Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world (as of 2011), nominally surpassed by tiny city-states like Andorra and Macau, but by no other proper nation. Japanese people live in average 4 years longer than US citizens, 3 years longer than the Germans, the Belgians or the Brits, 2 years more than the Italians and 1 year longer than the French.
The old Japanese language was a blend of ancient Korean and Jomon languages (distantly related to modern Okinawan and Ainu). Since the 6th century, Chinese characters (and the words that go with them) were imported into the language, and now amount to approximately half of the vocabulary in Japanese.
English is the only foreign language taught in public Japanese schools.
There are tens of thousands of English words used daily in modern Japanese (often not understood by the older generation), and the number keeps growing fast year after year.
History & Genetics
Japan has the oldest surviving monarchy in the world. The first historical emperor of Japan was Ojin, reigning from year 270 to 310, and deified as Hachiman. Legend has it that the very first emperor was Jinmu, who would have reigned 1000 years earlier. This is very unlikely though, for Japan did not become an agricultural and sedentary society before 300 BCE (and only then in western Japan).
Japan's national anthem, Kimi Ga Yo (君が代), is the world's oldest anthem, although it was only officially recognised as such in 1999. It is based on a 9th century poem.
Genetic studies have revelaved that approximately 60% of Japanese gene pool comes from Korea and China, and 40% from the Stone Age inhabitants of Japan, the Jomon people (from whom the modern Ainu of the direct descendants). Nevertheless a northern Han Chinese from Beijing is genetically closer to a Japanese than to a southern Han Chinese from Canton.
Japan annexed Okinawa and Taiwan in 1895, then Korea in 1910, and kept them as part of the territory of the Japanese Empire until 1945. Okinawa still belongs to Japan.
The first extensive use of the rickshaw for transportation started in Japan from the 1870's. It later spread to the rest of East Asia and South Asia, where the motorized version is still very popular. The rickshaw is, however, not a Japanese invention. Some claim that it was invented by the American blacksmith Albert Tolman in 1848. Others attribute it to Jonathan Scobie, an American missionary to Japan, who invented it in 1869 to transport his invalid wife through the streets of Yokohama.
Fortune cookies are not a Chinese invention, but a Japanese one going back to 19th-century Kyōto and linked to the tradition of omikuji. Fortune cookies have since become very popular in the USA, especially in Chinese restaurants, hence its false association with China. The first American version of the cookie was introduced around 1900 by Makoto Hagiwara of Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco.
Chazuke used to be a typical dish of the lower classes in the Edo era. People would add green tea on a bowl of cold rice in chaya (teahouse) along the road. This was considered a full meal by those who couldn't afford fish or even vegetables.
The world's two oldest family-run businesses are Japanese: the hot spring hotel Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan (founded in 711) in Hayakawa, Yamanashi prefecture, and Hōshi (founded in 781), a ryokan in Komatsu, Ishikawa. Until a few years ago the palm went to Kongō Gumi (founded in 578), a Buddhist temple building firm headquartered in Osaka that went bankrupt in 2006.
The world's largest fish market is the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.
Tokyo Haneda Airport is busiest airport by passenger traffic in Asia, and the fourth busiest in the world.
Japan is the world's 2nd country with the most vehicles per square kilometers after the Netherlands, and just before Belgium.
Despite Japan being the world's second largest economy, Japanese people only enjoy the 17th highest GDP per capita, or 24th when adjusted for PPP. (2009 data)
There are about 1,500 sake ("rice wine") breweries in Japan.
There are over 25,000 love hotels in Japan, generating a staggering 4 trillion yen in revenues per year.
The video game maker Nintendo started as a playing card maker in 1898. In the 1960's the owners tried to diversify the business by setting up a taxi company, a "love hotel" chain, a TV network and a food company selling "instant rice". It moved into the Japanese toy industry in 1966, and started producing video games in 1977, where it achieved international fame. Despite its success in the high-tech industry and its global market, Nintendo grew and has retained its headquarters in traditional and timeless Kyoto. The name Nintendo itself (任天堂) could be just as well be mistaken for a Buddhist temple's name.
Restaurants in Tokyo were awarded twice more Michelin stars than those in Paris, making it the culinary capital of the world. Tokyoites can choose where to dine from over 200,000 restaurants - a world record.
Japan is a heavily entertainment-based society, with probably more restaurants, cafés, bars, clubs, karaoke, game centres, manga cafés, massage parlours and relaxation centres per square kilometer than anywhere else on earth. Japan also has the world's largest sex industry.
Japan is the only major country (let's say with a population of over 5 million) that still hunts whales. Whale meat has been promoted by the government by adding it to public school menus. Dolphin meat is also eaten in Japan (notably in Shizuoka), but in a much smaller quantity.
Between 1986 and 1990, Japan experienced an asset price bubble, with and and stock prices skyrocketing then crashing. The decline still continues, and real estate prices in Tokyo have now fallen to their early 1980's levels.
Despite its reputation for its rich array of eccentric inventions or useless gadgets, Japan has not invented a lot mainstream products by itself. Its most famous contributions to modern technology are the VHS tape (developed by JVC in 1976), the Compact Disk and the CD-ROM (both developed by Sony in collaboration with the Dutch company Philips). Sony also invented the now defunct Betamax videocassette and the Mini Disk (MD).
Inventions falsely attributed to Japan include the Quartz Watch (invented by the Canadian Warren Marrison, but first commercialised by Seiko in 1969), the walkman (Sony, who claimed the invention in 1979, admitted in 2003 that German citizen Andreas Pavel came with the idea 2 years earlier), video games (an invention claimed by both Britain and the USA), mobile phones (invented by AT&T in 1947), or comic books (first published in Europe in the early 1800's).
10% of the world's volcanoes are in Japan. Among them, 108 have erupted in the last 10,000 years, 50 in the last 100 years, and 36 are currently active.
Japan is the 60th largest country in the world (out of over 200) in terms of land area. It is 25 times smaller than the USA or People's Republic of China, but is slightly bigger than Germany, 3 times larger than England, and close to 10 times more spacious than the Netherlands.
Japan is the 10th most populous country in the world*. It's population is equal to the United Kingdom, France and Denmark combined.
Japan is often seen in the West as an overcrowded country. Yet, it ranks only 18th worldwide in terms of population density, behind such countries as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Bangladesh, the Netherlands and Belgium. If England was counted as a country (separate from the UK), its density of population would be slightly higher than Japan. Japan's population is 11 times more densely settled than the USA, a density comparable to that of the states of New Jersey or Rhode Island.
Mount Fuji (3,776 m) is the 4th most prominent peak in Asia outside the Himalayan range (the three others are in Indonesia and Malaysia).
Apart from the four main islands, Japan is composed of over 3,000 smaller isles.
The Seikan Tunnel linking Honshu to Hokkaido is the world's longest railway tunnel (53.85 km / 33.46 mi). It was inaugurated on 13th March 1988.
Japan has 29,751 km of coastlines, the 6th longest of any country.