Royal Soil

By Jheri

     Japanese castles have stood for centuries, relatively unnoticed by the rest of the world. At one time there were 30 to 40 thousand such castles, most of them medieval and built during the Muromachi Period (1333-1572). Some 200 or so were constructed during the Meiji Restoration in 1867, but today only 12 original tenshu remain. Castles were focal points of trade, population growth and travel, bringing commerce to the surrounding community.

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     In 1603, a Tokugawa shogunate (military dictatorship) ushered in a 250-year period of isolation from foreign influence in order to secure Japan’s power. This policy enabled Japan to enjoy stability and a flowering of its indigenous culture. Following the Treaty of Kanagawa with the U.S. in 1854, Japan opened its ports once again and began to intensively modernize and industrialize, becoming a major economic power, both in Asia and globally. In 2005, Japan began a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Japan has never been colonized by another country.

     The archipelago of Japan, about the size of California, boasts 5,000 years of continuous culture and history. The four principle islands of Japan are Hokaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Mt. Fujiyama’s symmetry and placid, ethereal beauty have been captured for centuries in Asian art. The capital city of Japan is Tokyo (formerly known as Edo).

     Japan has one of the largest fishing industries in the world, a world in which the brand-names of Japanese VCRs, cell phones, computers, radios, cameras and cars are very well known. Machine tools, steel, nonferrous metals, ships, chemicals, processed foods, pearls, beautiful silks, cottons, porcelain, wood and metal goods are also produced in this tiny nation. Very few contracts are written on paper; a handshake seals a deal in Japan.

     Additionally, Japan has some of the world’s highest crop yields in rice, sugar beets, vegetables, fruit, pork, poultry, dairy products, eggs and fish, but must import many of its other foodstuffs. Even with the highest population density in the world (854 people per square mile; 77 percent in cities), 80 percent of the Japanese own automobiles and 90% color TVs; 98 percent are literate. More works of world literature have been translated into Japanese than into any other single language. Even with their very high standard of living, Japanese people live humbly.

     Tsukuba is an entire scientific city subsidized by the Japanese government. Japan’s energy comes from hydroelectric power and the world’s largest underwater tunnel runs from Hokaida to Honshu. Robotics constitutes a key long-term economic strength, with Japan possessing 410,000 of the world’s 720,000 “working robots.”

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     Our soil collector in Japan, Shirly Hines, a lady from the country town of Placerville, California, was there as part of the People to People Peace Conference in August of 2004, a very fitting milieu for her Common Ground 191 task. She found a castle town next to Tokyo and picked up some soil from, she believes, the castle of the first Shogun of Japan, the Supreme Ruler of Japan after the civil war to unite the provinces.

     Buddhism, Noh, Kabuki, Akido, Sumo, Sushi, Geisha, Kimono . . . these are words used to describe many of the defining aspects of Japanese life—spirituality, theatre, martial arts, sport, cuisine, culture and garb—all of which flowered subsequent to the soil of this archipelago being christened Japan. Common Ground 191 salutes Japan, its past, present and future—and its royal soil.





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