Japan is made up of over 6,800 islands situated off the east coast of Asia. Four islands make up most of the landmass, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 most interesting facts about Japan.
1. Japan is the “land of the rising sun.”
Japan is called Nippon in Japanese, which means “source of the sun,” or translated more gracefully into English, “land of the rising sun.” This is because when China looked to the east and the rising sun, they were looking at Japan. Chinese civilization, which predates Japan by 2000 years, strongly influenced Japanese culture and viewpoint. The earliest known record of Japan is in a Chinese text. The Prince Regent of Japan, Shotoku (574-622 AD), was a great admirer of Chinese culture and is credited with adopting the Chinese term for Japan.
2. Japan consumes 12% of the world’s fish.
The Japanese make up 2% of the world’s population, but they consume 12% of the world’s fish, a fun fact about Japan. Tokyo’s Tsukiji market is the biggest seafood market in the world, and fish and fish products make up more than 20% of the protein in a standard Japanese diet. This low-fat protein might be part of what accounts for them having one of the longest life spans in the world. Men live an average of 79 years and women an average of 86 years. Although the raw fish and seasoned rice dishes collectively known as sushi have become common in the west, there is one Japanese fish dish that is unlikely to gain traction outside of Japan. Fugu, the potentially lethal blowfish, is prepared by licensed chefs who train years to ensure the safety of their customers.
3. Ganguro, meaning “blackface,” is a Japanese street fashion subculture.
Ganguro, meaning “blackface,” became a popular street fashion subculture in the 1990s amongst Japanese teenage girls and young women, an interesting fact about Japan. Ganguro girls can still be seen in the Shibuya and Ikebukuro districts of Tokyo, but the movement is on the decline. The Ganguro look is characterized by dark tans and bleached hair, with colorful makeup, colored contact lenses, and nail art. It is a rebellion against the traditional concept of Japanese beauty, which favors pale skin, dark hair, and subtle makeup.
4. Hello Kitty was created in 1974.
Hello Kitty, the cartoon white bobtail cat, was created by Yuko Shimizu in 1974. It has become Japan’s most iconic brand and is produced by Sanrio Ltd., where it makes up more than half the company’s $1 billion annual sales. Hello Kitty’s continued popularity is attributed to the “blank canvas” provided by her calm, faceless expression. As opposed to other cartoon characters, she doesn’t come with a big story and pre-determined personality, allowing her fans to impose their own desires onto her and thus internalize her. She doesn’t even have a mouth, because supposedly, she talks from the heart.
5. Yayoi Kusama has been named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people.
Renowned Japanese-American artist, Yayoi Kusama, was born in 1929 in Nagano, Japan. She studied traditional ‘Nihonga’ painting but was frustrated by the restrictions of the style. At the age of 27 years, she emigrated to America, where she established herself as an avant-garde artist and was named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people in the world. Her work is predominantly pop art, with elements of surrealism and minimalism. It invariably contains the polka dots that have become her trademark.
6. Old folks volunteered to clean up Fukushima.
In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan was hit by a tsunami caused by the biggest earthquake in the country’s history. Power cuts caused the pumps cooling the reactor cores to fail, and three nuclear reactors melted down. The cleanup operations, which expose workers to dangerously high levels of radiation, are ongoing and will take decades to complete. Yasuteru Yamada, a retired engineer of 72 years of age, gathered almost 1000 elderly volunteers to form The Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima, an interesting fact about Japan. They petitioned the government to allow them to replace younger workers in the most highly radioactive areas, reasoning that they would die of natural causes before the cancers caused by radiation would develop.
7. The Japanese “mafia” are heavily tattooed.
The Yakuza are Japanese gangster clans similar to the Mafia. For two hundred years leading up to the 20th century, Japanese authorities would tattoo criminals to make it difficult for them to blend back into society unnoticed. The Yakuza reacted to this branding by enforcing compulsory tattooing amongst its members. The full-body tattoo is particularly characteristic of the Yakuza. Contrary to their gang activities, many Yakuza tattoos are extremely beautiful works of art, based on Japanese legends, culture, and religion.
8. Tokyo is the largest city in the world.
With over 38 million people, Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the world by population. The city is the 18th most expensive city to live in, according to Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index 2020, a fun fact about Japan. In the 1980s, Tokyo property prices rocketed to the point where the Imperial Palace (0.44 sm2) was valued at more than the entire Californian real estate market.
9. Japanese anime makes up more than half the world’s cartoons.
Japanese cartooning dates back to the 12th century, and today, over 2 billion comics, or manga, are sold annually in Japan. Anime, Japanese animation, is growing globally mainstream, accounting for 60% of all animation-based entertainment. Netflix, whose subscriber base exceeds 150 million across almost 200 countries, launched 30 original anime in 2018 and is investing in their own anime production.
10. Japan was the first and only nuclear bomb target.
In April 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by American air forces. Clouds hid the original target of Kumamoto. Japan remains the only country ever to have a nuclear bomb detonated on its soil.
Japan is a unique and fascinating country. I hope that this article on Japan facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!