Important facts about Japan.
- In Japanese, the name “Japan” is Nihon or Nippon, which means “Land of the Rising Sun.” It was once believed that Japan was the first country to see the sun rise in the East in the morning.
- Japan has the third longest life expectancy in the world with men living to 81 years old and women living to almost 88 years old. The Japanese live on average four years longer than Americans.
- Japan consists of over 6,800 islands.
- Home to 33 million people, the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area is the largest populated metropolitan region in the world.
- Japan has more than 3,000 McDonald’s restaurants, the largest number in any country outside the U.S.
- Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress was the basis for George Lucas’ famous film Star Wars.
- Each spring, Japan has a festival that celebrates both the penis and female fertility called Kanamara Matsuri, or “Festival of the Steel Phallus.”
- Twenty-one percent of the Japanese population is elderly (over the age of 65), the highest proportion in the world. There are more elderly than there are children in Japan today.
- The Japanese eat more fish than any other people in the world, about 17 million tons per year. Japan is the world’s largest importer of seafood, with shrimp comprising about one third of the total, about four million tons a year. More than 20% of Japanese protein is obtained through fish and fish products.
- Over two billion manga, Japanese comic books or graphic novels, are sold in Japan each year.
- More than 5 billion servings of instant ramen noodles are consumed in Japan each year. Chef Momofuku Ando invented the first instant “chicken ramen” in 1958.
- Sushi has been around since about the second century A.D. It started as a way to preserve fish in China and eventually made its way to Japan. The method of eating raw fish and rice began in the early 17th century. Sushi does not mean raw fish in Japanese. It actually means rice seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and salt. Raw fish sliced and served alone without rice is called sashimi.
- Japanese Kobe beef is famous worldwide for its succulence and taste. The Japanese cows this beef comes from receive daily massages and, in summer, are fed a diet of saké and beer mash. True Kobe beef comes from only 262 farms in the Tajima region, of which Kobe is the capital, and each of which raises an average of 5 of the animals at a time. In the United States, Kobe beef is called Wagyu beef.
- Japan has around 5.5 million vending machines with one on almost every street corner. There are vending machines that sell beer, hot and cold canned coffee, cigarettes, wine, condoms, comic books, hot dogs, light bulbs, bags of rice, toilet paper, umbrellas, fish bait, fresh eggs, porn magazines, and even used women’s underwear.
- Japan has the second lowest homicide rate in the world, but it also home to the spooky “suicide forest” Aokigahara at the base of Mt. Fuji. It is the second most popular place in the world for suicides after San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
- The Japanese have such a low birth rate that there are more adult diapers sold than baby diapers.
- Cherry blossoms (sakura) are Japan’s national flower.
– Kobayashi Issa, Poems
- Japanese ganguro (“black face”) fashion was started in the 1990s and has young women tanning their skin as dark as possible, bleaching their hair, and using extremely colorful makeup in contrast to the traditional Japanese pale-skinned, dark-haired standard of beauty.
- The world’s shortest escalator is in the basement of More’s department store in Kawasaki, Japan; it has only 5 steps and is 32.8 inches (83.3 cm) high.
- Yaeba, or crooked teeth, are considered attractive in Japan—so much so that girls go to the dentist to have their teeth purposefully unstraightened.
- Haiku poetry, which was invented in Japan, consists of only three lines and is the world’s shortest poetic form.
- Women in ancient Japan blackened their teeth with dye as white teeth were considered ugly. This practice, called ohaguro, continued until the late 1800s.
- Shinjuku station, Tokyo’s main train station, is the busiest in the world with over 2 million people passing through it every day.
- Anime, or animated Japanese films and television shows, account for 60% of the world’s animation-based entertainment. Animation is so successful in Japan that there are almost 130 voice-acting schools in the country.
- Ninety percent of all mobile phones sold in Japan are waterproof because youth like to use them even while showering.
- Ninety-eight percent of adoptions that take place in Japan are of male adults, so family businesses can stay within those families.
- The sole Japanese man who survived the wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1914, Masabumi Hosono, was called a coward in his country for not dying with the other passengers.
- In Japan, it is acceptable to take a nap, called inemuri, on the job—it is viewed as evidence of exhaustion from working very hard.
- When Japanese people meet, they traditionally bow instead of shake hands, and the lowest bow shows the deepest respect.
- During World War II, Japan bombed China with fleas infested with Bubonic plague.
- Japan and Russia still haven’t signed a peace treaty to end World War II due to a dispute over the Kuril Islands.
- In Japan, Kit Kat candy bars come in flavors like grilled corn, Camembert cheese, Earl Gray tea, grape, and wasabi. The Japanese pronounce Kit Kat like “Kitto Katsu,” which sounds like “You are sure to pass” in Japanese, and so they make a popular gift to students during entrance exam season.
- The world’s largest Pokémon memorabilia collection belongs to Lisa Courtney of the United Kingdom. She has 14,410 items as of October 14, 2010, collected over 14 years. Items from her collection come from Japan, the UK, the U.S., and France.
- Around 25 billion pairs of waribashi (disposable chopsticks) are used in Japan each year. This is equivalent to the timber needed to build 17,000 homes.
- In Japan, black cats are considered good luck charms or omens of good luck.
- In Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken is a typical Christmas Eve feast.
- Many hot springs and onsen (public bathhouses) in Japan ban customers with tattoos from entering because the tattoos remind the public of the yakuza, or Japanese mafia, whose members sport full-body tattooing.
- Cartooning in Japan began in the 12th century, and today more paper is used for comics than for toilet paper in that country.
- In Japan, there is an island full of rabbits called Ōkunoshima. They were brought there during World War II to test the effects of poison gas.
- The biggest Japanese community outside of Japan is in Brazil.
- Raw horse meat is considered a delicacy in Japan. It is called basashi and is sliced thinly and eaten raw.
- Sumo wrestling in Japan can be traced back 1,500 years. Wrestlers weigh 300 pounds or more and train in a heya (room, stable) operated by former sumo champions. Younger sumo wrestlers are traditionally required to clean and bathe the veteran wrestlers, including all the hard-to-reach places.
- Hello Kitty was born in Japan in 1974 as a plastic coin purse. More than 20,000 Hello Kitty products are on the market today, including toasters, instant noodles, credit cards, and toilet paper. To her Japanese fans, she is known as Kitty Chan.
- Japanese “love hotels” are short-stay hotels mainly designed for amorous couples and are identified by the presence of heart symbols. They have different room rates: a “rest” rate as well as an overnight rate. An estimated 2% of Japan’s population visits one each day.
- Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, are the fabled animals that “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.” The macaques in northern Honshu live farther north than any other monkey in the world.
- It is appropriate to slurp noodles, especially soba (buckwheat), when eating in Japan. Slurping indicates the dish is delicious. It also cools down the hot noodles.
- Japan is the largest automobile producer in the world, and the Japanese company Toyota is the third largest automaker in the world. It was founded by Kiichiro Toyoda who changed the “da” for “ta” because it sounds clearer. Also, written in Katakana script, “Toyota” uses 8 brush strokes, a number considered to be lucky in Japan.
- Mt. Fuji, or Fujisan or Fujiyama, is the tallest mountain in Japan at 12,388 feet (3,776 m). It is considered a sacred mountain to many Japanese. More than one million people climb Mt. Fuji every year during the official climbing season of July and August.
- Tsukiji market in Tokyo is the world’s largest fish market, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products daily.
- Hadaka Matsuri, or Naked Festival, is a kind of festival where thousands of Japanese men remove their clothing in public due to the belief that a naked man has a greater ability to absorb evil spirits. Only the most intimate parts of the body are covered with a cloth called a fundoshi.
- The word Japanese karaoke means “empty orchestra.” Cabaret singer Daisuke Inoue made a coin-operated machine that played his songs on tape so his fans could sing along in the 1970s, but he failed to patent his creation and therefore never cashed in on his invention.
- Widespread inbreeding of dogs in Japan has resulted in one of the highest rates of genetic defects for canines in the world.
- The green traffic light in Japan is called ao shingō, or “blue.”
- In Japan, it is considered rude to tear the wrapping paper off of a gift.
- The Japanese have more pets than children.
- Baseball is the most popular sport in Japan. Known as yakyū, it was introduced to Japan by an American teacher named Horace Wilson. The first game was played in Japan in 1873 at Tokyo University. Japan has two professional baseball leagues, the Pacific and Central. The game is so popular that even high school games are broadcast on national TV.
- The Japanese invented shibari, or sexual bondage play, which may have begun as the martial art of restraint known as hojōjutsu, in which a samurai practices capturing or detaining his enemy with ropes in the least amount of time possible.
- Generally acknowledged to be the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji, was written by a Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century.
- In a traditional Shinto wedding, the bride wears a special head covering called atsunokakushi (horn cover) to cover the “horns of jealously” she is thought to have for her husband.
- The Japanese word banzai literally means “10 thousand years” and was traditionally used to wish the emperor a long life. Today, it is closer to a cheer like “Hip Hip Hooray!” Travelers are often given a sendoff at the train station or airport by a group of coworkers shouting, “Banzai!” three times while raising their arms over their heads. This chant is also used at celebrations.
- The Japanese avoid the number four (shi) because it sounds the same as the word for death. Tall buildings do not have a fourth floor. Tea and sake sets are sold with five cups. Three or five is the desirable number of guests in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. As a rule, odd numbers are preferred over even numbers in Japan.
- While Westerners regard the heart as the center of emotions, the Japanese regard the hara(belly) as the center of emotions and thoughts. They value silent communication, which they call haragei (“speaking from the belly”).
- The Japanese word horenso (“spinach”) is similar to the word for horeru (“to fall in love” or “secret love”). When a Japanese person gives another person a gift that is wrapped in the same color green as spinach, he or she is expecting love without using words.
- In Japanese, fugu is the name for the lethally poisonous blowfish. Japanese law requires that it be prepared by professional chefs who have been specially trained and licensed. Law forbids the emperor and the imperial family to eat fugu. Most fugu is eaten between January and March, when it is believed to be least poisonous.
- At midnight on Shōgatsu (New Year’s Eve), the Buddhist temples of Japan ring their bells 108 times to ring in the New Year and drive away the 108 evil desires that humans fall prey to. This event is called Joya no Kane and is carried on Japanese radio.
- Japanese imperial court orchestra and dance forms, known as gagaku and bugaku, are the oldest continuous music and dance traditions in the world. They were introduced from the Chinese imperial court in the 7th and 8th century A.D. and are still performed in Tokyo by members of the Imperial Court Orchestra today.
- Geisha in Japanese means “person of the arts,” and the first geishas were actually men called taikomochi and they had a role similar to Western court jesters.
- Noh drama is the oldest surviving theatrical form in the world, dating back to the 14th century. In this drama, all female characters wear elaborate masks while the male characters do not.
- Karate is perhaps the best known martial arts form to have come out of Japan. It originated in China but was refined in Okinawa. It literally means “empty hands” and uses trained movements of the hands, arms, and legs for self-defense. An estimated 50 million people worldwide practice karate.
- The first man born outside of Japan to compete as a sumo wrestler was a second-generation Japanese American who went by the sumo ring name Sendagawa. He made his debut in October 1915.
- The term harakiri may be familiar to Westerners as a gruesome Japanese method of suicide which literally means “cutting the belly.” The proper term for suicide performed by cutting one’s abdomen open with a knife is seppuku. According to Bushidō, the code of the warrior, a samurai facing defeat was supposed to save his honor by committing seppuku rather than surrendering to his enemy.
- The Japanese word for a dog’s barking sound is wan-wan instead of “bow-wow.” Japan’s Akita breed was developed in the 1600s and was once called the royal dog because the emperors kept Akitas as pets. The most famous of all Akitas was Hachikō. Legend has it he waited 10 years at the Shibuya train station in Tokyo for his master who had died while at work. A statue of Hachikō now stands outside the station as a tribute to his loyalty.
- The imperial family of Japan descends from an unbroken lineage of nearly 2,000 years. No other royal family in history has held its position for so long. The first Japanese emperor, Jimmu Tennō, ruled about the time of Christ.
- In 1993, Japanese author Yume-Hotaru wrote the world’s first novel written entirely on a cell phone: Maho No I-rando (Magic Island).
- To this day, Japan is the only country to ever have a nuclear bomb detonated on its soil. Kumamoto was the original target of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force on Hiroshima. On the day of the flight in April 1945, Kumamoto was covered in clouds, and the bomber passed it by, dropping the bomb on Hiroshima instead.
- Godzilla, a huge monster resembling a dinosaur, made his film debut in 1954. In Japan, he is known as Gojira, where he rose from the sea, after being awakened by atomic bomb testing, and attacked Tokyo.
- The Japanese religion of Shinto is one of the few religions in the world with a female solar deity.
- Many Japanese babies are born with a Mongolian spot (mokohan) on their backs. This harmless birthmark usually fades by the age of 5. It is common in several Asian populations and in Native Americans.
- Today, fewer than 200 people in Japan can claim both parents with exclusively Ainu, perhaps the original human inhabitants of Japan, descent. The Ainu do not possess the Y chromosome typically found in the rest of the Japanese population.
|13,000 B.C.||First evidence of hunter-gatherers called the Jōmon, who are the ancestors of Japan’s aboriginal inhabitants, the Ainu.|
|4,000 B.C.||Yayoi people arrive in Japan, probably from Korea.|
|1st century A.D.||Jimmu Tennō rules Japan as the first emperor.|
|A.D. 250||Yamato Clan rises to power, led by Queen Himiko of the Yamataikoku (Yamato).|
|Mid-5th century||Scholars from the Korean kingdom of Paekche introduce writing to Japan. They use Chinese symbols to express spoken Japanese.|
|538||Scholars from Paekche, or Baekje, introduce Buddhism to Japan.|
|578||World’s oldest company, Kongō Gumi, a construction company, officially begins working.|
|646||Taika Reforms organize Japan under a central government.|
|710–784||Culture and Buddhism flourish during the Nara period.|
|712||Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) is completed, which is Japan’s oldest historical account.|
|710||Japan’s first capital is established at Nara.|
|794||Emperor Kammu establishes Heian (Kyoto) as the capital after a smallpox outbreak.|
|1100||Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel, is written by court lady Murasaki Shikibu|
|1180s||Minamoto Clan defeats the Taira.|
|1192||Minamoto no Yoritomo is appointed shogun; the rule of the shoguns begins.|
|13th century||Zen Buddhism becomes established in Japan.|
|1274 and 1281||A Kamikaze (“divine wind”), or typhoon, twice foils the invasion of the Mongols led by Kublai Khan.|
|1543||The Portuguese arrive in Japan.|
|Late 1500s||Sen no Rikyū lays down the form of the formal Japanese tea ceremony.|
|1603||Tokugawa Ieyasu moves the capital to Edo (Tokyo).|
|1630s||Japan drives out all foreigners and is closed to outsiders.|
|1701–1703||The 47 Ronin famously commit suicide after their Lord’s death. This act is seen by many as a model for samurai ethics.|
|1853||U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry uses “gunboat diplomacy” to force Japan open to foreigners.|
|1838||The emperor is restored after a long rule of the shogunates.|
|1889||Meiji Constitution goes into effect.|
|1904–1905||Japan fights and wins the Russo-Japanese war.|
|1923||Kanto earthquake strikes Tokyo-Yokohama, killing 140,000 people.|
|1941||On December 7, Japan attacks the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor; the United States declares war.|
|1945||The United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Japan surrenders.|
|1964||Shinkansen bullet train service in Japan begins.|
|1995||Kobe earthquake strikes and kills thousands of people.|
|2002||Law is passed in Japan reversing the requirement that students attend school on Saturdays.|
|2003||Japan sends peacekeeping troops to Iraq.|
|2006||Japanese Diet approves the creation of the first full-fledged defense ministry since World War II. The Kongō Gumi construction firm, the world’s oldest company, closes.|
|2011||On March 11, the Great East Japan earthquake strikes northeastern Japan at Tōhoku. It results in a huge tsunami, and tens of thousands are killed or missing. The Fukushima nuclear reactor is damaged and leaks, prompting a global nuclear scare.|
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