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Japan Information - Page 2
Japan has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age (Old Stone Age). From the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age) there is evidence of more advanced technology. The first named culture was the Jomon (800-300 BC), named after its style of pottery.

Migrations from the mainland continued from around 200 BC to 600 AD, bringing with them Buddhism, Confucianism, metalworking and other technologies. Over a long period small states and cities came together by alliances and conquests until one strong central power was established, with the capital at Nara. This capital moved to the new city of Kyoto in 794, remaining there for over a thousand years.

Japan was ruled by Emperors from the seventh century but from 1192 onwards the real power lay with the Shogun, the military commander. Yoritomo, the first Shogun, had his centre at Kamakura, near modern Tokyo. The power of the Shogun lay in his control of the warrior class, the Samurai.

During the late thirteenth century two Mongol invasions were repelled. The Japanese victory, on both occasions, was helped by violent storms which sank most of the Mongol fleets.

The position of Shogun and control of the government, over the years, passed from one great family to another and at the end of the sixteenth century the country was torn by lengthy civil wars (many of Japan's most famous castles were built at this time). In 1603 the Shogun Ieyasu established his capital at Edo (now Tokyo).

The first visitors from the west, Portuguese traders, arrived in 1543, followed by Dutch, British and Spanish merchants and missionaries led by Saint Francis Xavier. In 1639, during the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Shogun decided to ban all foreigners from Japan, except for a few Dutch merchants, confined to an island off Nagasaki. This isolation continued until 1853 and the arrival of Commodore Perry, from the USA.

The Emperor Meiji took control of Japan from the Shogun in 1868, moved his capital to Edo, renaming it Tokyo and opened up Japan to the outside world.

In 1894 Japan went to war with China, winning Taiwan. Ten years later, Japan defeated Russia, capturing more territory and in 1910 annexed Korea.

Japan entered the Second World War by attacking Pearl Harbour, the American Pacific Fleet base in Hawaii, in 1941. This action also brought America into the War. In 1945, as Allied forces fought their way closer to an invasion of Japan, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing the war in the Pacific to a rapid end.

Japan then came under Allied, mainly American, rule and sweeping changes were made (votes for women, land distribution, etc.). Today Japan is one of the world's important economic powers.

The success of the Japanese economy is based on advanced manufacturing techniques. In the last twenty years of the twentieth century the focus shifted from motor vehicles and shipbuilding to lighter, higher value industries such as electronics. The services and finance sectors also grew rapidly.

Japan has an efficient transport system linking the major cities and the separate islands. Transport within the cities is also very effective with speedy commuter trains and underground systems. The major cities are linked by the famous bullet train or shinkansen - probably the world's fastest regular train services.

This transport infrastructure, with an educated and hardworking labour force, excellent communications and a commitment to high technology and investment has made Japan one of the world's leading countries.

Agriculture and fisheries play a relatively minor role in the economy. Japan needs to import much of the food required by the population. However the fish catch is significant.

Agricultural produce includes rice, sugar beets, vegetables and fruit. Japanese farmers have always worked hard to extract the maximum from their small amount of arable land and computerized greenhouses and other modern techniques are used to ensure the best possible crops.

Japan has little in the way of exploitable mineral resources. The lack of natural resources means that fuel and raw materials have to be imported in large quantities. Japan has very strict rules about energy efficiency, to reduce oil imports wherever possible.

Important industries are steel and nonferrous metals, ships, motor vehicles, machine tools, electronic equipment, chemicals, textiles and processed foods.

Robotic and computer control is used in a significant percentage of production. Japan has exported its production techniques to many overseas countries. The names Honda, Fujitsu, Nissan, Sony, Suzuki, Toyoto and Yamaha are known worldwide.

Japan's increasing wealth brought a great increase in foreign travel by her citizens. At the same time tourism increased in Japan, especially in 2002 when Japan co-hosted football's World Cup.

However, after years of growth, Japan's economy experienced a slowdown which started in the 1990s but by 2010 Japan ranked as the third largest economy in the world.

The devastation caused by the 11th March 2011 earthquake and tsunam impacted on Japanís economy.

Japan is famous for its calligraphy, pottery, metalwork, lacquerware, dying, weaving and tapestry. Other arts including garden design and flower arranging are an important part of everyday life. Such is the importance of arts and crafts that the government chooses around seventy living artists who receive a lifetime wage from the State, allowing them to practise their art and teach.

The Japanese artists best known around the world are the printmakers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Horoshige, Hokusai, Sharaku and Utamaro. Hokusai's paintings of flowers, animals and landscapes have been especially popular.

One aspect of Japanese life is the popularity of manga or comic books, which are read by adults and children alike. Tezuka Osamu is a famous illustrator of manga.

The Japanese film industry became well known in the rest of the world in the 1950s with films such as Rashomon, Ugetsu and The Seven Samurai. The Seven Samurai was remade in Hollywood as The Magnificent Seven.

Although jazz, classical and rock are popular forms of music in Japan, the traditional styles remain widely played.

The ancient court music, gagaku, is played by wind, string and percussion instruments. The music accompanying noh plays uses wind and percussion. A more popular, less aristocratic style of music used koto and shamisen, both string instruments, and the bamboo flute.

Japanese classical musicians and conductors have achieved worldwide success and many western children have learnt to play the violin following the Suzuki Method developed in Japan.

Perhaps the best known popular musical development is Karaoke - a machine which plays popular songs without a voice track, allowing people to sing the hits themselves.

Noh theatre is a form of dance drama accompanied by music and singing. Kabuki plays deal with historical stories or tales of everyday life; the female roles are played by men; the action is accompanied by an orchestra. The third type of classical theatre is the bunraku, a puppet theatre, in which the main characters are each operated by up to three puppeteers.

Among the oldest literary works of Japan are the four thousand five hundred poems in The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, contributed in the eighth century by men and women from all parts of society. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, written in the ninth century was Japan's first novel but the most famous early work, written in the eleventh century, is the fifty-four volume The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki.

The best known styles of the Japanese poetry are tanka (thirty-one syllable poems) and haiku (seventeen syllables).

In the second half of the twentieth century Japanese writers became successful world wide. In 1968 Yasunari Kawabata was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and in 1994 Kenzaburo Oe won Japan's second Nobel Prize for Literature.

The traditional sports of Japan are drawn from its warrior past: kendo (samurai sword fighting), archery and the unarmed combat styles of aikido, judo and karate.

Sumo wrestling is the most popular traditional sport, drawing huge crowds and large television audiences.

Baseball is the most popular modern sport. The Yakult Swallows are one of Japan's top teams. National baseball stars include Sadaharu Oh and Sachio Kinugasa.

Football and rugby are also popular. In 2002 Japan and South Korea hosted football's World Cup. Matches were played at Japan's high-tech stadiums in Ibaraki, Kobe, Miyagi, Oita, Niigata, Oskara, Saitama, Sapporo, Shizuoka and Yokohama.

The New Year celebration is the biggest holiday in Japan; doorways are decorated with pine branches, people drink a special sake and eat a special soup. Families visit shrines to pray for good luck in the New Year.

Other national holidays include National Foundation Day, the Doll Festival (for girls), Children's Day (mainly for boys), Respect for the Aged Day, Health and Sports Day, Culture Day, Labour Day, the Emperor's Birthday and Bon Festival (return of souls of dead).

News is available from Newslink.

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