Japan (Japanese: ??, Nihon orNippon, official name; ???, Nihon-koku or Nippon-koku) is an island country in East Asia. Found on the Pacific Ocean, it is neighbors tothe East of China, Korea and Russia, and it spans from the Okhotsk Sea to the north and the China See to the south. The Japanese kanji characters that compose its name mean “sun” and “origin” and this is why Japanis known as the “Land of the Rising Sun”
Japan is comprised of over 3.000 islands. The largest ofthese is Honshu Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku and make up 97% of the country.
Most of the islands are mountainous andsome are volcanic. The highest of Japans peaks is Mount Fuji and it is a volcano. Japan is the world’s 10thlargest in population with a population of 128 million. Its capital, Tokyo, combined with the surrounding areas has a population exceeding 30 million, which makes it the largest metropolitan area in the world.
Archeological findings have produced conclusive evidence that Japan has been inhabited since the end of the Paleolithic Age. In written history Japan’s name isfirst come across in old Chinese scripts dating back to the 1st centuryAD. Japan’shistory was shaped after it was affected by the outside world and then left inisolation to develop for a very long time. The Japanese culture that we know today is made up of a mixture of exterior influences and interior developments.
Since the approval of the constitution in 1947, the Japanese state has been governed by a parliamentarian republic. The head of state is the Japanese Emperor and the head of government is the primeminister. The parliament is decided through elections. Japan follows the USA to be second in terms of GDP.It is a member of the G8, UN and APEC. Its defense budget is the 5th largest in the world. Japanis the 4th largest exporter and 6th largest importer inthe world.
The kimono is an important staple in theJapanese culture. It is symbolic in the way that the Japanese culture of serenity and peace comes forth once worn and allows a full view of the Japaneseculture, rid of all other exterior influences.
There are many varieties of the kimono.Married women wear kimonos with shorter sleeves. Single women wear longer sleeves. When women enter the age of 20, it is celebrated among family member swith a ceremonious wearing of the kimono.
Japanese always present a state ofcalmness in their ceremonies and try to be at harmony with nature. Kado (orIkebana among the people) is the world famous art of flower arrangement.
In the traditional Japanese culture thereis an intense separation between men and women. The simplest example of this isthe existence of the two different language types: The ‘male language’ and the‘female language’.
While the men speak using a more masculine language, it is frowned upon when women use words and exclamations of said language. But as it is across the world, there is an estrangement of culture taking place and it is affecting the Japanese language, just as it affects allof the other facets of Japanese life.
Japan is also known for its cartoons and computer games,the latter of which it is the best in the world at producing.
The Japanese are renowned for their decorative plants and garden.
It is known that the Japanese enjoyed making tending to beautiful gardens even before the 7th century AD.
Generally, wedding ceremonies are carriedout in accordance to Shinto traditions.
At funerals Buddhist traditions are morecommonplace. Shinto is the countries local religion.
It builds on the belief that there werespirits called “kami” living in the forests, mountains and the seas. Oldsocieties that lived at one with nature would respect these spirits. This is the basis of the whole religion. Lateron, ancestors and heroes were added to these spirits.
In some homes there are shrines or shelvesknown as the “god shelves” on which food and drink is presented to thesespirits. Buddhism differs in origin to Shinto, as it came to Japan via Chinaand Korea and originates in6th century India.
Christianity, which was introduced to theJapanese for the first time in the 16th century by Portuguesesailors, has been accepted by only a small fraction of the population.
Islam in Japan
The introduction of Islam to Japan startedaround 100 years ago when Muslim traders would visit the nation and Japanesecitizens would venture out and come across Islam in foreign lands. Today thereis close to 100 thousand Muslim Japanese.
Citizens of Japan who are not Japanese byheritage have a population exceeding 300 thousand. According to statisticaldata there is approximately between 5 and 50 conversions amongst the Japanesepeople to Islam every day.
There has been witnessed a growingfondness among the Japanese for the teachings of Abdussamad and Minshavi.
The "Sado" (The Way of Tea) or“Canoyu” (the hot water of the tea) tea ceremony reaches as far back as the 15thcentury, to one of the founders of Sado; Sen no RIkyu (1522-1591)
The tea ceremony is based on the basicdaily need of tea being prepared by the host of the house. The offering of tea,over time, had gained a ceremonious air of preparation.
The owner of the home (host/hostess) andthe guests comply with the rules of the ceremony very rigorously. These rulesmake the ceremony as simple as is possible.
The tea ceremony is far from beingcompletely rule-driven, there are also preparations to be handled prior theevent such as preparing the garden and decorating the tea room along with manyother aspects vital to the ceremony.
Preparing for the ceremony means that one needs to be equipped with atleast a minimal comprehension of architecture, ceramics, gardening, history,religion and the fine arts along with a few other fields. These are vital forthe perfect execution of the tea ceremony.
Guests who walk up to the tea room throughthe beautifully prepared garden setting are actually being prepared for the teaceremony with the serenity that they experiencing due to the beauty.
Zen Buddhism is very prevalent in the teaceremony. The ceremony may initially come across as a boring game riddled withuseless rules. But in all actuality it is more so being in harmony with nature,become transfused with nature and treading the path of the spirits rather thanmerely drinking tea. Nature and serenity, simplicity, aesthetics and grace havean intertwined role in the process of the tea ceremony.
Movements are extremely slow and this iswhy the actions leading to the actual making of the tea need to be as efficientand calculated as can be and need to be executed with grace.
The end result of all this is a permanentimpression of harmony, moderateness and beauty on the minds of all inattendance.
After a lengthy period of introversion,the Westernization efforts made beginning in the second half of the 19thcentury changed the way the people dressed.
The Western dress sense in Japan today isa result of this. Despite this, the Japanese have never fallen short of keepingtheir culture alive, in fact improving them in the process.
They never fail to wear the traditionalattire, the kimono on special days.
The kimono is a traditional and worldfamous item of clothing that wraps around the body and tied with a wide belt(the obi).
In New Year’s celebrations, weddings,holidays and other special occasions like graduation ceremonies, the young andold, both men and women generally wear kimonos.
Weddings and resembling ceremonies arecarried out with the bride and groom wearing black kimonos and crests. Thegrooms wear very wide-legged pants over their kimonos called the “hakama” andwide jackets called “haori”.
A good kimono comes at a hefty price andthe Japanese take great care of their kimonos. They are passed down thegenerations as heirlooms and it is not an easy feat to wear a kimono and obi inthe proper manner.
For this reason, women take special courses.When a kimono is worn, normal shoes and socks cannot. In place of the shoes atall, wooden shoe called the “geta” or a very soft lined sandal called the“zori” made from either cotton or leather can be worn.
There is a special cotton sock worn withthe kimono called the “tabi”. These socks can be identified by the knitted areacovering the big toe. There is anindentation in the sock between the big toe and other toes for the sandal strapto pass through.
There is another outfit like the kimonocalled the “Yukata”. The yukata is cotton, basic outfit that is worn in thesummertime, during festivals or simply worn around the house like a robe.
Amaterasu-oo-mikami is the Sun goddess ofthe Japanese Shinto religion.
It is the mythological ancestor of theJapanese Empires royal family. The word . ???? comes tomean "the great August kami (god) who shines inthe heaven".
According to Kojiki, Amaterasu’s unrulybrother Susanoo destroys everything along with Amaterasu’s rice farms andtemples. Amaterasu is offended by this and hides in the Ama-no-Iwato cave.After this the world is drowned in darkness for having lost its sun.
The other gods make up a game to coax herout of the cave in which she was hiding. The goddess, Ama-no-Uzume places amirror in front of the cave and commences to dance in a seductive way.
This is a celebration and the sounds makeAmaterasu very curious and as she leaves the cave, she is startled by her ownreflection. This is taken as a good chance for the other gods to grab her andpull her out.
She sends her grandchild Ninigi-no-Mikotodown to Earth to make Japana peaceful place. His son is Japans legendary first Emperor (tennoo) equippedwith three holy weapons; the Sword, Jewels and the Mirror.
This shows Japans tendency to deify theirrulers. Even though this tendency was almost put aside completely after WW2,the Tenno continue to preserve their deity status.