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NK19191
03-09-2014, 02:20 PM
Japan is a bow-shaped archipelago that sprawls along the northeast coastline of the Eurasian landmass. Throughout history it has hung on the outskirts of the Asian world, just within contact of the great Han Chinese civilization. To the east lies only the Pacific Ocean, hence the Japanese name for the country, "Nippon," or "Origin of the Sun." Mountainous, remote, frequently beset by typhoons and shaken by earthquakes, possessing little useful land and few natural resources, Japan appears an unlikely place to set about building one of the world's most powerful nation-states. But the Japanese did so -- from scratch -- in about 150 years. Now Japan is drifting, and, as in previous transitional periods, it will take outside forces -- perhaps a tectonic shift -- to spur it into action.

The Archipelago

Japan is an archipelago with four "home islands" and some 6,800 smaller islands. Honshu, the central crescent-shaped island that bows out from the continent, is the biggest island (taking up about 60 percent of the country), with well over half the country's population. To the southwest lies Kyushu, Japan's traditional point of contact with the Asian mainland, especially the Korean Peninsula. Shikoku, the smallest and least populated home island, lies nestled between Honshu and Kyushu, while Hokkaido lies in the far north. Okinawa, the largest island of the Ryukyu chain that extends southwest of Kyushu almost to Taiwan, is technically considered the fifth home island but is much smaller and more remote and has a different history than the main four. The numerous other Japanese islands surround these home islands and extend in chains or lie at a vast remove in the northwestern Pacific.

The first salient fact about Japan's geography is the short supply of habitable and arable land. At 378,000 square kilometers, Japan is officially larger than Great Britain or today's Germany. However, three-fourths of this territory consists of steep mountains, ravines, forests and wasteland, inimical to human habitation. Mountains form spines up and down the center of each of the four main islands, and the Japanese Alps, the country's highest concentration of peaks, lie in central Honshu, taking up the bulk of the island most capable of holding a large population. Mount Fuji, an active volcano that has not erupted since 1707, is Japan's tallest mountain at 3,776 meters. Mountainous geography means that Japan is much smaller than it looks, and Japanese society has been confined to thin strips and small enclaves on the coastal plains that surround the main islands. Only about 12 percent of Japan's land is arable -- compared to 13 percent in Indonesia, 16 percent in South Korea, and about 28 percent in California (which is similar in size to Japan).


http://www.stratfor.com/sites/default/files/main/images/Japanese_Physical_Geography_800.jpg


The vast majority of the Japanese population lives beneath the line that marks the northern limit for winter cropping, which runs through central Honshu, north of Kyoto and Nagoya, and terminates in Tokyo. Japan has three major plains areas that host the largest concentrations of people, all in central Honshu. The largest is the Kanto plain, with the modern capital Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the world with about 35 million people. Second is the Yamato or Kinki plain, which comprises the bulk of the Kansai region, including both the old imperial capital of Kyoto and the country's second-largest metropolitan area, Osaka. Third, lodged between the others, is the Nobi plain, with the third-largest metro area of Nagoya.

Throughout Japanese history, these three plains provided the greatest agricultural potential and served as the economic, political and cultural centers of the island, with the Yamato plain as the original center of power and the Kanto plain later supplanting it. These three chief cities -- Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya -- are not only seated on prime lands but also overlook spacious bays and thus serve as ports. Together they account for about 45 percent of modern Japan's total population of 128 million and only 6 percent of the country's total land area. Japan's other major cities sit in smaller plains along the coasts.

http://www.stratfor.com/sites/default/files/main/images/Japanese_Population_Density_800.jpg


There is no interconnecting river system to speak of in Japan. Covered with mountains and hills and with high levels of precipitation, the islands have a great many rivers, but they are short and disconnected, descending precipitously from the mountains to the nearest coast. This means they are useful for irrigation but only navigable, if at all, in the lower reaches.

Therefore, to form cross-country connections, the Japanese developed a vibrant maritime culture. The Seto Inland Sea -- separating Honshu from Kyushu and Shikoku -- served as a highway connecting Kyushu's biggest settlements (Kitakyushu, Fukuoka and Nagasaki) with a line of prosperous cities along the southwestern coast of Honshu, including Hiroshima, Kobe and Osaka. Meanwhile, travel along the eastern coast of Honshu linked the Inland Sea region with the many natural ports along the Pacific coast, including the Nagoya and Tokyo areas. The western coast of Honshu was less developed, but travel on the Sea of Japan brought Niigata and nearby settlements, as well as Sapporo on Hokkaido, into the country's maritime network.


http://www.stratfor.com/sites/default/files/main/images/Japan_Islands_Within_Islands_800.jpg


Another crucial feature of Japan's geography is that the archipelago lies far away from the Asian mainland. The nearest point between Kyushu and the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula is about 190 kilometers, one-fourth farther than the distance between Florida and Cuba and more than five times that between England and France. China lies some 800 kilometers away, with only a few lily-pad islands in the East China Sea to bridge the gap. Hokkaido in the north comes close to Russia's Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk, but this part of Siberia has always been sparsely populated, if at all. Japan's other neighbors lie across even vaster distances. Though the ocean current known as the kuroshio, or "black current," has long served as a means of wafting seafarers from Southeast Asia to Japan's western Kyushu via the Ryukyu island chain, it is a long ride. Japan's other minor island chains and atolls sit alone in the seemingly limitless expanse of the Pacific. Japan's distance from the Eurasian mainland means that for most of its history it was barely within reach of its neighbors.

With a mountainous landscape, disconnected river system, lengthy coastal plains and dangerous sea travel as the major link between homeland and neighbors, Japanese society developed as a series of islands within islands -- that is, small social islands within only slightly larger geographical islands.

NK19191
03-09-2014, 02:22 PM
Rival Regions

Much of Japanese history relates the internal struggles that consumed Japan as it attempted to create a centralized and unified state. Its history of internal strife is a result of the terrain and short supply of arable land, which made struggles over land rights and food supply both bloody and inevitable. Throughout most of the country's history, farmers eked out a living growing rice and, to a lesser extent, wheat and barley on small plots. The temperate climate and rich soil were conducive to high crop yields, and Japanese farmers historically have been highly efficient. But the scarcity of arable land meant that it was highly sought after, fiercely contested, jealously guarded and frequently monopolized. From the advent of wet-rice cultivation in the third century B.C. until the 19th century, Japan's social and political systems were founded on a rice economy. Political power rested in the hands of those who could control farmland and food stores and command taxes paid in rice yields.

Primarily, this meant that rival clans battled back and forth for control over the principal plains -- the Yamato (also called Kinki) plain and the Kanto plain. According to Japanese mythology, Emperor Jimmu, having descended from the gods on Kyushu, conquered central Honshu and established the imperial seat on the plain that would take the Yamato name in 660 B.C. The historical Yamato tribe seems to have risen to power above other tribes around 300-400 A.D. after Yamato chiefs drove the islands' prior inhabitants, the Ainu, into northern Honshu and Hokkaido. Early Yamato burial mounds are common in the Osaka area. Later, Chinese-style centralized government and far-reaching bureaucracy was established with collectively owned land, enabling a taxation system based on agricultural output that kept the dominant clan in power. The early Yamato chiefs founded the hereditary line of Japanese emperors -- the longest-ruling family in the world, still formally reigning today. The capital was established in Nara in 710 and then moved to Kyoto in 794. The Yamato plain was strategically located to allow rule over most of the other regions, with a backdrop of mountains for protection, fields for cultivation and the Inland Sea for fishing, trade and communications overseas.

However, centralized rule was inconsistent with Japan's mountainous geography. The imperial court faced challenges consolidating power over distant territories, retaining loyalty among regional powers, enforcing laws and collecting taxes. By the mid-ninth century, provincial nobles had sealed off their lands from the imperial bureaucracy and knit themselves into military groups that contended for local and regional dominance. Powerful clans turned the imperial court into a puppet government, inaugurating the lasting Japanese tradition of rule from behind the scenes.

By the 12th century, power had devolved into a loose feudal order commanded by a shogun, a revived Yamato-era term for war chief. The first shogun established his bakufu, or "tent government," on the Kanto plain in Kamakura, near Tokyo. Though weak emperors continued to hold court formally in Kyoto, the shogunate became the real center of power. The Kanto plain was not only far larger and more productive than the Yamato, it was also more strategically located. It sat at a remove from the multiple urban centers striving for power along the Inland Sea and had excellent sea access for fishing, trade and transportation through Tokyo Bay. In addition to their own agricultural bases, the powers established on Kanto were able to lord over neighboring plains on the Pacific coast and the surrounding fish-filled waters.

Later, in the mid-14th century, power returned to the Yamato plain when the Ashikaga clan overthrew the Kamakura government and established its own shogunate back in Kyoto, taking advantage of the old imperial institutions. This reassertion of the Yamato plain as a political base was not entirely successful, and civil wars broke out across the regions throughout the following centuries. Firearms gained from first contact with the Portuguese in the mid-16th century changed the nature of the conflicts but also opened the way for greater centralization. Three powerful shoguns unified the country, disarmed their rivals by banning the lower classes from possessing weapons and paved the way for the Tokugawa clan to establish a new shogunate in Edo, now Tokyo, in 1600.

This time, the triumph of the Kanto plain was permanent. Even when the Tokugawa clan was overthrown and the emperor brought back to power in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the imperial court was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, in recognition of the reality of where national power lay. By moving the emperor's seat to Tokyo, the Japanese virtually eliminated the Yamato plain as a rival source of political authority, thus concentrating all power in the country's economic core, the Kanto. The unification of the country under a single power center would make it difficult (though not impossible) for Japan's historical problem of fragmentation to reassert itself, and would require that future struggles between regional powers play out in the capital region.

NK19191
03-09-2014, 02:22 PM
Introversion

Externally, the crucial factor for Japan is its geographical separation from the Eurasian mainland. This created several advantages and disadvantages, but primarily it ensured that Japan's behavior would reflect both its insularity and its need to overcome it, i.e., a proclivity for alternating between introversion and extroversion.

The first salient fact arising from Japan's distance from the Eurasian mainland was that Japan was not subject to constant inflows of migrants or invaders. After the wave of immigration around 300 B.C. that brought the Yamato people (considered the original "ethnic" Japanese) to the archipelago, the island has seen no massive influx of people. The Ainu, the original ethnic group on the home islands, were driven into the northern parts of the country by the early Yamato and over the centuries merged with the dominant Japanese group. There were only a few other tiny ethnic groups, so the Japanese people became linguistically and culturally uniform. Ethnic strife and separatism were not problems Japan would have to face, though they were supplanted by regional and clan struggles.

The second salient fact was that the threat of foreign military invasion was virtually nil. To this day, in fact, Japan has never been successfully invaded. At the height of their power in the 1270s and 1280s, Mongol forces tried to invade Japan, but after launching from the Korean Peninsula and reaching Kyushu near modern Fukuoka they had to lay siege to a well-fortified and mountainous fortress from a scraggly coastal foothold and maintain supply chains across the stormy Korean Strait. On their second major invasion attempt, the bulk of the massive Mongol fleet was destroyed by a typhoon, which the Japanese called kamikaze, or "divine wind." Japan's position has remained nearly impregnable even in the modern world -- the difficulty of staging a ground invasion was the United States' primary rationale for dropping the atomic bombs to bring Japan to its knees in World War II.

One of the disadvantages of Japan's remoteness was that new ideas and technology came late. The early Japanese lacked the means to make great innovative leaps by themselves, hence their recurrent periods of insularity and isolation. The earliest days of the Yamato period are recorded only in mythology, and the first historical records of Japan come from foreign observers such as the Chinese and later the Koreans. Only later, in the eighth century after adopting and modifying the Chinese written language, did the Japanese fully make their history known.

Periodically the Japanese have deliberately turned away from the outside world, closing off communications and focusing attention on internal matters. In some cases Japanese culture reasserted itself against foreign ways, in other cases outside influences posed a threat to the authority of the political elite or to national security. When China's Tang and Song dynasties passed, Japan's imperial court, though an imitation of China's, became more self-sufficient and discontinued regular diplomatic exchanges with China. Later, Japan had much to fear as China and Korea were overrun by Mongol hordes. Thus, Japan was mostly isolationist from the ninth century until the 13th century.

Similarly, when Europeans first made contact with Japan, Christianity and European mercantilism spread so quickly that the country's leaders were faced with insubordination and instability among elements of society that were adopting European ideas and practices. The Tokugawa clan rose to power around 1600, purged the Christians and cordoned off a few small places for trade with the Dutch and Chinese, otherwise maintaining a hermetically sealed but relatively stable feudal Japan for nearly three centuries. Essentially, when Japan saw more risk than reward in remaining externally engaged, it tended to shift back to seclusion, and unlike most countries, it was able to do so because of its geographical remoteness.

NK19191
03-09-2014, 02:24 PM
Extroversion

At times, the Japanese would overcome their insularity by energetically imitating and borrowing from more advanced cultures in order to quickly catch up with them. Being far away from foreign cultures, they were not susceptible to common fears about adopting foreign practices and would often do so with relish. During imitative periods, Japan's combined energies would naturally become focused outward, toward the source of the knowledge and skills that the Japanese felt themselves sorely lacking and hoped to acquire from other (potentially rival) states. While all culture spreads through imitation and replication, the Japanese are nearly unique in their ability to adopt foreign practices quickly and expertly.

http://www.stratfor.com/sites/default/files/main/images/Japan_Early_Maritime_Routes_800.jpg

The first major borrowing phase began around 550 A.D., when the Yamato court adopted Buddhism and Confucianism and all the administrative and organizational skills they entailed after introductions by Korean and Chinese embassies and missionaries. From the seventh to 10th centuries, Japan sent scholars to study abroad and sought very carefully to recreate Chinese political, military and cultural systems, including Chinese civil engineering as well as China's written language.
Similarly, when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, the Japanese avidly learned to make and use firearms and cannons. As mentioned, Christianity initially spread like wildfire. From the Dutch the Japanese learned bookmaking and early scientific study, and from various European visitors they kept up with state-of-the-art shipbuilding. In the 19th century, Japan also imitated British, French, American and especially German industrialization and socio-political development, and in the post-World War II period Japan closely mimicked the United States in developing a capitalist and consumer-based economy.

But Japan's eagerness to obtain what it does not have at home and stay on par with its neighbors periodically translates into extreme extroversion. Japan's maritime capability has enabled it to aggressively pursue strategic objectives abroad, through both mercantilist or militarist means. Korea, Japan's closest neighbor, has frequently been the first target because its geographical proximity makes it the closest continental location and hence a strategic threat. Trade routes on the peninsula were susceptible to foreign influence, and any potential invader, from the Mongols to the Chinese or Russians, could attack from the peninsula. Japanese forces invaded Korea during the fourth through seventh centuries, in the late 16th century, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries, establishing military dominance and often semi-colonial trade relationships.

Mercantilist endeavor reached a frenzy during the Ashikaga period, when Japanese merchants and pirates (known as wokou) extended their control along the Ryukyu islands to Formosa (Taiwan), up and down the length of China's east coast, and through Hainan to the Vietnamese and Thai coastlines and the Strait of Malacca. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Japan's outward push took a militarist turn, with Japan invading Taiwan, Korea, Siberia, Manchuria, China and most of Southeast Asia, until the move was cut short in World War II.

Japan's vacillations between extroversion and introversion are usually short, creating stark contrasts in behavior, usually due to jarring external forces beyond its control. Just as the coming of Buddhism revolutionized the imperial court in the sixth century, opening it to China, so the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century generated a new isolationism, while the forced opening of trade with Western powers in the 19th century triggered a renewed outward-looking period. Hence the analogy of Japan as an "earthquake society," one that periodically experiences social and political change as sudden and overwhelming as the tectonic movements that frequently shake its foundation to the core.

S9 H9
03-09-2014, 10:13 PM
Something I'm not grasping: is this a short essay for (1) a school project of some sort?, (2) related to some geo-political discussion?

There seems to be a lot of gloss applied to history in the given summary of Japanese history:


... Japan appears an unlikely place to set about building one of the world's most powerful nation-states. But the Japanese did so -- from scratch -- in about 150 years. ...

The Japanese Empire flourished for a short period in the early 20th century. It ended most ignominiously with total capitulation to a chosen enemy. I would never describe even the Japanese Empire as "one of the world's most powerful nation-states". It had a couple of decades of regional military dominance.



Another crucial feature of Japan's geography is that the archipelago lies far away from the Asian mainland.

It's a short paddle from Korea. Korean-Japanese conflicts never amounted to much, on a global scale, because they were removed from other global powers and conflicts.

The Japanese archipelago has long been home to humans. Some of the earliest decorated pottery has been discovered there.

During times of maximum glaciation during the Pleistocene Japan would have been connected to the mainland. During the Holocene humans moved northward along the island chains from the southern seas. Genetic data has enhanced our knowledge of how early bronze age invaders blended with the earlier people from the south; the current difference between the Japanese population and Koreans is slight but noticeable on PCA diagrams.

Since writing wasn't introduced until the Buddhist monks there is little that can be gleaned of the pre 6th century (western calendar.) Many of the major tumuli (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kofun) are yet to be fully explored; I wonder if the current society are just not very keen to discover just how close their ancestors were to being Koreans.

NK19191
03-10-2014, 03:47 PM
Something I'm not grasping: is this a short essay for (1) a school project of some sort?, (2) related to some geo-political discussion?

There seems to be a lot of gloss applied to history in the given summary of Japanese history:



The Japanese Empire flourished for a short period in the early 20th century. It ended most ignominiously with total capitulation to a chosen enemy. I would never describe even the Japanese Empire as "one of the world's most powerful nation-states". It had a couple of decades of regional military dominance.


It's a short paddle from Korea. Korean-Japanese conflicts never amounted to much, on a global scale, because they were removed from other global powers and conflicts.


This is from a series of articles written by George Friedman who is an American political scientist and author. Yes, these articles put a heavy emphasis on geopolitics; furthermore, they intensely discuss the effects of geography on the historical formation of a country and its imposition and constraints on a populace as far as its economic and political developments are concerned.

As to your comment on “gloss applied “, it must be noted this article represents his views on Japanese history. I think it should be left to reader to decide if George Friedman’s depiction is precise or not. Some of his comments are perhaps rather subjective and not facts. Your view seems to be that there is some exaggeration on his part, I am not that knowledgeable about the history of East Asia; however, the Japanese did build a formidable empire. Also as you know even though they were defeated and humiliated during World War II by the United States and its allies, Japanese recovered rather quickly and by the end of the last century they had become the 2nd largest economy in the world, and their economic model was copied by other east Asian nations/regions such Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. It seems to me ( IMO) the Japanese ascendancy as a significant political and economical power is still with us in a different form.

As to the distance of Japan from Asian Mainland the article also makes the following two points:


To the southwest lies Kyushu, Japan's traditional point of contact with the Asian mainland, especially the Korean Peninsula.


The nearest point between Kyushu and the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula is about 190 kilometers, one-fourth farther than the distance between Florida and Cuba and more than five times that between England and France. China lies some 800 kilometers away, with only a few lily-pad islands in the East China Sea to bridge the gap.