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About Japan

Some Basic Information on Japan

Capital Tokyo
National Anthem Kimi ga Yo
One of the shortest national anthems in the world, Kimi ga Yo is based on a centuries-old "Waka" poem. Its meaning translates roughly to "May your reign continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations, until the pebbles, grow into boulders, lush with moss. " Although it is very well-known in Japan, many people don't realize that it was only officially adopted by the Japanese government in 1999, along with the Hinomaru national flag.
National Flag The "Hinomaru" or "Nisshoki"
"Hinomaru" stands for "Sun Disc", and like the national anthem, it was in use long before its adoption in 1999. Its design is similar to flags used in the Sengoku Period. You can usually see the Hinomaru posted on department stores and other buildings on national holidays, as well as small Hinomaru on taxis too.
National Flower The chrysanthemum and the cherry blossom
The chrysanthemum has long been the symbol of the Imperial Family, and can be seen on numerous shrines and flags in Japan. The cherry blossom with its delicate pink petals is perhaps the flower most associated with Japan, even to the Japanese themselves. "Live beautifully, die young" is an underlying aspect of the culture that can be seen in many places, and the way the cherry blossom blooms for a few short days before blowing away in the wind was often compared to the Bushido.
National Bird The Pheasant (Green or Common Pheasant) _ They can be found around Japan and also on the back of the D-Series 10,000 yen bank note. (The current E-Series features a Phoenix sculpture from Byodo-in Temple in Kyoto).
Official Country Title NIPPON, NIHON, JAPAN
There are several ways to say the country's name, each with a slightly different nuance. "Nippon" is used in formal situations, as well as for cheering at international sports tournaments (the main reason being that it's much easier to shout a two syllable "Ni-PPON" than "NIHON"!)
National Language Japanese
Size 377,835 km2
Population 127,288,419 (as of 2008)
National Foundation Day Celebrated on February 11th every year
National Currency Japanese Yen (JPY)
Country Calling Code 81
Time Zone UTC +9 (No daylight savings or gSummerh Time system)

Useful information about Japan

Every country, including Japan, has its set of unwritten (and sometimes written!) values and underlying "common sense." One of the biggest keys to enjoying your stay in Japan and making friends is understanding the culture and thinking in Japan. You can find a wealth of information on Japan on the internet or in books, but here are a few points here you might find interesting. Just keep in mind: as with any country, the following descriptions won't match everyone you meet.

@ "Apologize first, apologize later"
You will probably hear the word "sumimasen" more than you ever thought you would. Although it translates to "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me", it has multiple uses; for example, to thank someone for something. "Sumimasen" is an oil that keeps relationships smooth and is applied to many situations.

A Sensing others' feelings, and hospitality
One of the reasons people who visit Japan come away saying "The people are so nice!" comes from a part of the culture called "omotenashi," or the famed "Japanese hospitality." It may seem like people you visit or stay with go out of their way to do things for you, suggest ideas for things to do, give you different things, and so forth. Don't worry, it's nothing strange or unusual. All you have to do is say "Thank you!" and mean it (and more importantly, act like you don't expect it.)

B What is said versus what is meant: Understanding "honne" and "tatemae"
Often, what Japanese people say isn't what they actually mean, or want to say. Often, people will place the feelings of others ahead of their own and plan what they say accordingly in order keep things happy or going smoothly. "Tatemae" is what is said. "Honne" is what is meant. Knowing which is which is a skill that can take time to hone, but for the mean time, please keep this important part of the culture in mind.

C Humility/Self-deprecation
Don't be surprised if you compliment someone's jacket and hear "Oh, this cheap old thing?" or tell someone how delicious dinner is only to hear "No, it's not delicious at all!" Expressions of humility or self-deprecation are very common in Japan and are often misunderstood. This often has to do with "tatemae" and "honne," and even extend to other family members ("My wife is a terrible cook.") or co-workers. Don't worry, a certain amount of it is completely normal in Japan.

D "Eye Contact," or Staring
Generally, Japanese people are not comfortable with keeping eye contact for long periods, though this seems to be changing in recent years. In any case, you'll find many people will stare at the wall or the table while talking with you, only glancing up for a short time when there is a pause in the conversation. Don't worry, they are still listening to you! It is different from Western countries, in which you generally show you are listening by staring intently at the other person, looking away every so often.
This is deeply rooted in old Japanese culture, which we will not explain in detail here. However, be on the lookout for mothers scolding their children _ you might notice that instead of "Look at me when I'm speaking to you!", they will say "Don't you look at me, young man!"

E Punctuality
As a general rule, Japanese are very punctual. More than that, the cultural standard of punctuality is very strict. Being even a little bit late can affect how reliable or trusted you are by others. Even if you will be only a few minutes late, if possible call or e-mail beforehand, and don't forget the "sumimasen"!
Also, trains are almost always exactly on time (barring any weather or accidents), and busses are generally on time, though not 100%. Plan accordingly, and enjoy Japan's excellent transportation system.

F Showing restraint, and consideration for others
Japanese people generally don't (outwardly) voice what they are thinking or what they want to do, especially if you ask them outright; instead, they will ask what others want or think before chipping in. This cultural trend can cause some confusion if you aren't aware of it. For example, many times you will be asked "What would you like to eat?" and after choosing, find that what you want is not what anyone else wants. If you can, try doing as the Japanese do: hold back for a bit, return the question and see what other people want before you answer, or at least remember to give people time to think before deciding.

G Saying "Thank you", and bowing
Along with "sumimasen", saying "Thank you" often and the many different kinds of bows are some of the most common ways Japanese keep things going smoothly. Look carefully and you will find all sorts of bows used in different situations.

Daily Life in Japan

The Ofuro, or Bath
Most Japanese love a good soak in the bath. More than just somewhere to get clean, the bath is a place to relax a tired body and even spend quality family time. In household ofuro, many kids take baths with their parents well into elementary school, and at onsen (hot spring spas), there are large open baths for men and women, and private baths for families to borrow. The phrase "Hadaka no otsukiai" (a naked relationship) does not mean what it looks seems! Actually, it means "to have a trusting and open relationship" _ in other words, "someone you could soak in an onsen with."

Throwing out the trash, (carefully!)
In recent years, Japan trash disposal laws have become even more complicated. In most areas of Japan you are required to dispose of trash according to what type it is. For example, burnable or non-burnable, plastics, plastic "PET" bottles, and much more. Many bulky items require a recycling fee sticker. Furthermore, you can only dispose of certain types on certain days of the week, depending on what area of the city you live in. You should definitely consider picking up a "trash disposal guide" at your local city hall. Many have English translations, or indexes and pictures to show you exactly how to throw away everything you could imagine. It can be a pain, but just remember: Japan has a little less than half the United States' population packed into a small chain of islands, and actually exports a large portion of its garbage.

Japanese "Aisatsu" _ Not merely greetings
The Japanese word "aisatsu" usually translates to "greetings" but in truth, aisatsu are much more. There are many special kinds of aisatsu; for example, before eating, most people say "Itadakimasu", and after finishing, "Gochisousama." This is said even when no one is around, and reflects a feeling of gratitude to those who grew the food, prepared it, or served it. Because image often is valued over substance in Japanese relations, knowing the proper aisatsu for the situation is key. In fact, even if you don't speak Japanese very well, if you show you can say "Good morning" to your teachers or host family, "Thank you" to the postal worker who comes to your door, or "See you tomorrow" to your co-workers when you leave early, for example, you will leave quite a good impression.

Anime and Manga
Until just a few years ago, the words "manga" and "anime" were virtually unknown outside of Japan. Anime (or Japanimation, as it is still called) has had an underground following in other countries around the world, but the Japanese language made it less accessible to the general public -- especially true for Japanese comics. However, what many people don't know is, many of the cartoons on TV in the 1960s, 70s and 80s were localized versions of Japanese anime, or style copies.
Now, many companies specialize in the import and translation of Japanese manga and anime into English or other languages, and more and more titles are available every year worldwide. Even the famous "Shonen Jump" has made its way overseas.
Manga has roots in ancient Japanese history, but really took off in the 1950s and 60s. Not just for kids, there are manga for every age group and style (including adult fare, which is often shocking or grotesque in nature). Besides being a great tool to study Japanese, manga are great to study the culture of Japan and just have fun. You can see major themes such as friendship, love, family, and more.
Anime too is quite an art form in Japan, and you can find hundreds of series at any local video store. If you donft prefer the more childish fare on TV, consider animated films by Ghibi or anime mini-series by animation studio Production I.G. such as "Cowboy Bebop", "Ghost in the Shell" or others.

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