Japan, a nation in East Asia, is an archipelago of 6,852 islands in the Pacific Ocean. It comprises the four main islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, in addition to numerous smaller islands. The Japanese call their country Nihon or Nippon, which means “Origin of the Sun.” The name arose from Japan’s position east of the great Chinese empires that held sway over Asia throughout most of its history. It is sometimes referred to in English as the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The dominant religions are Buddhism and Shinto (a religion that originated in Japan).
It is a constitutional monarchy, with Tokyo as its capital. More than 99% of the population speaks Japanese. The economy of Japan is the third largest in the world after the United States and the People’s Republic of China. It is known worldwide for its traditional arts, including tea ceremonies, calligraphy and flower arranging. The country has a legacy of distinctive gardens, sculpture and poetry. Japan is home to more than a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites and is the birthplace of sushi, one of its most famous.
Mountains dominate Japan’s landscape, covering 75 to 80 percent of the country. Historically, the mountains were barriers to transportation, hindering national integration and limiting the economic development of isolated areas. However, with the development of tunnels, bridges, and air transportation in the modern era, the mountains are no longer formidable barriers. The Japanese have long celebrated the beauty of their mountains in art and literature, and today many mountain areas are preserved in national parks.
The absolute best time to visit Japan is in late spring (March-May), when the cherry blossoms come out and the country celebrates with picnics and parties in the parks, late autumn (September-November) is great for mild temperatures, low rainfall and beautifully clear, crisp skies. Winter in Japan (December – February) can be incredibly romantic, with even a little light snowfall in January or February.