Japan (Nippon or Nihon)
Location: An island country in East Asia, located in the Pacific Ocean to the east of China.
Map: Below is a 1707 map of Japan as the Dutch envisaged it, with a cartouche representing the audience of William Adams with the Shogun.
Capital: Tokyo, but in the 17th century Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the official home of the Japanese emperor, their ‘Living God’.
Meaning: ‘sun origin’, which is why the country is referred to as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.
East Meets West: During the 16th century, traders and missionaries from Portugal reached Japan for the first time in 1544, initiating the Nanban (southern barbarian) period of active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West. The Portuguese introduced guns and Christianity to the Japanese for the first time.
Japan in C17th: Japan’s feudal era was characterised by the emergence of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai, as well as a highly evolved culture noted for its art, poetry and literature. Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu was appointed shogun (general) in 1603. Aside from the Battle Of Osaka Castle in 1614-15, he and his descendents ruled Japan for the next two and half centuries with little opposition.
In 1639, the shogunate decreed the isolationist sakoku (‘closed country’) policy that began the Edo period and only ended in 1854 when Commodore Matthew Perry and the ‘Black Ships’ of the United States Navy arrived upon Japanese shores forcing Japan to open up again to the outside world.
Japan Today: The traditional and modern coexist in Japan in a way that is unique. Suit-wearing businessmen walk side by side with ladies in kimono. Futuristic high-rise buildings and billboards jostle for space next to ancient temples, castles and zen gardens. Modern amusement arcades entice teenagers along with traditional martial arts dojos. Japan is a country that is firmly rooted in the past, but always looking to the future.