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Mike's Japan

In winter, icebergs come down from the Bering Straits and the sea freezes in northern
Hokkaido. In Okinawa (off the map to the south-west) the weather is still hot and
balmy.
The main island of Honshu has the sort of weather normally associated with
continental climates. Snow is not unusual in Tokyo in winter and uncomfortably hot
conditions are the norm in summer.
The history of Japan has similarities with Europe. Just as Europeans derived much of
their culture from Rome so the Japanese took a lot of theirs from the Chinese . This
shows in the written language. Japanese is totally different from Chinese. As a
consequence, Chinese characters have to be supplemented by a syllabary (sort of
alphabet) when used to write Japanese . The result is a complicated mess that has
become even messier with the use of the Roman (ABC) alphabet in recent years.
Written Japanese is a language in itself and this is a major obstacle to reform . The
Chinese characters often convey subtle meanings which cannot be expressed in
words. Reading Japanese is (even for Japanese) a bit like doing a translation job.
More than one reading is possible.
Japan sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire and owes its very existence to volcanoes. It is
situated slightly to the west of the junction of the Asian tectonic plate and the Pacific
plate. The latter dips down as it makes its way northwards and pushes under the
Asian plate. A lot of melting takes place when this happens and lava forces its way to
the surface.
Japan is mainly mountains. To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain: Japan would be a
mighty big country if it were ironed flat.
No matter where you go, you will find volcanoes. They stick up along the spine of the
country and have created a mountainous landscape with few flat areas suitable for
habitation. Japan is an immensely crowded country in some places and sparsely
populated in others.
As you travel around, you will see small paddy fields kept alive by government
subsidies. Elsewhere, highly efficient market gardens are using the latest technologies
to produce fruit and vegetables.
Ancient shrines and temples dot the countryside. The "English garden" with flowers is
becoming more common but many people stick to the traditional garden of shrubs and
manicured trees.
Forests cover the mountains. Many are plantations. Others are natural. The display
of autumn colours is spectacular and city folk flock out to admire it . The mountain
roads are often very crowded at that time of year.
A few old castles survive from the past. Where they have been destroyed, concrete
replicas are often built and used as museums .
Modern urban life is vibrant in Japan. You will find museums, art galleries and
workshops specialising in arts and crafts . Dining out is an everyday experience for
many inner city folk and whole areas of the larger towns are given over to restaurants.
The youth culture is alive and well. Japanese girls love to dress up and parade with
their friends. Fashions change from week to week.
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