Japan consists of many different islands, the main ones being, Honshu,
Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, which are the country’s largest. Japan’s
closest neighbors include Korea, Russia and China. The Sea of Japan
separates Japan from the Asian continent.
Japan’s area is larger than, for example, Germany’s and comparable to the
one of Italy or California. Japan’s northernmost islands are located
approximately on same geographical latitude as Milan or Portland while her
southernmost islands are about on the same latitude as the Bahamas. In
other words, Japan’s North South extension equals about the distance from
Oslo to Naples. More than 50% of the area of Japan is mountainous and
covered by forests. Japan is politically structured in 8 regions and 47
Japan is prone to both earthquakes and volcanoes. This is because of the
geographical position that Japan is located in. The most famous volcano
that Japan experience is Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji can be seen from Tokyo, the
country’s capital, when the weather is clear and is the highest point in
all of Japan.
The reason for Japan’s numerous earthquakes is because of its location on
the borders of where many tectonic plates meet. This means that when the
plates, below the earth’s surface, move it creates friction on the earth
above, and, thus creating movement.
Japans climate is very varied throughout the whole continent. The main
city’s climate, including Tokyo, is temperate to subtropical and consists
of four seasons. The winter is mild but when it is summer there is an early
rainy season, followed by typhoons that hit every year in parts of the
country during late summer. The summer that Japan experiences are very hot
and humid, Hokkaido, a northern island experiences a very cold winter that
bring about cold snowstorms. This differs remarkably from Okinawa where the
winter is a pleasant 16 degrees Celsius.
The two major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto. They have
coexisted in the same country for many years and, in some cases, even
complemented each other. The feeling of just belonging to one religion in
most countries is very rare in Japan. Many people in Japan consider
themselves Shinto-Buddhists or even get married in a western or ‘Christian’
way even if they themselves are not Christians. This is because of the
influence that the western world has provided for the Japanese people.
Shinto is deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life and in their
traditions. This means that propaganda or preaching, linked with Shinto, is
very uncommon. In contrast to many monotheist religions, there are no
absolutes in Shinto. There is no absolute right and wrong, and nobody is
perfect. Shinto is an optimistic faith, as humans are thought to be
fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits.
Consequently, the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil
spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami.
Buddhism, another main religion excepted in Japan, originated in India in
the 6th century BC. It consists of the teachings of the Buddha, Gautama
Siddhartha. Of the main branches of Buddhism, it is the Mahayana or
“Greater Vehicle” Buddhism, which found its way to Japan.
Buddhism was imported to Japan via China and Korea in form of a present
from the friendly Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche) in the 6th century.
While the ruling nobles welcomed Buddhism, as Japan’s new state religion,
it did not initially spread among the common people due to its complex
90% of Japan’s population consider themselves to be of the Shinto
religion, 75% of Japan’s population consider themselves to be of the
Buddhist religion. The over lapse of the percentages in attributed to the
fact that many people in Japan believe themselves to be both Shinto and
There are many different religions that have spread throughout Japan.
Some of these include: Confucianism, Christianity and Islam. Confucianism
is one of the three main Japanese religions and originated from China. The
great philosopher Confucius (Kong Fu Zi) lived in China from 551 to 479 BC.
The influence that Confucianism has had on Japan has been massive and is
very evident today.
Today, about one to two million Japanese are Christians (about 1% of
Japan’s population). Most of them live in Western Japan where the
missionaries’ activities were greatest during the 16th century. Many
Christian rituals have been adopted into the every day lives of the
Japanese such as: white dresses at weddings, St. Valentine’s Day and also
Islam’s relation with Japan is quite recent as compared to those with
other countries around the world.
There are no clear records of any contact between Islam and Japan nor any
historical traces of Islam’s coming into Japan through religious
propagation of any sort except for some isolated cases of contact between
individual Japanese and Muslims of other countries before 1868.
646 AD – The Taiks Reform began. It set up a central government controlled
by the emperor.
858 – The Fujiwara family gained control of the imperial court.
1192 – Yoritomo became the first Shogun.
1543 – Portuguese sailors became the first Europeans to reach Japan.
1603 – The Tokugawa family began its more then 250-year rule of Japan.
1630’s – Japan cut its ties with the outside world.
1853-54 – Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States visited Japan and
opened two ports to U.S. trade.
1867 – The Tokugawa family was overthrown and the emperor regained his
1868 – Mutsuhito, also know as Emperor Meiji, announced Japan’s intention
to become a modern industrial nation.
1894-95 – Japan quickly won a war with China.
By Kate Trindall