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Map of Japan.
Nihon and Nippon are the two names used in Japanese to refer to Japan. The latter
is usually prefered in formal situations, probably because it can be pronounced with more
forcefulness. The kanji characters used are "nichi" meaning sun, and "hon" meaning origin, The
combination is usually translated as "the land of the rising sun". This phrase can be traced
back to the 7th-century ruler Prince Shotoku, who used it in a
letter to China.
The origin of the word "Japan" used in western languages is less clear. One theory holds that it
came from the Portuguese "jipang", which in turn was an attempt to pronounce "Jihpenkuo", the name
for Japan used in northern China. Another idea is that Dutch traders pronounced "Yatpun", the name
used in southern China, as "Japan" (the 'j' being pronounced like a 'y').
Japan is an island nation located off the east coast of the Asian
continent. The archipelago of about 7,000 islands runs almost
3,000km northeast to southwest. The total land area is just under
388,000 square kilometers, roughly equal in size to the US state
of Montana or 1.5 times the land area of the UK. Only about 16%
of the land is fertile, the rest being mostly forest-covered mountains.
Japan is located on the western rim of the so-called Pacific "Ring
of Fire" and as a result suffers from frequent earthquakes and
volcanic activity. There are four main islands - Honshu, often referred to as
the mainland, Hokkaido, Kyushu and
Shikoku. Read more about the regions of Japan.
The population of Japan in 2012 was approximately 127,650,000, which marked the first
significant annual decrease since World War II. Japan is the 10th most populous country in the world.
In 1920, the population was about 56 million and after peaking at over 128 million in the 2010 census, the projected population
for 2050 is just over 100 million. Of which a third are expected
to be aged 65 years or over, up from the recent 23% (2010).The Japanese
refer to this ongoing phenomenon as the 'silver' society.
The estimated number of children (aged up to 14 years) is 17 million, a declining
segment of the total population at around 13% (2010), of which boys make up abou 51%,
girls 49%. This figure began to decline in the early 1950s after
the first 'baby boom' and rose slightly during the second baby
boom (1971-1974) but has been on the decline ever since.
Approximately 79% of the population live in urban areas. The most
densely populated areas are on the Pacific coast of the main island of Honshu, in the Kanto region - the
Tokyo metropolis and its port cities of Yokohama
and Kawasaki - and the Kansai area, centered around the cities of
Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto.
Read more about the major cities of Japan.
Japan Flag - Hinomaru
Cherry Blossoms - Sakura
The flag of Japan is called the Hinomaru (rising sun). It consists of a red circle centered on a white
background. The flag has length:width proportions of 3:2 and the
circle is 3/5 of the width. Although its history goes further
back, the flag was first officially raised on merchant ships in
1870, shortly after the "modern" Meiji era began.
The Japanese national anthem is Kimigayo (The Emperor's Reign). It was composed by Hayashi
Hiromori in 1880 and adopted as the national anthem in 1888. The lyrics are taken from the
Kokinshu, a Heian Period (794-1185) anthology of poetry and are
written in the form of a 5-line, 31-syllable tanka poem.
Kimi ga yo wa
Chiyo ni yachiyo ni
Sazare ishi no
Iwao to nari te
Koke no musu made.
They can be translated as:
May the reign of the Emperor continue for a thousand, nay, eight thousand generations
and for the eternity that it takes for small pebbles to grow into a great rock and become
covered with moss.
Both the flag and the anthem are sources of some
controversy. For example, the Japan Communist
Party has long protested that since neither are actually recognized
as official in the constitution and are more or less "de facto"
national symbols, established by social custom rather than in
law, the government should allow a national debate on the issue.
They also arouse memories of Japan's wartime aggression among
the country's Asian neighbors.
Some less contentious symbols of Japan include the sakura (cherry blossom),
the national flower, and the kiji (pheasant), the national bird. The blooming
of cherry blossoms is eagerly awaited across the country every year. Millions of
people go to hanami (flower viewing) parties to welcome the coming of spring. Also,
given the short time that the blossoms remain on the trees, they
are also seen as a poignant reminder of the transience of life
of Japan (on the website of Mizuho Securities)