A Guide to Japan – Culture, History and Places to Go

From the dazzling lights of Tokyo to the serene temples and gardens of Kyoto, Japan is an incredible place to visit. Learn about the culture, history and places to go, whatever your length of stay.

A parliamentary monarchy, Japan has a highly developed free market economy and is a major exporter of cars, electronics, semiconductors and steel.

Japan’s Culture

Most people who visit Japan describe experiencing a kind of culture shock. Japanese people are very friendly and polite, and they have an understanding of the world that can seem different than the one that is familiar to most Westerners.

The Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama periods saw the rise of daimyo (feudal lords) who staked out their fiefdoms, much like European barons. They developed a rich culture that included ky senpai, a form of literary gathering, kabuki drama and woodblock prints.

Japanese are also famous for their politeness, respect for elders and devotion to the four seasons. The country offers warm pleasant springs, bright green summers, blustery autumns and frosty winters. The Japanese take care to prepare for each season by dressing in traditional garments, eating seasonal foods and enjoying leisure activities such as viewing cherry blossoms (hanami) or wearing yukata at summer festivals.

Japan’s Landscapes

From the awe-inspiring mountaintops of Mount Fuji to the crystal clear waters of its Pacific islands, Japan’s landscapes are varied and breathtaking. As this section shows, a rich array of landscapes was depicted in woodblock prints made for the urban population that patronized a flourishing literary and artistic culture.

Mountains dominate the country, with four-fifths of its land area atop rugged terrain. Volcanoes are numerous, some active and some dormant. Rivers flow through mountainous areas, with gorges carved by rapids and waterfalls. Flatlands are sparse and moderately sized, with a paucity of structural plains and peneplains.

A tradition of creating gardens using rocks, trees, sand, and other elements has flourished in Japan for centuries. Wybe Kuitert describes how feudal lords recreated the natural landscape of the countryside as private spaces, following Chinese literary models, while the urban population followed cliche designs prescribed in popular pattern books.

Japan’s Food

Although Japan’s renowned for its seafood and sushi, meat is a staple of the local diet. A variety of meat dishes can be enjoyed at yakitori restaurants. Typically, grilled dark meat is slathered with wasabi and sauces like miso and rice wine-based mirin. Other prized meats include lightly seared breast meat and organs including livers, hearts, gizzards and skin.

A kaiseki meal is an artfully prepared multi-course meal that’s served at traditional ryokans and restaurants. Often over the course of several hours, diners will enjoy more than ten small, artfully prepared Japanese dishes.

Japan’s Technology

Japan is known for its technological advancements. One such example is its famous bullet train which boasts an impressive track record and is lauded overseas for its speed, punctuality, and efficiency.

However, this is not the only technology area that shows promise for Japan’s future. Another important area is the development of internet content for digital phones that facilitates transmission and reception of web pages adapted to small screens.

Another area that holds promise is automation and integration of artificial intelligence into daily life. With Japan’s population in decline and labor shortages rising, robots are becoming a necessity for certain services and industries. Using big data to better predict diseases and biological risk factors will also aid in the medical field going forward. This will lead to new drugs and preventive healthcare strategies.

Japan’s Entertainment

Japan’s entertainment industry is one of the world’s most sophisticated. From samurai drama to the knee-slapping comedy of manzai, it’s full of classic culture.

In addition to the traditional Japanese theatre of Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku, there’s a wide variety of live performances from across the country. One of the most popular is yosakoi, a form of night time song and dance performed in wooden scaffolding that’s set up on the street.

It’s important to understand media icons, pop culture and trends in order to best tailor content to the local market. This includes familiarity with iconic anime characters, for example, the wildly popular tokusatsu superhero shows that have influenced global pop culture (such as Gundam and Ultraman). These are known as “terebi dorama” in Japan.

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