The ‘Know Your Region’ series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the South East Asian region. It’s important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in the Indo-Pacific.
JAPAN – INFORMATION
On this page:
- Japan Overview
- Culture / Demographics
- National Psyche
- Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
- Media and the Internet
- Communications and Tech
Japan is an archipelago of more than 6,800 islands situated off the east coast of Asia in the North Pacific Ocean. The islands form a northeast-southwest arc that stretches over more than 2,000kms. For an in-depth look at the country, have a look at the CIA Factbook on Japan.
Japan’s closest neighbours are the Republic of Korea, North Korea, China and Russia.
Japan is known as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, and it has a population of over 126 million people. There are four main islands which, largest to smallest are: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Honshu is also the most populated with over 100 million people inhabiting the island, and where the capital city, Tokyo, is situated.
The following videos provide an excellent short introduction to Japan:
Culture / Demographics
The official national language of Japan is Japanese, of which there are three dialects. There are also three Japanese language types (similar to alphabets). These are: Hiragana (based upon sounds), Katakana (based upon sounds, simplified from Kanji symbols) and Kanji (oldest, and picture-based).
There are two main religions of Japan: Shinto (the oldest and most practised) and Buddhism. From tea ceremonies to Geishas, or growing Bonsai trees, maintaining ancient cultures and traditions is very important to the Japanese people. Manners are highly respected and applied; and there are strict rules regarding the use of footwear when entering homes, eateries, temples and other historic buildings.
Sport-wise, Japan is probably most well-known for a range of martial arts including Sumo wrestling, Kendo, meaning ‘the way of the sword’ (evolved from Samurai practices), Judo, Aikido, Karate, and Yabuame (archery).
While ancient culture and traditions are important to modern Japan, its contemporary culture includes Anime (animation drawn from hand or computer) which began in the 1960s and is now a multi-billion-dollar global industry.
This video provides a good insight into Japanese traditions and culture:
For more information on Japanese culture and demographics, see the resources below:
- SBS – Cultural Atlas – Japanese Culture
- Brief Summary of Anime Culture
- A Look Into Japanese Sports Culture
- MOFA: General Principles Concerning Measures for the Aging Society
- Japan World Report 2021 – Human Rights Watch
- Why Japan’s Traditions Help it Succeed in the Modern World
- Major Holidays and Celebrations in Japan
Japan’s national identity is deeply rooted in its cultural values which focus on hard work, family, respect, honesty, and the good of the collective. A humble nation, Japan’s national goal is to maintain peace and continued prosperity. Japan was deeply impacted by its involvement and the outcomes of World War II and has spent many decades remorseful of some of its actions towards other nations.
Over many decades, Japan’s development of fantasy-like entertainment culture has also shaped its national identity.
This excellent short video gives a better understanding of the Japanese national psyche:
For further reading on Japan’s national psyche, see the resources below:
Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Through its annual publication of the Blue Book, Japan actively informs its regional neighbours and the global community of its government policies, culture, education and economics, to promote greater understanding of the country and its foreign policies. Its diplomatic relations vary with its closest neighbours, North and South Korea, China and Russia; and it continues to build strong and positive relationships through its foreign policy with the United States of America and Australia.
Japan uses the attributes of soft power to influence its regional and international neighbours, largely accredited with former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s’ leadership of drawing the world’s attention to its cultures (traditional and modern), its education, and its military revitalisation.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs promulgates formal information for public viewing via its MOFA website and the Public Relations Office Government of Japan and currently, the Tokyo Olympics are providing Japan an opportunity to demonstrate its public diplomacy to the world.
For more information on Japan’s public diplomacy and public affairs, see the resources below:
- MOFA: Public Diplomacy
- Public Diplomacy and the Evolution of US – Japan Relations (paper)
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan: International Situation and Japan's Diplomacy in 2019
- Japan is using cultural diplomacy to reassert its place in the world – but is the message too exclusive?
- Japan’s Soft Power as a Political Tool
- Hello Kitty and Japan’s kawaii diplomacy
Media and the Internet
Japan has five broadcasting stations, five major daily newspapers and numerous radio outlets. Japan’s official public broadcaster is NHK. The website below gives an excellent overview of the history of Japanese media, current media outlets and includes links to relevant articles:
Japan invested much public funding money in the Internet during the late 1990s. By 2021, Japan has one of the highest numbers of internet users in the Asia Pacific region. Like other countries, the use of internet as a means of communication has influenced the way in which Japanese people choose to engage and to be informed.
Recently, Japan recorded the fastest ever internet speed of around 1.6 TB/s. For those who are technically minded, this detailed video below gives further information:
For more information on media and the internet in Japan, see the following resources:
Communications and Technology
Japan has long been considered to be a world leader in communications and technology, with cutting-edge technology as one of the country’s major world exports. Recently, Japan’s ‘Society 5.0’ is an initiative described as the next step following the 4th Industrial Revolution and is a strategic national political initiative for economic growth, started by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and which includes the design of a ‘smart’ city, among many other high-tech initiatives.
The Japanese Government has produced a number of videos promoting Japan’s high-tech advances under the heading ‘Innovation Japan’ and the Japan’s vision of Society 5.0 is explained in this excellent video:
For further resources on Japan’s communications and technology, including Society 5.0, see the resources below.
- ‘Hello Kitty’ has been used as a cultural diplomacy tool in Japan for decades. How successful has the icon been in promoting Japan’s soft power, and can ‘she’ be used to improve relationships with Japan’s closest neighbours? How?
- Japan’s has re-invented itself through the use of fantasy and pop culture many times since the end of World War II, all of which (Hello Kitty, Anime, Mario Bros etc) have helped its economic success and built public pride. Do you think this use of soft power is positively influencing its relationship with its closest allies / partners? For example, the United States of America?
- Japan’s intent to build the first ‘Smart city’ will address some of the economic problems the country has, including the ageing population and insufficient workforce. The community within will totally rely upon technology to function in day-to-day life. Is this a type of society that could be economically sustainable in Japan? What about in Australia? What economic implications could there for a sustainable ‘smart city’?