Japan is a treasure chest for the visitor. A rich history thousands of years old has influenced all aspects of culture, creating a country that embraces modern technology in one hand, and balances this with time-honored customs in the other. Japan is rich in tradition and arts, full of historical buildings, unique arts, colorful festivals and people who are warm and welcoming. Japan is also a nature-lover's paradise, offering everything from spectacular mountain ranges, coastal scenery and soothing hot springs. Join us and open your own treasure chest to the real Japan.
Japan consists of four main islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, as well as thousands of adjacent smaller ones. This archipelago stretches 1,500 miles. Mountains claim 71% of Japan's land area. A chain of mountains extends along the middle of the archipelago. The Pacific Ocean lies to the east while the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea lie west. Japan's varied coastline includes long sandy beaches, peninsulas, bays and offshore islands. Japan is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Japan abounds in volcanoes, including one tenth of the world's active ones. Mt. Aso is the most active volcano in the world. Japan is also one of the most seismically active places in the world. Earthquakes occur daily, although most barely even register on the scales.
Japan's natural scenery is truly diverse. The country is blessed with both mountains and seashores, and the climate varies richly from place to place and with each passing season. Living amidst such natural beauty, the Japanese have since ancient times had a great reverence for forces that transcend human power. The beauty of nature and the wonder it inspires are expressed in Japanese writing and painting. Japan's rich culture can be said to have its roots in the country's abundant natural scenery. Although Japan has sacrificed some of its natural environment to modernization, the country is making every effort to preserve what remains for future generations.
Flora and Fauna Plant life is greatly diversified thanks to widely differing climatic conditions from north to south. Almost 70% of Japan is covered by forest. There are about 4,500 native plant species. Gardens offer the best place to see native species. Pine (Matsu) and cedar (sugi) trees are common. Small pines are used for bonsai. Pines are also considered holy trees - symbols of devine spirits. The plant that best symbolizes Japan is the sakura (cherry tree). The springtime cherry tree blossoming brings about many parties and ceremonies. In Autumn, the maple trees burst with color.
Animals are found in Japan's contrasting climates. Southern Japan's tropical zone has: tropical fish, turtles, crested serpent eagle, flying fox and lizards. The temperate-zone has Korean and Chinese animals: tanuki (racoon dogs/badger), shika (deer) and mandarin ducks. In the Siberian subarctic zone: brown bear, hazel grouse, sea lions, fur seals, beaked whales and even walrus. The crane is a national symbol. Some species endemic to Japan are: dormouse, copper pheasant, giant salamander (which can grow up to 5-feet long), the primitive dragonfly and the macaque (snow monkey). Animals such as the racoon dog and fox figure importantly in the culture and folklore of Japan. The ancient Chinese calendar is symbolized by: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. Even in today's Japan, everyone associates his or her birth year with a particular animal - and it is assumed that one's character and fortune in life are influenced by the animal representative of their birth year.
Japan has a rich history that stretches back thousands of years, and the country's ancestors have left their imprint everywhere. Japan has a variety of historical sites where visitors can get a glimpse of the culture, daily life, and thinking of people in bygone days. In recent years, a succession of prehistoric ruins have been excavated and surveyed, giving us an understanding of how life was in times for which we lack written records.
History Once linked by land bridges to both Siberia and Korea, early influences brought Shinto beliefs, Buddhist organization and the rule of the emperors. Buddhism was brought to Japan in the middle of the 6th century. For many centuries, Japan was influenced by China. During the Heian period (8th - 12th c.) the Japanese court began developing its own system of writing, values and concepts. At the end of the 12th century, the shogunate or samurai class took control. Shogun dynasties ruled Japan for the next seven centuries. In the mid-16th century, traders from Spain and Portugal introduced Christianty. During the early 17th c., Japan was closed to almost all outside contact for over 250 years. In 1868, Japan re-opened its doors. Colonial expansion, modernization and industrialization transformed the country.
Japan's two religions Shinto and Buddhism mingle harmoniously. Shinto, which is indigenous to Japan, is the more ancient of the two. It is based on the worship of spirit and nature. There are hundreds of thousands of spirits; most often depicted are the Seven Lucky Gods. Shinto Shrines are easily identified by the tor gates at their entrance. Shinto rites and festivals are important components of Japanese life. Originally from India and China, Buddhism, centers on philosophy. Buddhist Temples are seen in Japan. Zen Buddhism is just one of the many different sects.
Japanese cuisine is more than just sushi. Japanese dishes are legendary for the beauty and aesthetics. Ingredients are artistically cut and arranged not merely to please the senses but to conform to elaborate systems of cultural symbolism. The roots of Japanese cuisine are largely sixth-to-eighth century Chinese. Rice, usually boiled and served at the end of a meal, is the main starch staple. Cooking varies from region to region. Japan has four principal cooking methods: Agemono (fried): Tempura, Kagiage vegetables/shrimp patty, Tonkatsu (breaded, fried pork cutlet). Mushimono (steamed): Chawan Mushi, an egg custard. Nimono (boiled): soba noodles in broth. Yakimono (broiled): Yakitori (marinated skewer broiled chicken), Teriyaki (broiled meat), Shioyaki (skewer-broiled fish).ï Beer is the favourite beverage of the Japanese and it's dispensed everywhere from vending machines to temple lodgings. Sake (rice wine) is served warm or cold. Japanese green tea is very healthy and refreshing.
Culture Japan has a fascinating culture, with stark contrasts between old and new. Japan's artistic traditions originated from China and Korea. Crafts, performing arts, and food vary from region to region. The two most famous Japanese performing arts are kabuki (melodramatic, spectacular theatre) and (formal, masked theatre). Modern pop music is extremely popular in Japan.
The works produced by Japan's artisans are at once serene and gorgeous. Japanese perceptions of beauty are strongly manifested in the country's pottery, silk dying and woven textiles. Each region has developed and refined its own distinctive crafts, reflecting geographic and historic conditions and people's needs. Traditional crafts have been passed down to the artisans of today, who incorporate modern ideas and production methods into their work.