61 Interesting Facts About Japan

the cherry blossoms in takayama japanI’m currently in Japan on a G Adventures tour, and I’m loving every minute of it. Japan has far exceeded my expectations, though I’m definitely not eating enough sushi. In four days, I’ve only had it twice. For someone so addicted to sushi, that just feels so wrong. I’ll be rectifying that soon enough, though (tomorrow for lunch).

Japan is a country with a fascinating culture and history, so I thought I’d share some of the interesting facts I’ve learned about it:

Japan has the world’s third-largest economy, behind the US and China.

There are 127 million people living in the country.

The founding of Japan and the imperial line dates back to 660 BC. National Foundation Day is a national holiday and is celebrated on February 11th.

More than 70% of Japan is mountainous terrain.

There are over 200 volcanoes in Japan.

Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan, is also an active volcano.

Zen Buddhism is the most common form of Buddhism in Japan.

There are four different writing systems in Japan: romaji, katakana, hiragana, and kanji.

Japan imports about 85% of Jamaica’s total coffee production.

Japan’s literacy rate is almost 100%.

There is almost no immigration in Japan. The population is 98% ethnic Japanese.

Sumo is Japan’s national sport.

Baseball is also hugely popular in Japan, due to the strong American presence after World War II.

Slurping your food is a sign that the food is delicious and is considered a compliment to the cook.

Japan is the world’s largest consumer of Amazon rainforest timber.

There are over 1,500 earthquakes in Japan each year, though most of them are very minor.

Japanese people live an average of four years longer than Americans.

Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is the world’s largest fish market, and the majority of fish in the world go through here.

Japan still hunts whales under the premise of “research,” though the meat does end up in supermarkets.

The first Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji, was written by a Japanese noblewoman, Murasaki Shikibu, in 1007.

In Japanese, karaoke means “empty orchestra.”

Raised floors in Japanese houses indicate when to take off your shoes.

Most Japanese ATMs don’t accept foreign ATM cards. You have to use the machines at the post office or find a 7-11.

It takes about 11 years of intensive training to become a fugu (blowfish) chef. Fugu chefs need to eat their own fish in order to pass the training and be certified to prepare the fish.

In Japanese, geisha means “performing artist.” The first geishas were men.

Many Japanese companies have morning exercise sessions for their workers.

A very popular food in Japan is raw horse meat.

Japan has the second-lowest homicide rate in the world. The homicide rate is .50 per 100,000 people.

Japan has produced 18 Nobel Prize winners.

The Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, cut off the tip of the left pinky finger as punishment for someone’s first offense.

Japan consists of approximately 6,800 islands.

The four main islands—Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido—comprise 97% of Japan’s total land area.

Japan has been inhabited since 30,000 B.C.

Animated Japanese films and television shows (i.e. anime) account for 60% of the world’s animation.

There are close to 130 voice-acting schools for anime voices.

23% of the Japanese population is over the age of 65.

The greater Tokyo area is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 35 million people.

Tokyo’s population is 13 million.

Sushi used to be eaten as street food.

The world’s most expensive tuna was sold in Japan for $735,000 USD.

It’s considered inappropriate to blow your nose in public.

Japan has cafes where people can play with puppies and kittens.

Japan boasts the longest-reigning monarchy in the world.

The only foreign language taught and mandated in Japanese schools is English.

Contrary to popular belief, true Kobe beef is only found in Japan, due to tight controls and restrictions.

Under Japanese law, Kobe beef can only come from Hyogo Prefecture.

Japan is the only country in the world that has had atomic weapons used against it.

The Japanese constitution includes an article completely renouncing war and aggression.

In Japan, snowmen are made of two large snowballs, not three.

Restaurants give you moist towels before your meal, as well as green tea.

Haiku is the shortest poetic form in the world, consisting of only three lines.

Mount Everest’s oldest climber is Japanese. Mr. Yuichiro Miura was 70 when he reached the summit and 75 when he made the climb a second time.

Japanese samurai were ancient warriors of great honor and valor. They were considered the best warriors in Japan.

A ninja was a covert mercenary in feudal Japan who specialized in unorthodox warfare.

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

The Japanese movie The Hidden Fortress was the basis for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Japanese sake is made from fermented rice.

Tokyo is the second most expensive city in the world to live in.

The fortune cookie dates back to the 19th century and was first made in Kyoto, Japan.

There are more than 1,600 temples in Kyoto.

For more information about Japan with added facts, things to do, and how to visit, read these articles:
13 Reasons Why I Love Japan
A Complete Guide to Traveling Japan
How to Visit Japan on a Budget

  1. From what I remember, “Land of the Rising Sun” is not in fact a nickname. The kanji for Japan, ??? translates most directly to “Source of the Sun”. I’m not sure where we got “Japan” out of that?

    If you get down to Hyogo, make a point to find some Kobe Beef Sashimi. Its up there with Sushi at Tsukiji Market as one of the most amazing meals of my life!

    • Ken

      Hi, I’m a Japanese.
      “Source of the Sun” is written as “??” in Chinese words. The pronounce of “??” is “Jiben” in old south China. (Today, it is “Riben” in China, because their formal pronounce is north China now). And “Jiben” was changed to “Japan” between China and Europe.

  2. I would add that Japan got the speed record on trains when a Maglev achieved 541 km/h.

    Today I wrote a similar article on my Spanish language blog, what a coincidence!

    • NomadicMatt

      After the Americans occupied Japan, we brought our love of Baseball. They have a huge league here and we get lots of Japanese players in the states. We gave Japan baseball, they gave us sushi.

  3. Thanks dude.
    Japan is one of my favorite countries.

    “Japan imports about 85% of Jamaica’s total coffee production.”

    That’s a tough one to stomach since Jamaican coffee is so popular around the world.

    • NomadicMatt

      Yeah, I looked that one up on the coffee growers association site. Blue Mountain Coffee is what is most often drunk around the world.

  4. I remember the first time my Japanese Aunt visited us in Australia – she walked into the house, looked up at all the glass jars and other nick-nacks my folks had lined up on the picture rails and said “no earthquakes here”. It is just such a way of life to them that there was no way they could keep anything out on display like that because it would fall down at least once a week!

    (P.S. Thanks for yet another very informative post, it’s nice to read it even if I can’t yet experience it :) )

  5. Patrick

    Nice list of very fun facts. I lived/worked in Tokyo for a year. I love it and miss it tremendously. This is the first I’ve ever seen a reference of then Fortune Cookie to Japan. I’m pretty certain I never had one while living there. I had heard the fortune cookie was a U.S. invention. I normally associate it with Chinese restsurants in the US. (I also lived in Shanghai for more than a year and never saw it there either!).

    Keep up the great blog and please posts photos of your travels there!

    • NomadicMatt

      It was popularized in the states but an early form of it existed in Kyoto. It was given as a special gift.

  6. I might add it’s the only country where a completely computerized singer, Aimi Eguchi, is a huge pop star (although, is Katy Perry really that much of a deviation with all that auto-tune?).

  7. Love the facts! Sounds like you’re really enjoying the trip.

    I love that I felt like a celebrity in Japan…even got interviewed for a news paper when I was just walking through Yokohama.

  8. Just want to caution anyone coming to Japan – don’t bank on always being able to use a 7-11 or post office ATM either! It also depends on the card you have, what bank you use, etc. As someone who lives here, I’ve experienced this first hand.

    Also, I don’t think raw horse meat is a “very popular food.” And not all restaurants serve green tea (free) prior to a meal. The moist towels (usually little packets unless you go to a nicer place) are true though.

    Anyway, enjoy the rest of your time in Japan!

  9. Slurping my noodles as a sign of respect to the chef took me a while to get used to!

    But then I realised it’s a great way to eat noodles while they are still really hot – the extra air with the slurping cools down the noodles on their way into your mouth. Pretty handy!

  10. Heres some more:

    Traditional christmas food is KFC (a joke the americans did after the war but they kept it), you usually need to book at a KFC on Christmas day.

    60 million people live within a 1 hour commute of Tokyo (largely thanks to the bullet train)

    I had raw horse meat sushi last week for the first time!

  11. Al

    Matt! Go check out Kagoshima! It’s the southernmost major city in Japan. But go there in the spring or you will fry (and sweat!) and take the ferry to the volcano, Sakurajima and visit the towns there! You won’t regret it! Dang it you got me so excited for you too now! lol

  12. Hi Matt! It’s great to see you in Japan, and your blog and photos are making me feel nostalgic. I lived there for a year, in the 1990s, in Tokyo. Loved Tokyo but ADORED Kyoto. Try and stay in an old ryokan, and experience an onsen. And please eat some sushi for me, cheers.

  13. Radoslawa

    I know 98% of the stuff written here about Japan and I haven’t been there at all. All the advice seems to be taken from books, only the advice about cards looks taken from experience. The sentence about Haiku is not complete, there are not only 3 lines, there are also strict rules, which make the 3 lines Haiku. What about the prices in the shop? Oxygen. Japanese talking English… Etc. I could write better entry than this not even being in Japan :) hopefully next entry will be more realistic! x

  14. Very informative, thanks for sharing, Matt!

    Wow, a lot of voiceover jobs indeed! I’d love to go to Japan one day to explore the acting scene there. Had an acting class where we did a bit of the Suzuki training – kick ass indeed! Would be cool to actually try it out there.

  15. Great post! I’m moving out to Japan in August but I’ve never been before! Sounds amazing I can’t wait to go, you’ve made me eager :p

  16. Japan as well as some Scandinavian countries has a very high standard of living, is one of the most peaceful, and least religious countries in the world. But unlike those Northern European countries it’s not as happy. Either way I am a big fan of it.

  17. Mary

    That’s an interesting list! Didn’t know raw horse meat is a popular food in Japan… I like to visit Japan. Never fail to discover wonders and surprises each time I visit Japan. My last visit was to Osaka where I stayed in Fraser Residence Nankai Osaka. Fantastic furnished apartments! Pity frasers don’t have a property in tokyo. Anyway your article really gives me the urge to plan for my next trip to Japan. And maybe try raw horse meat? Hah!

  18. “There is almost no immigration in Japan. The population is 98% ethnic Japanese.”

    Hehe. Guess I’m one of the 2% then, but it’s really true! You won’t find many foreigners here, especially not “Western” foreigners.

    “There are over 1,500 earthquakes in Japan each year, though most of them are very minor.”

    Those earthquakes don’t happen everywhere in Japan, but in certain regions. Unfortunately Tokyo and the Tohoku (Northern Japan) get them a lot! I managed to live in Japan for 5 years now without ever experiencing any earthquake (and yes, I was here for the “BIG” one(s) in March 2011).

    “Japan has cafes where people can play with puppies and kittens.”

    Not only that! Japan has a “Cat Island! – a small island where you’ll find more cats than human inhabitants! Dogs are not allowed on that island. It was severely damaged by the tsunami in March 2011. At first nobody knew if the people and cats on the island survived, but they did. I visited the island in May 2012 and can only highly recommend it to all cat lovers who come to Japan! :)

  19. Hali Brooke Mason

    Wow. You didn’t research any of this, did you?

    Okay… where to begin.
    Well, “Land of the Rising Sun” is not a nickname. It’s the literal translation of the two kanji characters that make up the name, “Nihon.” The first kanji means “sun,” and the second, “origin.”

    Romaji is NOT A WRITING SYSTEM. It’s the Americanized, watered-down version of hiragana/katakana. It’s just “American phonetic.” Although it is becoming more popular among Japanese youth, that is merely a result of the popularity of all things Western.

    Samurai aren’t “ancient,” nor were they at all respected by the end of the warring states. They were just mercenaries. They were the bottom end of the aristocracy, albeit still technically aristocrastic.

    Hm, that might actually be it.

  20. Charlie

    Interesting stuff. I’ve lived in Japan for 7 years so far and have experienced many of these things. Not looking forward to having my finger cut off although I’m often banned from onsens for having tattoos (the yakuza have tattoos so they’re banned in most onsens although I’ve seen the odd one slip in).

    I will add the Tokyo is now the #3 most expensive cities to live in (this always applies to expats). Locals can live much cheaper. Luanda (Angola) is now number one and Moscow is number two. None of this makes me feel better; it’s still expensive to live here.

    • Charlie

      PS. Not to slam Japan but I think you need to make sure you understand that there’s a huge difference between ‘politeness’ and ‘friendliness’. As a whole (I know it’s a generalization but it’s what I do), Japan is not particularly friendly when compared with other places in the world.

      You will get ridiculously good customer service here, but there’s a cultural slant to it that’s steeped in Japan being a historically closed society. Although you’ll find the odd expat talking about their Japanese ‘friends’, these relationships are a often lot more superficial than what westerners think of in terms of friendships. ‘Friends’ going out for drinks are more often colleagues or classmates. The friendship doesn’t tend to go a lot deeper than eating or drinking together after work/class. FYI, I’m a professor of sociology at ICU in Tokyo.

  21. Douglas Hall

    I discovered this Jpop group of beautiful girls called Dream in June of this year, 2013, and since then I’ve become very interested in all things Japan. I’ve read hours of info regarding the culture, history, food, travel guides, you name it. The cool thing is about 2 months ago I started to learn Nihongo on my own with little guidance and can already read, write, pronounce, and translate half of the Hiragana script. I’m a guitarist from Atl. Ga. and I’ve noticed a lot of musicians can learn the language. I have a lot of work to do. ( secret-it’s very hard! )

  22. Sue

    Really fun list. I’ve lived in Japan for 20 years, but learned a few things, nonetheless.

    It’s not true that slurping is a complement to the chef. According to my (Japanese) husband, it’s the best way to enjoy the taste and texture of the noodles, and/or to cool soup or noodles that are very hot. It’s not polite to slurp any and every food, either – just soups and noodles.

  23. Dear Matt,

    I was reading your blog, and whilst I found many of the pages useful or interesting I was disappointed to see what you wrote about vegetarianism on your 20 facts about you page. An outsider could enter into “western” culture and quite easily feel they are being culturally insensitive by not eating meat when that is what the majority of people do. In the United Kingdom I do sometimes kick up a bit of fuss when I tell hosts I am vegetarian before coming but usually it goes down okay.

    Do you think vegetarians do not exist in China, Japan, in Laos, Argentina. in Mongolia? Sure, they may be the minority but it is the same pretty much everywhere (aside from India, perhaps). If you want to eat meat, do it, but don’t justify it by saying you are avoiding being “culturally insensitive”, please. I have travelled around the globe as a vegetarian and people have always respected my views. Sure, sometimes people are confused by them (as they often are in the US, Europe). I know vegetarians from many countries and I think they would be offended by your presumption that their cultures are not so progressive.


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