or meat, and some kind of side dish, vegetable soup or pickled vegetables ("Japanese Food" 3). Most importantly, families drink tea and eat rice with almost every meal (Allinson 39). Younger people in the family, unlike their elders, eat fewer traditional foods. The children eat more beef, chicken, pork, fruit, and cheese than their parents. Instead of rice children prefer bread, donuts, and toast. As a result of the children's food habits they take in more protein and fat. Therefore, nowadays, the children are three to four inches taller (40). Before eating a Japanese family will say, "itadakimasu" this means, "I receive this food" ("Japanese Food" 1). This thanks whoever worked to prepare the food in the meal. The Japanese eat their meal in a sequence. They begin by eating the main dish. Afterwards, they eat some rice then sip soup straight from the bowl. The remainder of the rice is saved for at then end of the meal to eat with pickled vegetables. Finally after devouring their meal the people express feelings by saying, "Gochiso sama deshita" which translates, "it was quite a feast" (1).
Japanese people enjoy a variety of activities in their leisure time. They are energetic sports enthusiasts (Allinson 40). They enjoy sports such as baseball, sumo wrestling, bowling, golf, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, and a popular sport known as kendo. Kendo is a Japanese form of fencing with a bamboo or wooden stick used for a sword. In addition to sports, hobbies are another important leisure time activity for men and women. Some of these hobbies include tea serving ceremonies, chanting medieval ballads, and flower arranging.
Everyone in Japanese society engages in some religious belief (40). Shintoism, Buddhism, and Christianity are three major religions (Yelen 17). Shintoism is Japan's indigenous cult (17). It is a native religion of Japan that dates back to the prehistoric times (Allinson 40). Individuals who practice Shintoism worship the royal as well as family ancestors (Yelen 17). They also worship gods found in mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, and other parts of nature (Allinson 40). Being a state religion, Shintoism stresses patriotism. Everyone in the Japanese society performs some type of Shinto ritual. They visit shrines to offer fruit, prayer, and other gifts to the Gods. In return, for the gifts given, they may ask for favors. For instance, they may ask for a safe child birth or success on a health examination (40).
Buddhism is another frequently practiced religion. It was introduced around the middle of the sixth century (Yelen 17). Buddhism is a more elaborate belief compared to Shintoism (Allinson 41). It offers a more complicated view of gods, life, and death. In Buddhism death is prepared for through meditation because it is seen as a rebirth ("History" 5). Once an individual passes away the body is washed, rituals are performed over it, a wake is held, and then the body is typically cremated (5). In Buddhism an individual tries to obtain perfect peace by leading a life of virtue and wisdom (Allinson 41).
A small amount of people in Japan are Christians (41). Christianity was introduced to Japan by St. Francis Xavier in 1549 (Yelen 17). Individuals who are Christians worship a higher power known as God. It is a respected religion because of its contributions to society ("Christianity" 1). Today there are seven thousand six hundred places Christians can go to worship in Japan (1). Unfortunately, only one percent of the population is Christian (1). In spite of the small amount of Christians, several of their customs have become popular among the non-Christian population. For example, many people wear white dresses at weddings and celebrate holidays such as Christmas and Valentine's Day (1).
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