The island nation, located at the crossroads of Asia, has been an economic powerhouse since its discovery by the Chinese more than 2,000 years ago.
Japan’s culture and technology have had a significant impact on the modern world in industries such as automobiles, electronics, computers, trains, airplane engines, space travel, medical science, anime/manga, and video games.
Learn about Japanese history from ancient times until today!
The Chinese discovered the land now known as Japan in approximately 300 BC. Japan then became part of Yamato Japan (ancient name), one of the four central provinces in Japan.
After centuries of foreign invasions, battles, and occupations, Japan emerged as the strongest kingdom in Japan, eventually unifying all of Japan into a single empire during the Heian period (794-1185).
This Empire reached its zenith under Emperor Kanmu (r. 781-806), who unified the country. However, after he died in 806, Japan fell into civil war.
By 918, Japan was invaded by a resurgent China under the Liu Song dynasty; this marked the start of two millennia of Chinese domination of Japan, which ended with the Meiji Restoration (1868) when the Tokugawa Shogunate came to power (see also, ‘When did the Mongols Invade Japan?‘).
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Japan flourished as one of the most advanced nations in the world. However, the isolationist policy of the Tokugawa shogunate lasted nearly 200 years.
Still, despite its long isolationism, Japanese scientists and engineers worked tirelessly to develop their own shipbuilding technologies, papermaking techniques, weapons systems, armor, steelmaking, ceramics, and much more.
In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry forced open Japan to international trade and contact due to the presence of American ships blockading the ports of Edo.
In Japan, culture is taken very seriously. Like Americans, the Japanese like to express themselves through language, clothing, arts, food, sports, etc. Moreover, since they take pride in being well educated, many Japanese study abroad or even move to America once they graduate college.
Japanese women tend to wear kimonos (see also, ‘How to Wear a Kimono‘) to cover themselves, while men wear yukata suits. Both sexes also like to wear obi belts, which can be either traditional or Western style. Other clothes include Hanshi pants, kanzashi hair clips, and wooden sandals.
Traditional Music & Dance
A typical Japanese dance is the Jigoku Odori. There are several different styles of Japanese music, including Shaban, Jankenpo, Koto, Shakuhachi, Bamboo Flute, and others. Traditional instruments include drums, flutes, and bells.
Unlike the West, where Christianity is predominant, religion plays a small role in the lives of Japanese citizens.
Buddhism and Shintoism are practiced by the majority of the Japanese population. However, some religions, such as Christianity, are prevalent among the younger generation.
Western food is becoming increasingly popular in Japan, mainly pizza and hamburgers.
When eating out, restaurants usually offer sushi and sashimi (raw fish), yakitori (skewered chicken), takoyaki (octopus balls), tempura (deep-fried foods), ramen (noodle soup), soba noodles (buckwheat noodles), udon (thick white rice noodle), donburi (rice bowl dish), gyudon (beef bowls), bento box, and other Japanese dishes.
Another type of food is okonomiyaki, a savory pancake that includes meat, seafood (see also ‘What is Kamaboko?‘) and vegetables.
Most people get married around age 20, have children at 25, start working at 30, retire at 60, and die at 65. Students typically attend school until grade 12 (age 16-17) and then go to university.
To become an adult, students must complete high school and pass a test. Upon graduation, students will receive a certificate and be able to enter the job market. High schools have three elementary, middle, and junior high school levels.
Middle and junior high school students generally prepare for entrance exams for high school and universities.
Elementary school is usually focused on teaching essential reading and math skills. Universities consist of seven-year programs ending with a bachelor’s degree.
Once graduated, students try to find work in the same field as their college majors. In some cases, students may apply for specialized jobs within their fields.
Japan has been modernizing rapidly since the late 1970s and has seen a trend toward globalization. While the economy remains reliant upon manufacturing, it has become the second-largest trading nation worldwide, behind only China.
Today, tourism to Japan has increased dramatically, and millions of visitors arrive every year. This boom in international tourism has created many new industries and opportunities.
For example, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics attracted over 40 million tourists. In addition, foreign exchange rates continue to rise, making travel to Japan more affordable.
In Japan, people usually begin meals with green tea, followed by miso soup (see also, ‘What Does Miso Soup Taste Like?‘) and rice. Sushi is enjoyed at any mealtime and is accompanied by various sauces, ranging from soy sauce to sweet mirin.
Another popular dish is yakitori, skewered grilled chicken or vegetables on skewers. In addition, a variety of noodles are eaten, such as soba, udon, ramen (see also, ‘What is Shio Ramen?‘), chirimen, and maki. Ramen (see also, ‘What is Ramen?‘) is one of the oldest dishes in Japan and consists of wheat flour dough served in broth.
Maki means ‘hand roll,’ referring to how it is shaped.
There are different types of maki, such as California rolls, negimaki, teriyaki rolls, katsura maki, and many more! In addition to sushi, sashimi (see also, ‘How to Cut Shashimi‘) is another popular ingredient found in restaurants across Japan.
Shrimp, tuna, salmon, octopus, squid, scallops, and eel are just some of the delicious foods offered here.
Japan has its own brand of beer called Asahi, produced by Asahi Breweries. Beer drinking is prevalent among young adults. When visiting bars or clubs, order sake instead (see also ‘How To Drink Sake‘).
Traditional sake is brewed using water purified through charcoal filters. This type of brewing process removes impurities and gives sake its distinctive taste. The highest quality sake must be aged for 10 years before being released to the public.
To conclude, Japan is a beautiful country that offers visitors so much more than just shopping and eating (see also, ‘What Do You Say Before Eating in Japan?‘). There’s no shortage of things to see and do, from exquisite temples to breathtaking scenery.
And while you may not get away without buying something—there’s always shopping to be done!