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    The Geography of Japan

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    Japan consists of many different islands, the main ones being, Honshu,Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, which are the country’s largest. Japan’sclosest neighbors include Korea, Russia and China. The Sea of Japanseparates Japan from the Asian continent.

    Japan’s area is larger than, for example, Germany’s and comparable to theone of Italy or California. Japan’s northernmost islands are locatedapproximately on same geographical latitude as Milan or Portland while hersouthernmost islands are about on the same latitude as the Bahamas. Inother words, Japan’s North South extension equals about the distance fromOslo to Naples. More than 50% of the area of Japan is mountainous andcovered by forests. Japan is politically structured in 8 regions and 47prefectures. Japan is prone to both earthquakes and volcanoes.

    This is because of thegeographical position that Japan is located in. The most famous volcanothat Japan experience is Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji can be seen from Tokyo, thecountry’s capital, when the weather is clear and is the highest point inall of Japan.

    The reason for Japan’s numerous earthquakes is because of its location onthe borders of where many tectonic plates meet. This means that when theplates, below the earth’s surface, move it creates friction on the earthabove, and, thus creating movement. Japans climate is very varied throughout the whole continent. The maincity’s climate, including Tokyo, is temperate to subtropical and consistsof four seasons.

    The winter is mild but when it is summer there is an earlyrainy season, followed by typhoons that hit every year in parts of thecountry during late summer. The summer that Japan experiences are very hotand humid, Hokkaido, a northern island experiences a very cold winter thatbring about cold snowstorms. This differs remarkably from Okinawa where thewinter is a pleasant 16 degrees Celsius. ReligionThe two major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto. They havecoexisted in the same country for many years and, in some cases, evencomplemented each other. The feeling of just belonging to one religion inmost countries is very rare in Japan.

    Many people in Japan considerthemselves Shinto-Buddhists or even get married in a western or ‘Christian’way even if they themselves are not Christians. This is because of theinfluence that the western world has provided for the Japanese people. Shinto is deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life and in theirtraditions. This means that propaganda or preaching, linked with Shinto, isvery uncommon.

    In contrast to many monotheist religions, there are noabsolutes in Shinto. There is no absolute right and wrong, and nobody isperfect. Shinto is an optimistic faith, as humans are thought to befundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits. Consequently, the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evilspirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami.

    Buddhism, another main religion excepted in Japan, originated in India inthe 6th century BC. It consists of the teachings of the Buddha, GautamaSiddhartha. Of the main branches of Buddhism, it is the Mahayana or”Greater Vehicle” Buddhism, which found its way to Japan. Buddhism was imported to Japan via China and Korea in form of a presentfrom the friendly Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche) in the 6th century.

    While the ruling nobles welcomed Buddhism, as Japan’s new state religion,it did not initially spread among the common people due to its complextheories. 90% of Japan’s population consider themselves to be of the Shinto religion,75% of Japan’s population consider themselves to be of the Buddhistreligion. The over lapse of the percentages in attributed to the fact thatmany people in Japan believe themselves to be both Shinto and Buddhist. There are many different religions that have spread throughout Japan. Someof these include: Confucianism, Christianity and Islam.

    Confucianism is oneof the three main Japanese religions and originated from China. The greatphilosopher Confucius (Kong Fu Zi) lived in China from 551 to 479 BC. Theinfluence that Confucianism has had on Japan has been massive and is veryevident today. Today, about one to two million Japanese are Christians (about 1% ofJapan’s population).

    Most of them live in Western Japan where themissionaries’ activities were greatest during the 16th century. ManyChristian rituals have been adopted into the every day lives of theJapanese such as: white dresses at weddings, St. Valentine’s Day and alsoChristmas. Islam’s relation with Japan is quite recent as compared to those with othercountries around the world.

    There are no clear records of any contact between Islam and Japan nor anyhistorical traces of Islam’s coming into Japan through religiouspropagation of any sort except for some isolated cases of contact betweenindividual Japanese and Muslims of other countries before 1868. Timeline Overview646 AD – The Taiks Reform began. It set up a central governmentcontrolled by theemperor. 858 – The Fujiwara family gained control of the imperial court. 1192 – Yoritomo became the first Shogun. 1543 – Portuguese sailors became the first Europeans to reach Japan.

    1603 – The Tokugawa family began its more then 250-year rule of Japan. 1630’s – Japan cut its ties with the outside world. 1853-54 – Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States visitedJapan and opened two ports to U. S. trade.

    1867 – The Tokugawa family was overthrown and the emperor regained histraditional powers. 1868 – Mutsuhito, also know as Emperor Meiji, announced Japan’sintention to become a modern industrial nation. 1894-95 – Japan quickly won a war with China.

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