Japan -- Geography --
Japan (Nihon or Nippon) is an island country 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 comprises over three thousand islands, the largest of which are Honsho, Hokkaido, Kyosho and Shikoku, together accounting for 97% of land area. Most of the islands are mountainous, many volcanic; 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 the capital city of 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 the Upper 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 major economic power, Japan has the world's second largest economy by nominal GDP. It is a member of the United Nations, G8, G4 and APEC, with the world's fifth largest defense budget. It is also the world's fourth largest exporter and sixth largest importer and a world leader in technology and machinery.
Its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the juncture of three tectonic plates, gives Japan destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunamis, occur several times each century. The most recent major quakes are the 2004 Ch?etsu earthquake and the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Hot springs are numerous and have been developed as resorts.
The hottest temperature ever measured in Japan - 40.9 degrees Celsius - was recorded on August 16, 2007.
Area: total: 377,835 sq km
land: 374,744 sq km
water: 3,091 sq km
Coastline: 29,751 km
Population: 127,433,494 (July 2007 est.)
Population growth rate: -0.088% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 8.1 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 8.98 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Ethnic groups: Japanese 98.5%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.7%
Religions: observe both Shinto and Buddhist 84%, other 16% (including Christian 0.7%)
Japan -- History --
The first signs of occupation on the Japanese archipelago appeared with a Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC.
The Yayoi period, starting around the third century BC, introduced new practices, such as wet-rice farming, iron and bronze-making and a new style of pottery, brought by migrants from China or Korea. With the development of Yayoi culture, a predominantly agricultural society emerged in Japan.
The Japanese first appear in written history in China’s Book of Han. According to the Chinese Records of the Three Kingdoms, the most powerful kingdom on the archipelago during the third century was called Yamataikoku.
Japan's feudal era was characterized by the emergence of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. In 1185, following the defeat of the rival Taira clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed Shogun and established a base of power in Kamakura. After Yoritomo's death, the Hojo clan came to rule as regents for the shoguns. Zen Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class. The Kamakura shogunate managed to repel Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, aided by a storm that the Japanese interpreted as a kamikaze, or Divine Wind. The Kamakura shogunate was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo, who was soon himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336.
During the sixteenth century, traders and missionaries from Portugal reached Japan for the first time, initiating the Nanban ("southern barbarian") period of active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West.
On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the "Black Ships" of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. The Boshin War of 1867–1868 led to the resignation of the shogunate, and the Meiji Restoration established a government centered around the emperor. Adopting Western political, judicial and military institutions, a parliamentary system modeled after the British parliament was introduced, with Ito Hirobumi as the first Prime Minister in 1882. Meiji era reforms transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that embarked on a number of military conflicts to increase access to natural resources. After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan gained control of Korea, Taiwan and the southern half of Sakhalin.
The early twentieth century saw a brief period of "Taisho democracy" overshadowed by the rise of Japanese expansionism and militarization. World War I enabled Japan, which joined the side of the victorious Allies, to expand its influence and territorial holdings. Japan continued its expansionist policy by occupying Manchuria in 1931. As a result of international condemnation for this occupation, Japan resigned from the League of Nations two years later. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, joining the Axis Powers in 1941.
On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. This act brought the United States into World War II. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, along with the Soviet Union joining the war against it, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August 15 (V-J Day). The war cost Japan millions of lives and left much of the country's industry and infrastructure destroyed. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, was convened by the Allies (on May 3, 1946) to prosecute Japanese leaders for war crimes such as the Nanking Massacre.
In 1947, Japan adopted a new pacifist constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. Official American occupation lasted until 1952 and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Under a subsequent program of aggressive industrial development aided by the US, Japan achieved spectacular growth to become the second largest economy in the world, with an annual growth rate averaging 10% for four decades. This ended in the mid-1990s when Japan suffered a major recession. Positive growth in the early twenty-first century has signaled a gradual recovery.
Japan -- Economy --
GDP (purchasing power parity): $4.218 trillion (2006 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2.2% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $33,100 (2006 est.)
Labor force: 66.44 million (2006 est.)
Unemployment rate: 4.1% (2006 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 0.3% (2006 est.)
Exports: $590.3 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.)
Exports - partners: US 22.8%, China 14.3%, South Korea 7.8%, Taiwan 6.8%, Hong Kong 5.6% (2006)
Imports: $524.1 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.)
Imports - partners: China 20.5%, US 12%, Saudi Arabia 6.4%, UAE 5.5%, Australia 4.8%, South Korea 4.7%, Indonesia 4.2% (2006)
Debt - external: $1.547 trillion (30 June 2006)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $864.7 billion (August 2006 est.)
Currency (code): yen (JPY)
Japan -- Culture --
Japanese culture has evolved greatly over the years, from the country's original J?mon culture to its contemporary culture, which combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America. Traditional Japanese arts include crafts (ikebana, origami, ukiyo-e, dolls, lacquerware, pottery), performances (bunraku, dance, kabuki, noh, rakugo), traditions (games, tea ceremony, budo, architecture, gardens, swords) and cuisine. The fusion of traditional woodblock printing and Western art led to the creation of manga, a typically Japanese comic book format that is now popular within and outside Japan. Manga-influenced animation for television and film is called anime.
Japan -- Political system, law and government --
Government type: constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government
Administrative divisions: 47 prefectures
Independence: 660 B.C. (traditional founding by Emperor JIMMU)
National holiday: Birthday of Emperor AKIHITO, 23 December (1933)
Constitution: 3 May 1947
Legal system: modeled after German civil law system with English-American influence; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations.
Suffrage: 20 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: Emperor AKIHITO (since 7 January 1989)
head of government: Prime Minister Yasuo FUKUDA (since 26 September 2007)
Legislative branch: bicameral Diet or Kokkai consists of the House of Councillors or Sangi-in (242 seats - members elected for six-year terms; half reelected every three years; 146 members in multi-seat constituencies and 96 by proportional representation) and the House of Representatives or Shugi-in (480 seats - members elected for four-year terms; 300 in single-seat constituencies; 180 members by proportional representation in 11 regional blocs).
Judicial branch: Supreme Court (chief justice is appointed by the monarch after designation by the cabinet; all other justices are appointed by the cabinet).
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 costs.