Japan fast facts

Japan is located in the North Pacific just off the coast of the Koreas and Russia.  An island nation, Japan consists of the four major islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, plus another 4,000 smaller islands.  Over 70% of Japan is mountainous terrain, and the nation’s settled land occupies just 18% of the total area.  Japan also occupies an area that falls inside the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire, which is very seismologically active with earthquakes and volcanic activity.  In fact, the people of Japan endure about 1,500 earthquakes annually.  These and volcanic activity have been known to cause destructive tsunamis (tsunami is a Japanese word) that have, unfortunately, been known to cause thousands of deaths over the years.

On a more positive note, Japan has a population exceeding 127 million, and their life span is among the longest in the world.  Japan’s combined landmass is about that of California, and given that the population fit into an area just 18% the size of California, Japan can seem a little crowded to the casual observer.

Human occupation can be traced back to Japan for about 35,000 years, and for much of that time the country has been cut off from the outside world, meaning that quite a unique culture has become established.  Written history dates back to about the 5th century A.D. when documents show that the then Emperor’s name was Jimmu, and he was the first of an imperial line that is still in place today.  Some of the traditional cultural pursuits popular in Japan include Ikebana, the art of flower arranging,; origami, the art of paper folding; ceremonial tea drinking and bonsai, miniature gardening.

The Japanese characters that make up the word `Japan’ mean `origin of the sun’, which is why Japan is also known as ‘the land of the rising sun’, and it is the image of the rising sun that s incorporated on the Japanese flag.

The Capital of Japan is Tokyo, and the population of Greater Tokyo is considered to be the largest in the world, consisting of 35 million people.  Despite having its economy annihilated following World War II, Japan is now one of the world’s biggest economic powerhouses and it is the world’s largest car maker, and it is one of the world’s leaders in the development of environmentally-friendly technologies.    

Travelling around Japan is relatively easy.  It has an excellent road system, and its railways are some of the most advanced and punctual in the world. In fact, Japan boasts the world’s longest rail tunnel, an incredible 54-kilometre long Seikan Tunnel connecting the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido.  The Japanese are also keen on flying between cities, and there are 173 domestic airports in Japan of which Haneda Airport is the busiest in Asia.

Eating in Japan is a real joy as the traditional cuisine emphasises the seasonality of produce and the presentation of food is just as important as taste as the Japanese learnt centuries ago that we eat with our eyes first.  Rice and noodles are staples of Japanese cooking and seafood is an important ingredient. Japanese food is known for its light, subtly contrasted sweet and sour flavours.

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