Have you started thinking about your group’s themed evening? Here are a few facts and figures to get you started!
An archipelago in the Pacific, Japan is separated from the east coast of Asia by the Sea of Japan. It is approximately the size of Montana. Japan’s four main islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. The Ryukyu chain to the southwest was US-occupied from 1945 to 1972, when it reverted to Japanese control. The Kurils to the northeast are Russian-occupied.
Legend attributes the creation of Japan to the sun goddess, from whom the emperors were descended. The first of them was Jimmu, who ascended the throne in approximately 660 BC, a tradition that constituted official doctrine until 1945.
500-600: Buddhism comes to Japan. Today, more than 70% of Japanese are Buddhists
1274-1281: Military dictators rule Japan and successfully keep invaders out of their country
1853: United States commodore Matthew Perry enters Japan. He demands that Japan trade with the US
1868-1912: Under Emperor Meiji, Japan becomes wealthy and powerful. The country wins wars against China and Russia
1910: Japan takes over the Korean peninsula and rules it for 35 years, until 1945
1923: The Great Kanto Earthquake, one of the worst quakes in world history, destroys Tokyo and Yokohama. More than 140,000 people are killed
1926: Hirohito becomes emperor
1931: Japan invades Manchuria, China. In 1937, Japan goes to war against China
1940-41: Japan becomes an ally of Germany and Italy in World War II. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacks Pearl Harbour, the US naval base in Hawaii
1945: The US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders
1964: Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics. It’s the first time the Games are held in Asia
1991-2000: The ‘Lost Decade’ of recession
1995: A major earthquake hits central Japan
2001-2006: Crown Princess Masako gives birth to a baby girl, Princess Aiko. Five years later, Princess Kiko gives birth to a baby boy. The baby, Hisahito, is third in line to the throne
2010: China overtakes Japan as the world’s second largest economy
2011: A massive offshore earthquake and tsunami cause major damage to cities. The country faces a nuclear threat when a power plant is severely damaged
2012: The Liberal Democratic Party, led by Shinzo Abe, won in a landslide. A conservative party, the Liberal Democrats had governed the country for decades until 2009. Abe officially became prime minister again in December 2012 having previously held the office from 2006 to 2007. To woo voters, the Liberal Democrats presented their plan to stand up to China revive Japan’s economy
2014: Japan lifts its ban on weapons exports. The self-imposed ban had been in place since 1967. Under the new policy, arms sales were still banned to countries in conflict and nations that could undermine international peace. In fact, any weapons sales must contribute to international peace and Japan’s security
2014: Japan back in recession
Starters for research and discussion
Holding back half the nation: Japanese women and work
Women’s lowly status in the Japanese workplace has barely improved in decades, and the country suffers as a result. Shinzo Abe would like to change that.
Japan likens anti-whaling campaign to attempt to ban kimono
Tokyo’s chief negotiator at the International Whaling Commission attacked ‘eco-imperialist’ countries who want a ‘stupid’ ban on hunting.
Japanese newspaper retracts term ‘sex slaves’ from wartime coverage
Attempts to portray women who were forced to work in brothels as willing prostitutes at odds with mainstream historical opinion.
Dementia care in Japan is being solved through volunteer schemes, not government
Japan launches asteroid lander in sequel to Philae comet mission
Dec 2014: Hayabusa 2 probe is launched on a six-year journey to blow a crater in a remote asteroid and bring back rock samples in hopes of gathering clues to the origins of life.
Do Geishas still play a role in today’s Japanese society?
Top tips to joyfully declutter your home, from Marie Kondo
Anything that doesn’t make you happy or isn’t absolutely necessary should be touched, thanked and sent on its way, says the bestselling Japanese author.
Food and Drink
Japanese cuisine involves fresh, delicate flavours based on seasonal ingredients. Rice, miso (fermented soy bean) soup, tofu (soy bean curd), pickled vegetables and fish are the traditional staples of daily Japanese cuisine. Traditionally, meat was not eaten because of Buddhist beliefs. However, beef, chicken are now also staple ingredients. Fresh seafood is highly valued and Japanese will travel far to eat crab in winter, for example, and unagi (eel) in summer. The variety of ingredients, the intensive preparation methods and the meticulous presentation found in Japanese cuisine is highly impressive.
Sushi, pieces of raw fish on vinegared rice, has become synonymous with Japanese cuisine. The easiest place to try sushi is at a kaiten-zushi restaurant where many varieties pass on a conveyor belt and diners can pick up what they fancy without any language difficulties and at reasonable prices. More traditional sushi restaurants serve higher quality fish but also charge much higher prices.
The most luxurious dining in Japan is kaiseki cuisine – a multi-course banquet that was originally intended to accompany the tea ceremony. Kaiseki cuisine is exquisitely presented, reflecting the aesthetics of the seasons and traditional ceramics. A typical banquet will begin with light appetisers and soups before progressing to various steamed, grilled and fried dishes, and ending with a simple rice dish.
- Teriyaki (marinated beef/chicken/fish seared on a hot plate)
- Tempura (seafood and vegetables deep-fried in a light batter)
- Sushi (slices of raw fish and seafood placed on light and vinegary rice balls)
- Sashimi (slices of raw fish and seafood dipped in soy sauce)
- Ramen, soba and udon (varieties of noodles, which can be served hot or cold, in soups or with dipping sauces).
- Kushikatsu (crumbed fish, meat and vegetables deep-fried on skewers)
- Yakitori (skewers of grilled chicken)
- Okonomiyaki (grilled savoury pancake made with shredded cabbage, seafood, pork and noodles)
- Champuru (Okinawan style stir-fry usually cooked with goya bitter melon)
- Obanzai (Kyoto home-style cooking based on vegetables, tofu and fish)
- Shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist cuisine using vegetables, tofu and rice with very light flavouring)
- Green tea is extremely popular. The quality of the tea varies greatly from houjicha (a common brown-coloured tea) and sencha (standard green tea), to genmaicha (green tea roasted with brown rice) and matcha (a bitter green tea used in tea ceremonies)
- Sake (rice wine served hot or cold)
- Shochu (strong vodka-like spirit usually mixed with soft drinks to make cocktails)
- Popular brands of beer are Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory
While sake is still regularly served, beer is by far the most popular alcoholic beverage.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony is called Chanoyu, Sado or simply Ocha in Japanese. It is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one’s attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture. Even the placement of the tea utensils is considered from the guests’ viewpoint (angle), especially the main guests called the Shokyaku.
Further area for research
Happy talking ladies!
Photo by Marc Veraart