Influence of Geography on Japanese Society

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We believe that the geography of Japan has had a heavy influence on the development of society, and we will state and explain the reason why throughout this essay. The following two sentences help to summarise the effect that Japan’s geography has had on its society “The Japanese have different lifestyles depending on their place of residence and their age or generation. Their eating habits, type of housing, language, style of thinking, and many other aspects of their everyday life hinge upon where the live and how old they are. ” (Sugimoto, 2003).

Japan consists of four main islands and many minor islands. The main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. The minor islands have around 2 million inhabitants, only 1. 5% of Japan’s population of 126,804,433 (Central Intelligence Agency, 2010) – the lifestyles of these people differ from the people living on the main island as their ways of life are influenced by the marine environment. The majority of people living on the main islands live in the major cities due to a shortage of flat land, and commute to work every day on the train, with their lives being generally centred upon work.

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The two different lifestyles reflect the effects of geography on society – those in the cities are influenced by the in-your-face commercialism, and so people work hard so that they can afford the latest gadgets and consumer goods. On the other hand, people living out on the remote islands do not necessarily have the same consumer habits and desires, and are very happy to lead the life of a fisherman for example, just like their ancestors. Japan has four climates throughout the year. Hokkaido, the northern-most island, has a yearly average temperature of 8 degrees.

The island is world-renowned for its ski resorts, with Niseko being the most famous. In 2007, 24,000 foreign tourists visited the resort alone, so nearby inhabitants are indirectly influenced by frequent snow fall because of the tourism it brings. When it snows in the more temperate parts of Japan (i. e. Tokyo), they are not as prepared for heavy snow, with the best example being in the February when snow disrupted commuter traffic into Tokyo and caused problems with the transport systems (JapanToday, 2010).

Japan’s western coast, facing the Sea of Japan, has a lot of rain and snow – this is caused by moisture-bearing winds being stopped by the Central and Northern Japanese Alps. One could say that this is a similar situation to the inhabitants of Hokkaido – they have a lot of snow throughout the year and are more adept, and would not necessarily have transport problems such as in Tokyo, as their transport systems are enhanced with special technology – an example is the ‘Intelligent Delineator System’ (National Research Council (US), 1996).

The eastern half of Japan has a temperate climate, as a result of the aforementioned Alps protecting them from the cold eastern winds. They have warm summers, caused by warm winds from the Pacific Ocean (AsianInfo. org, 2010). The southern-most island chain, Ryukyu, has the opposite climate to that of Hokkaido – yearly temperatures are around 22° Celsius. The hot climate creates a good tourism industry, serving people coming from the major cities for a summer break. Therefore, society differs by region as a result of climate affecting local industry and its priorities, and therefore the general way of life.

Another reason why geography has affected Japanese society is the introduction of religion from neighbouring countries, with the most notable example being that of Buddhism. Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 552 by its closest neighbour, Korea. Nowadays, Buddhism is an important part of Japanese society, though not in the same way as Christianity in the West – “Buddhism is the chief mortuary agent in Japan’s family-oriented society” (McFarland, 1991). Normally, a family will have both a Shinto and a Buddhist shrine in the same home, as Shintoism applies to life in general, whereas Buddhism applies more to death and the afterlife.

In 2005, 94 million people were registered as Buddhists – nearly three quarters of the population. (Tabuchi, 2006) Another effect of geography is volcanoes. Volcanoes have their advantages and disadvantages, and affect society accordingly. The advantages are more fertile land around the volcanoes, and the presence of hot springs, which is a popular past-time for people of all ages, especially in the winter month. Even monkeys use the hot springs as a past-time and cleaning facility. These springs create business opportunities around the dormant volcanoes.

The obvious disadvantage of volcanoes is their volatile nature, with a good example being the eruption of Miyakejima on the Izu islands in 2000. Now, the islands only have a few habitable areas, due to lingering poisonous gases, and so people are beginning to move to mainland Japan for more stable roots. (Talmadge, 2006) In conclusion, depending on regional location, society can be varied – a remote islander has a more secluded and basic way of life revolving around the marine environment, whereas those living in the big cities i. e. Tokyo, lead a very different way of life, with the presence of large scale commercial entities driving people to work hard for their own satisfaction. With Japan being so close to established Buddhist countries such as Korea, Buddhism was able to spread into Japan in the early stages of its established government, and therefore become an integral part of Japanese society. Japan’s country-wide variation of climate creates different lifestyles for those in the diverse climatic regions. And finally, volcanoes can be good for society in some ways, but bad in others.

Bibliography (2010). Japan’s Geography. Retrieved from Central Intelligence Agency. (2010). Japan. Retrieved from CIA World Factbook: JapanToday. (2010, February 18th). Snow disrupts commuter traffic in Tokyo. Retrieved from JapanToday: National Research Council (US). (1996). Snow removal and ice control technology: selected papers presented at Fourth International Symposium, Reno, Nevada, August 11-16, 1996. Retrieved from Sugimoto, Y. (2003). An Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Tabuchi, H. (2006, October 26). “Religion today”. Retrieved from WorldWide Religious News: Talmadge, E. (2006). Getting Wet. Japan: Kodansha Europe Ltd.

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