Land of the Rising Sun
Japan, or “Nippon,” is a group of numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of Asia. The most populated islands are the four largest: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. The whole land area of Japan is slightly smaller than the state of California.
Japan’s northernmost island has a climate similar to the New England states. The two central islands have a climate similar to Georgia and South Carolina. The southernmost island has a subtropical climate like that of Florida. The Japanese islands are covered with mountains, the most famous of which is Mt. Fuji, a 12,000 ft. snow-capped volcano.
Spring in Japan is signified by beautiful cherry blossoms (sakura) and blooming plum (ume) trees. Each year from late September to mid-November, colorful autumn leaves (koyo) attract large numbers of visitors to famous scenic spots.
Japanese fruit trees consist of apple, pear, cherry, plum, peach and orange. Mulberry trees furnish food for silkworms. Japanese farmers grow rice, wheat, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and tea. The Japanese also harvest seaweed and catch large amounts of fish.
The Japanese adopted many ideas about art, religion, and architecture from the Chinese. Their form of writing is similar, using small brushes to draw symbols representing words or ideas. Also like the Chinese, Japanese people eat with chopsticks.
After European traders and missionaries began coming to Japan in the 16th century, the Japanese decided to shut out all foreigners. Japan remained isolated from the rest of the world for over 200 years, until 1853 when U.S. Commodore Perry persuaded the emperor to open up Japan to American trade.
Soon the Japanese were taking on Western ways – building factories, railroads, a strong army and navy. Hundreds of years of rule by the samurai (warrior class) had made imperial Japan a warlike nation. By the end of World War I, Japan had become one of the world’s great powers. During the next 20 years, Japan expanded its empire by conquest.
However, Japan had to give up all its occupied territories in 1945 after its defeat in World War II, when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Following this, an Allied force led by Douglas MacArthur occupied Japan and helped to rebuild the country. During this time, Japan enacted a democratic constitution.
Japan is now one of the great industrial nations, despite a lack of mineral resources which requires it to import most of its raw materials. Japan became a leader in steel production as well as building automobiles and ships. Modern Japanese workers are highly skilled in technology, producing many televisions, cameras, and other consumer electronics.
For many centuries, Japanese artists and craftsmen have excelled in ceramics, porcelain, laquerwork, ikebana (flower arranging), bonsai (cultivating miniature trees), origami (folding paper into shapes), calligraphy, woodblock prints, and landscape painting.
The Japanese love of natural objects is reflected in their garden design. Tsukiyama (hill gardens) feature hills, ponds, streams, trees, flowers, bridges and paths. Karesansui (rock gardens) are an abstract arrangement of stones, gravel, sand, and sometimes a few patches of vegetation or boulders. Chaniwa (tea gardens) are built around the tea house, a place to forget the cares of the world and become absorbed in the beauty of nature.
Most Japanese people practice Buddhism and the ancient Shinto religion. Japanese temples (pagodas) have roofs that curve up at the corners and are ornately carved with dragons and flowers. The city of Kyoto is well known for its temples and religious processions.
Since Japan’s cities are crowded and its highway systems underdeveloped, many people rely on high-speed Bullet trains (Shinkansen) to get around rather than driving cars. The bullet train between Hiroshima and Kokura averages a speed of 164 mph which is the world’s fastest scheduled train service.
Japanese houses are small and traditionally constructed of wood. Inside and outside walls have sliding panels (shoji) made of wooden frames covered with paper. Floor coverings consist of straw mats (tatami). Japanese people sleep on futons, sit on floor cushions, and eat at low tables. Japanese kitchens are equipped with a gas stove, microwave oven, rice cooker, and refrigerator.
When entering a Japanese house, you should take off your shoes and change into slippers. Upon entering a room with tatami floor, you remove your slippers and go barefoot or wear socks. If entering a washroom, you leave your slippers outside the door and put on special toilet slippers.
Sloppiness is not tolerated in Japanese society. Japanese people are so neat and orderly, they even fold their dirty clothes. In most Japanese homes, families are quite polite as well. The Japanese have strict rules of etiquette for everything from serving tea to exchanging business cards.
Did You Know…? Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect, had a fondness for Japan that began with his first journey there in 1905. An avid collector of Japanese prints and artifacts, Wright designed 12 Japanese buildings including houses, hotels, an embassy, a theater and a school.
“Grandfather's Journey,” and other titles by Allen Say.
“Hokusai: The Man Who Painted a Mountain,” by Deborah Kogan Ray.
“I Live in Tokyo,” by Mari Takabayashi
“Japanese Children's Favorite Stories,” by Florence Sakade.
“Japanese Fairy Tales,” by Yoki Imoto.
“Look What Came From Japan,” by Miles Harvey.
“One Leaf Rides the Wind: Counting In A Japanese Garden,” by Celeste Davidson Mannis.
“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” by Eleanor Coerr.
“The Way We Do It in Japan,” by Geneva Cobb Iijima.
“Tokyo Friends,” and other titles by Betty Reynolds.
www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html (CIA World Factbook: Japan)
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/jptoc.html (Library of Congress Country Study: Japan)
http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/webcourse/key_points/japan_timeline.htm (Timeline of Japanese History.)
www.japan-guide.com (Japan travel and living guide; click on Japan A-Z to learn about Japanese foods, etiquette, traditions, history, economy, politics, religion, entertainment, sports, language, transportation and travel.)
http://web-japan.org (Japan facts, statistics, and trends; includes a Kids Japan site.)
www.travelforkids.com/Funtodo/Japan/japan.htm (Japan travel guide for kids.)
www.abcteach.com/directory/theme_units/social_studies/japan (Japan theme unit activities and worksheets.)
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