Based on what is known from the internet and personal experience, it’s hard to imagine that there are still quite a few facts you might not know about the quirky little island nation of Japan. Everyone knows about anime, ramen, sushi, samurai, and all the other interesting facts that have been repeatedly told over the decades, but there are still some mysteries about the country that many have never heard of before.
Read on to see if you already know all there is to know about the land of the rising sun, or if there are still some facts that can surprise you about this beloved country.
1. Japan is Made Up of 6,852 Islands
You read that number correct. Japan is comprised of 6,852 islands, though only the biggest four are considered the main islands. The four main islands that make up the majority of land in Japan are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu.
The remaining islands can be found around the four main islands as well as further out into the Pacific Ocean. Interestingly enough, only about 430 of Japan’s islands have people living on them, meaning that there are over 6,000 uninhabited Japanese islands.
With such an abundance of islands, it’s no wonder tourist attractions like Rabbit Island, Ishigaki Island and the several Cat Islands are such a popular destination for tourists to visit.
Although most people prefer to think about islands filled with cute, cuddly creatures, the fact remains that Japan actually used to punish criminals by sending them to live out the rest of their lives on remote islands.
In some cases, a criminal would be lucky enough to be sentenced to an already inhabited island full of indigenous islanders. Others found themselves stranded on islands with no food, water, or inhabitants. Thankfully, crime is no longer punishable by banishment to an island, though Japan certainly has quite a few to spare.
2. Japan Has a Lot of Elderly Citizens
One-fifth of the entire population currently residing in Japan consists of elderly citizens. This is the highest proportion of elderly in a population seen worldwide, and is truly amazing when you think about it.
Not only is a good chunk of the population older and wiser, but Japan also has more than 50,000 citizens who are over 100 years-old. In fact, there are more elderly citizens than there are children, and as such more adult diapers than children’s diapers are sold every year in Japan.
Many people attribute the longevity of Japan’s citizens to their amazing diet, exercise, and overall healthy lifestyles. This is almost a striking contrast to the image many people have of the average ‘salaryman’, as they’re called in Japan, who works 60 hour weeks, smokes at least five or six cigarets every shift, drinks excessively every day, and takes very few days off for vacation or rest.
In reality, it’s not entirely known why Japan has so many folks that live on past a century, though many countries are dying to find out for themselves just what the secret may be.
3. Japan Finds Beauty in the Bizarre
Those who live outside of Japan may be surprised to hear about the things that Japanese people consider to be beautiful. The country as a whole has their own unique set of beauty standards, and sometimes fitting in can be both costly and painful (not unlike other countries).
Like most beauty standards, Japanese standards of how pleasing someone looks are generally only defined for females. There are a few standards for males, as well, but they’re not as set in stone and change quite often.
Japanese woman are said to be beautiful if they have a small face – the smaller the better. Pale or white skin is also a sign of beauty, and many Japanese women go to great lengths to make sure that their skin is always protected from tanning.
Instead of straightening teeth with braces, many Japanese women prefer to use braces to make their teeth crooked to get a ‘yaeba’ look. These same women are also judged by the height of their nose bridge and the ratio of their height to the size of their head (1:8 is said to be ideal).
4. In Japan, Sleeping on the Job is Good
In any other country, a worker’s boss would be extremely upset to see that his employee had fallen asleep on the job. In Japan, however, bosses are delighted when they walk by their employee’s desks and see that they’re fast asleep.
Salarymen in Japan work long hours, often staying at the office ten or more hours each day. This is in part due to the custom of remaining at work until after your boss has left the office. The boss hardly ever leaves early, and almost always stays late.
When a Japanese boss sees one of his many employees asleep at their desk, they take it as a sign that the employee is working so hard that they’ve exhausted themselves to the point that their bodies have shut down.
This is taken to mean that the employee has such a loyalty to the company that they sacrifice everything to be at work – even sleep. Some employees have caught onto the game, and actually pretend to be asleep at their desks when the boss is making his rounds to look like a loyal and hardworking employee.
5. In Japan, Rice Cookers Reign Supreme
Rice. It’s what’s for Breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. In Japan, there is almost always rice present during every major meal. As such, rice cookers are a necessity to have in the home to keep up with the demand. It’s no surprise why Japan has some of the best and most sophisticated rice cookers known to man.
If someone has to use a cooking utensil every single day, it might as well be the best it can be. Japanese rice cookers are so technologically advanced that many tourist visit Japan just to buy one to take back to their home country.
Add in the fact that most Japanese homes don’t have a standard-sized oven – or any oven at all – and it’s hard to imagine what kind of meals are consumed by Japanese families. Most Japanese dishes are made with rice and can be cooked on a stove top or prepared without any cooking at all. A popular Japanese dish, sashimi, is just raw fish cut into slices that is occasionally dipped into soy sauce and wasabi. Add a bit of rice to the raw fish and you’ve got yourself some delicious sushi.
6. Japan Has a Long Line of Royalty
Currently, the Yamato Dynasty is the longest surviving dynasty ever recorded and is still thriving today through The Imperial House of Japan. Founded in 660BC, Japan has had many monarchs throughout the centuries – 125 to be exact. Like many other countries, Japan has a constitutional monarchy. Instead of kings and queens, however, emperors and empresses have held power in various different ways since the title was first created.
Japan is a country of long-standing traditions. Even so, Japan has begun to understand how to change to adjust to modern times when needed. It used to be absolute law that the current emperor could not step down from the throne and pass on his title unless he died.
The law was recently changed to allow the current monarch, Emperor Akihito, to abdicate due to his failing health in order to allow his son to inherit the title. Even with such changes, the line of royalty in Japan doesn’t show any signs of ending anytime soon.
7. Japan Loves Coffee
Move over green tea – coffee takes the number one beverage spot in many Japanese people’s hearts. Not only is Japan one of the largest importers of coffee (they take at least 85% of Jamaica’s annual coffee production all for themselves), but they’ve also taken their love for the caffeinated beverage a step further by making it a form of art. Since the beginning of the 1900s, coffee has been naturalized into Japanese society, and is enjoyed as an everyday beverage and a specialty drink.
For the past fifty years, Japanese coffee has spurred the rise in specialty coffee shops where artists create one-of-a-kind crafted drinks that amaze people from around the world. Kissaten are coffee shops to head to if you’re looking for a specialty pour over coffee that’s individually hand-dripped.
Even though such a style is the most popular way Japanese people prefer to enjoy their coffee, the amount of readily available (though mostly lower quality) coffee that can be found in stores and vending machines keeps the country well caffeinated with their beloved beverage.
Another specificity of Japanese people is that they love iced coffee with a lot of ice cubes, specially during summer time!
8. Japan Has Expensive Fruit
Walking through your local grocery store, you may only notice how high prices are for fruits in the organic section. In Japan, one section of the store has prices that would likely shock and surprise any shopper – specialty fruits that can be sold for ridiculously high prices because they’re not for everyday consumption. Apples for over $20 each, watermelons that can easily cost over $200, and packs of strawberries for over $80 are all common sights in the fruit section of Japanese grocery stores.
Along with small sections in grocery stores, there are actually multitudes of luxury fruit parlors that specialize in selling these high-priced delicacies. It might seem a bit strange to buy a cantaloupe for over $150, but in Japan these fruits are carefully grown and harvested to be sold as beautiful specimens for consumers to give to friends, family, and coworkers as gifts.
These fruits are most often given during hospital visits, important business deals, and weddings. The more perfect the appearance of the fruit, the higher the price, and the more the gift means to the receiver.
9. Japan Celebrates Christmas with KFC
Many fast food chains have made their way to Japan over the years: McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Subway, and KFC, to name a few. Of all these fast food establishments, none have created such an incredible cultural phenomenon like KFC has. Due largely in part to a marketing campaign in the 1970s, Japanese people have equated the celebration of Christmas with eating fried chicken.
Reservations to dine at local KFCs start months before Christmas, and the tradition of families and couples enjoying a bucket of chicken inside a fast food establishment has kept going strong for the past forty years. KFC continues to run their Christmas campaigns to make sure that everyone is just as excited for Christmas as they would be for any other holiday. Even though only 1% of the population is Christian, Japanese people still enjoy celebrating the holiday in their own special way.
10. In Japan, Adult Males Are Adopted More Than Children
When people think of adopting, they usually want to get an infant or young child. Some might even want to help an older child who’s had a hard life, but rarely do any of them think of expanding their family by adopting a fully grown man. Interestingly enough, adopting an adult male into the family isn’t an oddity in Japan, as 90% of all people adopted in Japan are men between the ages of 20 to 30 years old.
Adopting a male successor is one way that families can pass down their businesses to a legitimate heir, and is also a way to circumvent same-sex marriage laws. Many Japanese men who are second sons or for whatever reason have no claim to their family business or name often seek out to be adopted by other families in need of an heir.
Though it has been questioned in the past, being adopted into a family is common practice in modern Japan and is regarded as a high honor in some respects. There are even popular apps and websites dedicated to bringing an adult male and a family together for adoption purposes.
Although Japan might seem like it has crazy, out-of-this-world trends, standards, and practices, it’s still a great idea to travel to Japan and to live here. Hopefully your next experience in Japan will be enhanced by knowing these fun facts that many still don’t know about.