What is a civilization ?

There is no universally accepted definition of 'civilization'. In my eyes a civilization is a group of people and cultures derived from a common ancient source and sharing a lot of distinctive features that set them clearly apart from other civilizations. Cultures are typically national or regional in scale, while civilization encompass continents, subcontinents or multiple regions spread over more than one continent.

Europe can be seen as a civilization, and this is usually extended to its overseas offshoot with a dominant population of European descent, like North America, Argentina, Australia or New Zealand. This is typically referred to as Western Civilization.

The Indian subcontinent would be another civilization, and so would the Arab world. Some countries do not fit neatly into one group due to their high level of admixture or multiculturalism. Turkey and Iran would fit in that category.

The East Asian Civilization is comprised of China (except Turkestan), Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Some also include Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, although these cultures are intermediary between East Asia, Austronesia and India.

Is Japan a civilization ?

Japan has a strong culture of its own, but it does not qualify to be called a civilization. Just like Korea and Vietnam, Japan owes most of its traditions, culture and a good part of its language to China. Almost everything that is traditionally Japanese has an analogous equivalent in China.

The moral values of the Japanese are deeply influenced by Confucianism. This includes such aspects of Japanese culture as the respect of the elders, seniority system, politeness levels, strict separation of gender roles, loyalty to one's company, government organization, and meritocracy.

More spiritual Japanese traditions are in great part inherited from Taoism, in spit of a generally low awareness of it among the Japanese themselves. The traditional Japanese calendar and Japanese zodiac, Fu Sui (Feng Shui), or the contemplative reverence toward Nature in traditional paintings, are all reflections of Taoist beliefs.

Finally, the schools of Buddhism in Japan, including Zen, all have their origins in China, unlike Burmese or Thai Buddhism which came directly from India.

The Buddhist o-Bon festival traces its roots in the Chinese Ghost Festival

Traditional Japanese arts and architecture can also be seen as regional variants of Chinese ones.

Obviously the main script used in Japanese are the Chinese characters. The kana, although a Japanese invention, are ultimately simplified Chinese characters too.

Japanese is sometimes classified as an Altaic language alongside Mongolian and Turkic languages. This makes little sense as Japanese has almost nothing in common with those languages, apart from some similarities in syntax. Approximatively half of the Japanese vocabulary comes from Chinese. The other half is native, but of mixed origins.

Even genetically, Japanese people are surprisingly close to the northern Han Chinese, Manchu and Koreans. In fact, northern Hans have been found to be closer to the Japanese than to the southern Hans.

Overall, Japan is more Chinese than Tibet, Laos or Mongolia are, and in many respects more Chinese than many other ethnic minorities in China.

But it would be equally erroneous to talk about a Chinese civilization, justly because China has so many distinct ethnic and cultural minorities that can hardly be classified as part of the Chinese civilization because they do not share the same traditions, religions, script, architecture, arts, moral values or even genetic relationship as the Han Chinese do with the Koreans and the Japanese. This is why it is better to talk about an East Asian Civilization, with its roots in the Yellow River and Yangtze Neolithic.