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Japan (日本国 Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku, either is correct) is an East Asian nation occupying an archipelago which lies on the western-most edge of the Pacific Ocean. Its four main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu.
Japan used to be a world leader in innovative technology. Now they just make good cars and some good electronics offshore—while retaining traditional agricultural practices. It's an extremely right-wing country—but they have a sizable Communist Party! (And Japan's voting is proportional so that actually means something.) It is a land of contrasts, due to absorbing a lot of Western culture over the last 150 years, but still retaining its own unique culture and traditions. They still have a very high life expectancy and the third-highest GDP in the world despite this.
Japan's flag is a simple design with a red circle on a white background, representing the sun (the country's Japanese names literally translate to "sun origin", hence the English name "Land of the Rising Sun"). Their food is particularly awesome, and so are some of their greatest artistic achievements, including prints by such artists as Hokusai and Uemaro and the cinematic samurai epics of Akira Kurosawa.
Japan's position as a nation of islands removed from the Asian mainland meant that the Japanese archipelago was relatively isolated compared to its neighbors. Nonetheless, Japan did engage in significant amount of trade and fighting with its neighbors.
Japan's only war with another state between the Mongol invasions and the First Sino-Japanese War was during the period of 1592-1598, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea after its king refused to allow Japanese troops to enter China through Korean soil. Naturally, China came to Korea's aid. The war came at a great cost to all three countries, but especially to Korea. Japan was eventually kicked out of the East Asian system of international relations by China in 1637, not only for initially having designs to invade China itself, but also for having failed to deal with its rampant piracy problem.
Japan returned to a period of relative isolationism, but still maintained official diplomatic relations with Korea, and continued to trade with Korea, China, and the nations of Southeast Asia, Thailand in particular (although this was largely cut off after a coup brought an unfriendly government to power in Thailand) while rejecting virtually all contact with the West aside from the Dutch at Nagasaki. This came to an end in 1854, when the United States, using the US Navy in an act of literal gunboat diplomacy, forcibly created trading contacts and treaties with Japan. The United Kingdom, Russia and France soon followed. At this time, Japan was still a feudal society of peasants, samurai and lords, ruled by a shogun (general) in Edo (modern Tokyo), while the power of the Emperor (in Kyoto) was little more than nominal. Japan previously had a larger firearms industry than any nation in Europe during the late 16th and early 17th-centuries, but the shock of how advanced the industrial era was, as well as the Europeans and Americans forcing unequal treaties onto Japan nearly immediately caused a political crisis. These worries about being colonized like the rest of Asia culminated in the 1868 restoration of imperial rule (the Meiji Restoration).
The first acts of the Meiji government were to put through rapid reforms to industrialize, militarize and Westernize Japanese society, forcibly dismantling the longstanding feudal hierarchy, replacing it with a parliamentary democracy with an absolute monarch able to overrule the state if necessary (based on the Prussian/German Empire model). The Meiji era saw the development of a nation-state with strong European-style nationalism, promoted by the adoption of State Shinto as national religion, a creed which emphasized the Emperor's status as an incarnate deity. This nationalism was accompanied by wars against Russia and China, and colonialism in Taiwan and Korea. While originally not very different in behavior from other colonialist countries like Britain or the Netherlands, things started to get bad when the military broke free from control of the democratic state by the end of the Taisho Era (approximately the 1910s-1920s) due to a series of scandals and weak governments. Afterwards, foreign policy and increasingly domestic policy was effectively run by a clique of military officers, resulting in repeated invasions of China and brutally oppressive policies towards occupied countries.
By the late 1930s, the veneer of democracy was gone and it would be effectively fully abolished by 1940 when the military's political party was made the only legal one. Japan was openly run by a clique of officers (with a significant portion of the political establishment not resisting much) and became a militaristic authoritarian state bent on
liberating conquering all of East Asia and Southeast Asia. The resulting increasing international tensions culminated in Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, bringing Japan and the U.S. into the Second World War, and America's nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which put an end to it. The Americans required that the Emperor disavow his divinity and enforced strict separation of "church" and state to prevent Shinto from ever being used as an instrument of politics again. They also required Japan to adopt a constitution that banned both the Emperor and the military from politics outright and strictly banned the nation from warfare, although the exact limits of that have been under highly controversial debates ever since the 1950s when the US gave Japan back its self-governance and simultaneously realized it needed Japan as a military ally against Communism. While many high-level ("Class A") Japanese war criminals were tried and convicted, others were accused and jailed but later set free without trial, and later returned to power. This was due to the increasing view of Japan as an ally against communism and the end of US military occupation. Among the accused and untried for Class A war crimes was future Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (1957-1960), grandfather of current Prime Minster Shinzō Abe (2012-).
Since the return of self-governance in 1952, Japan has been a peaceful and democratic country, growing in wealth and influence, at least partly due to American occupation and investment. However, Japanese conduct during the war, including the atrocious treatment of prisoners of war, has left a lasting resentment in occupied nations, which continues today in areas such as China, Korea, and parts of Southeast Asia. International tensions are often high, as Japanese politicians insist that Japan has apologized enough and been a model country for generations, while the South Korean and Chinese governments insist Japan has never apologized sufficiently and could turn militaristic again any minute. Both sides' extremists are pretty toxic.
History in nine minutes
Japan has been in an economic rut for the past 20 years. It’s a fact of the collective that the Japanese hate spending. The government invests a little money, but there's a strong temptation to take the foot off the gas too early. So they end up with the worst possible outcome: more debt, the shrinking economy, and more people get laid off. This makes people fearful, so they spend even less money, and the economy shrinks more, and more people get laid off. It's a vicious cycle. (Very Buddhist.)
Instead of temporary unemployment, certain generations are screwed over royally for life if they enter the job market in a recession as Japan follows a "lifetime" employment model. You have to wonder to what degree the rigid hierarchy is responsible for Japan's economic woes. How innovative and productive can a workplace be if an employee's worth is tied to how late they stay handcuffed to their desk, or how much sake they can knock back during an enkai? It's a moot point, anyway, since any innovative/successful startups there are food for hungry chaebol (zaibatsu). Things are easy when you're big in Japan.
You would think tourist money would at least keep the economy afloat and spur growth, but it isn't enough. Doesn't help that they give foreigners a free ticket to study in their schools, but they cannot work in the country once they earn a degree? (Too little experience.) So they are educating a workforce to send back overseas. It is also glaring how few Chinese and Koreans visit Japan, relative to how many travel abroad every year from Europe, America and elsewhere in East Asia.
Modern-day Japan is a constitutional monarchy, not unlike several European countries, with the Emperor of Japan currently being the world's only monarch to be referred to as an emperor in English. Unlike some other constitutional monarchies such as Belgium, the Emperor lacks any political power whatsoever (by Chapter I, Article I of the current 1947 Constitution, he is "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people"), but he still performs certain ceremonial duties and appoints ministers and ambassadors on the advice of his government, like the Queen of England. Unlike the Queen of England, there's not even the fiction that he could refuse consent, as he is known to be required to follow the advice of his government. The Imperial Family is forbidden to participate in politics, and very rarely appears in political situations even when silent and non-participatory. Japanese custom dictates that each emperor have a posthumous name to mark their reign in Japanese history. The current Emperor of Japan, Akihito, presides over the Heisei period and will be known as "Heisei" upon his death. His father, Hirohito, is known in Japan as the "Shōwa Emperor". While alive, the Emperor is not addressed by his given name, and there even exists a whole separate set of words used when discussing any member of the royal family.
Current constitutional law in Japan forbids that there be an empress regnant as head of state, which became a problem when there was no male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne born in 41 years. The Emperor only had granddaughters, which sparked debates in the Diet and even liberal Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi proposed an amendment to the constitution to allow the various Imperial Princesses to be eligible as heirs. All of this debate ended when Prince Hisahito of Akishino was born in 2006, making him 3rd in line to the throne after his father Fumihito, Prince Akishino, and his uncle the heir apparent Crown Prince Naruhito. After the prince's birth, Koizumi withdrew his attempt to get the law changed which would have put Naruhito's daughter Princess Aiko and Fumihito's older daughters Princesses Mako and Kako in the line of succession.
Politically, post-war Japanese governments have been fairly moderate to centre-right, with a mild authoritarian conservative streak but with increasing environmental and gender equality concerns in recent years, including legislation enforcing all new multi-storey buildings to have a roof garden and trying to get women out of the kitchen and into the workplace. The dominant political party are the Liberal Democrats who have dominated the political scene having been in power since its founding in 1955 except for a brief period in the 1990s and from 2009-2012. Part of the reason for their remarkable run of success has to do with the fact that they frequently call snap elections basically keeping their opponents off guard and disorganized.
Despite being a major international power, and absorbing many Western influences, the Japanese tend to be very inwardly focused, tend to conform to group consensus, and can be xenophobic in some respects. Most political decisions are made by ministry bureaucrats, party cliques and local governments (in that order of importance) rather than via elections, as the same party has held power around 98% of the time since 1952 despite the Prime Minister and cabinets changing rapidly, and the opposition that held power for a few years isn't wildly different. It only technically isn't a one-party state, but just barely.
Contrary to the reputation gained from niche manga and anime, the Japanese are deeply conservative, with a heavy emphasis on conformity and group identity. Anyone who has ever watched anime or played a JRPG probably realizes that sex is a problematic topic in Japan. Young men are often portrayed as having to "control themselves" or hold back (from sexual assault) in a 1v1 situation with members of the opposite sex, as if that is a green light to intercourse (consensual or not). Gay men are often portrayed as comically threatening. Hey, at least lesbianism is given a voyeuristic pass as "yuri." Still, Japan isn't particularly LGBT-friendly, even when compared with the American South. There's virulent homophobes and Christian hate groups, very little acceptance of same-sex marriage, and a lot of pressure to conform to 'normal' family structure and behavior. There is a quiet acceptance of lesbian practice runs in school — so long as you grow out of it and and have kids and become a model citizen. Crossdressing and transgender people are still mostly a flamboyant joke on TV.
The suicide thing is a meme fed by that 'suicide forest' piece. They are actually less suicides than Belgium, Poland, Russia, South Korea, and others. Their rates are high, but it overlooks the fact the Japanese culture does not view suicide as a sin. (Belgium is at 16.0, but that's more to do with assisted suicide being legal there.) Some of it can be explained by the high economic and social pressures in Japan.
Principal cultural exports of the Japanese include Godzilla movies, sushi, tiny electronic thingies (including video games about Italian plumbers in a land of mushroom people), cute cartoon characters, a fascination with tentacles, Shonen Knife, ninjas, and excellent copies of German cars. Excellent Japanese art prints by such artists as Hokusai and Uemaro are now public domain, so they can be recreated anywhere without being genuine Japanese exports. Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa even exists as an emoji (if you're using Apple products): 🌊. And they make the PlayStation!
Japan has its own official language and uses a writing system that consists of three different
alphabets writing systems: two phonetic syllabaries (Hiragana and Katakana) and one drawn from written Chinese (Kanji), each used for different purposes and able to be mixed in the same sentences. There are also several other indigenous languages, such as the Ainu language and the various Ryukyuan languages. Despite the use of Chinese characters, the Japanese language is completely unrelated to any form of Chinese (but has numerous loanwords from medieval-era Chinese). It's not exactly clear what it is related to (except some coincidental grammatical similarities with Finnish). It is universally agreed that Japanese is related to Ryukyuan languages, with some Japanese linguists even viewing Ryukyuan languages as merely highly variant dialects of Japanese. It is debated whether these Japonic languages fall within a very large trans-Asian language family stretching to Turkey, called Altaic. Some linguists who don't accept the Altaic view still think Japanese is related to Korean. Neither country is particularly happy with this idea, (after all, China and Japan have had a rivalry for a long time) so most people besides professionals ignore it.
There are relatively few sounds and tones in Japanese, and tones rarely matter for the meaning of words unlike Chinese. Sort of like English and Latin/French, a lot of non-basic Japanese words are actually old loans from Chinese dialects (a language probably similar to Cantonese, which is more closely related to medieval Chinese than Mandarin), although the relation to modern Mandarin is often very obscure (the word "International" — Mandarin Guo-ji and Japanese Koku-sai sound unrelated, since the Japanese gained it from 9th century Chinese Gwok-Zai - (exactly how the word is pronounced in Cantonese). Even Nippon is a loan, from "Nit-bun" or Sun-Origin. In modern Mandarin, the same characters for "Nippon-koku" are read "riben-guo". Words imported more recently from English or other languages often sound unrecognisable when they are adapted to the restrictions of Japanese pronunciation and absorbed into the Japanese vocabulary. This issue is compounded by the tendency for Japanese speakers to assume that any European loanwords are from English Like English, the majority of words used in everyday life are native to the language, but there are a lot of loan words — especially technical terms and foreign culture/food/fashion.
Japanese grammar also has subtle nuances, with the subject of a sentence often indicated by context. There is no grammatical gender like some European languages, but your level of respectfulness or politeness towards someone is mandatory to indicate (the two basic levels being 'casual' and 'polite'). Honorific and deferential language and etiquette come into play in various social situations, and direct answers to questions are usually avoided, especially where a straightforward "no" could offend but a vague "perhaps" would not. No wonder the Japanese have been described as "inscrutable".
Japanese can be transliterated into the Latin alphabet in several ways, but most people outside of Japan agree on the Hepburn system, so these days Japanese transliterations tend to be a lot more consistent than languages using, say, the Arabic or Cyrillic alphabets. Japanese themselves rarely use more than brief romanisations for decorative purposes, and frequently accidentally use inconsistent systems, often mixing in the more natural feeling system (to Japanese eyes) called Nihon-shiki.
It is said that the population of Japan will drop from 127 million to 95 million by 2050, with the elderly making up the majority of the population. This would be a serious stress on the economy due to the need for a small number of young workers to support the pensions of their elders. A lot of the crash in population is to blame on the economic downturn, as many young people don't feel secure enough to raise a family without a good job. The government has tried to prevent this future by encouraging businesses to give women more maternity leave and flexibility in having children while still keeping their jobs, but there has been little success to date in increasing female participation in the workforce and family raising opportunities. Unlike other countries, it's highly unlikely that the government would force them to do so via legislation, since Japanese society prefers to operate on consensus.
A second potential solution is immigration, but the vast majority of Japanese are unwilling to throw open the doors to mass immigration to replace the millions of people in missing population. Japan is at the present barely over 1% foreigner (and some of those are Japanese returnees), and halting the above population decline by immigration alone would require becoming 25% immigrants in just one generation. That's if you could even find 30 million people willing, given the stagnant economy. While the Japanese left is open to some immigration increases, not even European countries are willing to go half that far.
Basically, they're a not-particularly-religious society which has appropriated a range of religions into their life. Shinto is Japan's native polytheistic and animistic religion. It's compatible with Buddhism, and so the two have been intertwined in Japanese culture for over a thousand years, although they were forcibly separated during the Meiji era (1868 to 1945)
Most Japanese will happily count themselves as rational atheists, yet habitually go to a major shrine at the start of the new year to refresh their demon-slaying charms at home (they make them in cute cell phone accessory form, too). And no less than one-third of Japanese pray to gods during the New Year while simultaneously not believing in any gods! For example, a survey suggests that 65% of Japanese are atheists, however, another survey from the same source indicates that between 50% and 90% of Japanese are Buddhists. Similarly, over 90% of people are officially Shinto and participate in Shinto rituals but fewer than 3% identify their religion as Shinto. The confusion comes from the fact that Buddhism does not fit into a Western dichotomy of theism and atheism. The Gods in Shinto aren't omnipresent nor always beneficial. To pray to them you have to clap and ring bells to get their attention. Since in neither Shinto or Buddhism can you rely on the deities for anything at all, the only thing you need to make sure of is to not annoy them—which usually just involves not screwing over the environment or sacred places, and giving respect in Buddhist observances and festivals.
The Western division of "earthly" vs. "supernatural" doesn't apply to Japanese thought at all. This is less true of Buddhism in the past, as membership in a Buddhist sect was mandatory for guarding against Christianity. Buddhist funerals were mandatory, so Buddhist priests didn't have to care about making people believe, since everyone belonged to their religion and paid them no matter what. Within a couple generations, Japan was a secular country. Few people care that their funerals are still performed by Buddhists (unless you're a practicing Mormon or Muslim).
The Ainu and Ryukyuan peoples have their own traditional animistic religions in place of Shinto.
There are also smaller religions founded in Japan, like Soka Gakkai (a Buddhist religion that about 4-8% of Japan belongs to, which even has its own political party) and Tenrikyo (about 1%, but unusual for being monotheistic and the largest female-founded religion in the world). Maybe another 10% belong to other "shinshukyo" (新宗教), a diverse group of religions founded mostly within living memory. The best comparison to the West would be the New Age religions, with which they often overlap quite a bit. Most of these people will still consider themselves non-religious. One of the shinshukyo religions was the cult/terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo.
Christianity has a very unique status in Japan, despite being only 2% Christian. Despite the fact that it was illegal in Japan during the Edo period (1603 to 1868), after the American occupation of Japan following World War II with the romanticism of all things American, Christianity became "popular" in a very secular way. Today, the Christian Cross is a very popular piece of jewelry for women and girls. On a TV drama, for example, you are likely to see the main character wear a cross in at least one of the 11 episodes, while anime nuns are often common (though only rarely religious ones. Japanese sometimes confuse how being a nun works, thinking they work like being a Shinto Shrine Maiden, and so have characters who are part-time nuns going to a Catholic high school). In fact, Christianity in pop culture is even more closely tied with magic than the West's Harry Potter. There is a whole sub-genre of anime/manga called "Mahou Shoujo" (魔法少女, literally 'magical girl') that portrays female characters as, well, magic-wielders in a European tradition. Some of them literally get their powers from God, who we assume also granted them their improbably large breasts and often-too-cute appearance. (This is actually because some Mahou Shoujo is directed towards a male teenage to young adult audience. Sorry, Fundies.) The spectrum of how these girls are portrayed is often enough to make a Fundamentalist cringe several times over, mainly because of how these girls are subjected to temptation (magic, food, love), insincerity towards Christianity (if not for enchanting a spell, which per se is obviously Satanic), mixing Christianity with polytheistic idolism (Shinto) and Bible verses are often used for comical humor which reflects the opposite of what the character does.
Weddings in Christian church are extraordinarily popular to the point that over 90% are Christian-style (followed sometimes by a second wedding in traditional garb), and many people have adapted to "god bless" or "good god" (using Kami as the term for god) as expressions of doubt, fear, and joy - while not believing in that very god. In a similar vein, Christmas is a huge holiday there, complete with (anime-style girl) Santa, Christmas trees and decorations, and yet very little knowledge about what is actually being celebrated; an appropriate comparison would be to how Halloween is treated in the Western world these days. In fact, Japanese culture treats Christmas as a lovers' holiday for romantic gift exchanges. The traditional Christmas foods are fried chicken, preferably from KFC which had to be ordered at least a month in advance, and a Christmas sponge cake covered in white icing and strawberries. The cakes are heavily discounted on Christmas day, which led to "Christmas cake" becoming a lovely slang term for an unmarried woman older than 25, as she too was considered past her prime.
Recently, whaling has been criticized within Japan, perhaps reflecting changing dietary trends — few people eat whale meat nowadays. Whaling is still supported in rural communities across Japan, though only a handful still depend on it for their livelihoods. Only a few whaling vessels are still active, under heavy subsidies due to its lack of profitability, and whaling has been declining even if the government's supposed target numbers haven't.
There have been several incidents during which Japanese whaling ships have come under attack from environmental groups such as the Sea Shepherd. Such attacks ironically end up reducing the Japanese government's desires to stop whaling, since it'd be a severe loss of face to appear to give in to foreign pressure. It's also hard to convince people that their culture is wrong and yours is morally superior by throwing shitty smelling substances (butyric acid) at them.
In contrast, the general public is pretty apathetic about the whole thing. Almost all young people, especially women, don't eat whale meat. Not much of the older generations eats it regularly either. Most Japanese of all ages, however, believe cultures should be allowed to hunt whales if it is a traditional activity and they want to, but few have strong opinions about whether Japanese whaling should or shouldn't continue.
The real reason it continues at the scale it does? Government bureaucracy and Japanese corporate culture.. Japanese managers have a different view of downsizing than those of the West; if a company cuts employees, it's a sign of managerial incompetence. Combined with government ministers in general not wanting their budgets cut, absolutely no one in government wants to be the one to downsize their department. So you have the whaling division shuffled around but not eliminated, and the whales hunted to avoid embarrassment.
Xenophobia and racism
As a highly homogenous insular island nation with little history of resident foreigners, it is perhaps unsurprising that racism runs rampant, especially as anti-discrimination laws do not exist outside of a few special cases. The most well-known form of discrimination is against Zainichi (literally Living-in-Japan) Koreans, most of them the descendants of forced laborers from colonial Japan. These ethnic Korean residents of Japan are still regarded as un-Japanese despite, in most cases, having no linguistic or cultural ties to any other nation for generations. Nationalist tensions frequently inflame opinions of both South Koreans and Japanese against one another, and Zainichi Koreans are often caught in the crossfire. Worse, a quarter of Korean residents are members of a North Korean loyalist organization (called the Chongryon) which has financially supported the North Korean regime via organized crime and is suspected of helping North Korea kidnap 11 Japanese nationals to "serve as language instructors for North Korean agents and providing identities for spies who wanted to enter South Korea". Because of this kind of press, some Japanese out of ignorance assume all Zainichi Koreans are awful people, but that's no more true than the idea that all Muslims support terrorism.
Japan also actively discriminates against its indigenous minorities. The Ainu once lived throughout Japan prior to the arrival of the Yamato Japanese. As Japan expanded, the Ainu were pushed into the northern island of Hokkaido, the nearby Kuril Islands, and the now Russian island of Sakhalin, at least until World War II when Russia gained total control of Sakhalin, "repatriated" the Ainu to Japan, and began officially denying the Ainu recognition as an indigenous minority. It took until 2008 for the Japanese Diet to officially recognize the Ainu as a separate ethnicity from Yamato Japanese and (non-bindingly) urged society to stop discriminating against them. The peoples of the Ryukyu Islands, named after the former independent Ryukyu Kingdom that Japan conquered in the early 17th century, have not had such recognition. Their traditional languages were almost made extinct during the early 20th century as Imperial Japan pushed to standardize the Japanese language, employing the dialect card system of corporal punishment on school children caught speaking anything but Japanese. To this day, nearly every language once native to the islands is critically endangered, and are at best recognized by the Japanese government as "dialects" of Japanese, despite the fact Northern Amami, Southern Amami, Kikai, Tokunoshima, Okinoerabu, Yoron, Kunigami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama, Yonaguni, etc., aren't at all mutually intelligible with Japanese, let alone each other. This practice harks back to the days of Imperial Japan, when Manchurian, Taiwanese, Korean, and even Palauan were called "dialects" of Japanese. Despite a resistance to retain a Ryukyuan cultural identity in opposition to the American occupation following World War II, in recent years the "dialects" are not as stigmatized, and both the local branch of the national public broadcaster NHK and the regional governments advocate learning them. Most Ainu and Ryukyuans regard their Japanese and minority identities as compatible and do not wish for independence (although a political party for an independent Ryukyu Islands exists in Okinawa), but some discrimination against them in employment and society continues.
Not satisfied with discriminating against other races, certain regions of Japan are still rife with discrimination against historic members of an untouchable caste in the pre-modern Japanese society. Known as the burakumin (one of the few terms that is not discriminatory, and solely means "hamlet people"), these Japanese citizens historically worked in professions considered "unclean" in Buddhism, namely anything involving death. When Tokyo began streetcar service, the old burakumin neighborhood was still the last to have service on the line, and to this day the area is home to butchers and tanning shops. Although the caste system was eradicated during the Meiji Restoration, discrimination against the burakumin continued well into the 20th century, as burakumin surnames and hometowns, as required by the Japanese family registry system, could easily out them to employers or prospective in-laws who would hire investigators to confirm their suspicions. Many burakumin were forced into the organized crime of the Yakuza due to discrimination in employment. Discrimination against the burakumin is rare nowadays, and is almost unheard of outside of Japan's Kansai region (Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyōgo, and Shiga Prefectures), but it still rears its ugly head every so often; Osaka only made outright discrimination against the burakumin illegal when it came to job background searches in 1985.
Scientific racism is alive and well in Japan, and is frequently invoked as a thin excuse for protectionism, especially for Japan's politically powerful agricultural sector. Attempts to import foreign rice or beef into Japan have been met with stiff resistance, frequently backed by claims that Japanese people are so different from the rest of the world that they cannot properly digest foreign-grown food. At other times, winter sporting-goods manufacturers have been refused permission to import skis because Japanese snow is "too different." A 2005 UN study of race relations in Japan stated that racism was "deep and profound" and that most officials failed to recognize that racism was a serious issue.
When applying for naturalization, each person must show a "history of good behavior" which used to be seen as a code word for "complete and total cultural assimilation"; however, since the 1980s acting "Japanese" is not a legal requirement, though like anywhere else on earth, individuals will not generally be accepted into local society if they do not follow its social rules. As they are unwelcome, foreigners have sometimes been discouraged from learning the Japanese language too well, although more often speaking the Japanese language even haltingly will get you effusive (if rather patronising) praise from Japanese.
Dante Carver is an African American who is a well known and highly rated T.V commercial actor from SoftBank Mobile as "Yosō Guy." "In 2008, Carver was voted the most popular male actor in a TV commercial in Japan, beating Takuya Kimura, who had previously held the top position for eight consecutive years."  Another non-Japanese T.V personality is Bobby Ologun, a popular T.V personality in Japan, he became a naturalized citizen and married a Japanese wife while retaining his growing popularity. Depending on where you go in japan you can be met with curiosity(touching), fascination(requesting selfies), or hostility(foreigners are usually clumped together in media outlets for crimes, despite foreigners committing less crime than ethnic Japanese people). Rural areas, unlike the southern part of USA, is a random experience, some foreigners have greatly expressed the appreciation you get for speaking Japanese properly which is actually admirable in Japanese Culture. Blacks are still generally looked down upon, especially from the perception that they are dangerous which is often touted by western media, but they are along with other non-Japanese seen as alien.  . As a general rule of thumb, it is actually encourageable to thoroughly learn language, which is a sign of respect (Japanese people will greatly appreciate the gesture). If you're looking for an accepting journey to nearly any country(including Japan), you must be willing to sound less foreign and more relatable, or you will perpetuate the "ignorant foreigner stereotype" often held over non-Japanese foreigners.
One of the more bizarre manifestations of Japan's "extreme nationalism" in the post-war era was the case of celebrated author and playwright Yukio Mishima, who got rather confused with the whole 'pen is mightier than the sword' thing. Following the publication of what he regarded as his finest novel, he led his personal cadre of sexy young male samurai wannabes on an attempted military coup. On delivering an impassioned nationalist speech to the Japanese army, he was met with laughter and derision, and thus decided to commit seppuku (ritual assisted suicide), thus ending his literary career in a particularly bloody mess of sun, steel and intestines. The man who beheaded him served a relatively short jail sentence, and is reportedly still alive.
General historical woo
The Emperor of Japan is still considered to be a direct descendant of the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu. Although, as a result of the surrender in World War II, the Emperor is no longer an absolute ruler.
Controversy repeatedly arises in Japan with regards to the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated by the Meiji Emperor to any soldiers who died in service to the Empire of Japan. When Japan ceased legally being an Empire in 1947, there were issues with regards to still remembering the veterans as well as how to deal with various war criminals. Today, while the shrine honors nearly 2.5 million men, women, and children who died in Japan's various wars, over one thousand of these are considered war criminals, with 14 of them being Class-A war criminals who were executed for war crimes. These include Prime Ministers Hideki Tojo, Kōki Hirota, and Hiranuma Kiichirō; War Minister Seishirō Itagaki; Ministers of Foreign Affairs Shigenori Tōgō and Yōsuke Matsuoka; Ambassador to Italy Toshio Shiratori; Generals Heitarō Kimura, Kenji Doihara, Akira Mutō, Iwane Matsui, Yoshijirō Umezu, Kuniaki Koiso; and Fleet Admiral Osami Nagano. Their inclusion was only made before the death of a post-war priest at the shrine, and his successor refused to visit in disgust of his predecessor's decision to enshrine them. History revisionists and particularly conservative MPs regularly visit the shrine to honor the war dead, and deny that these men were war criminals, with even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declaring that under Japanese law they aren't. These visits regularly anger Chinese and Korean people due to the losses their countries suffered under Imperial Japanese rule, as well as the complete denial of the Rape of Nanking and forcing occupied women into state-enforced sexual slavery which has been most prominent in South Korea. The survivors protest every Wednesday outside of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul by sitting in chairs and facing the embassy until they feel the victims' rights and dignity have been restored. They marked their 1000th week of protest (only disrupted once in 1995 in response to the Kobe earthquake) by erecting a bronze statue of a Korean teenage girl sitting in a chair for them. The existence of the statue has caused tensions between the Japanese and Korean governments.
Chinese historical records of the 3rd century CE recorded the existence of a Queen Himiko who ruled over a kingdom called Yamatai. The Japanese language use of "Yamato" as their country's and people's name also enters usage around this time, but Japanese historical records mentioning anything resembling "Yamatai" don't begin until the 8th century. The historic location of Himiko's Yamatai has been under debate in Japan since the 19th century. Most historians associate Yamatai with the historic Yamato Province, which is modern day Nara Prefecture. Other archaeological studies place Yamatai further south on the northern part of Kyushu in modern day Saga Prefecture. More pseudohistoric beliefs place Yamatai further south still in the Ryukyu Islands chain. Others assume "Yamatai" is simply a Chinese corruption of the Japanese word "Yamato". We just don't know.
The Yonaguni Monument near Japan's southwesternmost island has been picked up by various pseudoarchaeologists and woo peddlers around the world as an example of a pre-Ice Age archaeological site featuring megalithic architecture that has since been submerged by the ocean. These people ignore the fact that most of the structure is made out of the same bedrock as the rest of the area and is thus a geologic formation. It's been compared to Atlantis, suggested to be Mu, and used as proof that the Yamatai Kingdom existed in the region that's so far away from Japan its nearest neighbor is Taiwan.
They use the Japanese yen over there (sign: ¥, code: JPY). Despite being worth about a penny apiece, the yen is still one of the world's strongest currencies. There used to be even smaller coins, but they stopped making them since there's no need for them. The yen was previously pegged to the US dollar at ¥360:US$1, because the traditional character that represents yen means "circle". Fun fact: the one yen coin weighs only a gram, making it light enough that it will not not break the surface tension on water and apparently float.
- New York Times: The Myth of Japan's Failure
- Hawley, Samuel: The Imjin War. Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China, The Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch, Seoul 2005, ISBN 8995442425.
- While besides China, everything it wanted to conquer had already been brutally conquered by other European countries, that'd be little comfort to the people being brutally "liberated".
- All but the Japanese extreme left agree that Japan can defend itself even with deadly force from invasion. But can Japan defend its allies if they are attacked but the enemy scrupulously never attacks Japan? Can Japan launch counterattacks into enemy territory while defending itself or others? What about preemptive strikes?
- Nikkei over the last 20 years
- Japan offers a lifetime job, if hired right out of school
- Although not in every way — there has never been a strong anti-premarital sex movement in the country, and the relative lack of sexual taboos was a source of continuing astonishment in the nineteenth century before the Meiji Restoration promoted European standards of modesty, and even into the 20th century — See any world atlas published before World War II.
- CNN: Desperate Japanese head to 'suicide forest'
- USA Today: Suicide epidemic grips Japan July 20, 2008
- New York Times: Asia: Japan: Guidelines To Reduce Suicide Rate June 9, 2007
- Examples: Baito for a part-time job, which is actually from the German Arbeit; maron for chestnuts, which is actually from the French marron
- Thank you, Bill Bryson!
- The Largest Atheist / Agnostic Populations Zuckerman, 2005
- The Largest Buddhist Communities
- Western style weddings in Japan
- Faking it as a priest in Japan
- Wikipedia: Sea Shepherd
- Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research
- BBC, Japan and the Whale
- When In Tokyo, Don't Speak As The Japanese Do, Chicago Tribune, 27 October 1996
- "You should give up trying to learn Japanese", Whoa, I'm in Japan?
- See the Wikipedia article on Dante Carver.
- See the Wikipedia article on Bobby Ologun.
- Short Biography, European Graduate School