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• Japan is an island country in
  the North Pacific Ocean. It lies
  off the east coast of mainland
  Asia across from Russia, Korea,
  and China. Four large islands
  and thousands of smaller ones
  make up Japan.
• Four large islands and thousands of
  smaller ones make up Japan. The
  four major islands—Hokkaido,
  Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku—form
  a curve that extends for about 1,200
  miles (1,900 kilometers). About 127
  million people are crowded on these
  islands, making Japan one of the
  most densely populated countries in
  the world.
• Mountains and hills cover most
  of Japan, making it a country of
  great beauty. But the mountains
  and hills take up so much area
  that the great majority of the
  people live on a small portion of
  the land—narrow plains along
  the coasts.
• These coastal plains have much
  of Japan's best farmland and
  most of the country's major
  cities. Most of the people live in
  urban areas. Japan's big cities
  are busy, modern centers of
  culture, commerce, and
  industry. Tokyo is the capital
  and largest city.
• Japan is one of the world's economic
  giants. Its total economic output is
  exceeded only by that of the United
  States. The Japanese manufacture a
  wide variety of products, including
  automobiles, computers, steel,
  television sets, textiles, and tires.
• The country's factories have some of
  the most advanced equipment in the
  world. Japan has become a major
  economic power even though it has
  few natural resources. Japan
  imports many of the raw materials
  needed for industry and exports
  finished manufactured goods.
• Life in Japan reflects the
  culture of both the East and the
  West. For example, the favorite
  sporting events in the country
  are baseball games and
  exhibitions of sumo, an ancient
  Japanese style of wrestling.
• Although most Japanese wear Western-
  style clothing, many women dress in the
  traditional kimono for festivals and other
  special occasions. The Japanese no and
  kabuki dramas, both hundreds of years old,
  remain popular. But the Japanese people
  also flock to see motion pictures and rock
  music groups. Many Japanese artworks
  combine traditional and Western styles and
• Baseball in Japan is the country's favorite sport.
  The champions of the two professional leagues
  play for the national title. The winning team, shown
  here, traditionally tosses its manager into the air.
• Early Japan was greatly influenced
  by the neighboring Chinese
  civilization. From the late 400's to
  the early 800's, the Japanese
  borrowed heavily from Chinese art,
  government, language, religion, and
  technology. During the mid-1500's,
  the first Europeans arrived in Japan.
• Trade began with several European
  countries, and Christian missionaries
  from Europe converted some
  Japanese. During the early 1600's,
  however, the rulers of Japan decided
  to cut the country's ties with the
  rest of the world. They wanted to
  keep Japan free from outside
• During the 1870's, the Japanese
  government began a major drive
  to modernize the country. New
  ideas and manufacturing
  methods were imported from
  Western countries. By the early
  1900's, Japan had become an
  industrial and military power.
• During the 1930's, Japan's military
  leaders gained control of the
  government. They set Japan on a
  program of conquest. On Dec. 7,
  1941, Japan attacked United States
  military bases at Pearl Harbor in
  Hawaii, bringing the United States
  into World War II. The Japanese won
  many early victories, but then the
  tide turned in favor of the United
  States and the other Allied nations
• In August 1945, U.S. planes
  dropped the first atomic bombs
  used in warfare on the
  Japanese cities of Hiroshima
  and Nagasaki. On Sept. 2, 1945,
  Japan officially surrendered,
  and World War II ended.
• World War II left Japan
  completely defeated. Many
  Japanese cities lay in ruins,
  industries were shattered, and
  Allied forces occupied the
  country. But the Japanese
  people worked hard to
  overcome the effects of the
• An atomic blast demolished the center of
  Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945. Japan agreed to
  surrender after a second atomic bomb was dropped
  on Nagasaki on August 9.
• By the 1970's, Japan had
  become a great industrial
  nation. The success of the
  Japanese economy attracted
  attention throughout the world.
  Today, few nations enjoy a
  standard of living as high as
• Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a
  parliamentary government. The
  Constitution, which took effect in 1947,
  guarantees many rights to the people,
  including freedom of religion, speech, and
  the press. It awards the vote to all men
  and women age 20 and older. The
  Constitution establishes three branches of
  government—the executive, the legislative,
  and the judicial.
• Japan is one of the world's most
  populous nations. About 90
  percent of the people live on the
  coastal plains, which make up
  only about 20 percent of
  Japan's territory. These plains
  rank among the most thickly
  populated places in the world.
• Millions of people crowd the big
  cities along the coasts,
  including Tokyo, Japan's capital
  and largest city. The Tokyo
  metropolitan region, which
  includes the cities of Yokohama
  and Kawasaki, is the most
  populous urban area in the
• Japanese is the official language of
  Japan. Spoken Japanese has many
  local dialects. These local dialects
  differ greatly in pronunciation.
  However, the Tokyo dialect is the
  standard form of spoken Japanese.
  Almost all the people understand the
  Tokyo dialect, which is used in
  schools and on radio and television.
• Written Japanese is considered one
  of the most difficult writing systems
  in the world. It uses Japanese
  phonetic symbols that represent
  sounds as well as Chinese
  characters. Each character is a
  symbol that stands for a complete
  word or syllable. Schools in Japan
  also teach students to write the
  Japanese language with the letters
  of the Roman alphabet.
• City life. About three-fourths of the
  Japanese people live in urban areas.
  Most of the urban population is
  concentrated in three major
  metropolitan areas: (1) the Tokyo
  metropolitan region, which also
  includes the cities of Kawasaki and
  Yokohama; (2) Osaka; and (3)
• Osaka is one of the three major metropolitan areas
  in Japan. Most Japanese people live in urban areas,
  and Japan's largest cities are among the most
  crowded in the world.
• Most Japanese people who live
  in cities and suburbs enjoy a
  high standard of living. Many
  work in banks, hotels, offices,
  and stores. Others hold
  professional or government
• In traditional homes, the rooms are
  separated by sliding paper screens, which
  can be rearranged as needed. Straw mats
  called tatami cover the floors. People sit
  on cushions and sleep on a type of padded
  quilt called a futon. Today, many Japanese
  apartments and houses have one or more
  rooms fitted with carpets instead of tatami
  and containing Western-style chairs and
• Traditional Japanese houses blend with the natural
  beauty surrounding them. Such houses in Japan
  feature lovely gardens and peaceful pools.
• Food and drink. Many Japanese
  families eat at restaurants on
  weeknights and weekends as well as
  on special occasions. Favorite dining
  spots include Japan's new casual
  family restaurants. Roads and
  superhighways are lined with such
  American establishments as Denny's
  and McDonald's and similar
  Japanese-owned chains called
  Skylark and Lotteria.
• When dining at home, most older
  people eat traditional Japanese
  foods. They drink tea and eat rice at
  almost every meal. They supplement
  the rice with fish, tofu (soybean curd
  cake), pickled vegetables, soups
  made with miso (soybean paste), and
  on occasion, eggs or meat.
• Overall, younger people now take in
  significantly more protein and fat
  then their grandparents did. The
  nutritional change has helped make
  the members of the younger
  generation an average of 3 to 4
  inches (8 to 10 centimeters) taller
  than their grandparents.
• Religion. Many Japanese people say
  they are not devout worshipers and
  do not have strong religious beliefs.
  However, nearly everyone in
  Japanese society engages in some
  religious practices or rituals. Those
  practices are based on the two
  major religious traditions in Japan,
  Shinto and Buddhism.
• Shinto means the way of the gods. It
  is the native religion of Japan and
  dates from prehistoric times.
  Shintoists worship many gods, called
  kami, that are found in mountains,
  rivers, rocks, trees, and other parts
  of nature. Shinto also involves
  ancestor worship.
• Shinto and Buddhism are the two major religious
  traditions in Japan. The ceremony shown here is
  part of a Shinto observance.
• A Shinto game called kemari developed
  from a sport played at Japan's royal court
  into a religious ritual to secure peace,
  happiness, and a good harvest for Japan.
• Gender roles. Japanese society
  imposes strong expectations on
  women and men. The society
  expects women to marry in
  their mid-20's, become mothers
  soon afterward, and stay at
  home to attend to the needs of
  their husband and children.
• Women often have a dominant
  role in raising children and
  handling the family finances.
  Men are expected to support
  their families as sole
  breadwinners. To make this
  possible, Japanese employers
  provide male workers with
  family allowances.
• Most Japanese men accept this idea
  of their place in society, and many
  women do, too. But in practice, the
  majority of Japanese women do hold
  jobs at one time or another. Most
  women work before they marry, and
  many of them return to the labor
  force after their children are in
  school or grown. In addition, some
  Japanese women work while their
  children are young.
• Altogether, about 50 percent of all
  Japanese women over age 15 are in
  the labor force at any one time. But
  because of the society's
  expectations about gender roles,
  female employees earn lower
  incomes and receive fewer benefits
  than male employees do, and have
  almost no job security.
• Japanese society places an extremely high
  value on educational achievement,
  particularly for males. The Japanese
  measure educational achievement chiefly
  by the reputation of the university a
  student attends. The student's grades or
  field of study are less important as signs of
  success. Under most circumstances, any
  student who graduates from a top-ranked
  university has a big advantage over other
  college graduates in seeking employment.
• Families work hard to get their
  children into a good university,
  starting as soon as the youngsters
  begin school.
• After six years at an elementary
  school, almost all Japanese children
  continue for another three years at a
  junior high school. Education at
  public schools is free during these
  nine years for children 6 to 14 years
  of age.
• Public school students attend
  classes Monday through Friday and
  half a day on Saturday, except for
  two weeks each month when they
  have Saturdays off. The Japanese
  school year runs from April through
  March of the next year. Vacation is
  from late July through August.
• During the last two years of junior high
  school, many students focus on attaining
  admission to a high school with a good
  record of getting its graduates into top
  universities. Many of the most successful
  high schools are expensive private
  institutions that require incoming students
  to pass a difficult entrance examination.
  To prepare for the test, many eighth- and
  ninth-grade students spend several hours
  each day after school taking exam-
  preparation classes at private academies
  called juku.
• Students attend senior high school
  for three years. Classes include
  many of the same subjects studied
  in junior high school, along with
  courses to prepare students for
  college or train them for jobs. While
  in high school, a student may
  continue to study at a juku as
  preparation for the entrance exam to
  a university.
• Japanese students consistently
  score well on international tests of
  science and mathematics skills. But
  many Japanese are concerned about
  the disadvantages of their
  educational system. Parents feel
  that it places too much emphasis on
  memorization and taking exams.
• Most would prefer to have their
  children educated in a more
  creative environment that
  requires less time in
  classrooms. Many Japanese
  politicians and business people
  agree that their educational
  system has flaws.

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