Geography Now! Japan


This is one country I barely have to introduce you to. Let’s just get it over with. Sushi, geishas, karate! Temples, ramen, anime! Sumos, weird stuff, weird cosplay, poison fish, and I’m not even gonna ask about that… De wa, ikimashou!
では, 行きましょう! It’s time to learn Geography NOW! Hey everybody, I’m your host Barbs. We have reached the Land of the Rising Sun, Asia’s island powerhouse and home to a culture that I’m sure you’ve heard of. Let’s just jump into it. Ah, Japan, you have such a story behind you. First of all, Japan is located right off the east coast of the Asian continent between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, stretching all the way from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north with the East China Sea to the south. The country is divided into 47 prefectures, each with incredibly beautiful minimalistic style flags. The prefectures are divided into four different categories: “ken”, “to”, “fu”, and “do”. The first level, “ken” (heh heh, “Ken”) refers to the 43 plain prefectures. Then you have “to”, which means something like “metropolis”, and this category only applies to Tokyo City. “Fu” refers to the urban prefectures, which applies only to the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. And finally, “do”, which is a unique category translating to something like “circuit” and that applies to all of Hokkaido in the north. Speaking of which, Tokyo, Japan’s capital, is the largest city in the world, with its greater metropolitan area including Kanto containing about 37 million people. That’s more than the entire population of Canada. However, Tokyo is kinda like 23 smaller cities all smashed into one, divided into units called wards. And the closest thing to a capital one would probably be Chiyoda, where the Emperor, Prime Minister, and Supreme Court are located. After the Greater Toyko Kanto region, you have the next largest cities Osaka and Nagoya coming in at third. Keep in mind, about 90% of people in Japan live in cities, and the vast majority on Honshu and Kyushu The busiest airports, of course, being Tokyo’s two twins: Haneda, which is actually in Tokyo, and Narita International, which is like an hour and a half drive away outside of Tokyo. Then you have Osaka’s Kansai InternationalHeh heh, “KIX”. and Fukoka International on Kyushu.Heh heh, fu- Gotta keep it clean, Keith! Speaking of which, Japan is made up of about 6,850 islands, but about 97% of the land is made up of four main islands: Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido. South of the main four, you have the Ryukyu Islands chain which extends just south of Kyushu, partially making up Okinawa Prefecture. You’ve probably heard of Okinawa – it’s where Uma Thurman got that sword that she used to kill Lucy Liu. It’s also where these two isla- *ahem* never mind… Nonetheless, Japan can still kind of be separated into ten historical main regions, six of which divided amongst Honshu. Then you have the interesting less-highlighted Kuril Islands dispute with Russia in the north. Basically, Russia administers all of them but Japan claims these two islands closest to Hokkaido: Iturup (or Etoro-futo) and Kunashir (or Kunashiri), which is only less than ten miles away from Hokkaido. On a clear day, you can even see it from the coast, but it’s like, “Nope! Russia.” They even have a statue of Lenin. The Russians and Japanese have kind of had a long dispute over this area – at one point Japan even tried to take over all of Sakhalin in the 1800’s. Then you have the Dokdo/Takeshima island dispute between them and South Korea. To this day South Korea has a patrol building built on the island and they fiercely guard it. And finally, you have Okinotori-shima, which is probably the loneliest place in Japan as a shallow reef in the middle of the ocean. It looks like it’s trying so hard to become an island, complete with three helipads and a research station. There’s no diplomatic dispute, but rather a dispute within the UN on whether or not it qualifies as “land” for an exclusive economic zone in the ocean. Whew, okay, all right, that kind of took forever. Getting around in Japan is incredibly easy, often touted as having the best public transportation system in the world. They have highways and trains everywhere, even one that cuts through an office building, as well as the Shinkansen bullet train system that can get you to virtually every corner of Honshu and Kyushu as well as the bottom tip of Hokkaido. But not Shikoku! If you want to go Shikoku, you have to take this slower, local Seto-Ohashi Line across the Seto Bridge. Yeah, Shikoku is kind of like the runt of the litter in Japan. Basically, Japan is like one big massive machine constantly running and moving, with flashing neon lights, vending machines, and robots, and everything, EVERYTHING, even the garbage cans have cartoons, cartoons everywhere! Anyway! Some notable places of interest might include: Tokyo Skytree, the second tallest building in the world, Miyajima Pagoda, Matsumoto, Himeji, and Osaka Castles, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the Great Buddha Hall, Nakagin Capsule Tower, the vine bridges of Iya Valley, the Ramen Museum, so many weird-themed restaurants and hot springs, the self-mummified monks of sokushinbutsu, Henn-na Hotel, the Ninja Museum in Iga, Kan-mangafuji Lava Buddhas, the restricted-access Ise Grand Shrine, the most significant of all Shinto shrines, the Shirakawa-go Traditional Village armed with water cannons to protect itself from fires, abandoned theme parks like Greenland and Nara Dreamland, Kochia Hill with red cypress, and the national treasure, Itsu-Kushima Shrine, featured on numerous pieces of art, films, and even banknotes. Now despite the bustling metropolis regions and skyscrapers, Japan does an incredible job at maintaining its natural integrity. Find out how in… Now Japan’s land is kind of like a gingerbread house: beautiful on the outside, but potentially dangerous on the inside. First of all, Japan is a straddle volcanic archipelago located on the most precariously-situated section where four major tectonic plates converge: the Pacific, the Philippine, the Eurasian, and the North American Plates. Of course, this means that not only is Japan subject to earthquakes but also tsunamis (which by the way is a Japanese word – “津波”) caused from sub oceanic activities, such as the one recently in Fukushima caused by the epicenter in the Japan Trench off the Pacific. This also means that Japan is a volcanic area, with numerous volcanoes still active like Aogashima, a volcano within a volcano, and Mt. Aso, the largest volcanic caldera. This, in return, also blesses Japan with countless natural hot springs which they like to exploit and build bathhouses on called “onsen”, typically indicated with this symbol. All this plate activity and volcanoes means that about 70% of Japan is mountainous, with the highest peak Mt. Fuji overlooking Tokyo, which by the way is still technically an active volcano which erupted about 300 years ago. The rift between the Philippine Plate and the Eurasian Plate creates the Japanese Alps which bisects the country on Honshu. This isolated geologic warzone in return, though, kinda blesses Japan with an abundance of unique flora and fauna. Today, about 70% of Japan is forested, with nice natural water sources like the longest river, the Shinano, and the largest lake, Lake Biwa on Honshu. Endemic animals can be found, like Japanese hornets, macaque monkeys, tanukis, giant salamanders, Bob-tail cats, serow, red fox, red crown crane, the national dog the shiba inu, the national bird the green pheasant, and the national fish koi. Speaking of animals, Japan has quite a few feral animal islands and towns, such as Tashirojima the cat island, Okunoshima the rabbit island, the town of Miyajima for deer, Miyagi Zao for foxes, and of course Jigoku-dani where you can see those monkeys in hot springs. With limited space and only about 20% (highly subsidized) arable land, Japan has kinda had to think outside the box, so they said, “Hey! Why not go to the sea?” Today, Japan is disputably the most advanced aquaculture society on the planet. Not only do they have the largest merchant marine fleet in the world, but they also harvest everything from shellfish to seaweed in offshore ocean plots and fish farms. They love fish – they even have the largest fish market in the world, Tsukiji. Speaking of which, we all know about Japanese food – I feel like I don’t really have to give you a list of notable dishes like sushi, mochi, or ramen. However, Japan is known for making strange flavors of conventional snacks, drinks, and desserts, such as: yogurt Pepsi, spaghetti popsicles, horse and octopus ice cream, pancake juice, wasp crackers, and Kit-Kat has tried pretty much anything under the sun. Itadakimasu!
いただきます!
(Let’s eat!) Speaking of which, Japan is the third-largest world economy by nominal GDP, mostly due to their various technology and automotive industries that have swept over the world by storm since the middle of the 20th Century. The largest automotive companies include Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Suzuki, and Subaru. As well as tech companies and their subsidiaries like Hitachi, Sony, Epson, Canon, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Panasonic, Nikon, and Nintendo. This does, however, cause a problem: Japan is classified as a high-throwaway society in which lots of resources get unnecessarily used and tossed. Like, c’mon Japan! I know you have aesthetic standards but seriously, I don’t need one apple in vacuum-sealed plastic wrap! Nonetheless, Japan is often seen as one of, if not the, world leader in robotics and tech science, receiving more Nobel Prizes in science than any other Asian country. And it’s kind of impressive – I mean, with a high population and limited space, Japanese people know how to consolidate and innovate. Speaking of Japanese people… Now, Japanese people are like, you never know what they’re gonna come up with next. You know it’s probably going to be a little weird, but you’re still gonna be a little interested in it. First of all, the country has about 127 million people and is the 10th most populous country in the world (however, Mexico is getting really close to beating them). The country is incredibly homogenous, with over 98% of the populace identifying as ethnically Japanese while the remainder is mostly made up of Koreans, Chinese, and very small Caucasian minorities of Americans and Europeans, and the indigenous Ryukyu and Ainu peoples. They use the Japanese yen as their currency, they surprisingly use the Type A American-style plug outlet, and they drive on the left side of the road. As mentioned like eight seconds ago, Japan has two main indigenous ethnic groups, each with their own languages. You have the Ainu, which predominantly inhabit Hokkaido and some of the Kuril Islands administered by Russia, known for their rustic, scruffy features, where men grew beards and women used to tattoo their lips and arms. Today there are less than 30,000 left, but some estimate that there could be up to 200,000 if you include the other Ainu that have assimilated into the rest of Japan and are kind of faintly aware of their own culture. Otherwise, you have the Ryukyu people or the “Okinawans”, which are kind of like the “Hawaiians” of Japan, known for their own distinct art and traditions and beliefs. Now, everybody in the world has had at least a little bit of exposure to some kind of Japanese culture, whether it be samurais, geishas, sumos, kabuki, shamisen music, kimonos, and excessively weird products and advertisements aimed at using nonconformity as a hook to engage viewers. But apart from all that flashy Japan stuff, let’s look at the basics first. Japan (no surprise) speaks Japanese which is actually not that hard to learn conversationally, but it’s a nightmare when it comes to writing. The Japanese language uses three alphabets: hiragana, katakana, and kanji (technically four if you include romaji, but that’s kinda like for lazy people). The first two, hiragana and katakana, are syllabaries made up of 46 corresponding base characters each. That means you have two ways to write each syllable. Whereas kanji is basically the list of Chinese characters that they borrowed from China. Most students have to learn about 2000-3000 of these. That means that Chinese people can kind of get by in Japan just by reading the signs as most of the characters have identical meanings, just different pronunciations. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the reason why they use three alphabets is because each one kind of plays a role for certain words and contexts. They don’t use spaces in writing so each alphabet kind of acts as like word dividers, and katakana is used for technical and foreign words.Well, why don’t they just fix the problem by using spaces and discard the other two alphabets?Shut up, that’s why! If you didn’t grow up here and actually learn this stuff, you’re either obsessed with Japan or criminally insane. Sorry, I’m boring the crap out of you guys with language stuff – anyway! Let’s talk about history. Now I’m sure many of you have seen that video by Bill Wurtz (whom I am totally not jealous of considering that he racked up more views and subscribers in two videos than I have in all these years of working on this channel), but in the quickest way I can summarize it: Yayoi Period, Kofun Period (Yamatos unite Japan), Asuka regime (Chinese culture comes in), Heian Period (aristocrats take over), Kamakura Period (aristocrats lose), Shogun Time!, province wars, Azuchi-Momoyama Period (things are stable), Meiji Restoration (industrialization), World War One (Japan’s economy sucks), coup d’états and assassination attempts against the Emperor, military rule, they try to make an Empire and in World War Two attack Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, afterwards treaty signed, military kind of dismantled and post-war economic miracle. Done! Japan definitely sticks out from every country on Earth, and it’s partially because of their belief system. Japan is the only country in the world that practices Shintoism, which obviously enough started in Japan. If you don’t know anything about Shintoism, basically it’s a very ritualistic belief system that reveres a multitude of “kami”, which translates to something along the lines of “gods” or “spirits” or “essence”. It’s hard to explain, but basically a kami can be manifested in almost anything and everything. There are kami for harvests, kami for war, kami for good luck, and so on. Today, about 80% of Japanese people practice Shinto to some extent, whether it be going to temples or shrines and lighting incense and praying. However, most of them will not say that they identify as “Shintoists” since there are no formal rituals to deem yourself a practitioner. Otherwise, about 35% might say that they identify as Buddhist and a small 3% are Christians. Today there are about 81,000 Shinto shrines and about 85,000 appointed Shinto priests all over the country. Technically, Shintoism is also important because it’s claimed that the Emperor is a direct descendant of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, which means that the Emperor has the highest authority in Shintoism, though today it’s more seen as like a moral tradition and patriotic practice rather than believing that the Emperor actually has divine status. Oh yeah, and Japan has an Imperial Family with Akihito holding the throne since 1989 and to this day Japan is the only country with an emperor. Some people will say that Shintoism is partially the reason why Japan also has a vibrant, complex industry of cartoons and anime, many of which were inspired by Shinto-driven legends and kami. They often rank as the top video game producing and playing country in the world – everybody knows Mario, Sonic, and Pikachu. In a sense, Japanese people have always admittedly kind of been escapist, creating their own worlds and it might be due to their long history of diplomatic isolation. In another sense, though, honor and diligence culture is of huge importance; having a degree and respectable title is always flaunted. The problem, though, is that Japan has the largest aging population in the world in which over 26% of the country is 65 or older; in contrast, only about 12.4% are 1 to 14 years old. Sociologists have many theories as to why this is, but in addition to a high depression rate, there seems to be a lack of sexual interest amongst millennials. Especially for men – they even have a word for it: “soushoku-danshi”, or “herbivores”. On top of that, Japan has a very strict and conservative approach towards immigration and citizenship. So, ultimately, a smaller generation has to lift the burden of taking care of a population almost ten times their size. Many Japanese people are overworked – they even have a word for that: “karoshi”. Some wonder how the future will look like.Hey son, can you help me cross the street?Oh…I would, but you never had a son, so I don’t exist – good luck!Now you can probably understand why the Japanese are so into building robots. There’s so much more we could talk about, like how Japan has a strong history in martial arts, folklore, and regional festivals, but this video is already getting long and I have to cut it down. Some notable people of Japanese descent might include people like: Emperor Hirohito, Fukuzawa Yukichi, Honda Tadakatsu, Kukai, Maeda Toshiie, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Murasaki Shikibu, Saigo Takamori, Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki, Soichiro Honda, Miyoshi Umeki, Hibari Misora, Rinko Kikuchi, Osamu Dazai, Kei Nishikori, Ayumi Hamasaki, Takeshi Kitano, Masayoshi Son, Akria Toriyama, Sadako Ogata, Taiho Koki, Masako Katsura, Ichiro Suzuki, Hanae Mori, Ken Watanabe, Downtown Duo, Keisuke Honda, and Shinji Kagawa. Now due to their history, Japan has always been like a “lone wolf”, but over time they learned how to open up and let’s find out how in the last segment, the… So Japan is a pretty big player on the world stage. As a member of the G20, G8, IMF, WHO, UN, EAS, Interpol, and, like, 400 other acronyms, they know diplomacy pretty well. They get along with Brazil, Peru, and the Philippines pretty well, as each country contains many Japanese communities. In addition, lots of people from these countries either visit or work in Japan. Peru even had a Japanese president. As mentioned in the France episode, Japan kind of sees France as the epitome of European exoticism. After English, French is one of the most highly-desired languages to learn (although good luck, considering how every French word ends in a consonant). The Pacific island nations of Palau, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands still hold close ties, even though Japan kind of occupied them during the first half of the 20th Century. Japanese people love visiting and provide business and revenue for these countries. Their biggest frenemies are South Korea and China. These three are like the Asian trifecta, dominating most of the business and affairs in the East. Despite Japan having invaded and occupying these two for decades – my own grandmother was actually raised in Japanese-occupied Korea and to this day she still speaks fluent Japanese – they’ve mostly moved on, plus the whole North Korea thing kind of makes South Korea and Japan closer. The youth of today love piggybacking off of each other’s’ cultures: Koreans and Japanese admit it, they can’t get enough of Japanese anime and video games, whereas the Japanese are obsessed with K-pop. And, you know, they kinda got kanji and Buddhism from China, so, uh, there’s that. In terms of their best friends, however, interestingly enough, most of the Japanese people I’ve talked to have said the USA and Taiwan. Even though they don’t officially recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state on paper, they totally act like they do and stand with them on pretty much any diplomatic measure. Taiwan was actually the longest-lasting occupied area under Japanese rule during the Empire years, and they have since then still kept close. Even though the pains of World War Two will never be forgotten, it’s funny because almost immediately after that the US and Japan started skipping down the street hand-in-hand. The US kind of felt like a duty to make reparations since there were already communities of Japanese-Americans, especially in Hawaii and California – my hometown Los Angeles has a Little Tokyo – so they invested tons of money in Japan after the war and in the 50’s Japan started booming in every industry. Culture cues were adopted on both sides: McDonald’s opened up in Tokyo, 7-Eleven opened up in the US, they love burgers and Chris Evans, and we have nerds living in their mom’s basements rewatching every season of Naruto Shippuden with ill-fitting cosplay outfits. In conclusion, the Land of the Rising Sun has always kind of figured that the best way for them to open up to the world was to create their own worlds with wild imaginations driven by technology, yet still beautifully preserving the ancient vibrant values of their ancestors. Oh and by the way, this episode was brought to you by Bob Saget’s Bearsharktopus Coffee Shoes! Watashi wa KOOHII to kutsu ga hoshii
私はコーヒーと靴がほしい
(I want coffee and shoes) Let’s super harassment sandwich! Stay tuned: Jordan is coming up next.

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