Have you ever heard that Japan’s imperial family is believed to be descended from the sun goddess, and that its authority is derived from these gods? Yes, in our ” Exploring Countries” series, this week we are focusing on Japan, which has witnessed significant developments with its unique structure and culture.
Geographical Location of Japan
Japan, consisting of four main islands and numerous smaller islands in East Asia, is surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean to the east and south, and stretches from the Sea of Japan to the east of China, North Korea, South Korea, and Russia to the west. It is surrounded by the Sea of Okhotsk to the north. This archipelago of 6,852 islands is the second most populous island country after Indonesia.
The largest islands, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, make up 97% of the country. Most of the islands are mountainous, and only 15% of the land is suitable for agriculture. Some of the islands are volcanic, which is why Japan is also a country prone to earthquakes. According to the 2013 World Risk Index, it has the 15th highest risk of natural disasters.
Population, Ethnicity, and Religion in Japan
The average population density is 333/km², with 99.4% being Japanese and the rest mainly consisting of ethnic groups from Korea and China. In Japan, Shintoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions exist as minorities. While 80% of the urban population is identified as belonging to Shintoism and Buddhism, a recent survey shows that 52.4% of Japanese people do not identify with any religion, while 35.8% identify as Buddhist, 11% as Shinto, and 10.6% as Christian.
After the United States, Japan is the world’s second-largest economy. Although income from agriculture has steadily declined over time, the share of industrial products continues to increase, boosting the economy and gross domestic product. In today’s technological age, Japan’s export activities have covered the whole world, including products such as automobiles, machinery, industrial robots, and electronic devices. However, it cannot be said that Japan is rich in underground resources.
The country’s gold, magnesium, and silver mines can only meet its own needs. Of the working population, 65% are employed in trade and services, 30% in industry, and 5% in sectors such as agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
Japan, with its long and ancient history, is believed to have descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu. In this context, the first emperor, Jimmu Tenno, who is believed to have derived his authority from the gods, ascends the throne in 660 BC. This period, during which the feudal system continued for centuries, continued with the appointment of a regent (kampaku) to administer the state as the practice of placing children on the throne became widespread in the 9th century.
During this period, especially under the Fujiwara family, emperors withdrew from politics and the state was governed by regents. With the recognition of private property rights for nobles and statesmen during this period, farmers fell under heavy tax burdens. With the spread of Confucianism in the country, the structure of Japanese society began to change, and by the end of the 12th century, influenced by this religious understanding, Japan gradually became a samurai state.
During long internal wars, Tokugawa Ieyasu established his Tokugawa Shogunate (1603) by handing over the conquered lands to his supporters, establishing his own Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo. Peace and prosperity prevailed during this period.
Although the Mongols attempted to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281, they were not successful. During that time, the Kamakura government, which had ruled for 142 years, collapsed in 1333 due to economic reasons. Immediately after, the Kemmu period began, during which the emperor regained absolute authority. However, in 1336, dissatisfied with the administration led by Takauji, the people, along with samurai, took control of Kyoto, and the emperor fled to the Southern Palace.
In the north, the Muramachi period, established by Takauji (1338-1573), began. During these two imperial periods, which lasted for sixty years between the north and the south and ended with the unification of the palaces in 1392 by Emperor Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, witnessed a struggle in Japanese history. Another power struggle during this period was the Onin War (1467-1477), which lasted for ten years among feudal families.
In the 1860s, the Tokugawa Shogunate lost its position. Power was back in the hands of the emperor, and the Meiji period began. During this period, many innovations took place. Feudalism came to an end, and the country, which had lived in isolation from the outside world, gradually advanced towards becoming a world power. In 1931, the Manchurian invasion, the 1937 war against China, and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led Japan into wars against the United States and its allies. In 1945, Japan returned to where it started with the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States prepared a new constitution for Japan in 1947 and kept Japan under supervision until 1952. As
a result of this constitution, Japan became a parliamentary monarchy. However, after 1955, it rapidly recovered and achieved high economic growth rates. It became a world center in various sectors, including automotive, electronics, and technology.
We can say that Japan has overcome the deep wounds it suffered from various wars and has reached its current position with determined steps rooted in its long history.
Islam in Japan
Although the introduction of Islam to Japan dates back to a late period, the Japanese first encountered Islam through Arab and Chinese (Hui) Muslims who came to the country for trade in the 14th century. During the Meiji era, Japanese people began to take an interest in Islam in the context of Western religious thought. It is known that a work about the life of the Prophet was translated into Japanese in 1870.
In 1887, Prince Akihito was sent by Meiji to visit Istanbul, the Islamic caliph, and also the Ottoman state’s Sultan II. Abdülhamid. The prince was received with great hospitality by the Sultan. Meiji expressed his satisfaction with a letter and presented a medal to the Ottoman Sultan as a sign of this friendship. After the prince’s visit, in the 1890s, following the establishment of Ottoman-Japanese relations, the Ertuğrul Frigate was sent to Japan, and closer relations began after the ship sank on its return journey.
Along with survivors of the shipwreck, two Japanese men, Torajino Yamada and Shotara Noda, came to Istanbul. Thanks to their close relationship with Muslims in Istanbul, they adopted the names Abdülhalil and Abdühakim as the first known Muslims in Japanese history. Research on Islam during the Meiji period came to a halt due to the intervening wars.
The first Muslim community in Japan was formed when Muslim Tatars from Russia, who fled their homeland during the Bolshevik Revolution, settled in Japan. Following this development, some Japanese people also converted to Islam. The first mosque built in Japan is the Kobe Mosque. Abdurreşid İbrahim Efendi and his family moved from the Ottoman Empire to Japan. He made great efforts for the construction of Tokyo Mosque and served as the imam of Tokyo Mosque until his death in 1941, contributing significantly to the spread of Islam in Japan.
Today, although the Japanese government does not provide an official figure for the number of Muslims in Japan, organizations in the country estimate that the number of Muslims exceeds 100,000. However, Japanese population and social security experts claim that the Muslim population in the country is around 70,000.