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JAPAN • 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 themes. • 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 influences. • 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 war. • 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's. • 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 world. • 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) Nagoya. • 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 jobs. • 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 tables • 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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