Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific and the Sea Of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula.
Geographical Cordinates: 36 00 N, 138 00 E.
Area: Total ~ 377,835 sq km. Land ~ 374,744 sq km. water ~ 3,091 sq km.
Note: Includes Bonin Islands Ogasawara-Gunto, Daito-Shoto, Minami-Jima, Okino-Tori-Shima, Ryukyu Islands Nansei-Shoto, and Volcano Islands Kazan-Retto.
Climate: Varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north.
Terrain: Mostly rugged and mountainous.
Population: 127,463,611 (July 2006 est.)
Chief Of State: Emperor Akihito (since January 1989).
Head Of Government: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (since 26 September 2006).
Japanese Imperial Seal (Picture Below):
Origami: Origami is a traditional Japanese pastime where a single square of paper is folded in different ways to create shapes like cute animals and beautiful plants. Since it only takes a sheet of paper, the hobby can easily be enjoyed anywhere; many people in Japan enjoy it at home and at school. The best known origami shape, which many children learn from their parents or grandparents, is the crane. Other shapes include flowers, butterflies, crabs, even difficult creations like Christmas trees. Origami is especially popular among girls
The practice of origami began in the early 700s, when paper was first introduced to Japan. At first paper was folded to make decorations for use in religious ceremonies at shrines, but gradually people came to use it in their regular lives as well. During the Heian period (794-1185), it was popular to fold valuable paper and use it to beautifully wrap letters and presents. Later, origami continued to be used in traditional ceremonies, but the women of the imperial court began to fold dolls and other shapes for their amusement.
In the Edo period (1603-1868) people thought up different kinds of origami involving cutting and layering of paper, and the activity grew popular among the common people of Japan. Later, in the Meiji era (1868-1912), origami came to be taught at elementary schools. Students continue to study origami at school to this day; it is used to teach concepts in geometry, such as the relationship between a plane and a solid shape.
Origami is rapidly becoming more popular in countries throughout the world. Some associations of Origami lovers are Origami USA and the Bristish Origami Society (BOS).
Sumo (A Traditional Japanese Sport): In sumo, two men who are wearing nothing but a mawashi (lioncloth), face each other in a dohyo (circular ring) and push, grapple, and try to throw each other. The one who forces his opponent to the ground or pushes him out of the ring is the winner. Even if you may have seen it on TV, there may be many things that you don't know about sumo.
Sumo began many centuries ago and developed into its present form in the Edo period (1603-1868). Rikishi (wrestlers) wear their hair in a topknot, which was a normal hairstyle in the Edo period. The referee, meanwhile, wears the same kind of clothes as a samurai of 600 years ago. Many aspects of Japan's traditional culture can be seen in sumo. For example, the wrestlers throw salt into the ring to purify it before they begin their match, as the dohyo is considered a sacred place. Sumo has a long history, and it has been called Japan's national sport. Although many professional sports are played in Japan, such as baseball and soccer, sumo is the nation's oldest professional sport.
Koto-oshu after his promotion to ozeki, He is holding a banzuke. (Japan Sumo Association)
Professional sumo is broadcast live on TV. The bouts are intense, as well-trained wrestlers who weigh an average of 150 kilograms grapple with their bare hands. The shouts of support from fans cheering on their favorite wrestler can reach fever pitch.
As of January 2007, there are 702 professional sumo wrestlers in Japan. There are six basho (tournaments) a year, each featuring bouts over 15 days. The wrestlers' rank, which is called banzuke, can change depending on their performance in each tournament, with their new rank announced before the next tournament. The top rank is yokozuna, which is followed by ozeki, sekiwake, komusubi, and maegashira. These are the ranks of the top division of wrestlers, which is called makuuchi. Below the makuuchi division is the juryo division, and these two tiers, known together as sekitori, include all of the ranked wrestlers. There are four divisions below these, but every wrestler aims to reach the level of sekitori.
Sumo wrestlers used to be all Japanese, in recent years there have been more and more foreign wrestlers. Of the 42 wrestlers in the makuuchi class, 13 come from foreign countries. Asashoryu, who is the only yokozuna at present and is by far the strongest wrestler, is from Mongolia. Koto-oshu, ozeki, is from Bulgaria. There are a total of 60 foreign sumo wrestlers in Japan now, including 34 from Mongolia, 6 from China, 5 from Russia, and 3 from the Eastern European country of Georgia.
Sumo bouts are conducted in a ring with a hard dirt surface. On top of a square platform, there is a circular ring 4.55 meters (about 15 feet) in diameter. The bouts take place inside the ring.
After their shikona (official wrestling names) are called, the wrestlers climb into the ring, ritually stamp their feet on the ground, and throw purifying salt into the ring. They then match their opponent's movements as they lower their waist, open their knees to the side, and go into their shikiri (taking their mark and facing their opponent in a posture that will allow them to move forward at any moment). The wrestlers match their breaths with their opponent, and once both of them place a fist on the ground, the match begins. While the bout is underway, the referee shouts "Nokotta!" (Remaining!) while the wrestlers are grappling with each other and "Hakkiyoi!" (Come on!) when the wrestlers are not moving.
When one of the wrestlers is forced out of the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body other than his feet, the referee raises the fan in his hand to declare the winner. The way the winning wrestler achieves victory is called the kimarite. Forcing an opponent out of the ring by getting in close and lifting him out by his mawashi is called yorikiri, for example, while bringing him down is known as yoritaoshi. When a wrestler uses his weight to push his opponent backwards down to the ground, this is called abisetaoshi.
It is called oshidashi when one wrestler pushes the other underneath his arms or in the chest and forces him out of the ring. And whether it is in the ring or outside of it, oshitaoshi is a move by which a wrestler pushes his opponent to the ground. When a wrestler uses one arm to grab his opponent underneath the arm or on his side and forces him down at an angle, this is called tsukiotoshi.
It is known as uwatenage when a wrestler grabs his opponent's mawashi from outside the opponent's arms and throws him to the ground, and when he does the same thing and drags his opponent, it is called uwatedashinage. When a wrestler grabs his opponent inside his arms, this is shitatenage. The number of legal moves has increased and decreased over the years, but at present there are 82.
In addition, there are 8 moves that are prohibited, including striking an opponent with a clenched fist; poking an opponent in a vulnerable area, such as the eyes and the stomach; and kicking an opponent in the chest or the stomach. A wrestler who uses any of these moves loses the match by default.
Martial arts similar to sumo have been performed around the world since long ago. Some that remain today are ssireum in South Korea, boke in Mongolia, and yagli gures in Turkey. In Japan, figurines of sumo wrestlers have been unearthed dating back to between the third and seventh centuries, and the sport is mentioned in the myths and legends of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki (Japanese history books written in the eighth century). When it was time to plant the rice, sumo bouts were performed as a way to pray for a bountiful crop or to predict whether that year's harvest would be good. In the Nara period (710-794) and Heian period (794-1192), sumo became an event conducted at the imperial court, and bouts were performed in front of the emperor.
Sumo basically took its present form in the Edo period. Matches were held to raise money to construct shrines and temples or to replace bridges, and the professional sumo wrestler was born. A sport that was once enjoyed only by the rich and powerful became popular among the masses. Sumo events were often held in Edo (now Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto, and the sport's popularity grew with the sales of color woodblock prints featuring sumo scenes and pictures of wrestlers. The government of the time, though, disapproved of fighting and often issued orders banning sumo.
For this reason, the organizers of sumo decided on a set of rules, including the creation of a list of 48 legal moves and the round ring that is still used today. A system of stables was created to train wrestlers.
As many aspects of old Japan remain in sumo, such as topknots, traditional dress, and ancient customs, professional sumo is more than just a sport; it's a living example of traditional Japanese culture. The wrestlers serve as cultural ambassadors when they take part in events overseas.
Every sumo wrestler belongs to a stable, which is where they live while they are young. A stable is managed by a stable master, a retired wrestler who was a good wrestler in his prime. There are currently 54 stables. Referees, ushers, and hairdressers also live in the stables. The stable master is referred to as oyakata (boss), and his wife, who is called okamisan, plays an important supporting role behind the scenes
There are a number of different divisions for the wrestlers, ranging from the makuuchi and juryo divisions at the top (sekitori), to makushita, sandanme, jonidan, and jonokuchi below them. Wrestlers begin receiving a salary when they become a sekitori at the rank of juryo or higher, and they also get to wear a keshomawashi, a lavishly embroidered apron-like cloth that comes down to their ankles, when they are introduced before the beginning of a tournament. More than anything, though, they get to have people around them take care of their everyday needs. Sekitori also wear their topknot in the shape of the leaf of a ginkgo tree. And the mawashi that a sekitori wears in the tournaments is made of silk and can be one of several colors, while wrestlers in the makushita division or lower can wear only a black cotton mawashi. Sumo is a world in which results are everything, and there is a great difference between how wrestlers of different ranks are treated and how much money they receive.
Wrestlers wake up early in the morning and train hard in the hope of moving up the ranks. Mornings in a sumo stable begin at around 5:00 am. First, the unranked wrestlers begin their training. Each stable has a ring for practice. To begin with, wrestlers stand with their legs apart and their hands on their thighs or knees, with one foot bent and planted firmly on the ground as they raise the other high in the air. As they extend the knee of their leg that is planted on the ground, they strongly bring their other foot down into the ring. This ritual stamping (called shiko) improves their lower body strength.
Another exercise is called teppo. Wrestlers push their hands forward along with their hip and leg of the same side, alternating between left and right. Teppo teaches them the basics of moving their feet and hands as they try to topple an opponent. Another exercise involves planting their backside on the ground while they have their knees extended, opening their legs 180 degrees, and leaning forward until their chest touches the ground. Matawari, as this is called, is used to develop flexibility in the lower body, which is important for a wrestler.
Next, the wrestlers engage in what is known as moshiai, in which the winner of a practice match continues to take new challengers, and they also practice butsukari-geiko, in which wrestlers take turns throwing their bodies into each other. The ranked wrestlers are allowed to sleep a bit later, and they join in the training after they get up. They do much the same training as the younger wrestlers, and they help them as well. Talking with each other is of course not allowed during practice sessions, and the most common sounds that can be heard are those of these large wrestlers throwing their bodies into each other and taking heavy breaths. Practices get more intense as a tournament approaches, and the stable master watches from in front of the practice ring, occasionally entering the ring to give instructions to his charges.
At 8:00 am, the young wrestlers go to the kitchen to help prepare chanko. Chanko refers to the food eaten by sumo wrestlers, and it includes stews, Chinese food, sashimi, and deep-fried food. Stews are the most common dishes, but foods enjoyed by younger people have been included in recent years, such as rice with curry and hamburger steaks. Sumo wrestlers eat two meals a day, having breakfast at around 11:00 am and dinner at about 6:00 pm. Practice ends at around 10:30 when the younger wrestlers have finished preparing the chanko, and the wrestlers then take a bath, with the higher-ranked ones going first. They eat breakfast after fixing their hair in a topknot. And of course when they eat, the higher-ranked wrestlers go first again. Once the morning meal is over, the wrestlers have free time. Many of them take naps to help them get bigger.
Houses: The frame of a Japanese house is made of wood, and the weight is supported by vertical columns, horizontal beams, and diagonal braces. Diagonal braces came to be used when the technology of foreign countries was brought to Japan. One characteristic of Japanese houses is that they have a large roof and deep eaves to protect the house from the hot summer sun, and the frame of the house supports the weight of the roof.
In the old days, the walls of houses were made of woven bamboo plastered with earth on both sides. Nowadays, though, many different types of materials have been developed, and plywood is often used. Also, in the past, many houses had columns that were exposed outside the walls. But in the Meiji era (1868-1912), houses came to be made using a method that encases the columns inside the walls in order to reduce the possibility of fire. Many roofs in the past were covered with shingles or straw, but these days most are covered with tiles called kawara. The roof is the part of the house most affected by rain, wind, snow, sunlight, and other natural conditions. Although there are a number of differences among the roofs seen in different areas of Japan, they all have one thing in common: They are sloped instead of flat, allowing rainwater to flow off easily.
Japanese houses have developed over the years by combining traditional forms with modern technology to improve their resistance to fire and their convenience. Recently, though, people are beginning to look anew at the traditional methods of building houses, which are easy on the environment and last a long time.
In ancient Japan, there were essentially two different types of houses. The first was what is known as a pit-dwelling house, in which columns are inserted into a big hole dug in the ground and then surrounded by grass. The second was built with the floor raised above the ground. The style of house with an elevated floor is said to have come to Japan from Southeast Asia, and this type of building was apparently used to store grain and other foods so that they wouldn't spoil from heat and humidity.
In around the eleventh century, when Japan's unique culture came into full bloom, members of the aristocracy began to build a distinctive style of house for themselves called shinden-zukuri. This type of house, which stood in the midst of a large garden, was symmetrical, and its rooms were connected with long hallways. It allowed residents to enjoy seasonal events and the beauty of nature.
As political power passed from the nobles to the samurai (warrior class) and a new form of Buddhism made its way to Japan, core aspects of traditional Japanese culture as we know it today began to take root, including ikebana (flower arranging), the tea ceremony, and Noh. The samurai created their own style of house called shoin-zukuri. This influence can be seen in the alcove ornament of the guest rooms of modern houses.
The houses of common people developed differently. Farmers in different regions of the country had houses that were adapted to local conditions. The houses built in the gassho style in Shirakawa-go, which is listed as a World Heritage site, are examples of residences in which common people lived. Some farmers' houses had space to keep their cattle and horses indoors, while the houses of city dwellers were often squeezed close together along the streets. As urban homeowners were taxed based on the width of the front side of the house, their houses were built to be long and narrow. This style can still be seen today in older cities like Kyoto.
Housing continued to develop in the Meiji era (1868-1912). Some towns had houses built in the kura-zukuri style, which featured Japanese-looking exteriors but were made from more fire-resistant materials. The style that is the basis for Japanese homes today, which usually have a long hallway through the middle of the house with rooms on each side, is said to combine foreign culture with the style of house preferred by the samurai.
One common feature of Japanese houses is that they have many sliding doors. In ancient times, they sometimes had dividing screens to partition large rooms. These partitions came to be fitted into the walls, but that caused inconvenience, so grooves were made allowing the partitions to slide. This is the style seen in modern Japanese houses today. The word shoji was originally the generic term for partitions between rooms, but today it has come to refer mostly to sliding doors made of paper squares glued on a wood lattice that allows soft light to pass through.
Nowadays tatami mats are used to cover the floor of entire rooms, but long ago, tatami was a luxury and was only used in the areas where people would actually sit. The type of square cushion known as zabuton developed from this practice of sitting on tatami and from the circular cushion known as enza that was used at Buddhist temples. The zabuton was originally a mat made from beautiful cloth, but it came to take its current form in the latter half of the Edo period (1603-1868), when cotton was added.
In the past, when people had meals, each person ate from a separate box-like tray. The practice of people gathering around a dining table only began during the Meiji era, when Western and Chinese foods became common. In rooms with tatami, though, chairs are not used, so the table has much shorter legs than those found in other countries.
As the living room, where the family dines together, grew to be the center of their lives at home, it came to contain a cabinet that holds the plates and bowls that people use. This cabinet, which is called a chadansu, was originally used to hold the implements used in the tea ceremony.
In the winter, Japanese use a heated table called a kotatsu when they sit on tatami in the living room. The kotatsu is said to have developed at Zen Buddhist temples during the middle ages. While it originally used coal for its heat, these days kotatsu rely on an electric heating element. The top and sides of the kotatsu are covered with a futon to keep the heat in, and a board is placed on top of the futon so that the kotatsu can be used as a table.
Around the end of the middle ages, the tokonoma, a kind of small alcove, appeared in the homes of the samurai. The alcove, located in the guest room, usually has a vertical scroll of calligraphy or art for visitors to enjoy, along with traditional ikebana flowers.
Buddhism is practiced in Japan, as it is in many other Asian countries. In Japan, though, indigenous gods have been worshipped alongside the Buddha in homes since long ago. Buddhist altars, known as butsudan, are shaped like a cabinet with doors at the front that swing open. The altar for Japanese gods, known as kamidana, is shaped like a small shrine and is kept on a shelf near the ceiling. It contains a fuda, which is a paper or wooden tablet with writing on it.