The Japanese language is a Japonic language that is usually treated as a language isolate, although it is also related to the Okinawan language (Ryukyuan). The Japanese language has a tripartite writing system based upon Chinese characters. Domestic Japanese people use primarily Japanese for daily interaction. The adult literacy rate in Japan exceeds 99%.
Most Japanese people (84% to 96%) profess to believe in both Shinto and Buddhism. The Japanese people's religious concerns are mostly directed towards mythology, traditions, and neighborhood activities rather than as the single source of moral guidelines for one's life. Confucianism or Taoism is sometimes considered the basis for morality.
Following the opening of Japan to the West in 1854, some works of this style were written in English by natives of Japan; they include Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo (1900), concerning samurai ethics, and The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo (1906), which deals with the philosophical implications of the Japanese tea ceremony. Western observers have often attempted to evaluate Japanese society as well, to varying degrees of success; one of the most well-known and controversial works resulting from this is Ruth Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946).
Twentieth-century Japanese writers recorded changes in Japanese society through their works. Some of the most notable authors included Natsume Sōseki, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Osamu Dazai, Yasunari Kawabata, Fumiko Enchi, Yukio Mishima, and Ryotaro Shiba. In contemporary Japan, popular authors such as Ryu Murakami, Haruki Murakami, and Banana Yoshimoto are highly regarded.
Beginning in the Nara period, painting, calligraphy, and sculpture flourished under strong Confucian and Buddhist influences from Korea and China. Among the architectural achievements of this period are the Hōryū-ji and the Yakushi-ji, two Buddhist temples in Nara Prefecture. After the cessation of official relations with the Tang dynasty in the ninth century, Japanese art and architecture gradually became less influenced by China. Extravagant art and clothing was commissioned by nobles to decorate their court life, and although the aristocracy was quite limited in size and power, many of these pieces are still extant. After the Todai-ji was attacked and burned during the Gempei War, a special office of restoration was founded, and the Todai-ji became an important artistic center. The leading masters of the time were Unkei and Kaikei.
Painting advanced in the Muromachi period in the form of ink and wash painting under the influence of Zen Buddhism as practiced by such masters as Sesshū Tōyō. Zen Buddhist tenets were also elaborated into the tea ceremony during the Sengoku period. During the Edo period, the polychrome painting screens of the Kano school were made influential thanks to their powerful patrons (including the Tokugawas). Popular artists created ukiyo-e, woodblock prints for sale to commoners in the flourishing cities. Pottery such as Imari ware was highly valued as far away as Europe.
In theater, Noh is a traditional, spare dramatic form that developed in tandem with kyogen farce. In stark contrast to the restrained refinement of noh, kabuki, an "explosion of color," uses every possible stage trick for dramatic effect. Plays include sensational events such as suicides, and many such works were performed in both kabuki and bunraku puppet theaters.
Since the Meiji Restoration, Japan has absorbed elements of Western culture. Its modern decorative, practical and performing arts works span a spectrum ranging from the traditions of Japan to purely Western modes. Products of popular culture, including J-pop, manga, and anime have found audiences around the world.
A recent study by Michael F. Hammer has shown genetic similarity to a variety of populations in Asia. This and other genetic studies have also claimed that Y-chromosome patrilines crossed from Asian mainland into the Japanese Archipelago, where they currently comprise a significant fraction of the extant male lineages of the Japanese population. These patrilines seem to have experienced extensive genetic admixture with the long-established Jōmon period populations of Japan.
A recent study for the origins of Japanese people is based on the "dual structure model" proposed by Hanihara in 1991. He concludes that modern Japanese lineages consist of the original Jōmon people and immigrants from the Yayoi period. The Jōmon people originated in southeast Asia, moving to the Japanese Archipelago in the Palaeolithic period. In past several decades, the Japanese people was proposed to relate to Yi, Hani and Dai people based on folk customs or genetic evidences.
Another southeast Asian group moved to northeastern Asia. The population of this group increased in the Neolithic period and some moved to the archipelago during the Yayoi period. The miscegenation prevailed in Kyūshū, Shikoku and Honshū islands but not in Okinawa and Hokkaido, respectively represented by the Ryukyuan and Ainu people. This theory was based on the study of the development of human bones and teeth. The comparison of mitochondrial DNA between Jōmon people and medieval Ainu also supports the theory.
Masatoshi Nei opposed the "dual structure model" and alleged that the genetic distance data shows the origin of Japanese was in northeast Asia, moving to Japan perhaps more than thirty thousand years ago.
The study on the population change in the ancient period was also discussed. The estimated number of people in the late Jōmon period numbered about one hundred thousand, compared to that of the Nara period which had a population of about three million. Taking the growth rates of hunting and agricultural societies into account, it is calculated that about one and half million immigrants moved to Japan in the period. This figure seems to be overestimated and is being recalculated today.
During the Japanese colonial period of 1867 to 1945, the phrase "Japanese people" was used to refer not only to residents of the Japanese archipelago, but also to people from occupied territories who held Japanese citizenship, such as Taiwanese people and Korean people. The official term used to refer to ethnic Japanese during this period was . Such linguistic distinctions facilitated forced assimilation of colonized ethnic identities into a single Imperial Japanese identity.
After World War II, many Nivkh people and Orok people from southern Sakhalin who held Japanese citizenship were forced to repatriate to Hokkaidō by the Soviet Union. However, many Sakhalin Koreans who had held Japanese citizenship until the end of the war were left stateless by the Soviet occupation.
The term is used to refer to Japanese people who either emigrated from Japan or are descendants of a person who emigrated from Japan. The usage of this term excludes Japanese citizens who are living abroad, but includes all descendants of nikkeijin who lack Japanese citizenship regardless of their place of birth.
Emigration from Japan was recorded as early as the 12th century to the Philippines, but did not become a mass phenomenon until the Meiji Era, when Japanese began to go to the United States, Canada, Peru, Brazil and Argentina. There was also significant emigration to the territories of the Empire of Japan during the colonial period; however, most such emigrants repatriated to Japan after the end of World War II in Asia.
According to the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, there are about 2.5 million nikkeijin living in their adopted countries. The largest of these foreign communities are in the Brazilian states of São Paulo and Paraná. There are also significant cohesive Japanese communities in the Philippines, Peru, Argentina and in the American states of Hawaii, California and Washington. Separately, the number of Japanese citizens living abroad is over one million according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is also a small group of Japanese descendants living in Caribbean countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic where hundreds of these immigrants were brought in by the dictator Rafael L. Trujillo in the 30's.