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Japan is an enormously varied and diverse country; the soaring mountains of the Japan Alps couldn't be further removed from the flat densely populated shores of the eastern seaboard which is home to 80% of Japan's 126 million people; the volcanic moon-like landscapes of Kyushu Island are a world away from Hokkaido's lush green rolling hills and open pastures; a land where temperatures vary between -30 degrees in the depths of Hokkaido winter to +40 in the southern islands summer. Each region is unique and will provide you with a never ending list of things to see, experiences to be had and tastes to savour.
Since the sun rises in the east, Japan is often called "The Land of The Rising Sun. "The Japanese refers to their country as "Nippon" or Nihon" which means "source of the sun". The Japanese flag represents a red sun on a white background.

The capital of Japan is Tokyo. In fact it is one of the largest cities in the world. It is modern, very busy, and extremely crowded. In fact, today, Japan is a modernized country. They have factories, televisions, radios, cameras, and other familiar objects.

GEOGRAPHY

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Located in the Far East, Japan is an archipelago of more than 6,800 islands stretching about 1,800 miles from northeast to southwest. Its latitudinal range is the same as Quebec, Canada, all the way to Key West, U.S.A. Its land mass is slightly smaller than the state of California or Sweden, with almost 75% of the land consisting of mountains.

There are four major islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Honshu, the largest and most populated and home to Tokyo, Kyoto, and other major cities, is subdivided into five geographical regions. From north to south, they are Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kinki, and Chugoku. Hokkaido, in the north, is subarctic and boasts spectacular mountain scenery and wide opening plains, while southern Kyushu is subtropical and is famous for its balmy weather, beaches, and hot-spring resorts. Shikoku, connected to Honshu via three bridges yet off the beaten path for most foreign tourists, is known for its many Buddhist temples and views of the Seto Inland Sea

POPULATION

Japan has a population of about 127 million, of which 99 percent are Japanese. Its capital, Tokyo, is a modern dynamic metropolis with about 13 million residents in the greater metropolitan area. The next largest cities are: Yokohama (3.7 million residents), Osaka (2.7 million), Nagoya (2.3 million), Sapporo (1.9 million), and Kyoto (1.5 million).

RELIGION

Shintoism, which is indigenous to Japan, and Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan in the sixth century, are the two main religions in Japan. Many Japanese practice religions, celebrating birth and marriage in accordance with Shinto rites while following Buddhist ceremonies for funerals and memorial services. Shintoism, which originated as a way of dealing with ancient people's fears of demons and the supernatural, has no written doctrines. A Shinto place of worship is referred to as a shrine. The Buddhist place of worship is a temple. Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all by the constitution.

ECONOMY

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The Japanese economy is one of the third largest in the world. Only the USA and China have a higher GNP. The Japanese currency is the Yen

Exports: Japan's main export goods are cars, electronic devices and computers. Most important trade partners are China and the USA, followed by South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Germany.

Imports: Japan has a surplus in its export/import balance. The most important import goods are raw materials such as oil, foodstuffs and wood. Major supplier is China, followed by the USA, Australia, Saudia Arabia, South Korea, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.

Industries: Manufacturing, construction, distribution, real estate, services, and communication are Japan's major industries today. Agriculture makes up only about two percent of the GNP. Most important agricultural product is rice. Resources of raw materials are very limited and the mining industry rather small.

EDUCATION

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When Japan opened herself to the world in 1868, one of the government's high priority was catching up with Western standards in science and education. The Japanese education system was reformed mainly according to the German and French model which experts regarded as most suitable and advantageous.

After the second world war, the Americans reformed the Japanese education system after their own which consists of six years of elementary school, each three years of junior and senior high school and four years of university or two years of junior college.

Compulsory education includes elementary school and junior high school. Over 90% of all students also graduate from high school and over 40% from university or junior college. At universities the percentage of male students is higher than that of female students while the opposite is the case at junior colleges. The number of graduate university students is relatively low.

The Japanese school year starts in April and consists of three terms, separated by short holidays in spring and winter, and a one month long summer break.

A characteristic of the Japanese school system are entrance exams, and with them a high competitiveness among students. Most high schools, universities, as well as a few private junior high schools and elementary schools require applicants to write entrance exams. In order to pass entrance exams to the best institutions, many students attend special preparation schools (juku) besides regular classes, or for one to two years between high school and university (yobiko).

The most prestigious universities are the national University of Tokyo and University of Kyoto, followed by the best private universities.

PEOPLE OF JAPAN

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The population of Japan comprises of an overwhelming majority of Japanese having ethnic origin, who are believed to have migrated from the Asian continent and the South Pacific more than 2,000 years ago. The Ainu are Japan's only indigenous ethnic group. The country also has a small population of Koreans, Chinese, and other nationalities but they amount to only 2 percent of the total population. Japanese is the official language but regional dialects are also spoken among people. 

ARTS, CULTURE AND MUSIC OF JAPAN

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The art of Japan includes the ancient handmade clay pottery, which had marked the beginning of a rich ceramic-making tradition when it was first produced in 10,000 BC. This work-of art has gained pace and today is a well-appreciated art in the country. 

The sculptors of Japan flourished during the Kofun period, when they made fashioned terra cotta figurines called Haniwa that depicted a variety of people like armor-clad warriors and shamans; animals, buildings, and boats. These figurines were usually placed on the tombs of Japan's rulers. 

As far as music and dance of Japan is concerned, gigaku, an age-old traditional form of music and dance is quite famous. History goes that a Korean performer had imported it from China somewhere in the early 6th century. Ingigaku, masked dancers performed dramas to the accompaniment of flute, drum, and gong ensembles.