Archipelago off the eastern coast of Asia. The four biggest islands are Honshu (where Tokyo is), Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Fairly crowded due to its mountainous terrain and need to use as much arable land as possible for agriculture to feed its large population. The CIA World Factbook says Japan is slightly smaller than California and has a population of 126,182,077 as of July 1999. California has only 32,667,000 people as of 1997 (this last from a study at

Japanese refer to their country as 'Nippon' or 'Nihon.' These two names have their origin in the words 'the place from where the sun rises' which were used by Prince Shotoku, the famous early seventh-century Japanese ruler, in speaking of his country in a letter he sent to China. The meaning of 'place from where the sun rises' was translated into a pair of Chinese characters that came to be used to indicate the name of the country in writing. At first the characters were read in the Japanese way as 'Yamato.' The words 'Nippon' and 'Nihon' used today were adopted in the Nara period.

Presently, either of these two ways of reading is used. There are no legal basis or general rule to distinguish them. However, 'Nippon' is used for example, at international sport games and for postage stamps. There are two widely held explanations regarding the origin of 'Japan' and similiar names used in the European languages.

According to one of these, these names come from 'Zipangu' or 'Jipangu,' which are Portuguese attempts at pronouncing 'Jihpenkuo,' the name used for Japan in northern China.

The other has it that they come from the Dutch 'Japan' taken from 'Yatpun,' the name of Japan used in Southern China.

'Japan' has been chosen as the formal name designating the country in the English Language. I don't know by who or when. Or why.

hemos sez: Theories also say that the name Japan came from the Italian name, Zipangu, given to the country by Marco Polo in the 1200's.

Westerners may be bewildered at the propensity of far easterners to refer to their own country by different names. Here are just a few for Japan.

Wa (倭) is the earliest recorded name for Japan, found in Chinese treatises on geography. This name is found in the San1 Guo4 Yan3 Yi4 (三国志), or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Another wa (和) is still in used today, and means "harmony".

Yamato (大和), is the name of the ancient seat of Japanese government at Nara, and is sometimes used as the name of Japan. The onyomi of the kanji, daiwa, means great Japan, using wa from above.

Chinese names for Japan that were assimilated into Japanese culture include fusou (扶桑), which means Hibiscus. This name comes from Sung dynasty records. In Chinese legend, the hibiscus grows on the island in the east where the sun was supposed to originate. Another word is Yamatai, which is a Chinese approximation of Yamoto (and therefore not used by Japanese).

Nihon (日本) is also one of the earliest names. The official history of the Zui dynasty (During the 5 kingdoms period I think) records this event: the Prince Shotoku, Regent of Japan, sent a letter along with his envoy to the Emperor of China.:

Hi iduru tokoro no Tensei, sho o hi bossuru no Tensei ni itasu. Tutu ga nakiya?

"The Emperor of the land where the sun rises sends a letter to the Emperor of the land where the sun sets. Are you well?"

The history books also say that the Emperor of China became angry and ordered such "barbarian" things not to be shown to him.

Nippon is an alternative onyomi of Nihon. It does not comes from the Portuguese. Hinomoto is the kunyomi version of Nihon. Marco Polo used the word "Chipangu" to describe Japan, and may be the origin of the western word "Japan". Chinese dialectical pronunciation of Nihon come close to "Jippun", or "Ngippun".

Hou (邦) is a word that is used in Kanji compounds to mean Japan.

This nation comprises of a number of small islands but the principal ones are Hokkaido to the North, Kyushu to the South, Honshu and Shikoku. All four islands are populated but as Honshu is the largest and centrally placed among the four, it has the largest population. The largest of the cities are situated there, including Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka.

Japan has often been described as "Asia’s Britain", according to a BBC guide. Though at the time this had much to do with the fact that Japan was one of the most economically successful of the Asian states, even now with Japan’s stagnating economy, she fits that description. Both are island nations situated off a large continent, Europe in Britain's case. It is larger than Britain, more the size of Sweden but both nations have a great number of parallels. Firstly both have had to fight off concerted attacks from large empires on their respective continents, Japan from China and Kublai Khan, and Britain from the Napoleonic Empire, the Spanish Empire and so forth. Both nations sought to gain territory on the continent but never established any long-term presence there, Britain with the Aquitaine Empire and Japan with Korea and Manchuria. Their religions were at one time joined to the continent but they became independent due to too much interference. Britain’s Christian Church broke away from the Pope and the Catholic Church, while Japan’s Buddhist faith became independent from China.

Japan has a colourful history, mainly due to a vast amount of political intrigue. Examples of this can be seen through novels such as Shogun by James Clavell and Murasaki by Liza Dalby. Whether it was courtiers or daimyo, both strove to gain power at any cost. Much of Japan’s internal conflicts were caused by ambitious men (no surprise there), such as the Sengoku Era.

Modern Japan is a very thrilling place to be. Regardless of its economic problems, it has a wonderful fusion of past and present. Tradition is still a key part of Japanese culture but the younger generations are pushing forward new ideas. In cities such as Tokyo, it is possible to go shopping for the latest gadgets and computer games, then go and visit an ancient Buddhist shrine, or a samurai castle. Another point is that in Japan, historical treasures such as castles are very well maintained. This means a visitor can get a great idea of what it was like to live there centuries ago. Much better than the grass-covered ruins here in Britain.

The four types of prefectures in Japan are to, do (or ), fu, and ken. The differences between the four types aren't much, however to is unique because it is reserved for Tokyo, a.k.a. Tokyo Metropolis. Prefectures are further separated into municipalities - shi, ku, cho (or chō), and son, which are cities, wards, towns, and villages respectively. The 23 wards of Tokyo are more like cities within Tokyo rather than only being named areas of the city, since each ward has an elected mayor and a certain degree of autonomy from the main Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
prefecture type  capital    population  area(km^2)   density  shi   ku   cho  son
Hokkaido   do    Sapporo     5,683,062   78,516.84     72.38   34   10   154   24
Aomori     ken   Aomori      1,475,728    9,606.33    155.84    8         34   25
Iwate      ken   Morioka     1,416,180   15,278.40     93.06   13         29   16
Miyagi     ken   Sendai      2,365,320    7,285.07    322.19   10    5    59    2
Akita      ken   Akita       1,189,279   11,612.11    103.13    9         50   10
Yamagata   ken   Yamagata    1,244,147    9,323.34    133.15   13         27    4
Fukushima  ken   Fukushima   2,126,935   13,782.48    154.79   10         52   28
Ibaraki    ken   Mito        2,985,676    6,095.58    491.44   22         45   17
Tochigi    ken   Utsunomiya  2,004,817    6,408.28    312.61   12         35    2
Gunma      ken   Maebashi    2,024,852    6,363.16    317.41   11         33   26
Saitama    ken   Saitama     6,938,006    3,797.25  1,816.64   41         40    9
Chiba      ken   Chiba       5,926,285    5,156.09  1,148.23   33    6    42    5
Tokyo      to    Shinjuku   12,064,101    2,187.05  5,404.01   26   23     5    8
Kanagawa   ken   Yokohama    8,489,974    2,415.41  3,488.34   19   25    17    1
Niigata    ken   Niigata     2,475,733   12,582.37    196.85   20         56   35
Toyama     ken   Toyama      1,120,851    4,247.22    264.74    9         18    8
Ishikawa   ken   Kanazawa    1,180,977    4,185.22    281.13    8         27    6
Fukui      ken   Fukui         828,944    4,188.75    197.68    7         22    6
Yamanashi  ken   Kofu          888,172    4,465.37    198.43    7         37   20
Nagano     ken   Nagano      2,215,168   13,585.22    162.27   17         36   67
Gifu       ken   Gifu        2,107,700   10,598.18    199.07   14         55   30
Shizuoka   ken   Shizuoka    3,767,393    7,779.46    483.85   21         49    4
Aichi      ken   Nagoya      7,043,300    5,155.84  1,345.08   31   16    47   10
Mie        ken   Tsu         1,857,339    5,776.40    321.81   13         47    9
Shiga      ken   Otsu        1,342,832    4,017.36    332.21    8         41    1
Kyoto      fu    Kyoto       2,644,391    4,612.94    555.67   12   11    31    1
Osaka      fu    Osaka       8,805,081    1,892.86  4,558.50   33   24    10    1
Hyogo      ken   Kobe        5,550,574    8,392.03    659.84   22    9    66     
Nara       ken   Nara        1,442,795    3,691.09    392.44   10         20   17
Wakayama   ken   Wakayama    1,069,912    4,725.55    230.16    7         36    7
Tottori    ken   Tottori       613,289    3,507.17    175.95    4         31    4
Shimane    ken   Matsue        761,503    6,707.29    113.63    8         41   10
Okayama    ken   Okayama     1,950,828    7,112.13    275.24   10         56   12
Hiroshima  ken   Hiroshima   2,878,915    8,476.95    338.82   13    8    67    6
Yamaguchi  ken   Yamaguchi   1,527,964    6,110.45    250.22   14         37    5
Tokushima  ken   Tokushima     824,108    4,145.10    200.54    4         38    8
Kagawa     ken   Takamatsu   1,022,890    1,875.88    550.81    6         33     
Ehime      ken   Matsuyama   1,493,092    5,676.22    265.82   12         44   14
Kochi      ken   Kochi         813,949    7,104.66    115.12    9         25   19
Fukuoka    ken   Fukuoka     5,015,699    4,971.01  1,001.65   24   14    65    8
Saga       ken   Saga          876,654    2,439.23    361.85    7         37    5
Nagasaki   ken   Nagasaki    1,516,523    4,092.44    373.22    8         70    1
Kumamoto   ken   Kumamoto    1,859,344    7,403.68    252.63   11         63   20
Oita       ken   Oita        1,221,140    6,337.97    194.77   11         36   11
Miyazaki   ken   Miyazaki    1,170,007    7,734.40    153.15    9         28    7
Kagoshima  ken   Kagoshima   1,786,194    9,186.71    194.11   14         73    9
Okinawa    ken   Naha        1,318,220    2,271.30    587.38   11         17   24
                   TOTAL = 126,925,843  377,873.06    335.90  675  151  1981  562

Little known fact: Osaka used to be the smallest area prefecture until the Kansai International Airport was built. Good luck Kagawa prefecture!

source: Japanese government, year 2000 census

This writeup of mine was originally found under "Prefectures of Japan."
Everything Japanese Encyclopedia::Geography and places of Japan

After 1662 entries, the Everything Japanese Encyclopedia became too big to fit in a single volume. After much deliberation, it was decided that the EJE would be broken up into separate tomes; this is one of those.

This portion of the EJE is devoted to the geography of and in Japan. Here you will find all the mountains, seas, and other physical features of Nihon as well a a hierarchial display of all noded Japanese prefectures, cities, towns, and places. If, during your wanderings through the nodegel, you spot a node that has been overlooked by the watchful eyes of the Encyclopedists, drop me a /msg.




Japan ("Nihon" as a nation, "Nippon" as a state) is ancient, powerful, and infinitely interesting.

Physically speaking, Japan is a collection of over 3,000 islands scattered in a line more than 2,000 km long, stretching from icy Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands all the way to tropical Taiwan, and including some outlying chains such as the Bonin Islands and Volcano Islands. Most of Japan's population, however, lives on the four largest islands: Honshu in the center, Hokkaido in the north, and Kyushu and Shikoku in the southwest.

And what a population it is! There are over 125 million people in Japan: that's half the population of the United States, living in an area the size of California. However, because most of Japan is mountains (many of them volcanoes), the real livable space is much less than a political map might indicate. Let's talk about these people before we talk about anything else.

The Nation

Japan is very homogeneous yet very unique, and that's probably why the fascination with everything Japanese is so strong in so many people. Samuel Huntington identified Japan as the only state on Earth that constitutes its own civilization. It has a unique language, religion, and social system that fill the entire country, yet do not overflow its borders. Were it not for a sizable foreign population in Japan, and a sizable Japanese population abroad, the little group of islands would be a perfect nation-state, a political entity congruent to a social entity.

However, the Japanese have imported much of their culture from other countries. The writing system, kanji, was imported from China, and the "other religion," Buddhism, is also an import. There are many European influences as well: Japanese education was largely based on the model of Germany, and the governmental structure drew heavily from the example of Britain.

Stereotypically, the Japanese are obsessed with hierarchy, discipline, and honor. In reality, while these concepts are fundamental to Japan's society, they are not as apparent today as many Westerners allege.

Transience, however, characterizes the Japanese nation fairly well. Some say that it comes from the teachings of Zen: others argue that Japan's history is simply one of constant devastation and rebuilding, whether from earthquakes, civil wars, or atomic bombs. Whatever the cause, Japan's cities all looked totally different a decade ago, and will probably look totally different a decade from now: that's how the country works.

Shinto gives Japan a natural air. People leave their windows open during the summer, rather than use air conditioning. Japanese literature is obsessed with sakura, autumn leaves, snow, and the other signs of change in nature (which connects back to the transient cornerstone).

But Japan is not Bhutan. Its people wear suits and ride the subway to work: indeed, they are the third-wealthiest people on Earth, after Luxembourg and Switzerland. They all have mobile phones (which are years ahead of what you're using in any other country), and they all watch television and movies, and drink Coca-Cola and Pocari Sweat and Nescafe, and do all the same pointless societal motions that are found in North America and Europe. It's probably safer to say that the key to understanding Japan is understanding wa, "harmony," which is so central to the concept of Japan that its kanji is often used to refer to Japan!

The State

Despite these overtones of harmony, Japanese history is a history of civil war up to the late 1800's. The few men who make decent claims to having unified Japan—Tokugawa Ieyasu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Oda Nobunaga—never quite achieved their goal: instead, they managed a complex confederation of samurai fiefdoms that never coalesced until the arrival of an outside foe. For these three men, that outside foe was the Christianity of Francis Xavier and the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps the most unique and pivotal point of Japanese history was that the entire country was closed to foreigners for more than two centuries, after Tokugawa consolidated his power against the Christian threat.

The modern Japanese state was formed by the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Meiji was the emperor of Japan at the time, but he was not an absolute monarch: rather, he was a spiritual leader, with only limited authority to halt the temporal actions of the samurai, and their periodic bakufu governments. From 1868 through the end of World War II, the Emperor's power was consolidated within the newly christened Japanese Empire, with a weak parliament, the Diet, serving as the instrument of the former samurai class.

World War II marked Japan's first, and only, military defeat in recorded history. The Allied Occupation of Japan sought to change Japan to make it an egalitarian democracy, but had to quit early when the Korean War broke out. Today, the Emperor is only a powerless figurehead of the Japanese state. In theory, the Diet now holds virtually all of the governing power, but in practice, it is the highly intertwined world of the "kanryo" bureaucracy and the many Japanese mega-corporations that run the show. Their efforts were wildly successful at first, shoving Japan into a bubble economy juggernaut that promised to make it the foremost economic power in the world. However, things fizzled out in the 1990's, and now the government and industry are merely plowing through the wreckage of a stagnant economy.

Still, Japan has the second-highest gross national product on the planet. Its heavy industries are almost unparalleled the world over, renowned for their efficient production of cars, electronics, appliances, chemicals, and steel, among many other things. Even in its current period of budget deficits and economic slump, Japan maintains a sizable trade surplus of nearly $100 billion, mostly importing oil for its industries and food for its people. Japan's keiretsu conglomerates are among the largest corporations on Earth, and Tokyo houses three of the world's five largest banks (Mizuho, Sumitomo Mitsui, and Mitsubishi).

The Liberal Democratic Party, Japan's dominant political force since the 1950's, represents conservatism and protectionism, which is what brought Japan's economy to these great heights after its stunning defeat in 1945. Whether conservatism and protectionism will save Japan now is anyone's guess.

Human Geography

Tokyo is sometimes incorrectly seen as the primate city of Japan. In reality, the lion's share of Japan's population is divided between two humongous urban sprawls. Tokyo, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Chiba, and Saitama blend together to form a mega-city of 30 million people around Tokyo Bay ("Kanto"), while Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nara, and Wakayama account for another 20 million-strong metropolis in central Japan ("Kansai").

The Kansai region was the political, economic, and cultural center of Japan for centuries, until the Tokugawa shogunate moved political affairs to Edo, and gave Japan its own great cities dichotomy. Until well after World War II, Tokyo was perceived as the political center of Japan, while Osaka was the commercial center: the collusion of government and business after the war changed that, and now Tokyo and Osaka are equals from a business perspective.

There are other major cities, too: Sapporo, Sendai, Niigata, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka are humongous in their own right, although they lack the power of the Kanto and Kansai sprawls.

And Japan is not entirely urbanized. There is still a sizable population living in the boonies, mostly consisting of rice farmers who receive healthy subsidies to continue their age-old craft on tiny plots of astronomically expensive land. Japan also has many national parks and forests, mostly in mountainous regions that aren't conducive to urban development.

Trains and buses are the predominant mode of transportation in most of Japan: expressways are a relatively recent phenomenon, and most charge hefty tolls. The high-speed JR Shinkansen train is the centerpiece of the transportation network today: if you can't get there on the Shinkansen, you can fly there on any of Japan's three major domestic airline systems.

Most Japanese people live in cramped quarters. The less well-off have tiny apartments, and the upper middle class get tiny houses. Part of Japan's reliance on wa is a result of people having to live so closely together.

Final Thoughts

Japan is a real country: it's not an ideal. Most of what you've probably heard about Japan is exaggerated. The women are not all beautiful, the streets are not all clean, the temples are not all harmonious, and the people are not all friendly.

However, you can walk around Tokyo at night without getting mugged, and you can leave your bicycle unlocked in the street and not worry about it getting stolen. You can ask random people on the street for help, and they will almost always stop to help you. You can stay at someone's house and expect royal treatment: you can respect someone and expect them to respect you back.

In some ways, Japan gets more to the point of being human than any other industrialized capitalist state manages to. And while the air pollution can kill you and the stigma of being a gaijin can smother you, you'll more than likely find something about this little cluster of islands to fall in love with.

Ja*pan" (?), n. [From Japan, the country.]

Work varnished and figured in the Japanese manner; also, the varnish or lacquer used in japanning.


© Webster 1913.

Ja*pan", a.

Of or pertaining to Japan, or to the lacquered work of that country; as, Japan ware.

Japan allspice Bot., a spiny shrub from Japan (Chimonanthus fragrans), related to the Carolina allspice. -- Japan black Chem., a quickly drying black lacquer or varnish, consisting essentially of asphaltum dissolved in naphtha or turpentine, and used for coating ironwork; -- called also Brunswick black, Japan lacquer, or simply Japan. -- Japan camphor, ordinary camphor brought from China or Japan, as distinguished from the rare variety called borneol or Borneo camphor. -- Japan clover, or Japan pea Bot., a cloverlike plant (Lespedeza striata) from Eastern Asia, useful for fodder, first noticed in the Southern United States about 1860, but now become very common. During the Civil War it was called variously Yankee clover and Rebel clover. -- Japan earth. See Catechu. -- Japan ink, a kind of writing ink, of a deep, glossy black when dry. -- Japan varnish, a varnish prepared from the milky juice of the Rhus vernix, a small Japanese tree related to the poison sumac.


© Webster 1913.

Ja*pan" (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Japanned (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Japanning.]


To cover with a coat of hard, brilliant varnish, in the manner of the Japanese; to lacquer.


To give a glossy black to, as shoes.




© Webster 1913.

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