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Travelling to Japan for Dummies

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Travelling to Japan for Dummies

Off of the east coast of Asia lies a chain of islands known as the country of Japan. Today, Japan is one of the most influential part of the industrial world as well as having a colorful history and heritage that attract many tourists annually. People from across the world come to Japan to learn about the various cultures, religions, beliefs, customs, and history of the people who have thrived on these islands for thousands of years. Travelling to Japan is a new and exciting experience that will never be forgotten for those who are use to living in the western hemisphere.

Japan’s political system at present is a democratic government much like Canada’s. Japanese people twenty years or older elect officials to represent them in what is called the Diet. The Diet consists of two different sections, which are the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. The Prime Minister is then elected by the Diet. The Prime Minister heads the cabinet whose members are chosen by him and are usually members in the Diet. Japan’s Emperor is Akihito but much like Queen Elizabeth II of England he holds very little power and is only the symbol of the state.

Japan has an interesting geographic and climatic background. Neighboring countries include China, North Korea, and South Korea. Japan was originally formed from volcanic activity and lies on the Pacific “Ring of Fire.” Among these volcanoes is Mt. Fuji, Japan’s highest and most famous mountain. Japan consists of many islands, including the four main ones Kyushu, Shikoku, Hokkaido, and Honshu. Honshu itself is the largest island of Japan and contains the capital Tokyo and other major cities. Due to its position of being in a region where many continental plates meet, Japan is extremely susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis. Japan recently has experienced a record-breaking earthquake in March of 2011, which registered 9.0 on the Richter scale. This is the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan. As for Japan’s climate, it varies from the north to the south. In the northern part of Japan, the weather is colder and there is much more snowfall where in the southern part of Japan is warmer with a high amount of annual rainfall. Due to the extreme humidity, typhoons are a natural threat to Japan, which hit the coast of Japan every year. The combination of Japan’s geography and climate contribute to the uniqueness of this country.

Japan has two major religions, Shinto and Buddhism. The main concept of Shinto is the belief that everything is made of Kami, which is the short name for all of the Shinto God’s. This Kami makes up everything in the world, including trees, water, etc. Kami shrines are erected in worship to the Shinto spirits and remarkable individuals, such as deceased emperors, will actually be enshrined inside of these monuments in praise of their work and achievements. Shinto’s teachings show that no one is perfect and that people must worship the Kami in order to ward away evil spirits. People worship the Kami by sending prayers to the shrines or even praising natural landforms. Today people worship from altars in their homes and wish for good fortune in everyday life. Buddhism is the other major religion in Japan. Buddhism originated in India where it eventually made its way east to China and then to Japan. Although it is a major religion now, Buddhism did not interest the people of Japan centuries ago because the theories were difficult to understand. At first Shinto and Buddhism did not agree with each other. They now go hand in hand with some citizens of Japan. Interestingly, many weddings and joyous events are held under Shinto standards but when it comes to funerals Buddhism style is usually used due to the different teachings of both religions. This is why Shinto and Buddhism religions work together and why many people consider themselves both Shintoismists and Buddhist in Japan.

The Japanese people have customs and norms that might take some getting used to for tourists and visitors. Firstly, all reading material is backwards from what we are accustomed to reading. Instead of reading pages from left to right, all books, magazines, and newspapers are read from right to left, although the words on the page are still read from left to right. Another difference is that bowing is used as a gesture to greet one another. Japanese people will shake hands with people who are unaccustomed to bowing but will sometimes still bow out of habit. The sincerity of the bow is directly related to how long the bow is held and how low a person bows. The longer and lower the bow, the more formal the gesture. Bows are not always used for greetings either for they can be used as an apology. The degree of the apology is also directly proportional to how long and low the bow is held. Food and dining is also a completely different experience

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