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Summary Article: Japanese
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Inhabitants of Japan; people of Japanese culture or descent. Japan is an unusually homogeneous society, which has always been adept at assimilating influences from other cultures but has not readily received immigrants; discrimination against foreigners is legal in Japan. The Japanese language is the only one spoken, though English is considered fashionable and is much used in advertising. Religion is syncretic and it is common for Japanese to take part in both Buddhist and Shinto rituals while professing belief in neither.

Early influences Although Japan has a highly distinctive culture, Korean and Chinese influences were absorbed during the early centuries AD. In addition to the art of writing, from the Chinese the Japanese learned skills in the arts, public finance, administration, and animal husbandry. Confucian philosophy and Buddhism were also introduced from China, and after some initial opposition, Buddhism intertwined with Shinto, the indigenous religion. Chinese influence in Japan waned during the decline of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907).

Social structure in premodern times The 12th century saw the rise of the code of warriors. Making up approximately 8% of the population, the samurai had the right to wear two swords, and were the retainers of the daimyos, the hereditary feudal nobles. Merchants, although often wealthier than the samurai, belonged to a lower social order. Some highly skilled craftworkers were allowed to bear family names, a privilege usually reserved for the highest social tier. The lowest social group comprised the burakumin or eta, responsible for slaughtering animals and engaged in such trades as tanning leather and shoemaking.

Westernization During the late 19th century the feudal society was abolished, compulsory education extended to all, and Japan began to develop its Westernized industrial base. The initially US-financed, rapid economic expansion of the second half of the 20th century has caused the decline of the extended family, in which three or more generations lived under the same roof. Today, large corporations provide a way of life for many Japanese, although this appears to be less the case with the younger generation.

Japanese abroad The descendants of Japanese migrants are found in Hawaii and North and South America, and Japanese business communities now exist in the cities of most industrial nations.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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