After some interesting facts about Japan? Japan is a land of amazing culture, delicious food, unique sights, and plenty of history.
There’s a lot to know about this amazing country, so it’s hard to narrow it down into a single blog post, but we’re going to try! We love returning to Japan year after year. Every time we go we learn something new, but it always helps to read up on a few Japan facts too!
Amazing Facts About Japan
1. Japan is currently in Reiwa 1
That’s right, a little known fact about Japan is that it uses a different calendar to the rest of the world. Although it does use the Gregorian calendar, and is at the time of writing in 2019, years are also counted by the reigning Emperor. Reiwa 1 began in 2019, after the former Emperor abdicated, marking the end of the 31-year-long Heisei period. Neat, huh?
2. The native religion of Japan is Shinto
Officially 51.8% of the country ascribe to Shinto, but around 80% of the country actively participate in Shinto rituals. It’s a “pagan,” polytheistic religion, like Hinduism. It’s more about nature and spirits gods called kami. Pretty cool.
3. Japan is made up of 6,852 islands
It’s an island nation, alright. But only 430 of these are inhabited. In fact, all these islands, their land, and the sea between them, means that actually, Japan is the 4th-largest island nation on the planet.
4. Japan has four main “Home Islands”
Honshu – meaning “Home Province” – is the largest; Hokkaido (“Northern Sea Route”) is the next largest; then it’s Kyushu, which means “Nine Provinces”; and lastly Shikoku – “Four Provinces.” You learn something new every day.
5. Tokyo’s urban sprawl is the world’s most populous
Set over the very flat Kanto Plain, the Japanese capital fans out and engulfs a huge area of this region with train services and metro routes. Tokyo Metropolitan Area, as it’s officially known, is actually the most populous in the world, with (in 2016) a population of over 37 million. Delhi is catching up, though.
6. Japan is mainly mountainous
Though there is a lot of urban sprawl in Japan, it might be because there’s not much flat land to go around. A massive 73% of the country is mountainous; in a country where earthquakes and typhoons are a dime a dozen, living on the side of a mountain isn’t ideal!
7. Japan cut itself off from the rest of the world
From the 1630s to 1853, Japan exercised a strict isolationist policy known as Sakoku – or “closed country.” The Tokugawa government, which had recently united Japan, was wary of Western missionaries also bringing colonization, so the country closed its doors. But not to Korea, China, nor to one lucky Western power…
8. The Dutch were allowed to trade with Japan during its isolation
That’s right. For some reason or another, foreign trade continued with the Netherlands for the 220 years of isolation. They were only allowed one tiny little port to live in, called Dejima, in modern-day Nagasaki.
9. Japan really is the Land of the Rising Sun
It really, really is. The name Japan is actually Nihon (or Nippon) in Japanese, meaning “Sun Origin.” How did this come about? Apparently, Prince Shotoku in 607 AD sent a letter to China with the snarky gambit, “The Emperor of the Country Where the Sun Rises sends a letter to the Emperor of the Country Where the Sun Sets. How are you?” Geographically speaking, he’s not wrong.
10. Okinawa wasn’t always Japan
In fact, Okinawans aren’t even ethnically Japanese. The people who live in this beautiful sub-tropical island group are Ryukyu people. They speak Ryukyuan languages. They were once the Ryukyu Kingdom, which flourished from the 15th century, before being invaded by samurai from Japan and forced to grow sugar cane. Before then, they were their own kingdom with trade deals with various kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Boom. A fascinating fact about Japan.
11. Neither was Hokkaido
There are Ryukyu people in the south, and then there are Ainu people in the north. Hokkaido was once called Ezo, and along with much of northern Hokkaido, it was populated by the Ainu. The Japanese believed the Ezo were barbarians, with their big, bushy beards and bear sacrifice traditions. Via trade and gradual battles, Hokkaido became Japanese territory; the Ainu population today is unknown.
12. There was once a smallpox epidemic that killed one-third of Japan’s population
Yikes. Between 735 to 737 AD, and spreading from the islands of Kyushu to Honshu, the smallpox epidemic wiped out about a third of the population. Then there weren’t enough people to tend the crops, meaning famine. At least there was a tax exemption because of it.
13. The famous Todai-ji, Nara, was built because the Emperor felt guilty
But building what is still, after all this time, the largest wooden building in the world, and the impressive bronze Daibutsu Buddha statue, came at a cost. It’s actually thought to have almost bankrupted the country. Thanks?
14. The 2011 Tohoku Earthquake was so powerful it moved Japan 2.8 meters east
Facts about Japan wouldn’t be facts about Japan without talking about an earthquake. So here’s one: this devastating magnitude 9 earthquake consisted of what is known as a “megathrust,” which resulted in a massive tsunami and caused a nuclear meltdown. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives, and thousands are still missing. But yes, not only did it move Japan, it tilted the Earth’s axis by 10-25 centimeters! And increased the rotational spin of the entire planet.
15. There are 108 active volcanoes in Japan
Some of these have only just appeared on the volcano scene in the 20th century. A lot of these volcanoes erupt quite a lot. In fact, the city of Kagoshima, Kyushu, deals with regular ash from Sakurajima – a volcano right across the bay. There are even special trash bags for ash and specific days for ash collection.
16. Mount Fuji is actually a volcano
Yes, the national icon of Japan and one of the most famous mountains in the world… isn’t a mountain; it’s a volcano. It looks so serene and beautiful, but it’s active and does have the potential to cause damage amounting to $25 billion. It last erupted in 1707, when the ash reached as far as modern-day Tokyo.
17. Japan loves reclaiming land
In fact, 0.5% of the country consists of reclaimed land. There are artificial islands galore, like in Osaka Bay, Tokyo Bay, a whole village in Akita, airports… You’d think over 6,000 islands would be enough, but no.
18. Japan pretty much has all different weathers and climates
We’re not sure if any country could really match up, to be honest. There are typhoons in September, thick snows in winter, a frozen sea in Hokkaido, a mini rainy season, a crazy humid summer, and sub-tropical islands with beautiful coral reefs in the south. Siberian winds attack with a horrific winter from the north, and the Pacific kuroshio current brings hot weather in summer.
19. There are over 90,000 species of wildlife in Japan
There are Japanese macaques (the ones that like to chill in the hot springs), brown bears, shika deer, the giant Japanese salamander, tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs)… And there are a whole load of national parks and protected areas for them to live in.
20. There are hornets in Japan that can actually kill people
They can, and they do! We’re not making this up: a sting from one of these pretty aggressive critters can kill you if first aid isn’t given. Japanese people often say it takes two stings to kill a person, but we wouldn’t stay around to find out! What’s worse is that they can be up to 5.5 centimeters long.
21. Korea once imposed a 30-year ban on cultural exchange with Japan
In 1948, the ban was imposed. After being a Japanese colony for much of the 20th century, you can sort of understand why. The ban was lifted by South Korea, and now the two countries enjoy an exchange of pop culture (but not so much politics).
22. Japan isn’t allowed to go to war, but it has one of the world’s largest military budgets
After WWII, Japan’s constitution was rewritten by the Allies. A part of its constitution is not being able to declare war or get involved, militarily, in any international disputes. Even so, the amount of spending on the Japan Self Defense Force is crazy; it’s the largest in the world after the USA, Russia, and China.
23. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world
You probably already know this fact about Japan, but it really is super safe. Yes, there are earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, typhoons, heatwaves, and killer hornets, but other people won’t bother you. Violent crime, assault, and murder are all super low, and theft is almost unheard of. It’s one of the best places for solo female travelers.
24. Foreign visitor numbers to Japan doubled in the last decade
In fact, it’s almost doubled since 2013, which is the first time the country hit visitor numbers of 10 million: 2018 saw over 30 million tourists make their way to this irrepressibly magnetic country. The Japanese government wants 40 million tourists in 2020 and 60 million by 2030. It has coincided with the rise of the new middle class in China.
25. Japan is building a levitating train line
You may have heard of Maglev (“Magnetic Levitation”), and Japan has it covered. Planning to have a route from Tokyo to Nagoya done and dusted by 2027, there are further plans to link the city of Nagoya with Osaka by 2045. We just can’t wait to ride on one of these trains – think of how smooth it’s going to be. Well, that, and how fast – it’s previously set land speed world records for trains.
26. The whole “homogenous Japan” thing is a myth
People like to tell you that Japan is an ethnically homogenous society made up of Japanese people who do Japanese things. But that’s not entirely true: this fact about Japan is going to bust that myth. The Japanese census does not compile ethnicity or race for Japanese people, who may be Ainu or Ryukyu, nor does it allow the public to see any data regarding the size of other ethnic groups residing in Japan. Busted!
27. Japan has a very long life expectancy
Japanese people have the second-longest life expectancy in the world. There are also a lot more older women than there are men: there are 20 million elderly women in Japan versus 15 million elderly men. There are thousands of centenarians, too – and again, 90% are women!
28. Japan has three writing systems
Usually, countries are content with, you know, just the one script. Not Japan; there are three. Firstly, the syllabic hiragana, used to write native Japanese words. Simple. Little kids learn this. Then there’s kanji – Chinese characters adapted to represent Japanese words. They can be read in different ways, often the “native” or “foreign” reading, sometimes depending on what hiragana comes after it. And if that wasn’t enough – katakana. These usually (not always) spell out foreign words in Japanese syllabary to make it easy for Japanese speakers to say.
29. A Japanese guy invented MSG
Ah, MSG, the taste of the gods. MSG – or Monosodium Glutamate – was invented by a biochemist named Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. What was he trying to do? Isolate the essence of umami – we’re literally not kidding. He succeeded, and today, it’s used in loads of stuff. Contrary to popular belief, the only thing bad about MSG is making things so tasty you just can’t stop eating. MSG is naturally occurring and found in tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms – that’s right: umami things.
30. Japanese kitchen knives are so good because swordsmiths were no longer needed
This is a great fact about Japan. Samurai were banned from carrying their two swords (yes, two) in 1868; the rule was an attempt to modernize Japan. The swordsmiths, having no swords to make anymore, turned their hands to knives. Hey presto – the best knives in the world.
31. Japan has a massive network of PA systems
You’ll hear them in cities, in small villages, and they like to use them. You’ll hear public announcements across parks and even graveyards. What’s more, each town usually has a goji no chime – or 5 o’clock chime – which is typically nostalgic. Even though they play great tunes, which you may or may not enjoy, they’ve got a more serious use. The real reason for all those transmissions? Testing the speakers for emergency warnings.
Quick Travel Tips for Japan
- Capital: Tokyo is the capital of Japan while Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido.
- Currency: The Japanese Yen(¥) is the currency of Japan. Most places in Japan do not accept credit card and it’s always advisable to have cash on you.
- Visa: Most visitors can enter Japan visa-free for 90 days – check with your embassy.
- What to Pack: It all depends on when you visit Japan. See our full Japan packing list here.
Plan and Pack for Japan
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Japan. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Skin cancer is for real, even in Japan! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Japan. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
If you’re wondering what travel necessities to bring to Japan then good walking shoes should be your top concern.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me when I’m traveling in the winter, fall, or even spring. They aren’t just good for hikes, but doing anything outside.
Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint –Feathered Friends, Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
Goretex Rain Jacket
We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy a number of times. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof and really a great travel rain jacket. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx.
Any jacket can do the job, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Japan. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
To up your photography game, a bit consider the Fuji X-T3. We just bought that camera and found the images to look amazing. Check out our other travel cameras here.
I love real books, but for traveling it can be easier to carry a lighter and more compact item like a Kindle. Plus, then you can download new books on the go!
Please consider purchasing a travel water bottle before your trip! We hate to see one time use plastic bottles ending up in the ocean. The tap water is so good here – seriously please don’t be one of those tourist that buys plastic water bottles in Japan. It’s a waste of money and plastic!
It is considered rude to wear your shoes inside in Japan so most places will give you slippers to walk around with once you take your shoes off at the door. However, I never found these slippers comfortable and would rather have my own from home.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in the mountains. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding even traveling in the desert. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
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