Capital City: Tokyo
Population: 127, 500,000
Government: The government of Japan is a constitutional monarchy with the Emperor as a figurehead leader. Power lies with the Prime Minister and other ministers in the Diet (a bicameral parliament).
Main Languages: Japanese
Main Religions: Shinto Buddhism (although most non-practising). Other minority religions are tolerated.
Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean characterised by a rich cultural history and remarkable natural beauty. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and the majority of its 127 million residents live on the largest islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. The expat population is small in comparison to other countries with 98% of people registered as Japanese. The majority of expats living in Japan are Filipino, Chinese, Korean and Brazilian. Japan is a constitutional monarchy and the Emperor has limited ceremonial powers. The Liberal Democratic Party has ruled almost exclusively since first coming into power in 1955.
Despite being hit by the global economic crisis, Japan remains the 3rd largest economy in the world and is considered a powerhouse of scientific research, technological advances and industry. Although Japan is a small country with a large population, Japanese people enjoy a high standard of living as a result of an outstanding education system, infrastructure and disciplined culture based on group harmony.
Japan has a multi-faceted culture, where ancient traditions contrast with modern technology and fast-paced cities. Japanese culture is based on strict discipline, hard work and a devotion to group mentality. Social conventions and manners play an important part in Japanese life, in particular the bow, which is used in Japan to signify gratitude, greeting, respect and remorse.
Japan’s rich culture is encapsulated in its traditions such as the complicated and delicate tea ceremony, the silk and paper calligraphy and ancient pottery. However, Japan is also known for its singular popular culture of manga (graphic novels and comic books), and anime (distinctive animated films and cartoons) which have a cult of followers around the world.
Food And Drink
Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world, thanks in part to the country’s healthy diet of fish, vegetables, rice and noodles. Being an island nation means seafood is abundant and the average Japanese person consumes around 70kg of fish per year (compared to 21kg in the UK). Japanese people eat very little meat and few dairy products, although milk and ice cream are gaining in popularity.
Miso paste (a seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans) and soy sauce make up the most popular flavours in Japanese dishes. The national dish, sushi, which is raw fish served on rice and seasoned with vinegar, is served with artful presentation and great ceremony. Tempura, batter-coated seafood and vegetables and sashimi, delicately presented slices of raw fish served with wasabi, a pungent green horseradish-style paste, are also popular.
There are hundreds of varieties of noodles available in Japan, the most common being soba (thick buckwheat noodles) and ramen (Chinese-style noodles). Usually served in a broth with vegetables and fish, it is customary to slurp noodles down with chopsticks to show your appreciation. Meat dishes include yakitori (chicken skewers) and yakiniku (meat dishes grilled at the table).
Although sake (rice wine) is considered the national beverage, Japan is fast-becoming a nation of beer drinkers and Japanese brands such as Asahi and Sapporo are among the most popular.
From viewing the stunning cherry blossoms in spring or joining the 260,000 climbers on the slopes of the iconic Mount Fuji each year, there is no shortage of things to do in Japan.
Japan’s national sport is Sumo and the titanic clashes between wrestlers attract a huge following of fans. There are six main tournaments held each year and competition for tickets is often as fierce as the bouts themselves.
Traditional martial arts such as Aikido and Judo are also widely watched and practiced, mainly in the larger cities. Football is the fastest-growing sport in Japan following the hosting of the World Cup in 2002 and most towns have lower league teams. Many companies also stage five-a-side football matches at lunchtimes or after work as a way to help bonding among bosses and subordinates. Skiing and snowboarding are also popular, with the major resorts to be found on Honshu Island, just an hour from Tokyo.
For relaxation, Karaoke is a national pastime and it is taken very seriously in Japan. There are hundreds of Karaoke booths and bars in both the cities and smaller towns which can be hired for groups of friends or even for individuals determined to polish their singing skills.
A more traditional way to unwind is to immerse yourself in a hot onsen bath. The therapeutic waters can be enjoyed at numerous public bath houses which are governed by strict hygiene rituals.
Japanese is the national language of Japan and is spoken by almost 100% of citizens. As wells as Japanese, some residents living in the Ryukyu Islands chain have their own languages (Amami, Kunigami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama and Yonaguni), yet most also speak the national language.
Japanese is a challenging language to learn, not least because of the two different types of characters - kana and kanji - used in written form. English is widely spoken in the larger cities, particularly among the younger generation, yet expats who don’t speak Japanese may find communicating with locals in rural areas more difficult without the help of an interpreter.
Accents and Dialects
Japanese has subtle variations in both accent and dialect, which may not be discernible to outsiders learning the language. The Tokyo accent is generally taught in language schools and the Osaka accent is the second most heard accent in Japan.
Japan has a temperate climate similar to some northern European countries. It has four distinct seasons; Winter (December to February), Spring (March to May), Summer (June to August) and Autumn (September to November). Temperatures can reach around 27°C (81F) in the summer months and drop to around -2°C in the winter, which is generally mild but with frequent snowfall in the central and northern areas of Japan. The country experiences a brief rainy season in June, when farmers plant rice in the paddy fields. The best time to visit Japan is undoubtedly in spring, when the country’s famous cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Keep in mind that Japan’s typhoon system is from May to October. On average three typhoons hit Japan directly each year.
Safety and Security
It is often said that if you dropped your wallet in Japan, someone would spend the rest of their life tracking you down in order to return it. Indeed, Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialised world and is one of the safest countries to visit for foreigners. Japan’s culture of discipline and respect means that even with a population of 127 million people, street crime is almost unheard of and drug use miniscule. Being arrested carries huge social stigma in Japan, which serves as a natural crime deterrent. However, white collar crime and identity fraud are on the increase, so it’s a good idea to stay safe while online in Japan.