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Japan

Location

Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula.

Climate

The climate varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north.

Language

Japanese is the official language of Japan. Many Japanese also have some limited ability in writing and speaking English as it is a mandatory part of the curriculum in the Japanese educational system. Japanese uses four different writing systems; Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana (phonetic alphabet for native words), Katakana (phonetic alphabet for foreign words), and Romaji (western alphabet used to write Japanese). Japanese vocabulary has been strongly influenced by loanwords from other languages, with most loanwords coming from Chinese and English.

The Japanese language is quite simple because:

  • No verb conjugation.
  • No gender of nouns.
  • No articles (a, the).
  • Number (singular and plural) not important and barely exists.
  • Not hard to learn to pronounce as there are only 48 sounds consisting of 5 vowels and 11 consonants.
  • Syntax or the word order of a sentence, excepting the final verb, is totally free.

However it is difficult to learn because:

  • The written language has 4 methods of writing: Thousands of Chinese characters called Kanji and 2 Japanese syllabaries of 48 characters each called Hiragana and Katakana. Japanese is therefore considered the most complex written language in the world. In order to get barely by, you need to learn all of the Hiragana and Katakana and at least a few hundred Kanji. ~
  • Most words have two roots of pronunciation, a Chinese root and a Japanese root. They are totally different sounds. So learning Japanese is almost like learning the vocabulary of 2 languages at once!All of the 8 Kanji characters above are pronounced “shin” and all 8 of them are totally unrelated to each other in meaning! They are from left to right: God, advance, believe, new, true, stretch, heart, and parent. There are no tones in Japanese as there are in Chinese, and so the pronunciation of shin is exactly the same for all the above. Besides these, there are many more Kanji that are also pronounced “shin”! The Japanese way to pronounce the characters above are, “kami”, susumu, “shinjiru”, “atarashii”, “makoto”, “nobasu”, “kokoro”, and “oya”. Notice that the Japanese way of pronouncing a word is multi-syllabic, whereas the Chinese way is a single syllable.
  • The main verb comes at the end of the sentence. This can result in the meaning of a long sentence being hard to grasp. Imagine a sentence in English like “A storm system ploughed through the central Appalachians into the Eastern Seaboard with heavy rain Wednesday, causing flooding that blocked roads and drove some people from their homes” and put the words “ploughed through” at the very end of the sentence.
  • Particles follow nouns to denote their usage. This is often hard for foreigners to learn unless you happen to be Korean or Mongolian.
  • Ideas are expressed in way that is unrelated to European languages.
  • Because there is no verb conjugation according to person, the subject of a sentence can be unclear at times. And because the subject is often assumed to be already understood, it is frequently dropped entirely adding to the confusion and ambiguity. This is why Japanese is considered by some a “fuzzy” language. One Japanese linguist, however, says that it is not really the language that is fuzzy but the way it is used as a result of the culture.
  • There are several levels of polite language to learn. These words are called “honorific’s”. If you don’t learn them, you will never rise above the rank of “dumb foreigner”

Interesting facts about Japan

  • Japan is made up of over 3000 islands.
  • More than 70% of Japan consists of mountains, including more than 200 volcanoes.
  • Coffee is very popular and Japan imports approximately 85% of Jamaica’s annual coffee production.
  • Japan is the world’s largest consumer of Amazon rain forest timber.
  • There are around 1,500 earthquakes every year in Japan.
  • The official name of Japan is Nihon or Nippon- Land of the Rising Sun.

Background

In 1603, a Tokugawa shogunate (military dictatorship) ushered in a long period of isolation from foreign influence in order to secure its power. For more than two centuries this policy enabled Japan to enjoy stability and a flowering of its indigenous culture. Following the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854, Japan opened its ports and began to intensively modernize and industrialize. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1931-32 Japan occupied Manchuria, and in 1937 it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 – triggering America’s entry into World War II – and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and a staunch ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians – with heavy input from bureaucrats and business executives – wield actual decision making power. The economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s following three decades of unprecedented growth, but Japan still remains a major economic power, both in Asia and globally. In January 2009, Japan assumed a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2009-10 term.