As we mentioned, learning more about a destination before you visit is an important part of traveling responsibly. To help, we’ve collected some resources to familiarize you with Japanese culture, history, geography, and news, among other topics! Enjoy and we’ll see you in Japan!
Current Events: What’s going on in Fukushima, Japan?
- On March 27, 2017, the Environment Ministry proposed reusing Fukushima’s decontaminated soil as future landfills for Japan’s parks and green areas. The decontaminated soil will be reused away from residential areas and be covered with a layer of vegetation. The ministry has also called for a new organization in charge of gaining public understanding about reusing this decontaminated soil. To learn more, click here.
- In October 2016, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) finished their $320 million government-funded project of building frozen soil walls around Fukushima’s four damaged reactor units to block the continuing flood of groundwater into the buildings and prevent it from generating contaminated water. Officially called Land-side Impermeable Wall, coolant chilled to a temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius circulates through 1,568 pipes inserted into the ground around 30 meters deep, resulting in an ice wall approximately 1,500 meters. 40,000 tons of groundwater enters the reactor buildings every day because the powerplant is located near the sea, becoming tainted once inside. The almost 1,000 huge tanks TEPCO installed for the contaminated water is nearing their storage capacity in addition to reports of the tanks leaking into the nearby Pacific Ocean. For more information, click here.
- A radiation expert who visited Fukushima a few weeks after the incident in 2011 dispells Fukushima radiation myths:
- The highest radiation dose rates measured in Fukushima are too low to cause short-term or long-term health risks.
- Radioactive cesium measured in the tuna caught in the Pacific Ocean is lower than the radioactivity content of the natural potassium in the fish, posing no risk to human consumption.
- While there is detectable radiation in the ocean, there is no hazardous radiation as the radiation concentration is too low to cause the reported problems on marine life.
- Reputable organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Science Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, have publicly stated that they do not think Fukushima will cause any radiation-related deaths in Japan, and almost certainly not in the rest of the world.
- In 1989, Emperor Akihito became Japan’s 125th emperor and in August 2016, he stated his wish to retire from his position due to his declining health. A government panel is currently coming up with ways for Akihito to abdicate his throne to his son, 56 year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, so he can ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne on New Year’s Day 2019 because it is not provided in Japan’s laws. For more information, click here.
- The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) decided to establish a Liaison and Coordination Council for Environmental Measures Concerning Ship Fuel Oil to smoothly implement the change in the controlled level of sulfur contained in ships’ fuel oil from the current 3.5% or less to 0.5% or less on 1st January 2020. For more, click here.
Click here for more information about the history of Japan.
Geography & Nature
Japan is an archipelago located in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire, consisting of 6,852 islands, of which Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku are the four largest. The country is politically structured into 8 regions and 47 prefectures. Check out Japan Guide’s list of the best natural sites in Japan here.
- Japan has four distinct seasons with a climate ranging from subarctic in the north to subtropical in the south. Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu have extratropical climates, Hokkaido has subarctic climates, and the southern islands such as Okinawa have subtropical climates. Click here for an interactive map of Japan’s different regional climates.
- The Japanese archipelago is located in an area where several continental and oceanic plates meet. This is the cause of frequent earthquakes and the presence of many volcanoes and hot springs across Japan. If earthquakes occur below or close to the ocean, they may trigger tidal waves (tsunami). Japan also has a typhoon season that hits the country every year during the late summer.
- Over two-thirds of Japan are covered by forests and mountains, compared to less than 10% residential and industrial land.
- Fukushima (福島県, Fukushima-ken) is the third largest of Japan’s 47 prefectures and stretches over 150 kilometers from the Pacific coast into the mountainous interior of northeastern Honshu. The no-entry zone around the nuclear plant makes up less than 10% of its area, while the remaining 90% is safe for tourists to visit.
For more information about the geography of Japan, click here.
Popular industries in Japan
The main power behind Japan’s economy is its manufacturing industry. The country is among the world’s largest and most technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles; electronic equipment; machine tools; steel and nonferrous metals; ships; chemicals; textiles; and processed foods (according to the CIA). Key industries in Japan’s economy are mining, nonferrous metals, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, bioindustry, shipbuilding, aerospace, textiles, and processed foods. To learn more, click here.
Japan’s major export industries includes automobiles, consumer electronics, computers, semiconductors, and iron and steel. Japan’s largest imports are raw materials for production; oil to fuel their machinery and vehicles; and foodstuffs, such as meat and wheat which are vital because of Japan’s lack of suitable agricultural land. More information can be found here.
Insight & overview into Nuclear Energy, Renewable Energy, and Disaster Mitigation in Japan
- Japan needs to import about 84% of its energy requirements.
- Before the 2011 Fukushima accident, Japan embraced the peaceful use of nuclear technology to provide a substantial portion of its electricity. However, following the tsunami which killed 19,000 people and which triggered the Fukushima nuclear accident, there were wide public protests calling for nuclear power to be abandoned. The balance between this popular opinion and the continuation of reliable and affordable electricity supplies is being worked out politically.
- The Abe administration and the power industry have sought to restart the deactivated reactors once they pass the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s screening under the government’s safety regulations which were introduced after the 2011 Fukushima crisis.
- In 2011, nuclear energy accounted for almost 30% of the country’s total electricity production and there were plans to increase this to 41% by 2017, and 50% by 2030. The country’s nuclear capacity was subsequently shut following the March 2011 Fukushima accident.
- In April 2015, the government announced that it wanted base-load sources to return to providing 60% of the power by 2030, with about one-third of this being nuclear. The Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth estimated that energy costs would then be reduced by JPY 2.4 trillion (USD 20.0 billion) per year compared with the present 40% base-load scenario (renewables being 30%).
- Japan’s renewable energy generation is overwhelmingly water power. The ratio of renewable power generation has decreased from 25% of total electricity generation in 1970 to 10% today. Extremely aggressive feed-in tariffs (FIT) for renewable energy introduced in July 2012 are showing small results to reverse this trend. See more here.
- In 2014, Japan and the World Bank launched a program that leverages Japan’s knowledge and technology to improve disaster risk management in developing countries. Read more here.
- Nuclear Power in Japan
- Energy Policy
- Population: Estimated 126.96 million (2015)
- Principal language is Japanese, with nearly 99 percent of the population speaking it as their first language.
- Japanese has a numerous number of dialects but the Tokyo dialect is considered the standard dialect.
- Japanese is written with a mixture of three different writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
- Name order in Japan is family name first, followed by their given name.
- Politeness is important in Japan and it affects the grammar of Japanese. Honorific speech, called keigo (literally “respectful language”), has three main varying levels of respect: polite keigo, honorific keigo, and humble keigo. This is used depending on social position, age, gender, and the social intimacy between the speakers.
- Click here to learn more about the language of Japanese.
- Religion: Shintoism 79.2%, Buddhism 66.8%, Christianity 1.5%, other 7.1% (2012)
- Government / Politics: Parliamentary Government with a Constitutional Monarchy
- Currency: Japanese yen (JPY). Symbol: ¥
- Sports: The most popular sport is baseball but sumo is considered Japan’s national sport.
- Music: Japan has distinct styles of both traditional and modern music. Traditional Japanese music usually refers to Japan’s historical folk music and is heavily influenced by music from China when Buddhism was first introduced. In the 1990s, J-pop and J-rock entered the musical mainstream of Japan, genres that has its roots in traditional Japanese music but also 1960s western rock and pop.
- Food: Due to Japan’s four distinctive seasons, the country is proud to offer food reflecting what is in season and each region has its own variety of specialties. Rice has been a staple food for the Japanese for over 2,000 years and still accompanies or forms the base of many meals. For more information, click here.
Japanese culture is a formal culture, and a good basis of understanding the polite customs will ease your culture shock while in Japan. To start, people greet each other in Japan by bowing. A bow can range from a deep bow at the hips to a short informal nod of the head. A deeper, longer bow indicates respect.
There are many rules regarding your manner indoors, as there is a clear distinction between the outside and inside. This distinction can be seen in the use of outdoor shoes or indoor slippers. These rules not only apply to most Japanese homes, but also to traditional ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), some restaurants, and the indoor sections of many temples, castles, and historic buildings.
Table manners are of utmost importance while in Japan. Upon entering a restaurant, customers are greeted with the expression “Irasshaimase,” meaning “Welcome, please come in.” Once you are seated, there is typically free water or tea available to you. Each person will also receive a wet towel (“oshibori”) to clean your hands before the meal. Chopsticks may also come packaged together and may need to be split in two. Make sure to hold your chopsticks near the end, and if you are finished eating, lay them perpendicular to you with the tips pointing left. Do not use your chopsticks to spear or dig into your food, nor point or play with the chopsticks. If you would like to take food from a shared plate, use the opposite end of your chopsticks to pick up the food. Do your best not to make too much noise while eating, and make sure to return all plates, lids, dishes, and chopsticks to their original place at the end of your meal.