t is one of the most amazing countries in the world. The
IJapanese call it Nippon or Nihon, meaning the source of the Sun.
Others call it the Land of the Rising Sun. We call it Japan. This
small nation of scattered islands off the eastern coast of mainland
Asia is often called the “Miracle of the Orient.” It has risen from
obscurity and self-imposed isolation to a position as a global
economic giant in little more than a century. Yet considering the
country’s physical geography, its history, and its huge population,
Japan should have been a huge failure. Japan had to overcome many
seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve its present-day place
among major world nations. The Japanese peoples’ spirit, determi-
nation, work ethic, and knowledge have been their primary tools in
achieving this “miracle.”
Japan poses many questions. How has such a small country,Bonsai is an aspect of Japanese culture that illustrates the harmony between humankind, nature, order, and beauty. These dwarf trees are prized for their
longevity and beauty.
Japan with almost no natural resources, become the world’s secondstrongest industrial economy? How can people with traditions so different than those of Americans still be like us in so many ways? How did a country that attacked the United States during World War II and suffered the devastating conse-
quences of its actions become one of our strongest allies?
Why has Japan’s economy weakened during recent years?
What is its future in these troubled economic times? These are
just some of the intriguing questions that will be answered in
the pages of this book.
The Japanese place a high value on the harmony between
humankind, nature, order, and beauty. One trait associated
with Japanese culture (way of life) that illustrates these values
is the bonsai tradition. A bonsai is a “dwarf” tree, often with
gnarled trunk and of great age. Such trees are grown in small,
shallow pots and with little soil. Yet they thrive and are prized
for their durability and beauty. The bonsai tradition and tech-
nique, which involves extensive pruning of growth, was first
practiced in China. It appears to have been introduced into
Japan during the Kamakura period, about 800 years ago. The
Japanese rapidly adopted the method. In a short time, they far
surpassed the Chinese in the quality and beauty of bonsai trees.
In translation, an ancient Japanese scroll says, “To appreciate
and find pleasure in curiously curved potted trees is to love
deformity.” Understanding the bonsai tradition provides some
lessons that help us better understand Japan and its people.
The bonsai tradition, for example, is ancient and many of the
trees are very old. Japanese culture is also ancient and today,
Japanese people enjoy the world’s longest life expectancy. Bonsai
are rugged in appearance. So is the country of Japan, with its
several thousand islands dominated by rugged mountain land-
scapes. Bonsai trees are small, gnarled, and grow in very limited
space and soil. The first impression of many travelers to Japan
is how small and crowded things are. Japanese houses, by
American standards, are tiny, as are vehicles, appliances, and even
the people themselves, many of whom are quite small in stature.
The country’s 127 million people are crowded into a very small
area, as are bonsai in their tiny pots. And like the bonsai with its
limited amount of soil, the country has almost no natural
resources to help its economy grow.
When China introduced the bonsai tradition, the Japanese
rapidly adopted the technique and improved the practice. In a
similar manner, when the West introduced industry, commerce,
and urbanization, the Japanese rapidly adopted the new ideas.
Within slightly more than a century, they became the world’s
second ranking industrial power. Japan also quickly became
urbanized. Today, Japan’s capital city of Tokyo, with Yokohoma
and other adjoining suburbs, forms the world’s largest metro-
politan center with a population of nearly 30 million.
Even the “deformity” of the bonsai trees has a parallel with
Japan and its people. Japan, perhaps more than any other coun-
try, suffers from deformities of nature. They come in the form of
frequent and often devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,
tropical storms, floods, and other natural hazards. Finally,
bonsai trees are things of great beauty. As you journey through
Japan in the pages of this book, the authors hope you will come
to see the beauty of Japan. To see the geographic beauty radiated
by this unique land and its enduring people.