Culture & Society
- Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world, 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.
- Japan has by far the highest percentage of centenarians of any country. There are now over 55,000 Japanese people over 100 years old, more than in the USA which is 2.5 times more populous than Japan.
- Working hard is one of the most highly respected virtue in Japan. White-collar employees are often expected to pull an all nighter to finish important projects. Sleeping at work is seen as acceptable as it is viewed as exhaustion from dedication to one's job. Japanese is the only language that has a word for "death from overwork": Karōshi (過労死).
- Japanese trains are possibly the world's most punctual. The average delay on the Tokaido Shinkansen in 2012 was only 36 seconds.
- Japan is one of the safest and least violent countries in the world, along with Iceland. The country has as few as two gun-related homicides a year.
- Over 90% of mobile phones in Japan are waterproof, mostly because Japanese women like use them while having a bath, while younger men find it handy to use them in the shower.
- There are 12 million pets in Japan, more than the number of children under 12 years old.
- There are many pet hotels in Japan where cat and dog owners can leave their loved ones for a few hours or a few days while they are away. Private suite rooms can cost up to ¥15,000 (~$150) per day, as much as a luxury hotel for humans.
- There is a Cat Café in Tokyo where customers pay ¥800 yen (~US$8) an hour to hang out with cats.
- 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.
- Japanese farmers grow square watermelons in boxes so as to improve space efficiency in small refrigerators. They were invented by the graphic designer Tomoyuki Ono in 1978 and presented in a gallery in Ginza. Their uniqueness and popularity quickly led to an increase in prices and they now cost two to three times more than regular watermelons. Other watermelon shapes have since been introduced, such as hearts and pyramids.
- There are over 5 million vending machines in Japan, which is about one machine for every twenty-three people - the world's highest number per capita. Japanese vending machines do not sell just snacks and drinks, but all sorts of products from Buddhist charms to women's underwear, but also beer and cigarettes.
- Contrarily to most Western countries, black cats are considered to bring good luck in Japan. It is also the case in Britain and Ireland.
- From 1948 to 2015 late-night dancing (after midnight) was illegal in Japan in venues without a special 'dance licence'.
- People with tattoos are prohibited from entering Japanese hot springs and public bathhouses. This is because of the association of tattoos with the Yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicates.
- Because of the ageing of the Japanese population and the low birth rate, the sale of adult diapers (nappies) has started outselling that of baby diapers since 2014.
- Japanese people very rarely adopt children outside their extended family. In fact, 98% of all adoptions in Japan are of male adults, a practice that goes back to the 13th century and which was developed as a mechanism for families to extend their family name, estate and ancestry without an unwieldy reliance on blood lines.
- Sleep statistics from smartphone apps have shown that people in Japan sleep less than any other country, usually under 6 hours per night.
- Over one million Japanese (mostly male) adolescents or adults suffer from acute social withdrawal and lock themselves up in their bedrooms for months or years. They are known as hikikomori (lit. "pulling inward") and many of them may suffer from autism spectrum disorders.
- The small island of Ōkunoshima, in the Inland Sea of Japan, is populated by hundreds of friendly wild rabbits that like to chase tourists for treats. The island has a darker past though. It is where Japan produced poison gas for the chemical warfare that was carried out in China during World War II.
- Sushi is one of the oldest Japanese dishes, with a history going back to the 8th century. It was however first developed in Southeast Asia long before that, then spread to south China and eventually to Japan. Modern Japanese sushi and sashimi use over one hundred kinds of fish and seafood, but oddly enough it was the Norwegians who first thought of using salmon for sushi, and introduced the concept to Japan in the early 1980.
- Mount Mihara, an active volcano on the isle of Izu Ōshima, near Mount Fuji, is the place where the Japanese government imprisoned Godzilla in the movie The Return of Godzilla. The vantage point near the top of the crater made it a popular spot for committing suicide, with thousands of people jumping to their death since the 1920's (over 600 in 1936 alone). A fence was eventually erected around the base of the volcano to curb the number of suicides.
- Japanese are obsessed about not causing trouble to other members of society and expect others to behave in a similar fashion. For example, if someone commits suicide by jumping in front of a train, the family of the deceased will be charged a disruption fee.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Hanzōmon Gate (and the eponymous metro station and line) in front of the Tokyo Imperial Palace was named after the celebrated samurai Hattori Hanzō, who is credited with saving the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu and then helping him to become the ruler of united Japan. He and his men became the guards of Edo Castle, the headquarters of the government of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Hanzōmon Gate faces the place where his house was once located.
- A few Westerners became samurai. The first were the Englishman William Adams and the Dutchman Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn who arrived in Japan in 1600 and became key advisors to the daimyō, then shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The 19 canons recovered from their ship were used at the Battle of Sekigahara later that year by Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose victory effectively established the Tokugawa Shogunate. Both Williams and Joosten were made hatamoto (the upper vassals of the Tokugawa house). Jan Joosten was granted a house in front of Edo Castle near what is now Tokyo Station. His Japanese name was Yan Yōsuten (shortened Yayōsu), which gave its name to the Yaesu neighbourhood in front of Tokyo station. Two other Europeans fought as samurai during the Boshin War, at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate: the Dutch/German John Henry Schnell and the Frenchman Eugène Collache.
- 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.
- In the 1930's and during World War II, the Japanese government helped tens of thousands of Jewish refugees to resettle to Japan and Japan-occupied China. 15,000 Eastern European Jews were granted asylum in the Japanese quarter of Shanghai, and another 17,000 in Japanese occupied Manchuria. During WWII, the Japanese consul in Germany saved 6,000 Jews from the Holocaust by issuing them visas to Japan, despite protests from Nazi Germany.
- 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 first subway in Japan was the portion the Ginza Line in Tokyo between Ueno and Asakusa. It was completed on 30th December 1927 and acclaimed as "the first underground railway in the Orient".
- To the outside world, the Japanese are generally regarded as a not very religious people. Yet the country possesses 80,000 Shinto shrines and nearly as many Buddhist temples. That's one religious edifice for 800 people in average.
- Japanese animism was formally unified under the name of Shintoism by the Meiji government in the late 19th century. However this is a relatively new artificial construct meant mostly to support the nationalist ideals of the time. Traditional Japanese animism is a belief system of eclectic origins, which had no central organisation, no sacred book, nor moral code. It is based on the belief in the kami. Often wrongly translated as gods, the kami were originally just spirits of Nature with no human attribute and little power, but later evolved to include the spirits of venerated dead persons, such as the ancestors of clans, who are worshipped as ujikami.
- Japanese animism is also founded on the belief that the souls of human beings remain in this world after the physical death of the body. Japanese families keep connected to the souls of their ancestors on a daily basis through an altar called Butsudan, which they keep inside their home. This also explains the widely held belief in ghosts.
- Japanese animists believe that inanimate objects can have a spirit and, if damaged or discarded, can come back as yōkai to haunt the perpetrator. Yōkai can also be humans, animals or plants and often take the appearance of monsters or demons.
- Until 1868, Japan's only organised religion was the syncretism of Buddhism and kami worship, known as Shinbutsu-shūgō. In 1868, the new Meiji government passed the shinbutsu bunri law that forced the separation of Shinto and Buddhism, leading to the systematic destruction of Buddhist temples present of the site of Shinto shrines. This was followed by a strong anti-Buddhist movement known as haibutsu kishaku (literally "abolish Buddhism and destroy Shākyamuni"), which saw the destructions of tens of thousands of Buddhist temples across the country, particularly in the domains of Satsuma (Kagoshima prefecture), Etchū (Toyama prefecture) and Tosa (Kōchi prefecture), where hardly any Buddhist temple survived.
- There are 54 Buddhist pagodas in Japan. The official top three pagodas (日本三名塔) are those of the Daigo-ji Temple in Kyōto, the Hōryū-ji Temple in Nara, and the Rurikō-ji Temple in Yamaguchi.
- There are dozens of Daibutsu (大仏), i.e. giant Buddha statues, in Japan. The most famous are the ones in Kamakura (13.3 m) and in the Tōdai-ji in Nara (15 m), but they are far from being the largest. There are in total 35 Daibutsu over 10 metres (33 ft) in height in the country. The three tallest are the standing Ushiku Daibutsu (120 m, the tallest statue in the world from 1993 to 2002) in Ibaraki Prefecture, the reclining Nanzo-in Daibutsu (41 m, also the largest bronze statue in the world) in Fukuoka Prefecture and the sitting Nihon-ji Daibutsu (31 m) in Chiba Prefecture.
- The world's largest fish market is the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.
- Japan has a very diverse climate that allows it to diversify its agriculture by region and prefecture. For instance, Shizuoka prefecture, south of Mount Fuji, produces 40% of the green tea in Japan, the rest being grown mostly in Kyushu, Kyoto, Mie and Aichi. Wasabi is also cultivated mostly in Shizuoka. A third of Japan's peaches and a quarter of its grapes come from Yamanashi, north of Mount Fuji. The northern island of Hokkaido provides most of the country's dairy products (90%), potatoes (80%), wheat (60%), onions (60%), Japanese pumpkins (50%) and soybeans. 75% of cherries and 65% of Western pears are grown in Yamagata prefecture. Aomori grows 65% of Japan's garlic and 55% of its apples (followed by Nagano with 20%). The more rural parts of Kanto region (Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma) produce a good part of the country's cabbages, leeks, spinach, lotus roots and turnips. Wakayama prefecture is the source of 65% of ume (Japanese plums) 40% of green peas and 20% of kaki (persimmons) and citrus fruits. Shikoku's remote Kochi prefecture accounts for nearly half of the national ginger production and a quarter of its leeks. Neighbouring Ehime produces 25% of Japan's kiwis. Kumamoto is the top producer of tomatoes and watermelons. Mango grows in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Okinawa, and the latter even grows pineapples and sugar canes. Kagoshima also produces 70% of Japan's sesame and most of its sweet potatoes. Rice is grown everywhere (except Okinawa), but in much higher proportion in the northeast coast of Honshu, from Fukui to Yamagata. (source: Japan Crops)
- Fish and seafood production varies also widely by region. Most shellfish come from Aomori and Shimane prefectures. Crabs are renowned in Tottori, Fukui and Ishikawa. Eel farming is based mostly in Kagoshima and Miyazaki.
- 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.
- Approximately 24 billion pairs of chopsticks are used in Japan each year, which is equivalent to almost 200 pairs per person in a given year. Their manufacture require to cut down over 20 million fully grown trees every year.
- 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).
- The shinkansen was the world's first commercial bullet train, starting service on 1 October 1964, in time for the first Tokyo Olympics, initially at speeds of up to 210 km/h (130 mph). Nowadays Japan is still leading high-speed train technology with the L0 Series magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, which set a land speed record for rail vehicles of 603 km/h (375 mph) on 21 April 2015. The L0 shinkansen is due to operate from 2027.
- The company Robot Taxi is planning to have a fully autonomous fleet of taxis up and running at latest for the Tokyo Olympics of 2020.
- 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.
- Officially Japan and Russia are still at war as they haven't signed a peace treaty to end World War II due to the
Kuril Islands dispute.
- Japan is one of the last developed countries, along with the USA, not to have abolished death penalty.
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