Japan (Nihon or Nippon?,
officially Nihon-koku or Nippon-koku)
is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the
Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of China, Korea,
and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk
in the north to the East China Sea in the south.
The characters that make up Japan's name mean "sun-origin",
which is why Japan is sometimes identified as the "Land
of the Rising Sun". Japan's capital and largest
Japan comprises over three
thousand islands, the largest of which are Honshū, Hokkaidō,
Kyūshū and Shikoku. Most of the islands
are mountainous, manyvolcanic; for example, Japan’s
highest peak, Mount Fuji, is a volcano. Japan has
the world's tenth largest population, with about
128 million people. The Greater Tokyo Area,
which includes Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures,
is the largest metropolitan area in the world,
with over 30 million residents.
Archaeological research indicates
that people were living on the islands of Japan
as early as theUpper Paleolithic period. The
first written mention of Japan begins with brief
appearances in Chinese history texts from the
first century AD.
Influence from the outside world followed by long
periods of isolation has characterized Japan's
history. Thus, its culture today is a mixture of
outside influences and internal developments. Since
adopting its constitution in 1947, Japan has maintained
a unitary constitutional monarchy with an emperor
and an elected parliament, the Diet.
A great power, Japan is the world's second largest
economy by nominal GDP and is a member of the United
Nations, G8 and APEC.
Japan is a constitutional monarchy
where the power of the Emperor (天皇 tennō,
literally "heavenly sovereign") is very
limited. As a ceremonial figurehead, he is defined
by the constitution as "the symbol of the
state and of the unity of the people". Power
is held chiefly by the Prime Minister of Japan
and other elected members of the Diet, while sovereignty
is vested in the Japanese people. The emperor effectively
acts as the head of state on diplomatic occasions.
Akihito is the current Emperor of Japan.
Japan's legislative organ is the National Diet,
a bicameral parliament. The Diet consists of a
House of Representatives, containing 480 seats,
elected by popular vote every four years or when
dissolved, and a House of Councillors of 242 seats,
whose popularly-elected members serve six-year
terms. There is universal suffrage for adults over
20 years of age, with a secret ballot for all elective
offices. The liberal conservative Liberal Democratic
Party (LDP) has been in power since 1955, except
for a short-lived coalition government formed from
opposition parties in 1993. The largest opposition
party is the social liberal Democratic Party of
The Prime Minister of Japan
is the head of government. The position is appointed
by the Emperor of Japan after being designated
by the Diet from among its members, and must
enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives
to remain in office. The Prime Minister is the
head of the Cabinet (the literal translation
of his Japanese title is "Prime
Minister of the Cabinet") and appoints and
dismisses the Ministers of State, a majority of
whom must be Diet members. Shinzo Abe currently
serves as the Prime Minister of Japan.
Historically influenced by Chinese law, the Japanese
legal system developed independently during the
Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki.
However, since the late nineteenth century, the
judicial system has been largely based on the civil
law of Europe, notably France and Germany. For
example, in 1896, the Japanese government established
a civil code based on the French model. With post-World
War II modifications, the code remains in effect
in present-day Japan. Statutory law originates
in Japan's legislature, the National Diet of Japan,
with the rubber-stamp approval of the Emperor.
The current constitution requires that the Emperor
promulgates legislation passed by the Diet, without
specifically giving him the power to oppose the
passing of the legislation. Japan's court system
is divided into four basic tiers: the Supreme Court
and three levels of lower courts. The main body
of Japanese statutory law is a collection called
the Six Codes.
Japan maintains close economic and
military relations with its key ally the United
States, with the US-Japan security alliance serving
as the cornerstone of its foreign policy. A member
state of the United Nations since 1956, Japan is
currently serving as a non-permanent Security Council
member. It is also one of the G4 nations seeking
permanent membership in the Security Council.
While there exist eight commonly defined regions
of Japan, administratively Japan consists of forty-seven
prefectures, each overseen by an elected governor,
legislature and administrative bureaucracy. The
former city of Tokyo is further divided into twenty-three
special wards, each with the same powers as cities.
The nation is currently undergoing administrative
reorganization by merging many of the cities, towns,
and villages with each other. This process will
reduce the number of sub-prefecture administrative
regions, and is expected to cut administrative
Japan has dozens of major cities, which play an
important role in Japan's culture, heritage and
economy. Those in the list below of the ten most
populous are all prefectural capitals and Government
Ordinance Cities, except where indicated:
a 23 municipalities. Also capital of Japan.
b Government Ordinance City only.
Close government-industry cooperation,
a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology,
and a comparatively small defense allocation have
helped Japan become the second largest economy
in the world,after the United States, at around
US$4.5 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and third
after the United States and China in in terms of
purchasing power parity.
Banking, insurance, real estate, retailing, transportation
and telecommunications are all major industries.
Japan has a large industrial capacity and is home
to some of the largest and most technologically
advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronic
equipment, machine tools, steel and nonferrous
metals, ships, chemicals, textiles and processed
foods. It is home to leading multinational corporations
and commercial brands in technology and machinery.Construction
has long been one of Japan's largest industries,
with the help of multi-billion dollar government
contracts in the civil sector. Distinguishing characteristics
of the Japanese economy have included the cooperation
of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and banks
in closely-knit groups called keiretsu and
the guarantee of lifetime employment in big corporations.
Recently, Japanese companies have begun to abandon
some of these norms in an attempt to increase profitability.
Japan is home to the world's largest bank, the Mitsubishi
UFJ Financial Group, which has roughly US$1.7 trillion
in assets; the world's largest postal savings system;
and the largest holder of personal savings, Japan
Post, holding personal savings valued at around US$3.3
trillion. It is home to the world's second largest
stock exchange, the Tokyo Stock Exchange, with a
market capitalization of over US$4 trillion as of
December 2006.It is also home to some of the largest
financial services companies, business groups and
banks. For instance several large keiretsus (business
groups) and multinational companies such as Sony,
Sumitomo, Mitsubishi and Toyota own billion- and
trillion-dollar operating banks, investment groups
and/or financial services such as Sumitomo Bank,
Fuji Bank, Mitsubishi Bank, ToyotaSony Financial
From the 1960s to the 1980s,
overall real economic growth has been called
a "miracle": a
10% average in the 1960s, a 5% average in the 1970s
and a 4% average in the 1980s. Growth slowed markedly
in the 1990s, largely due to the after-effects
of over-investment during the late 1980s and domestic
policies intended to wring speculative excesses
from the stock and real estate markets. Government
efforts to revive economic growth met with little
success and were further hampered in 2000 to 2001
by the deceleration of the global economy. However,
the economy showed strong signs of recovery after
2005. GDP growth for that year was 2.8%, with an
annualized fourth quarter expansion of 5.5%, surpassing
the growth rates of the US and European
Union during the same period.
Because only about 15% of Japan's land is suitable
for cultivation, a system of terrace farming is
used to build in small areas. This results in one
of the world's highest levels of crop yields per
unit area. However, Japan's small agricultural
sector is also highly subsidized and protected.
Japan must import about 50% of its requirements
of grain and fodder crops other than rice, and
it relies on imports for most of its supply of
meat. In fishing, Japan is ranked second in the
world behindChina in tonnage of fish caught. Japan
maintains one of the world's largest fishing fleets
and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch.Japan
relies on foreign countries for almost all food.
Transportation in Japan is
highly developed. As of 2004, there are 1,177,278 km of paved roadways,
173 airports, and 23,577 km of railways. Air
transport is mostly operated by All Nippon Airways
(ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL). Railways are operated
by Japan Railways among others. There are extensive
international flights from many cities and countries
to and from Japan.
Japan's main export partners are the United States
22.9%, China 13.4%, South Korea 7.8%, Taiwan 7.3%
and Hong Kong 6.1% (for 2005). Japan's main exports
are transport equipment, motor vehicles, electronics,
electrical machinery and chemicals. With very limited
natural resources to sustain economic development,
Japan depends on other nations for most of its
raw materials; thus it imports a wide variety of
goods. Its main import partners are China 21%,
South Korea 4.7% and Indonesia 4% (for 2005). Japan's
main imports are machinery and equipment, fossil
fuels, foodstuffs (in particular beef), chemicals,
textiles and raw materials for its industries.
Overall, Japan's largest trading partner is China.
population is estimated at around 127,463,611.
For the most part, Japanese society is linguistically
and culturally homogeneous with only small populations
of foreign workers, Zainichi Koreans, Japanese
Chinese, Japanese Brazilians, and others. Japan
also has indigenous minority groups such as the
Ainu and Ryūkyūans, and social minority
groups such as the burakumin.
Japan has one of the highest life expectancy rates
in the world, at 81.25 years of age as of 2006.
However, the Japanese population is rapidly aging,
the effect of a post-war baby boom followed by
a decrease in births in the latter part of the
twentieth century. In 2004, about 19.5% of the
population was over the age of 65.
The changes in the demographic structure have
created a number of social issues, particularly
a potential decline in the workforce population
and increases in the cost of social security benefits
such as the public
pension plan. It is also noted that many Japanese
youth are increasingly preferring not to marry
or have families as adults. Japan's population
is expected to drop to 100 million by 2050 and
to 64 million by 2100. Demographers and government
planners are currently in a heated debate over
how to cope with this problem. Immigration and
birth incentives are sometimes suggested as a solution
to provide younger workers to support the nation's
aging population. Immigration, however, is not
About 99% of the population
speaks Japanese as their first language. The
Ainu language is moribund, with only a few elderly
native speakers remaining in Hokkaidō. Most
public and private schools require students to
take courses in both Japanese and English.