33 Interesting Facts About Japan (That Will Surprise You!)

Japan, a captivating country with a rich culture and breathtaking landscapes, never fails to amaze travelers. There is so much to discover and experience in Japan, and in this article, we have compiled 33 interesting facts about Japan that will leave you astounded. From geographical wonders to cultural traditions and historical significance, these facts will help you appreciate Japan even more during your visit.

Geographical Facts About Japan

Japan is an island nation that spans almost 146,000 square miles. It is Asia’s seventh largest country by land area and the 11th most populated country in the world, with 126 million residents. Despite its large population, Japan is mostly covered with mountains and dense forests.

1. Japan is made up of more than 6,800 islands

The archipelago of Japan consists of more than 6,800 islands, making it the fourth largest island nation in the world. While many people are familiar with Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, and Honshu, the most populous island that is home to Tokyo and Osaka, there are many other islands that often go unnoticed. It is interesting to note that only about 430 of these islands are populated. This means that there are many undiscovered and untouched islands waiting to be explored.

2. Tokyo is the most populous city in the world

Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, is not only the most populous city in Japan but also the most populous city in the entire world. With a population of approximately 13.9 million, Tokyo is a bustling metropolis with busy streets, shops, and restaurants. What’s even more astonishing is that the population of the entire Tokyo Metro area, including neighboring suburbs, is nearly three times the size of the city itself, totaling around 37 million people. This means that Tokyo Metro is home to nearly 30% of Japan’s population. The sheer size and energy of Tokyo make it a must-visit destination for any traveler.

3. Japan has 72 different “seasons”

Japan has a unique way of perceiving and experiencing seasons. The traditional Japanese calendar divided the year into 24 sections, each further divided into 3 subsections, resulting in a total of 72 “micro seasons”. These micro seasons last for about 5 days each and are characterized by specific natural phenomena. For example, one micro season is called “Frogs start singing” and occurs from May 5th to 9th. Another micro season is called “Great rains sometimes fall” and occurs from August 3rd to 7th. These micro seasons reflect the changing weather and atmosphere in Japan, and it is important to be prepared for the varied climate when planning your visit.

4. Japan has 440 volcanoes, and 111 of them are still active

Japan is a country with a tumultuous geology, with a staggering 440 volcanoes. Out of these, 111 volcanoes are still considered active. To be classified as “active,” a volcano has to have erupted at least once in the past 10,000 years. It is fascinating to note that Japan has the second highest concentration of active volcanoes in the world, surpassed only by the United States. This volcanic activity adds to the unique landscape of Japan and provides opportunities for adventure and exploration.

5. Japan is mostly mountainous and covered in forests

Approximately 80% of Japan’s land is covered in mountains and forests, creating awe-inspiring scenery and ample opportunities for outdoor activities. Japan’s mountainous terrain is particularly famous, with Mount Fuji standing as the country’s tallest mountain at over 3,760 meters (12,335 feet). The country’s commitment to preserving its natural beauty is evident in the numerous hiking trails and alpine routes that offer breathtaking views of the landscape. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or a nature enthusiast, Japan’s mountains and forests will leave you in awe.

6. Japan has excellent skiing

Contrary to popular belief, Japan is not only a destination for cherry blossoms and ancient temples. It is also home to some of the best skiing in the world. With a diverse range of ski resorts, Japan attracts snow enthusiasts from all over the globe. The country’s unique climate, known for its heavy snowfall, coupled with world-class ski facilities, make it a paradise for winter sports enthusiasts. If you are a snowboarder or a skier, planning your trip to Japan during the winter months will allow you to experience the thrill of gliding down pristine slopes.

7. Japan has the sixth longest coastline in the world

Japan’s geographical makeup is truly remarkable. In addition to its majestic mountains and dense forests, Japan boasts the sixth longest coastline in the world, stretching nearly 30,000 kilometers (over 18,600 miles). This coastline is a result of Japan’s countless islands, of which there are 14,125 in total. While the majority of these islands are small in size, they contribute to the country’s rich marine ecosystem and provide opportunities for water activities such as snorkeling, diving, and beach exploration. No matter where you are in Japan, you are never too far from the sea.

Fun Facts About Japanese Culture

Japan’s vibrant culture and meaningful traditions have captivated people from all walks of life. Understanding the unique aspects of Japanese culture will enrich your travel experience in Japan.

8. The main religion in Japan is Shinto

Shinto is the main religion practiced by approximately 69% of the Japanese population. It is a religion deeply rooted in the belief in kami, or guardians and protecting deities. Shintoism places great emphasis on the connection between humans and nature, and this is reflected in the numerous shrines, or jinjas, found throughout the country. Japanese people hold these shrines in high regard and visit them for prayer and sacred rituals.

9. Japan has three writing systems

The Japanese language is composed of three unique writing systems: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Kanji is a set of Chinese characters that were introduced to Japan in the 5th century. Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic scripts that evolved from Kanji.

Hiragana is the most commonly used script and is used to represent native Japanese words and grammatical elements. It consists of 46 characters, each representing a specific sound. Katakana, on the other hand, is used primarily for foreign words, onomatopoeic expressions, and emphasis. It has the same number of characters as Hiragana but has a distinct angular appearance.

Understanding these writing systems is essential if you want to delve deeper into the Japanese language and culture. Learning the basics of Hiragana and Katakana will greatly enhance your ability to communicate and navigate your way through Japan.

10. Japan uses a different calendar than the western world

While Japan currently follows a calendar similar to those used in many western countries, it has its own unique characteristics. The Japanese calendar incorporates an era name system associated with each emperor. Currently, Japan is in the Reiwa era, which began in May 2019. Each era represents a new emperor’s reign, marking significant historical periods.

Furthermore, the Japanese calendar places a strong emphasis on zodiacal animals in the 12-year cycle. Each year is associated with a specific animal, and these animals hold symbolic meaning in Japanese culture. Additionally, Japan still uses traditional names for each month, providing a glimpse into the country’s rich historical and cultural identity.

11. There is a difference between a Yukata and a Kimono

Yukata and Kimono are traditional Japanese garments that are often worn for special occasions or cultural events. While they may appear similar, there are distinct differences between the two.

Yukata is a casual summer robe made of cotton and typically worn during festivals or when staying at traditional inns called ryokans. It has a single collar and is lighter in weight compared to the Kimono. On the other hand, Kimono is a more formal and elaborate garment made of silk. It is often worn during weddings, tea ceremonies, and other formal events. Kimonos have two collars and are generally heavier and warmer than Yukatas.

Understanding the differences between a Yukata and a Kimono will allow you to appreciate the nuances of Japanese fashion and traditions.

12. Many Japanese people sleep on the floor

Traditionally, Japanese people do not sleep on beds like in Western cultures. Instead, they sleep on futons, a type of traditional Japanese bedding. A futon consists of a thick mattress that serves as a mattress, paired with a duvet blanket and a pillow. These items can be folded and stored during the day to maximize space in small living areas.

While modern hotels in Japan may offer Western-style beds, staying in a ryokan or traditional guesthouse will provide you with an authentic experience of sleeping on a futon. It is important to note that traditional Japanese pillows are often stuffed with beans, and they may feel different from the pillows you are accustomed to. Bringing a travel pillow is a good idea if you prefer a more familiar sleeping experience.

13. Some famous Japanese dishes originated from a time of poverty

Japanese cuisine is renowned globally for its variety and flavors. However, some iconic dishes, such as ramen and sushi, have interesting origins tied to times of poverty and scarcity.

After World War II, Japan experienced food shortages, and rice, a staple food, became scarce. In response to this, wheat flour was introduced to Japan, leading to the creation of fried dishes like kushikatsu, karaage, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki. Ramen, a noodle dish, also increased in popularity during this time as it offered a filling and affordable option for people. These dishes were born out of necessity but have evolved into beloved culinary traditions that are enjoyed worldwide.

14. Japan has a market for “luxury food”

Japan has a fascination with luxury items, and this extends to food as well. There is a trend of “luxury food” in Japan, where rare and exclusive items are highly sought after and command high prices. Examples of such luxury foods include square watermelons and specialty grapes and cantaloupes.

These luxury foods are often purchased as gifts rather than for personal consumption. They are seen as status symbols and are given to demonstrate wealth and generosity. The price of these luxury items can be staggering, with some specialty fruits fetching tens of thousands of dollars. For the average traveler, experiencing the taste of Japan’s more affordable local delicacies can be just as satisfying.

15. Japan consumes more fish than any other country

Given its island geography and rich marine resources, it is no surprise that Japan is one of the largest consumers of fish in the world. Approximately 7.5 billion tons of fish are consumed in Japan each year, accounting for nearly 10% of the global fish catch. The consumption of fish is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and is celebrated through various traditional dishes like sushi and sashimi. If you are a seafood lover, Japan offers a wide variety of fresh and delectable seafood options that are sure to tantalize your taste buds.

16. Ramen and sushi are not originally Japanese

While ramen and sushi are now synonymous with Japanese cuisine, it may surprise you to know that these dishes actually originated from other countries.

Ramen, a popular noodle dish, can be traced back to Chinese settlers who introduced wheat noodles to Japan. Over time, the Japanese put their own spin on ramen, creating unique flavors and styles that have become a staple in Japanese cuisine.

Sushi, on the other hand, originated in Southeast Asia as a way to preserve fish. The fish would be fermented with rice and consumed after a period of time. The Japanese refined this method and developed various styles of sushi that are enjoyed worldwide today.

These examples illustrate how cultures evolve and adapt dishes to suit local tastes and preferences. Japan’s take on ramen and sushi has elevated these dishes to a whole new level, making them iconic symbols of Japanese cuisine.

17. Sumo wrestling is a Japanese tradition

Sumo wrestling is a traditional Japanese sport that has origins dating back over 1500 years. It is deeply connected to the Shinto religion and is considered a form of ritualistic performance. Sumo wrestlers, known as rikishi, live together in communal training stables, where they practice daily and lead a disciplined lifestyle.

While sumo is of Japanese origin, it may surprise you to know that many sumo wrestlers are not actually from Japan. In recent years, wrestlers from countries such as Mongolia, Georgia, and Bulgaria have risen to prominence in the sumo world. This international participation has brought new energy and diversity to the sport while still honoring its traditional roots.

18. White-collar workers are called Salarymen

When visiting Japan, you may notice a sea of men dressed in identical black suits and white shirts during rush hour at train stations. These are white-collar workers in Japan, commonly referred to as Salarymen.

Salarymen are employees who work in office-based jobs and often follow a strict work culture characterized by long hours and dedication to their companies. It is common for individuals to join a company after graduating from university and remain with that company for their entire career. Working long hours is seen as a sign of commitment and productivity in many Asian cultures, including Japan. However, this intense work culture has come under scrutiny in recent years due to the high rates of stress-related health issues and even suicide.

19. The first geisha in Japan were men

Geisha, the skilled live performance artists known for their elaborate kimonos and captivating dance and music, are often associated with Japanese culture and traditions. One of the lesser-known facts about Japan is that the country’s first geisha were actually men. Male geisha, known as “Taikomochi,” emerged around the year 1730, whereas female geisha didn’t appear until about 20 years later.

Today, while the majority of geisha are women, there are still a few male geisha who continue to practice this traditional art form. Geisha play a significant role in preserving and performing traditional Japanese arts, and their presence is a testament to the enduring traditions of Japanese culture.

20. Mount Fuji is a volcano and a holy site

Mount Fuji, the iconic and majestic mountain that stands as the tallest in Japan, holds profound significance in Japanese culture. It is not only a volcanic peak but also one of Japan’s three sacred mountains, alongside Mount Haku and Mount Tateyama. Mount Fuji is worshipped as a god by both the Shinto and Buddhist religions, and its volcanic activity symbolizes the forces of earth, sky, and fire.

Climbing Mount Fuji is a spiritual and physical endeavor for many visitors. The panoramic views from the summit, especially during sunrise, attract hikers and photographers from around the world. Whether you choose to admire Mount Fuji from afar or embark on the challenging climb, this sacred mountain offers a profound connection to Japan’s natural beauty and spiritual heritage.

Historical Facts About Japan

Japan has a fascinating history that has shaped its present. Here are some intriguing historical facts about Japan that highlight its unique past.

21. Japan is nicknamed the “Land of the Rising Sun”

Japan is often referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun” due to its location east of mainland Asia. The Japanese people call their country “Nippon” or “Nihon,” which literally translates to “origin of the sun” in English. This nickname arose from ancient communications between the Japanese and Chinese governments, where Japan appeared to be the place where the sun rises or originates.

22. Japan is ruled by the last Emperor in the world

The current Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, holds a significant role as the last remaining emperor in the world. He ascended to the throne in May 2019, following the footsteps of his father, and became Japan’s 126th monarch. However, it is important to note that the Japanese emperor does not have political functions. Instead, the emperor’s role is strictly symbolic, symbolizing unity and continuity in the country. The Japanese constitution limits the emperor’s role to “important ceremonial functions.”

23. The oldest company in the world was formed in Japan

Kongo Gumi, a construction company, holds the distinction of being the oldest company in the world. It was established in Japan in the year 578 AD and remained a family-run business for over 1,400 years. In 2016, Kongo Gumi faced financial challenges and had to merge with a larger company. However, the company’s headquarters still remain in Osaka, and it specializes in building Buddhist temples. The long history of Kongo Gumi is a testament to the lasting legacies of Japanese craftsmanship and dedication to tradition.

24. Smallpox decimated Japan’s population

In the year 735, Japan experienced a devastating smallpox epidemic that claimed the lives of over one million people. In less than three years, more than one-third of the country’s population perished due to this deadly disease. The epidemic originated from a Japanese fisherman who brought smallpox back to Japan after being stranded in Korea. This tragic event had a profound impact on Japan’s population and economy, leading to a decline in agricultural productivity and subsequent famine.

25. Japan underwent a period of isolationism for 265 years

From 1639 to 1853, Japan adopted a policy of isolationism known as Sakoku. During this time, the country severely restricted trade and contact with foreign nations. The goal was to protect Japan from outside colonial and religious influences that could potentially disrupt its internal stability. Only a limited number of Dutch and Chinese traders were allowed to conduct business with Japan.

This period of isolation had a significant impact on Japan’s social structure and cultural development. It allowed unique Japanese traditions to flourish, including haiku poetry, bonsai tree cultivation, and tea ceremonies. Although Sakoku ended with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853, its influence can still be seen in the strong preservation of Japanese culture and traditions.

Quirky and Fun Facts About Japan

Now, let’s explore some fun and quirky facts about Japan that will surely pique your interest.

26. Japan has one of the longest life expectancies in the world

Japan is known for its longevity, with an average life expectancy of 84.62 years. This places Japan as having the second-longest life expectancy in the world, surpassed only by a few countries. Numerous factors contribute to this remarkable statistic, such as a healthy diet, active lifestyle, and excellent healthcare system. Japanese people have lower obesity rates compared to many other countries, and their diet is rich in fish, vegetables, and other nutritious foods. By embracing a balanced lifestyle, the Japanese have unlocked the secret to a longer and healthier life.

27. Japanese scientists invented ice cream that doesn’t melt

Japanese scientists at Kanazawa University have developed a unique ice cream recipe that maintains its shape and does not melt for up to three hours at room temperature. This ingenious invention is particularly useful during Japan’s hot and humid summer months when conventional ice cream tends to melt quickly. The non-melting ice cream adds a fun and practical twist to enjoying this frozen treat, making it a delightful experience even in the hottest weather.

28. Japan is home to the deepest underwater post box

Susami Bay, a picturesque fishing town in Japan, boasts the world’s deepest underwater post box. Located 10 meters (33 feet) below the surface of the bay, this unconventional mailbox receives over 1,000 pieces of mail each year. To send mail underwater, you need to use water-resistant postcards and an oil-based paint marker to write on them. And of course, you’ll need to don a wetsuit and dive down to the mailbox to complete the process. This unique attraction has become a popular destination for adventurous travelers seeking an extraordinary postal experience.

29. Japan has the highest density of vending machines in the world

Vending machines are an ubiquitous sight in Japan, with a density that is unmatched by any other country. You can find vending machines practically everywhere, from street corners in remote towns to bustling city centers. These vending machines offer a wide range of products, from beverages and snacks to electronics and even second-hand clothing. One interesting observation is that the abundance of vending machines reflects the safety and security of Japan. With low rates of theft and vandalism, the vending machines can operate without fear of being broken into.

30. You can find square watermelons in Japan

Japan is known for its creative approach to agricultural produce, and one striking example is the square watermelon. While these watermelons are edible, they are primarily grown for their symbolic value rather than their taste. Square watermelons are often seen at festivals or displayed in department stores and lobbies during the hot summer months. They symbolize energy, gratefulness, and collaboration. Purchasing a square watermelon can be quite expensive, with prices exceeding 10,000 yen (about $200 USD). Despite the high price, these unique watermelons are a testament to Japan’s innovation and attention to detail.

31. The majority of adoptions in Japan are of grown men

Adoption takes on a unique form in Japan, where family wealth is often passed down through males. In cases where a father does not have any male sons, parents may choose to adopt a grown man who can carry on the family name and run the family business. This practice is more of a technicality rather than a traditional adoption. The adopted son often marries the daughter of the adopting family and takes on their family name, thus becoming both a son and son-in-law. This arrangement allows for the continuation of family lineage and the preservation of family assets.

32. Japan has an obsession with all things cute

The concept of “kawaii,” which translates to “cute” in English, is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Japan has developed an entire culture around cuteness, with various manifestations found throughout the country. One popular kawaii phenomenon is the purikura, a Japanese photo booth that allows you to add cute backgrounds, makeup, and stickers to your pictures. Harajuku, a neighborhood in Tokyo, is the epicenter of all things kawaii, where you can find rainbow-themed foods, costumes, and whimsical fashion. Moreover, Japan is home to numerous theme cafes that embody the kawaii culture, offering unique experiences centered around cuteness.

33. There is a “Rabbit Island” in Japan

Located in the Inland Sea of Japan, Okunoshima Island, also known as “Rabbit Island,” is a charming destination inhabited by a delightful population of rabbits. If you visit this idyllic island, you will be greeted by these adorable creatures, as they roam freely in a predator-free environment. Although the island’s history as a testing ground for chemical weapons during World War II is haunting, it has transformed into a safe haven for rabbits. The presence of these furry inhabitants offers a heartwarming experience and a chance to witness the resilience of nature.

These 33 interesting facts about Japan provide a glimpse into the country’s captivating culture, geographical wonders, and historical significance. Japan’s unique blend of tradition and innovation has made it a must-visit destination for travelers worldwide. Whether you are exploring the vibrant streets of Tokyo, admiring the beauty of Mount Fuji, or immersing yourself in Japanese customs, Japan promises to leave an indelible mark on your travel memories.

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