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Introducing Japan

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.