Things About Japan

In front of Heian Shrine. Kyoto. November 2009.

A few updates in text and photos made, September 2011. 

It seems right to start off a New Year with a few basics.  While I believe that many who visit this site live in Japan or have lived or often visited Japan and know much about its culture and history, I think that many others are only at the beginning of their journey into learning about Japanese culture and history, etc.  Or perhaps they know one aspect of Japan rather well, but the rest is a blank slate to them.  So, then, I’m posting a page of facts, trivia and other stuff about Japan that you may or may not find interesting.  Well, here it is.  Enjoy.

うどん/Udon (noodles) Sign. Tokyo. 2007.

+ Japan is an archipelago nation situated off the east coast of the Asian Continent, consisting of four (4) main islands, (from North to South) Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. . . and hundreds, thousands, of smaller islands.  It’s total land mass is roughly the same as California’s.

+ Japan’s population:  around 128 million (a little more than 1/3 that of the United States).

Sept 2011 Update: Morning. My room. 3 Sisters Inn. Aug ’11.

+  This past November (2010) the Chiba Lotte Marines won The Japan Series (beating the Chunichi Dragons, over the course of 7 games).  They love their baseball in Japan.  Japan’s Pacific League roughly corresponds to the U.S. American League (well, they use designated hitters) and its Central League is sometimes compared to the National League.  In Japan if a game is tied after 9 innings they can play up to 3 more innings.  If it’s still tied after 12 innings, the game’s declared a draw and ends. September 2011 Update:  the Yakult Swallows (Tokyo) currently lead the Central League and the Softbank Hawks (Fukuoka) lead the Pacific League.

Orix Buffaloes v. Yakult Swallows. Osaka. May 2010.

+ Japan is the second largest producer of single malt whisky in the world.  Suntory’s whiskey is by far Japan’s largest whiskey company.  One of my client’s plants is next to Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery.  My client doesn’t make whiskey, though.  The Yamazaki Single Malt was the whiskey featured in “Lost in Translation.”

+ Japan’s National Anthem is Kimi ga Yo, which was composed in 1880 by Hiromori Hayashi, and put in its final musical form by a German bandmaster and composer, Franz Eckert.  I think it’s a very pretty tune.  Some in Japan think it sounds overly nationalistic, as it pays homage to the Emperor.  Hatsune Miku is a young girl manga/enetertainment character built around a synthesized voice.  Here’s “her” version of Kimi ga Yo.

+ Japan’s Emperor is Akihito.  Akihito Tenno’s (“Tenno” is Japanese for “Emperor” and looks like this:   天皇 in Japanese) father was Emperor Hirohito, now called Emperor Showa, as Japanese Emperors are given posthumous names to which they are thereafter referred.

+ More Imperial Information: In the modern era Japan’s Emperors have been Emperor Meiji (reign beginning 1868 – d. 1912), Emperor Taisho (reign 1913 – d. 1922), Emperor Showa (reign 1923 – d. 1990), and Emperor Akihito, whose reign begin in 1991, after his father’s passing.  Article I of Japan’s Constitution (which Gen. Douglas MacArthur‘s and the U.S. State Department’s team had a very heavy hand in drafting after World War II) provides that  “The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power,” thus officially de-deifying the Emperor.

* Here’s picture of my Uncle Bill with the then-Crown Prince, now Emperor, Akihito in 1959 at a reception at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.  Uncle Bill was with the U.S. government, stationed in Japan for a few years:

Then-Crown Prince Akihito in Foreground L. Uncle Bill Upper R. May 1959.

+ In front of and just down the street from Heian Shrine in Kyoto is Japan’s largest torii, or sacred gate.  It was constructed in 1929.  It’s 24.2 meters (79.39 feet) high.  The top rail is 33.9 meters (111.2 feet) long.  A photo of the Heian Shrine’s Dai Torii (Great Torii) is just below.  The Shinto Shrine with the most toriis in Japan is located just south of Kyoto at Fushi Inari Taisha (founded in 711 A.D.), where there are between 3,300-3,500 torii under which one can walk (and hundreds or thousands more smaller ones).

City Bus No 5. Between the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art & National Museum of Modern Art.

This is a diagram of a Kyoto City Bus:

+ In Japan three (3) writing systems are used:   hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ) and kanji (漢字).  “Romaji” is used to write Japanese words using the 26 letters of the English alphabet. All — hiragana, katakana and kanji are used, are intertwined in any given Japanese sentence (though katakana, used to phonetically approximate foreign/borrowed words in Japanese, onomatopoeia and as italics, is used less frequently than hiragana and kanji).  The Japanese language has fewer sounds in it than English.  That’s one of the reasons why many Japanese can have a difficult time differentiating between the  r, l, and d sound, because in Japanese these sounds don’t exist in any kind of distinct way as they do in English.  On the other hand, native English speakers can have a tough time distinguishing between a few of the Japanese sounds and sometimes get vowels (like , sounds like the  ay in “stay” and , sounds like the i in “police”) mixed up.  I wrote a story about that. It’s short.  It’s a true story.

Morning along San-jo, Kyoto. August 2011.

+ Over the past 6 or so months Japan and China have been vying for the title of “World’s Second Largest Economy,” after the United States.  I was recently interviewed about the Japanese economy and business culture, trends and challenges.

+  On average every Japanese person consumes 34.1 pounds of chicken each year.  That’s 15.5 kilograms/year.  This is over 60% more than is consumed annually per person in China, but less than 1/4 of the chicken scarfed down by Kuwaitis each year.

From Dai Kichi Yakitori. Shirakawa St. Kyoto. Nov 2009.

+ JAXA is Japan’s NASA.  One of its recent premier projects (in which it leads the world) is “IKAROS,” a solar sail.  A solar sail “converts sunlight as a propulsion by means of a large membrane while a Solar ‘Power’ Sail gets electricity from thin film solar cells on the membrane in addition to acceleration by solar radiation.”

+  In Japan porcelain production started in the early 1600’s in Arita, Japan (on the Southern Island of Kyushu).  Kanagae Sanpei, from Korea, is generally credited as the founder of Japanese porcelain-making.  There are many different kinds and styles of Japanese porcelain, virtually all tracing back to those first kilns in Arita.  Imari, Kutani, Kakiemon, and Hirado, are just a few of the more famous types and styles of porcelain.  And within each of these classifications there are a multitude of classes based on era, kiln and artist.  I used to be in the porcelain / antiquities business.  I wrote a story about that, too.  Here it is.

+ Japan’s Innovation Network Corp (a public-private concern)  plans to invest US$1.6 Billion “in overseas environment-friendly projects involving Japanese companies.” (cite).   Note:Japan uses only one-ninth as much energy as China to create one unit of GDP.  It uses one-third as much energy as the United States to produce that same economic unit.” (cite).

Even on a Cloudy Day Kyoto’s a Beautiful Town.

+ The average annual snowfall for Sapporo, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, is about 5 meters (15 feet).  Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics.  The most incredible, mesmerizing, beautiful, mind-blowing, filmic commercials I’ve ever seen is for Sapporo Beer.  <-  Really.  Watch it.  My favorite Japanese beer, though, is Kirin.

Takoyaki Vendor. Nara. May 2010.

+ Takoyaki ( たこ焼き or  たこやき )  — see photo above — is octopus fritters.  Very tasty.  Very cheap.  Comfort food.

+ Life expectancy in Japan is over 86 for women and almost 80 for men.  In the U.S. it’s 81.4 and about 75.5, respectively.

+ The best vodka bar in Tokyo is called “The Bloody Doll.”

At Shoren-in Temple (present site dates from the 12th Century). Nov 2009.

+ In Japan the Pine (松), Bamboo (竹) & Plum (梅) trees — 「松竹梅」— are called (in translation) the “Three Friends of Winter.”

+ After a couple of interim moves (out of Nara to another site or two) Kyoto, formerly Heian-kyo (平安京), became the Emperor Kammu’s home in 794 The Emperor moved his capital out of Nara (so the story goes) to escape political and religious intrigues, priestly busybodies.  Kyoto remained the capital until 1868, when the Imperial court moved to Tokyo (Tokyo became the official new capital of Japan 2 years later) as part of the Meiji Restoration.  Kyoto’s Japan’s “Cultural Capital” and the locals will never let you forget that.  Kyoto’s home to more than 1,600 Buddhist temples and several hundred Shinto (Japan’s native religion) Shrines.

Shinkansen (新幹線), aka “Bullet Train” to Tokyo. 2007.

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    • Lois
    • January 10th, 2011

    What’s with the Kimigayo vid? Oddly out of place with the na myoho renge kyo tone of the rest of the piece . . .

    Blogger’s Note: the referenced vid has been replaced with a new, better one. Thanks much to Lois for pointing out the flawed nature of the first vid.

      • letsjapan
      • January 10th, 2011

      Heh. Lois, I just watched that and have now found and replaced that with another, much better one. Thing is, I did review the vid before linking it. Well, about a 1 1/2 minutes of it. Goes to show you.

      Otherwise I hope you liked this Post. I tried to include information both for the person who’s just getting to know Japan, and “old hands.” I mean, recommending my favorite vodka bar in Tokyo is not exactly the stuff for newcomers. I hope even you saw or learned a new something (or were reminded of something forgotten) here.

      R.

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