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Chidorigafuchi Walkway
Meiji Shrine
Sengaku Temple
Senso Temple
Shinjuku Gyoen
Tokyo Station
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Tokyo National Museum
Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Tower
Tsukiji Fish Market
Ueno Park
Yasukuni Shrine
Yoyogi Park
Olympics Venues
Imperial Palace Garden
Kokugikan Arena
National Olympic Stadium
Nippon Budokan
Tokyo International Forum
Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium
Yoyogi National Gymnasium
Arakawa River
Edo River
Kanda River
Sumida River
Tama River
Geography of Tokyo
Tokyo is located on Japan’s main island of Honshu. At edge of the Kanto Plain, the largest plain in this otherwise mountainous archipelago, Tokyo benefits from its position on the Tokyo Bay, running one of the largest seaports in the Pacific Basin.

Tokyo Metropolis (東京都 Tōkyō-to) is one of Japan’s 47 prefectures, and includes the main city of Tokyo (divided into 23 separately governed wards), and extends westward across the Kanto Plain, encompassing 26 more cities, five towns, and eight villages. The Izu and Ogasawara island chains, extending as far as 1,850 km (1,150 mi) from central Tokyo, are also within Tokyo-to’s borders. A third of the prefecture is covered by forest. The population of Tokyo-to is 13 million, of which nine million live in the 23 special wards.

The Greater Tokyo Area (Tokyo Metropolis plus surrounding prefectures) constitutes the largest metro area in world by population (39,923,000, as of 2010) and the second largest metropolitan area in the world by land area. It is only the third most densely populated urban area in Japan, however, and only 50th in the world.

Tokyo’s 23 wards (区ku) were formerly governed as the City of Tokyo, before being merged with Tokyo Metropolis in 1943. Uniquely in Japan, these wards are no longer governed as an incorporated city, but elect their own leaders and councils, under the jurisdiction of Tokyo Metropolis. Western Tokyo, also known as the Tama Area, consists mostly of bedroom communities for commuters to Tokyo.

Chiyoda, Chuo, and Minato wards form the political and commercial core of Tokyo—and indeed, Japan. Central Tokyo is defined by the Yamanote Line (山手線Yamanote-sen), a circular, 34.5-km railway line that connects most of Tokyo’s major stations, linking the wards of Chiyoda, Minato, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Toshima, Kita, Arakawa, and Taito.

During the Edo period (1603–1868) before Tokyo became the nation’s official capital, the city center was further east, in the Shitamachi region along the Sumida River. Shitamachi—literally, “Under City” or “Low City” (下町) because of its waterfront orientation—has historically been as much a cultural and class designation as a geographic one. The lower-caste merchants and artisans of the Edo period lived and worked in Shitamachi. It is now a site for Tokyo nostalgia, as a refuge from Tokyo’s hyper-modernity, retaining some of the city’s older architecture. Shitamachi’s counterpart is Yamanote (山の手)—the hilly areas east of central Tokyo where high-status warrior class lived during the Edo period. Today, the area is associated with trendy, affluent, white-collar professionals.
Historic Tokyo
Edo, the former name of Tokyo, was just a fishing village when it was chosen by warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu as his headquarters in 1590; in 1603, the emperor appointed him shogun, with authority to govern all of Japan. The rundown jumble of huts and shops situated on the western shore of Edo Bay would become the largest city in not only Japan but the world in just 200 years. By 1800, Edo had a population of over one million, dwarfing European cities such as London, Paris, and Rome, and at least as big as Beijing.

Edo Period (1603–1868)

Tokugawa Ieyasu built Edo into a citadel laid out for defense. The walled castle at its center was surrounded by a labyrinth of protective moats, stone outer works, dikes, and levees. Box gates, checkpoints, cul-de-sacs, sharp turns, and wooden gates were strategically placed to slow down an enemy attack.
Ieyasu Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu

To ensure the continued allegiance of his daimyo (大名feudal lords under the shogun’s control; approximately 275) and to guard against rebellion, Ieyasu devised a system that required all daimyo in Japan to domicile their families in Edo as potential hostages, while the daimyo themselves had to reside in the city every other year. The samurai class thus accounted for almost half of the city’s population, and the daimyo’s walled estates occupied over half of the city’s area. When a daimyo made his bi-annual trip to Edo, he brought an entourage of several hundred samurai, who joined his Edo-based guards, clerks, teachers, and household staff; all lived on his Edo estate. The annual lavish voyages by daimyo also provided an important economic stimulus to Japan. Most estates also boasted beautiful decorative gardens; some are public parks today.
Daimyo Procession Daimyo Procession at Kasumigaseki in Edo. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige II

The city quickly emerged as one of Japan’s most important economic centers. From the beginning, Ieyasu encouraged fishermen, craftsmen, laborers, and shopkeepers to migrate to Edo from other parts of Japan to help build the new city. These commoner inhabitants (町人 chōnin) had to provide the influx of samurai with goods and services. As the city population grew, so did the demand for rice, fish, and consumer goods.

By the late 17th century, Edo was home to a growing merchant class. Often these merchants served as bankers as well, lending money to daimyo. The richest merchants were often wealthier than the samurai, and they often enjoyed far more luxurious lives. The samurai looked down on merchants as parasitic money-grubbers, and occasionally the shogun’s government cracked down on luxury consumption. But without merchants the city would not have flourished as a lively cultural and economic center. The city was segregated by status. Although the commoners, wealthy, and poor accounted for a majority of Edo’s population, they were crammed into only about one-fifth of its land space. The samurai quarters lay in bucolic, open, green space on high ground overlooking the city. The commoners lived on occasionally flooded lowlands along the Sumida River in densely crowded neighborhoods, sealed off from one another by wooden gates closed at night. Well-to-do merchants occupied spacious two-story dwellings, but poorer commoners lived in cramped back alley tenements. But whatever their economic circumstances, commoners were proud of their character as Edokko (江戸っ子) or “children of Edo”: characterized as straightforward, confident, cheerful, and a little spendthrifty in character.

Over Edo’s two and a half centuries, it was struck every 20 to 25 years by disaster: fire, earthquakes, tsunami, and/or volcanic eruptions. Thousands died and great swaths of the city went up in flames, but the city always rebuilt and renewed.

Meiji Period (1868–1912)

In July 1853, a flotilla of four American warships steamed into Edo Bay—plunging the city population into a panic—with the intent of forcing Japan to open regular trade and diplomatic relations with the outside world. In 1858 the shogun agreed to a treaty that permitted Americans and later Europeans to reside and trade in five newly established ports.

The intrusion of Western “barbarians,” ending more than two centuries of Tokugawa-imposed isolation, shook confidence in the regime. Groups of young anti-foreign samurai sprang up in many daimyo domains, demanding expulsion of the “barbarians,” overthrow of the shogun, and restoration of the emperor to power. These young samurai became the leaders of the “Meiji Restoration,” which brought about a decade of turmoil that ended with the last shogun agreeing to return governing authority to the emperor. In 1868 the young Meiji emperor was restored as head of Japan. The shogun’s castle in Edo was handed over to the new government, and Edo was retained as capital and renamed Tokyo, or “Eastern Capital.”

The Meiji Restoration became an era of revolutionary change. Despite earlier anti-foreign sentiments, leaders of the new government dreamed of turning Japan into a “civilized country” (文明国 bummeikoku) like the United States and the European countries. The ensuing westernization and industrialization was referred to as wakon yosai (和魂洋才 “Japanese spirit and Western techniques”), describing the adoption of foreign knowledge and structures while preserving Japanese culture and tradition, in part a slogan developed as an effort to address the anxieties and fears generated by the opening of Japan. One of the more famous missions during this time was a Japanese diplomatic voyage to the United States and Europe between 1871 and 1873, called the Iwakura Mission. The aim of the mission was to gain recognition for the newly reinstated Meiji emperor, to begin renegotiations of unequal treaties with dominant world powers, and to study industrial, political, military and educational systems and structures in the United States and Europe to bring back to Japan. The West was not simply a menace, but also a model; to survive, the Japanese had to adopt their ways.
Meiji Crown Prince Togu with his father and mother strolling in Asukayama Park. Woodblock print by Yoshu Chikanobu, 1890.

The new government was housed in new, Western-style buildings, and built offices, arsenals, and army barracks on land reclaimed from the daimyo estates. The government began to transform Tokyo from a walking city, where pedestrians mingled with occasional horsemen, into a riding city, where the streets were filled with carriages, rickshaws, and horse-drawn trolleys. Neighborhood gates and other old defensive works were torn down to facilitate faster transportation. When fire destroyed much of the downtown Ginza district in 1872, the government rebuilt it as a “red brick” district modeled on a London shopping street, with broad, tree-lined avenues, sidewalks, gaslights, and two-story, brick buildings with balconies and glass windows.

During the 1880s and 1890s, the government began to improve the city’s infrastructure by broadening and paving its streets, stringing telegraph and electric lines, installing a new water system, and laying tracks for the Yamanote railroad line around the inner city. Curiously, however, it did not build a modern sewage system.

By the turn of the 20th century, Tokyo remained a hybrid city with one foot in the past and one foot in the cosmopolitan future. The old samurai neighborhoods had changed the most, and the commoner section had changed the least. As industrialization accelerated, newcomers seeking work settled in tenements on the east side of the Sumida River in areas plagued by floods and poor sanitation. These neighborhoods were also vulnerable to the calamities that eventually wiped away most traces of not only Edo but also of Meiji Tokyo in the new century.
20th Century Tokyo
Tokyo’s 20th century transformations rivaled and even surpassed those of the previous century, swinging between great power and abject defeat. A Japanese empire was built and destroyed, followed by an extraordinary rise to economic dominance and another fall. Tokyo experienced two waves of catastrophic destruction—both natural and human-caused—resulting in repeated rebuilding and renewal.

Taisho Period (1912–1926)

The Taisho Period brought greater democracy to Japan, albeit with growing repression of the Communist and the Korean independence movements. During this period, Tokyo’s population nearly doubled, as workers flocked to the city, and with urbanization came new, consumer lifestyles. Education standards improved, especially for girls.

The Great Kanto Earthquake Disaster (関東大震災 kanto daishinsai) struck Tokyo and the Kanto region in 1923. It registered 8.2 on the Richter scale, with its epicenter just 80 km south of Tokyo. A huge tsunami immediately followed, reaching heights of 12 meters. Most of the water mains were severed and fires swept across Tokyo; 75 percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. Shitamachi, with its crowded, narrow streets and wooden structures, was hit worst. In all, over 120,000 people died and two million were left homeless, while the cost of the property loss was four times larger than Japan’s national budget that year.

Tokyo immediately began to rebuild, even as competing visions of the Tokyo of the future were put forward and debated. Although no master plan won out, the city was transformed. Many older, wooden houses were replaced by modern, multi-story, concrete and steel constructions in Euro-American styles, and many narrow, winding streets were replaced with straight motorways. Infrastructure was rebuilt and improved—a new sewage system in particular, the lack of which had led to serious typhoid outbreaks after the earthquake.

Showa (1926–1989)

Under the new Showa Emperor, Hirohito (r. 1926-1989), Japan became increasingly nationalistic and militaristic, eventually controlled by a military regime intent on expanding the Japanese Empire across East Asia. Japan forged an alliance with Germany and Italy as the entire world plunged into war, with Japan as the imperialist aggressor in Asia.

Tokyo continued to be the seat of government as well as the center of Japan’s industry and commerce, making it the target of the first U.S. bombing of Japan in April 1942, five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the first air raid inflicted little damage, it demonstrated that the Japanese homeland was vulnerable. Nearly two million people, many of them children, were evacuated from the city. But the city’s defenses remained weak, and only about two percent of the population had access to air raid shelters.

In November 1944, after the United States had captured the Mariana Islands, the Japanese archipelago came within range of new American B-29 bombers. At first, raids were high altitude precision strikes pinpointing military targets. Unsatisfied and wishing to hasten the surrender of Japan, the United States then turned to firebombing, targeting non-combatants, with the goal of breaking morale on the homefront through mass destruction. The Great Kanto Earthquake had already demonstrated how flammable Tokyo was—especially Shitamachi, where many factories were located. Firebombing air raids dropped cluster bombs that released small, incendiary napalm bomblets at low altitude to scatter over a wide area.

The raid on the night of March 9–10, 1945 has been called the deadliest conventional aerial bombardment in history. The United States sent 339 B-29 bombers to drop 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo. The bombs were dropped in a square pattern in order to burn everything within. Fierce ground winds spread the resulting fires. Massive pillars of fire shot thousands of feet high, igniting everything they touched and sucking oxygen from the air so that many victims asphyxiated before they were incinerated. At least 105,000 citizens perished. Another million were injured, and a million more were made homeless. A quarter of the city (16 square miles) was destroyed, including infrastructure, fire stations, and medical facilities. Further bombing that spring destroyed another 19 square miles of the city.

Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender at noon on August 15, 1945, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Allied Occupation of Japan, in effect led by the United States military with General Douglas Macarthur in command, lasted for six and a half years. The occupation was headquartered in Tokyo, in the Dai-Ichi Seimei Building, a modern concrete block overlooking the Imperial Palace moat. The Emperor was left in place, stripped of political power, and the State apparatus was also left largely intact, under U.S. supervision, to implement the American-driven democratic reforms and demilitarization.

At the war’s end, central Tokyo had been reduced to rubble, with lone concrete buildings standing here and there. Half of the prewar city was gone. Only well-to-do neighborhoods and suburban areas escaped the worst punishment. The populace was on the brink of starvation. Repatriation of Japanese from former colonies in Taiwan, Korea, and elsewhere brought additional pressures on scarce resources. While U.S. food aid alleviated these, a black market economy, controlled by illegal gangs, grew and thrived to supply people’s basic needs.

Japan emerged from the occupation demilitarized and with a new constitution instating a parliamentary democracy. The United States initially wanted to de-industrialize, but reversed course to build up Japan’s economy as a bulwark against communism, given the escalating Cold War with the Soviet Union. In the early post-war period under occupation, the Japanese government made a powerful commitment to give priority to economic growth. They initiated several efforts that sought to protect infant industries from foreign firms; help channel capital towards heavy industries; and initiate land reform that, combined with inflation, wiped out most of the large landowning class, redistributed land to tenant farmers who then became small scale farmers who owned their own land, paving way for a middle class.

The Japanese economy began to grow rapidly, particularly after 1955. While the transformation of the Japanese economy from a war-torn nation to one of the world’s largest industrial economies is often hailed as an “economic miracle,” the Japanese economy had been expanding faster than most other industrialized countries before the war, and despite post-war economic collapse, it did not have to rebuild itself from scratch. Furthermore, although Japan’s growth was no doubt an extreme case, it was also indicative of a larger worldwide phenomenon. During this period, nearly all the economies of Western Europe grew at a much faster rate than they had before World War II, and the whole world economy was growing at an unprecedented rate. A commitment to creating a “freer and fairer” international economy in 1947 that reduced tariffs, also eliminated high tariffs and other barriers to Japanese exports, and made it easier to obtain raw materials from other nations to fuel its industrial engine.

This favorable international environment combined with a strong political consensus to prioritize economic growth along with an activist economic bureaucracy, which made it easy for Japan to absorb technologies and increase productivity and innovation. Finally, pent up consumer demand that led to enthusiastic support for the commitment to economic growth, fueled growth, and motivated people to work hard and increase savings in order to achieve a brighter and more comfortable life, contributed to Japan’s incredible rapid growth during this time.

The electronics and automotive industries were particularly innovative and successful internationally, with most major corporations headquartered in Tokyo. During this time, Japanese consumer electronics firms successfully commercialized technology invented in the United States, manufacturing Japanese products that transformed consumer technology use worldwide. Japan’s automotive industry rose to prominence in the global arena during the energy crisis of the 1970s, due to the small, fuel-efficient designs of Japanese cars.

A highlight of Japan’s re-emergence on the world stage was the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The city built several new venues to host the Games, some of which are being renovated for use in the 2020 Olympics. The 1964 games represented a number of “firsts”: the first Olympic Games held in Asia; the first to be telecast internationally via satellite; and the first telecast to include coverage in color. Japan came in third in the total medal count, after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Tokyo more than tripled in population between the end of the war and the late 1980s, from 3.5 million to nearly 12 million. Rapid industrialization meant rapid urbanization and a significant shift in Japan’s population from rural to urban, facilitated by improved transportation. Just in time for the Olympics, Japan debuted its shinkansen, or “bullet train” service linking Tokyo and Osaka, becoming the first country to build a dedicated high-speed rail line.

By the mid-1960s, Japan was experiencing double-digit rates of economic growth. Japan became one of the world’s largest economies by the end of the 1960s, and by the late 1980s, Japan’s per capita GDP had surpassed that of the United States.

However, rapid economic growth halted at the end of the century. The Japanese economy had fueled a speculative asset bubble that burst in a stock market crash in 1989. Real estate had reached extreme heights; properties in Tokyo’s Ginza district sold for as much as $300,000/square meter. However, although this period is typically described as the “Lost Decade,” characterized with a loss of jobs, falling wages, a growing national deficit, this narrative paints an overly desolate image of Japan, and overlooks a lot of the nuance of this time. By the time Japan’s bubble burst, the country was already relatively rich and technologically advanced, and although growth during this time was indeed slow, a closer examination of Japan’s GDP growth during this time shows quite a bit of fluctuation and its recessions coincided with broader international crises; the first being the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997–98, and the second was the global financial crisis of 2007–08. Although the growth rate was slow, the number of employed people in Japan actually increased through the 1990s and 2000s, with a rise in non-regular employees. Furthermore, despite portrayals in the media that Japan was facing anemic growth, on the surface level at least, the recession seemed to be hardly felt. Particularly in the urban areas, prominent downtown real estate was redeveloped into shiny high-rise buildings, and although household consumption expenditures did drop during this time, the full impact was ameliorated with falling nominal prices due to deflation. Household savings however, did experience a marked decrease, which counteracted postwar Japan’s initiatives for high savings.
Late 20th and Early 21st Century
The late 20th and early 21st century have been characterized by relative instability in Japan’s economic and political systems, shifting demographics and social norms, devastating natural disasters, and an overall sense of anxiety about Japan’s direction.

Heisei Period (1989–Present)

This period coincides with the imperial Heisei period, which began when Akihito ascended the throne in 1990, following the death of his father, Hirohito (the Showa emperor) in 1989. Akihito’s enthronement ceremony was held in Tokyo instead of Kyoto, the traditional location, and was the first enthronement ceremony to be televised.

Hirohito’s passing prompted controversy to emerge over his role in World War II. Internationally and domestically, Japan’s role in the war and the appropriate response to its victims have been polarizing issues throughout this period. In Tokyo, the Yasukuni Shrine to the souls of those who died in service to the Empire of Japan, including war criminals, has been a flashpoint for controversy, as when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited in 2005.

In the 21st century, Tokyo has also grown in population and completed several major architectural and infrastructural developments, most notably the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (1991), the Rainbow Bridge (1993), Roppongi Hills (2003), the Tokyo Midtown skyscraper (2007), and the Tokyo Skytree (2011), as well as three subway or rail lines. Tokyo has distinguished itself as one of the most vibrant cultural hubs, and one of the most bustling metropoles in the world. Tokyo has become famed as a foodie city with the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Right in the middle of the city is Tsukiji fish market, the biggest fish market in the world. Furthermore, with the Japanese mindset of “continuous improvement,” Tokyo stands as an example of some of the most impressive urban infrastructure renewal projects.

Economic Climate

After the bubble economy of the 1980s burst, a period of two decades of economic stagnation, characterized by price deflation and a stagnant GDP, bad debts, and fiscal restructuring ensued. Between 1995 and 2007, Japan’s GDP fell from $5.33 to $4.36 trillion, and from 1995 to 2013, real wages fell by about 13 percent. Output per capita also fell and Japan’s fiscal deficit grew rapidly, reaching the highest debt level in the world (240 percent of GDP).

Despite this, the “Lost Decade” is not considered an economic depression. Much of Japan’s losses during this period are relative to extreme economic strength and unusually high levels of economic growth in the previous period. For example, although Japan’s GDP grew at half the rate of that of the United States between 2001 and 2010, its GDP growth per capita was better than either the United States or Europe. And although Japan’s unemployment rate rose in the first decade of this century, it remained at half that of the United States or Europe. Furthermore, a closer look at Japan’s GDP growth shows that GDP growth over the “Lost Decade” actually followed a pattern of growth, punctuated by sharp declines that coincided with broader international crises.

The nature of employment in Japan has nonetheless changed dramatically. The typical narrative of the period between 2000 and 2007 is that unemployment rose and temporary and non-regular labor increasingly replaced lifetime employment; these exact figures also deserve a closer examination. Although growth rate was slow, the number of employed people in Japan actually increased throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and although the number of regular employees dropped, the rise of non-regular employees did not become a majority in the workplace. The shift in composition of the workforce is also indicative of the rise of a new industry that barely existed before—the temporary labor, or dispatch worker agencies, that worked with large companies to supply short-term employees, and the flexible deployment of temporary workers. Japanese companies have traditionally been characterized by lifetime employment with promotions being based on age and seniority. This decade has brought about greater flexibility in employment in the younger generations, as well as a more merit-oriented system. These shifts bring with them more potential upheaval and uncertainty for workers. However, they also have the potential to provide valuable economic stimulus and greater innovation in Japanese companies.

Political Climate

Recent decades have also been relatively unsettled politically. There were 16 different prime ministers between 1989 and 2012. Although the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) retains its parliamentary majority today and therefore the office of prime minister, its hold on power was broken in 1993, for the first time since 1955. In the wake of the financial crisis and political scandal, the Japan New Party, a coalition of opposition parties, won the majority that year. The Japan Renewal Party and Japan Socialist Party won subsequent elections until the LDP regained control in 1996.

In 2009, the Democratic Party of Japan won the majority in the wake of another financial crisis, and held power for three years, with three different prime ministers. Since 2012, Shinzo Abe (LDP) has been prime minister, returning to the office after a one-year term in 2006–2007, and thus represents the longest stability in leadership since the 1980s.


Meanwhile, Japan has struggled to maintain its former dominance in technology industries, as the fields of innovation globally have shifted away from Japan’s strengths in manufacturing and managing complex systems to more software-oriented inventions. While U.S. and South Korean firms, among others, have excelled at information technology, Japanese firms have not successfully reoriented and have failed to compete with consumer product markets such as smartphones and tablets, globally and domestically.


Japanese society also experienced changes during this period of instability, some inspiring widespread anxiety about where the country was headed.

Demographically, Japan is rapidly aging. Through a combination of high life expectancy and low birthrate, Japan now has a larger percentage of elderly citizens than any other country. As of 2014, 33 percent of the population was over the age of 60. An aging population puts pressure on social services, which are funded by a shrinking labor force. Japan’s total population began to decline in 2011, and these trends are expected to continue, unless there is a dramatic change in fertility rates.

Although the immigrant population in Japan remains small, in the past few years the Japanese government has increased the number of international students, many of whom have stayed in Japan to work. Although there remains some political and social resistance to making Japan more multiethnic, attitudes seem to be slowly changing. The increasing visibility of bi/multiracial families, the international schools dotted across Tokyo, and the recent news of not one, but two biracial Miss Japans, are indicative of a shift.

Greater Tokyo alone has seen overall population growth, mostly due to internal migration. In 1997, in-migration exceeded out-migration for the first time in over a decade. The city’s population exceeded 13 million in 2010, but is projected to decline after peaking in 2020.

The so-called “new-new religions” (as opposed to the “new religions” of the postwar period) began to emerge in the 1990s; these groups seemed to reject the modern state. Although these were primarily fringe movements, involving very few people, one such group made a dramatic impact on Tokyo and the nation. On March 20, 1995, a cult movement called Aum Shinrikyo launched a terrorist attack on the Tokyo Metro. Sarin gas, a nerve agent, was simultaneously released into five different trains on three different rail lines in a coordinated attack, leaving 13 dead, 54 seriously injured, and 980 affected. It was the deadliest incident in Japan since World War II. Many of the victims still suffer from vision problems and fatigue today.

Natural Disasters

During this period, Japan experienced two major national disasters. The first was a 6.9-magnitude earthquake centered just off the coast of the city of Kobe on January 17, 1995. The worst earthquake in Japan since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that struck Tokyo, it killed 6,434 people and irreparably damaged nearly 400,000 buildings. Because of the perception that building codes and emergency response services had been inadequate, the Kobe earthquake became a national wake-up call for disaster prevention.

On March 11, 2011, another disaster occurred. First, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Japan’s history, struck off the northeastern coast of Japan. An hour later, a massive tsunami struck. In the days immediately following, three nuclear meltdowns occurred at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant as a result of the tsunami, becoming the world’s second largest nuclear disaster ever, after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Nearly 16,000 lives were lost, over 6,000 injured, and over 2,500 missing. The World Bank estimates the total cost of this triple disaster at US$234 billion, the costliest natural disaster in history.

Seismologists had expected a very large quake to recur southwest of Tokyo, in the same place as the 1923 earthquake, and thus were taken by surprise by the location of the 2011 earthquake. Nonetheless, early warning and safety systems in place for both earthquake and tsunami saved many lives and serves as a model for other Pacific Rim countries.

Although the devastating destruction and loss of life occurred in the northeastern Tohoku region, the entire country was affected. The earthquake itself was strongly felt even in Tokyo, 373 km (232 mi) from the epicenter, and caused some damage especially in areas built on landfill. However, Tokyo’s earthquake-resistant infrastructure and architecture prevented major damage.

Like the rest of the country, Tokyo also suffered from severe shortages of electricity in the short term, as well as the immediate and automatic shutdown of the railways. In the longer term, disruption of Japan’s complex manufacturing systems impacted its economy, but still, only temporarily. Following the nuclear plant disaster, radioactive hotspots were found outside the immediate environs, including Tokyo. Food supplies were also disrupted, as radioactive contamination was discovered in some food products, even years later.

As was the case for both the 1995 and 2011 earthquakes, the massive mobilization of volunteers in the relief efforts inspired the growth of organized charity and non-profit organizations, facilitated by new state policies.
To access the full lesson plan, select the PDF icon below each lesson description. In addition, each lesson is accompanied by supplementary materials, which corresponds to an icon image.
Edo Japan
This lesson introduces students to the Edo Period (1603–1868) and highlights the development of Edo (present-day Tokyo) as an important economic and cultural center. Students consider the traditional social and political structure of Japanese society and the importance of the arts (haiku and kabuki) during the period.
Meiji Japan
This lesson provides students with an overview of the political, social, and economic changes that took place in Japan during the Meiji Period (1868–1912). Students examine the adoption of Western knowledge and culture as seen through traditional Japanese woodblock prints.
The Firebombing of Tokyo
This lesson offers students an overview of the firebombing of Tokyo during World War II. Students consider its significance on Japan’s eventual defeat and examine primary source documents that include a personal account of a non-combatant’s experience during the firebombing and Emperor Hirohito’s announcement of surrender.
Waters of Tokyo
This lesson offers students an overview of the firebombing of Tokyo during World War II. Students consider its significance on Japan’s eventual defeat and examine primary source documents that include a personal account of a non-combatant’s experience during the firebombing and Emperor Hirohito’s announcement of surrender.
Japan’s Economy
This lesson introduces students to key concepts related to Japan’s economy since World War II. Students consider Japan’s rapid economic growth after World War II, Japan’s economic slowdown since the 1980s, and Japan’s economy today.
The Japanese Government and Political System
This lesson provides students with a broad overview of the Japanese government and political system. In their study of the Japanese government, students learn about the three branches of government and discuss the Constitution of 1947; and in their study of the Japanese political system, students consider Japan’s transition from a feudal society to a democracy.
Japanese Education
This lesson offers students a general overview of the structure of the Japanese education system. Students consider similarities and differences between it and the U.S. education system and also critically consider key challenges facing Japanese education today.
Diversity in Japan
This lesson challenges students to reflect on their own sense of identity and to think about what defines them both as individuals and as members of particular groups. Students learn about different minority groups in Japan and discuss some of the challenges they face.
Japanese Technology
This lesson introduces students to some of the core strengths of Japanese technology as well as some of its weaknesses. Students consider Japan’s global presence and influence on global markets, including a critical look at U.S.-Japan cooperation and competitiveness in fueling innovation.
Transportation in Tokyo
This lesson provides students with an understanding of Tokyo’s transportation system, as well as its geography and popular landmarks and destinations. Students also consider transportation-related preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020.
Japanese Popular Culture
This lesson familiarizes students with different types of Japanese pop culture, its unique qualities, and its popularity outside of Japan. Students also consider Japanese pop culture influences on U.S. pop culture.
Tokyo Olympic Games 2020
This lesson introduces students to how Tokyo won the bid to host the summer Olympic Games of 2020, what measures are being taken to prepare for the Games, and what challenges Tokyo faces as it prepares to host the Games. Students also consider controversies surrounding the Games.
The “Road to Tokyo” website was made possible by a generous grant from the United States-Japan Foundation (US-JF). The SPICE staff would like to extend its appreciation to Dr. George R. Packard, US-JF President, and David P. Janes, US-JF Director of Foundation Grants and Assistant to the President, for their unwavering support of pre-collegiate education about Japan and U.S.–Japan relations.

The Principal Investigator of the “Road to Tokyo” project is Dr. Takeo Hoshi, Director, Japan Program, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University.

The individuals listed below contributed to the content and development of this website.

Curriculum Development

Stefanie Lamb, SPICE Curriculum Specialist, wrote the lessons titled “Edo Japan,” “Meiji Japan,” “The Firebombing of Tokyo,” “Waters of Tokyo,” “Japan’s Economy,” “The Japanese Government and Political System,” “Transportation in Tokyo,” “Japanese Popular Culture,” and “Tokyo Olympic Games 2020.” Rylan Sekiguchi, SPICE Curriculum Designer, wrote the lesson titled “Diversity in Japan.” Naomi Funahashi, SPICE Reischauer Scholars Program Manager and Instructor, wrote the lesson titled “Japanese Education.” Elin Matsumae, Silicon Valley-New Japan Project Research Assistant, Stanford University, wrote the lesson titled “Technology and Japan.”

Website Development

Johanna Wee, SPICE Learning Design and Technology Manager, coordinated the development of this website. Johanna worked closely with programmer Jamie Davis and the staff of Mapping Specialists Limited.

Content Handouts

The content handouts that accompany the lessons were written by the following people.
  • “Edo: The Origins of Tokyo,” “Tokyo and the Meiji Restoration,” and “Tokyo at War,” Dr. Peter Duus, Stanford University
  • “The Waters of Tokyo,” Dr. Roderick Ike Wilson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • “Japan’s Economic Growth and Rise of Tokyo,” “An Overview of Japanese Government,” and “Understanding the Japanese Political System,” Dr. Mariko Yoshihara Yang, Stanford University
  • “Developments in Transportation for the 2020 Games,” Grace MyHyun Kim, Stanford University
  • “Culture Goes Pop,” Frederick Schodt, independent scholar
  • “2020 Tokyo Olympic Games,” Selena Lai, Stanford University
  • “Diversity in Japan,” Dr. Jane H. Yamashiro, UCLA.
  • “Education Systems in Japan and the United States: A Comparative Approach,” Dr. Marika S. Kawano, independent scholar
  • “Road to 2020: Challenges in Japanese Education,” Dr. Rie Kijima, Stanford University
  • “Japanese Technology in Historical and Global Perspective,” Elin Matsumae and Dr. Kenji Kushida, Stanford University
  • “The Japanese Software Industry,” Elin Matsumae, Stanford University

Supplementary Resources

The supplementary resources for each lesson were compiled by Dr. Tanya Lee, SPICE Stanford e-China Instructor, and Sabrina Ishimatsu, SPICE Distance-Learning Instructor.

General Overviews

The general overviews on this website were written by Dr. Tanya Lee with the assistance of Dr. Kenji Kushida, Elin Matsumae, and Sabrina Ishimatsu.


The lessons were formatted by Rich Lee, Rich Lee Draws!!! (, and Rylan Sekiguchi.
Edo (or Tokugawa) Japan Supplementary Resources
Lesson plans and curricular materials:
"A Case Study of Tokugawa Japan through Art: Views of a Society in Transformation," from Imaging Japanese History: Lesson Plans for High School. Program for Teaching East Asia at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Part of an online curriculum designed to enhance students’ visual literacy skills, historical thinking skills, and knowledge of Japanese history. Each of the nine woodblock prints explores the role of art in capturing and conveying the human experience in Tokugawa Japan. Includes essay, lesson plan, images, handouts, transparency master, and answer keys.
"Grass Sandals: A Mini-Unit on Haiku and Brush Painting," from Texts and Contexts: Teaching Japan Through Children’s Literature. Program for Teaching East Asia at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Lesson on Edo Period poet Basho at elementary level, drawing on the children’s book Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho, by Dawnine Spivak.
"More to a Closed Door than Meets the Eye: Early Modern Japanese Foreign Relations," from Cultural Encounters: Teaching Japan in World History. Program for Teaching East Asia at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
A world history lesson for middle and high school querying the characterization of Tokugawa Japan as a “closed country.”
Castle Towns: An Introduction to Tokugawa Japan. Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE), 1995.
Available for purchase:
A curriculum unit for grades 7–12 providing an introduction to life in Japan during the Edo Period, through the lenses of geography, architecture, and social structure.
Japanese Art in the Edo Period, Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE), 2005.
Available for purchase:
A curriculum unit for grades 7–12 introducing students to a variety of schools of painting that flourished in the Edo Period.
Spivak, Dawnine. Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1997.
A picture book for elementary students on the poet Basho, including examples of his haiku.
"Traditional Theater: Kabuki,"
Introductory essay, including prominent venues today.
Films and videos:
Films from Marty Gross Films on Edo-era arts. DVDs and Blu-ray available for purchase at Marty Gross Films and excerpts available online on YouTube.
  • Kabuki-Za: Final Curtain (2010, dir. by Sokichi Sogawa, 160 min., DVD or Blu-ray, in Japanese with English subtitles)
    Documentary film on Tokyo’s largest kabuki theater, before its demolition and re-opening (2010–13), including backstage views, excerpts of performances, and interviews with actors.
  • The Lover’s Exile (2006 [digital remaster], 1980 [orig. video], dir. by Marty Gross, 90 min., Blu-ray, in English and Japanese with English subtitles)
    Documentary film on bunraku puppet theatre of the Edo Period. Includes unabridged recording of an entire play, plus special features. Review for educators by Anne Prescott at:
Other web-based resources:
The Art of the Edo Period (1615–1868).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Brief introductory essay; follow links within to learn about specific styles and topics and to see images. This comprehensive website on the world history of art can be explored in many ways.
The Floating World of Ukiyo-E.” Online exhibition with extensive contextual and interpretive material. The Library of Congress.
Online exhibition with extensive contextual and interpretive material. The Library of Congress. Hiroshige’s One Hundred Views of Edo. Online exhibit of woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) of Edo by Utagawa Hiroshige, mid-19th century. Brooklyn Museum.
Resources (readings, images, etc.) on the Edo Period. About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
Tokugawa Japan.” Asian Topics mini-lecture series, Asia for Educators, Columbia University. Lecturers: Carol Gluck, Donald Keene, Robert B. Oxnam, Henry D. Smith, II, and H. Paul Varley.
Introductory lecture:
Follow links in sidebar for 13 more mini-lectures, bibliography, and speaker bios.
Meiji Japan Supplementary Resources
Lesson plans and curricular materials:
"Becoming Modern: Early 20th Century Japan through Primary Sources." National Consortium for Teaching About Asia and Program for Teaching East Asia, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Set of comprehensive lesson plans for high school.
"Early Encounters: The First Japanese Embassy to the United States, 1860." Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE), 2010.
Available for purchase:
A graphic novel that tells the story of the first Japanese diplomatic mission to the United States, the first to leave Japan after over two centuries of isolation under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Includes teacher’s guide, suggested activities, and glossary.
"Imperial Democracy and Colonial Expansion, 1890–1945." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
A teaching module for secondary social studies.
"Japan’s Rapid Rise and Fall, 1868–1945." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
A curriculum unit for secondary social studies.
"Meiji Era: Change or Continuity?" from Cultural Encounters: Teaching Japan in World History, Program for Teaching East Asia at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
A world history lesson for middle and high school, focusing on changes in Japan’s material culture during the Meiji Period.
"The Meiji Restoration and Modernization." Asia for Educators, Columbia University.
"The Russo–Japanese War, 1904–1905: A Turning Point in Japanese History, World History, and How War Is Conveyed to the Public." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
A lesson plan for secondary social studies/visual and performing arts.
"The Sino-Japanese War, 1894–1895: Japan Is Victorious on the Battlefield and the Baseball Diamond." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
A lesson plan for secondary social studies/visual and performing arts.
"Visualizing Cultures: Image-Driven Scholarship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This website offers a treasure trove of primary source images mostly from 19th and early 20th century Japan and China. Click on “Units” at the top of the screen to explore interpreted collections and curricula using these resources.
Huffman, James L. Japan and Imperialism, 1853-1945. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 2010.
Available for purchase:
Part of the Association for Asian Studies’ “Key Issues in Asian Studies” series. These slim volumes provide a critical overview of their topics and are designed for use in undergraduate and advanced high school classrooms.
Huffman, James. "The Meiji Restoration Era, 1868–1889." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
Mortensen, Joan E. “The Case for Commodore Perry in the Classroom.” World History Connected, February 2007.
Includes primary source images, suggested class research projects, and bibliography.
Nakano, Makiko. Makiko’s Diary: A Merchant Wife in 1910 Kyoto. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995.
The diary of the young wife of a busy merchant in early 20th century Kyoto. Provides a snapshot of daily life amidst a new urban consumerism, also relevant to life in Tokyo. See documentary film, Makiko’s New World.
Soderstrom, Mark. "Teaching the Meiji Restoration through Fiction and Film." Japan Studies Association Journal, 12, 2014, 44–56.
A pedagogical article on strategies used by the author to teach the Meiji Restoration in his college-level East Asian History survey course.
Films and videos:
"Makiko’s New World (1999, Dir. by Chet Kincaid, prod. by David Plath, 57 min., DVD, English).
Available for purchase:
A documentary film, with re-enacted segments, based on the diary of Makiko Nakano, the young wife of a busy merchant in early 20th century Kyoto. Provides a snapshot of daily life amidst a new urban consumerism. Accompanying materials available (free):
Other web-based resources:
Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs. National Diet Library, Japan. Online exhibit of documentary photographs of Tokyo, Kansai, and Tohoku. Searchable by map or category.
"Timeline of Modern Japan (1868–1945)." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
"Timeline of Religion and Nationalism in Meiji and Imperial Japan." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
Tokyo Firebombing Supplementary Resources
Lesson plans and curricular materials:
"The Fifteen Year War, 1931–1945: Promoting the National Agenda Through Censorship and Propaganda." About Japan: A Teachers Resource, Japan Society.
Lesson plan for secondary social studies or visual and performing arts.
Allen, Thomas B. and Norman Polmar. "The Radio Broadcast that Ended World War II." The Atlantic. 7 Aug. 2015.
Detailed account of how the Japanese surrender came about, and how Hirohito’s broadcast surrender was delivered.
"Emperor Hirohito, Accepting the Potsdam Declaration, Radio Broadcast." August 14, 1954. English translation in transcript.
Hashimoto, Akiko. "’Something Dreadful Happened in the Past’: War Stories for Children in Japanese Popular Culture." The Asia-Pacific Forum, Vol. 13 (30), No. 1, July 2015.
An overview of the way that World War II has been portrayed in popular books and especially manga for children, providing an alternative and more pacifist perspective than official histories in school textbooks. Some of these manga are available in English translation.
Katsumoto, Saotome. "Saotome Katsumoto and the Firebombing of Tokyo: Introducing The Great Tokyo Air Raid." Translated and with an introduction by Richard Sams. The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol. 13 (10), No. 1, March 16, 2015.
An extensive introduction, written on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Great Tokyo Air Raid, recounting how novelist Katsumoto came to write a first-person account of the raids in 1971, which follows in translation, with an introduction by Katsumoto. Artwork and documentary photos are also included.
Racel, Masako. "Grave of the Fireflies and Japan’s Memories of World War II." Education About Asia, Vol. 14, No. 3, Winter 2009.
An article for secondary and university educators on teaching the Studio Ghibli animated film Grave of the Fireflies (see below), placing it and the original novel in the context of post-war literature addressing the experiences of ordinary Japanese. Includes recommendations on how to introduce the film to American students and addresses controversies surrounding it.
Films and videos:
Historic newsreel footage:
  • "Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s World War II Surrender." New York Daily News presentation of Imperial Household Agency’s 2015 release of clearer digital recording of Hirohito’s surrender speech, August, 14, 1945. Published Aug. 1, 2015.
  • "Japanese Sign Final Surrender." United News newsreel, 1945. Shows the signing of the Japanese surrender documents aboard the battleship Missouri in the Bay of Tokyo on Sept. 2, 1945.
  • "Yanks Bomb Tokyo." Castle Films newsreel, 1942. U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Hornet with 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers to target military bases.
“Grave of the Fireflies” (1988, dir. by Isao Takahata, 89 min., DVD and Blu-ray)
Animated feature from Studio Ghibli, based on the 1967 novel by Nosaka Akiyuki telling the tragic story of two orphans trying to survive Japan’s final days of World War II. Though set in Kobe, it includes firebombing scenes and is thematically relevant to Tokyo’s firebombing and Japan’s defeat overall. Can be purchased at and other retailers.
"Japan’s War in Colour" (2004, dir. by David Batty, narrated by Brian Cox, 95 min., DVD). Available for purchase at and other retailers. May also be available in its entirety on YouTube.
British TV documentary charting the history of Japan’s World War II, 1937–1947, using rare, color film footage from Japan and mostly Japanese eyewitness accounts. About half of the film concerns Japan’s downfall; brief footage of aftermath of Tokyo firebombing at 1:04. Japan’s surrender, the post-war desperation, and the Tokyo war crimes tribunal begin at 1:20. Images and narration are vivid and at times unflinchingly graphic; choose excerpts for use in class with care.
"Most Honorable Son" (2007, dir. by Bill Kubota, 60 min., DVD).
Documentary film about the life of Ben Kuroki, combat pilot in World War II. PBS website for the film includes video excerpts, contextual background on the internment of Japanese Americans, and a teachers guide with lesson plans.
"Wings of Defeat" (2007, dir. by Risa Morimoto, 90-min. and 56-min. versions available, DVD).
Four surviving kamikaze pilots candidly share their stories during Japan’s most desperate hour at the end of World War II. Provides historical context for the kamikaze phenomenon and interviews with American survivors of kamikaze attacks.

DVD and Teachers guide available for purchase from Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE).
Filmmakers’ website Edgewood Pictures and PBS Independent Lens website, both include supplementary information.
Reviewed for educators by Robert Fish in Winter 2009 AEMS Newsletter.
Waters of Tokyo Supplementary Resources
Lesson plans and curricular materials:
"Caring for the Environment: Focus on Recycling." The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. 2004.
Lesson plan introducing students to environmental issues through an examination of recycling in Japan.
"East Asia in Geographic Perspective: China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam." Asia for Educators, Columbia University.
Comprehensive geography unit covering East Asia, with attention to case studies, including examples from Tokyo.
"The Japanese Approach to Environmental Issues." World Affairs Council, 2008.
A resource packet for educators.
"Nature and Environment in Postwar Japan." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
A secondary-level lesson plan for social studies or English/language arts, focusing on the pollution crisis of the 1960s and 1970s.
Huffman, James L. "Nation Versus People: Ashio and Japan’s First Environmental Crisis." Education About Asia, Vol. 15, No. 3, Winter 2010, 34–37.
An account and analysis of the flooding of the Watarase River, northwest of Tokyo, in the 1890s, which poisoned the surrounding landscape due to pollution from the Ashio mines, and the environmental campaign waged by local citizens.
Milner, Rebecca. "Rediscovering Lost Tokyo." The Japan Times. 19 July 2014.
Other web-based resources:
Parker, Clark. "Walking on Water: The Underground Rivers of Tokyo." Tokyo Files blog. 17 Jan. 2016.
An illustrated investigation into the hidden waterways of Tokyo, with annotated Google map.
"Shibuya: Underground Streams, Tokyo." Spatial Dialogues, Tokyo, and the Boat People Association.
A collaborative art project, with video projections, soundscapes, sculpture, and a mobile treasure-hunt, in Jingu-dori Park, Shibuya, Tokyo, June 2013. :
Economics of Japan Supplementary Resources
Lesson plans and curricular materials:
"The Bubble Economy and the Lost Decade." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
Secondary/post-secondary lesson plan for social studies and English/language arts on the bubble economy of the 1980s and the subsequent “lost decade.”
Ellington, Lucien. "Learning from the Japanese Economy." Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education, 2004.
Concise overview of Japanese economic history, 1870s–2000s.
"Japan’s Economy and Trading Patterns: A Fact Sheet." Asia for Educators, Columbia University.
"Understanding the Japanese Economy (Research Exercises for Students)." Asia for Educators, Columbia University.
Films and videos:
"Japan: Miracle in Asia" (1963, prod. by William Deneen, 30 min.).
Historic documentary film on Japan’s post-war industrial growth and economic success.
“Princes of Yen: Central Banks and the Transformation of the Economy” (2014, dir. by Michael Oswald, 93-min. and 45-min. versions).
Official film website: (DVD available for purchase)
93-min. version, free digital stream:
45-min. version, free digital stream:
Based on Richard Werner’s book of the same name, Princes of the Yen argues that Japanese society was transformed to suit the agenda and desire of powerful interest groups, and that citizens were intentionally kept ignorant about this.
Other web-based resources:
"OECD Data: Japan: Economy.
Up-to-date statistical data on various economic indicators, in graphic representation.
"OECD Data: Inequality.
Various comparative indicators of economic and gender inequality in each of the OECD nations, placing Japan in international context.
Government Supplementary Resources
"Fundamental Structure of the Government of Japan." Administrative Management Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 2007.
Other web-based resources:
Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco.
Includes information on the Japanese government and political system.
Education Supplementary Resources
"Explore Japan: Schools." Kids Web Japan.
Overview of the Japanese school system, aimed at young readers.
"Japan." Profile on Center on International Education Benchmarking.
Comprehensive description of the Japanese education system, with sections on teacher and principal quality, instructional systems, system and school organization, education for all, school-to-work transition.
Fish, Robert. "Recent Trends In Education Reform in Japan: The Impact on International Comparisons on Educational Policy." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
Films and videos:
"Lessons from Japan." CBS News television report. 29 Sept. 2010.
Three-minute news segment on the success and low cost of the Japanese education system, crediting the respect paid to teachers.
Diversity Supplementary Resources
"Japan: Burakumin (Buraku people)." Minority Rights Group International website.
"Japan’s Hidden Class of Untouchables." BBC News. 23 Oct. 2015.
Lie, John. "Zainichi: The Korean Diaspora in Japan." Education About Asia, Vol. 14, No. 1, Fall 2009, 16–21.
Yamashiro, Jane H. “The Social Construction of Race and Minorities in Japan.” Sociology Compass, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2013, 147–161.
Films and videos:
"Being ‘Hafu’ in Japan: Mixed-Race People Face Ridicule, Rejection." Reporting by Roxana Seberi, Aljazeera America. 9 Sept. 2015.
Four-minute news story about the hafu [half] experience in Japan, featuring Ariana Miyamoto, Miss Universe Japan 2015.
Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience in Japan (2013, dir. by Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi, 90 min.).
Available for purchase on DVD:
On-demand digital streaming:
Other web-based resources:
Hibakusha Stories website.
This website is devoted to passing on the legacy of the survivors of the atomic bombings or hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to high school and university students. Includes information on the collective hibakusha experience, individual testimonies, storyboards, and more. [note: Hibakusha are sometimes referred to as a minority group in Japan.]
Technology and Transportation Supplementary Resources
Cole, Robert E. and Yoshifumi Nakata. “The Japanese Software Industry.” California Management Review, Vol. 57, No. 1, 2014.
Morris, Ben. "What Does the Future Hold for Japan’s Electronics Firms?" BBC News. 12 April 2012.
Okimoto, Daniel. "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Visit to Silicon Valley." U.S.-Japan Council. 2015.
Films and videos:
“A Video History of Japan’s Electronic Industry: Rebuilding a Nation’s Technology.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan.
History of Japan’s 20th century electronics industry, with detailed scientific and engineering information and including footage of manufacturing, advertisements, etc. Uploaded from VHS to YouTube.
Other web-based resources:
Central Japan Railway Company Visitors Guide 2014.
Information about the Shinkansen.
Stanford Silicon Valley-New Japan Project. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University.
Video lectures, news articles, and publications about the Silicon Valley ecosystem, Japan’s recent initiatives for innovation, and the potential of further Silicon Valley-Japan collaborations.
Kids Web Japan. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan.
Collection of articles for young students on various topics in current technology, including the Shinkansen, architectural engineering of the Tokyo Skytree, etc.
Pop Culture Supplementary Resources
Lesson plans and curricular materials:
"Popular Culture and Japan’s Gross National Cool." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
Secondary-level social studies lesson plan introducing the concept of “soft power,” the history and diversity of Japanese popular culture creations, and the global appeal of Japanese popular culture.
"A Case Study of Late Twentieth‐Century Japan through Art: Tezuka Osamu and Astro Boy." Module from Imaging Japanese History, Program for Teaching East Asia at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Secondary level lesson plan using Tezuka Osamu, the creator of Astro Boy and many other characters, as a representative artist to help students understand the late 20th century.
Condry, Ian. "From Sukiyaki to Hip-Hop: A Guide to Teaching Japanese Popular Music." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
Brief introduction to enka, the U.S. hit “Sukiyaki #1,” and hip-hop in Japan, providing framing and questions to consider in teaching.
Condry, Ian. "Teaching Anime: Exploring a Transnational and Transmedia Movement." About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, Japan Society.
Hoskin, Peter. “How Japan Became a Pop Culture Superpower,” The Spectator, 31 Jan. 2005.
Ishii, Junya. "’Cool’ Japan: Spreading Pop Culture in the United States." Embassy of Japan. 15 Nov. 2004.
Jaffe, Meryl. "Using Graphic Novels in Education: Barefoot Gen." Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. 26 Sept. 2013.
Kangling, Chen. "Why Is Japanese Culture Popular in the U.S.?" Global Times, 14 Oct. 2014.
McGray, Douglas. "Japan’s Gross National Cool." Essay for Japan Society website.
Recommended reading for “Popular Culture and Japan’s Gross National Cool” lesson plan from About Japan, above.
Ortabasi, Melek. "Teaching Modern Japanese History with Animation Satoshi Kon’s Millenium Actress." Education About Asia, Vol. 12, No. 1, spring 2007, 62–65.
Sato, Kumiko. "From Hello Kewpie to Cod Roe Kewpie: A Postwar Cultural History of Cuteness in Japan." Education About Asia, Vol. 14, No. 2, fall 2009, 38–42.
Tiffany, Laura. "Embracing Japanese Pop Culture." 11 May 2008.
Tsutsui, William. Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization. Key Issues in Asian Studies series. Association for Asian Studies, 2010.
Surveying Japanese forms from anime (animation) and manga (comic books) to monster movies and Hello Kitty products, this volume is an accessible introduction to Japan’s pop creativity and its appeal worldwide. Suitable for undergraduate and advanced high school readers.
Other web-based resources:
Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka, Manga volumes 1–23.
Early issues of Astro Boy books from the 1960s are available online at
Trends in Japan," Web Japan (sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan).
Continuously updated website introducing various consumer and popular trends in Japan. Possible starting point for student research projects.
2020 Olympics Supplementary Resources
Lesson plans and curricular materials:
Olympic Games Teaching Resources from The Olympic Museum.
Check back for more materials on Tokyo as 2020 draws nearer.
Droubie, Paul. Japan's Rebirth at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics . About Japan: A Teacher's Resource, Japan Society.
Tokyo 1964 Created Lasting Olympic Legacies . Official Website of the Olympic Movement.
Tokyo Wins Bid to Host 2020 Olympics . The Japan Times. 8 Sept. 2013.
Films and videos:
"Japan National Stadium and the Struggle for National Identity," Kathleen Krauth, The American School in Japan. Program for Teaching East Asia at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA). July 2016. Lecture with PowerPoint for K–12 educators.
“Tokyo Olympiad” (1965, dir. by Kon Ichikawa, color, 170 min.). Formerly distributed on DVD by the Criterion Collection. Available to stream at: This documentary of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics is regarded as a classic of sports filmmaking. Crowds and street scenes are captured along with the athletic events, non-medalists as well as winners.
Other web-based resources:
"Appendices: Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games." Tokyo Metropolitan Government. A summary of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s plans for hosting the 2020 Olympics.