Japan is an island nation that is part of an archipelago containing 6,852 islands. The four largest islands, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku comprise 97% of Japan’s land area. In Kanji, the Japanese logograph (sometimes called “characters”) for Japan means “sun-origin”, which is why Japan is commonly referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun.”
For much of its history, Japan was an isolationist nation, until 1853 when the United States forced the nation to open to Western trade. This caused turmoil in the country until the Emperor Meiji formalized Western practices and banished the samurai, who were considered by some to be traitors and racists. The “opening” of Japan led to widespread immigration of Japanese, first to Hawaii and then to Southern California to work as day laborers and farmhands. The immigrants employed Japanese irrigation techniques allowing parts of California to increase yields, and allowing cultivation of previous unusable land.
During the Second World War the United States government ordered the interment of American citizens of Japanese descent. This act was applied unequally; those who lived in the west coast were interred, but in Hawaii 1,800 of roughly 150,000 Japanese-Americans were interred. There has been no explanation for these inconstancies, but a general thought was that Hawaii was backward and not really “American.” Interesting enough, although several aspects of Japanese culture were banned in the camps, Japanese Americans still managed to keep alive several of their traditions. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided redress of $20,000 for each surviving detainee, which helped bring to light this grave injustice by the US government.
Korea is a peninsula that has two separate sovereign nations: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). North Korea is bordered by China to the northwest and Russia to the northeast, while South Korea only borders North Korea.
Because of Korea’s proximity to other nations, it has been controlled off and on since recorded history. China, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States have all meddled in the internal politics of both North and South Korea.
In the next post in my series, I will discuss Southern Asia.