Nippon / Nihon (koku)

Flag of Japan Imperial Seal of Japan
Flag Imperial Seal
Anthem: Kimi ga Yo  (君が代)
Imperial Reign
Location of Japan
Capital Tokyo
Most populous conurbation Tokyo1
Official language Japanese
Government Constitutional monarchy
 - Emperor HIM Emperor Akihito
 - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (LDP)
 - National Foundation Day Feb 11, 660 BC2 
 - Meiji Constitution November 29, 1890 
 - Current constitution May 3, 1947 
 - Treaty of San Francisco April 28, 1952 
 - Total 377,873 km² (62nd)
145,883 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 0.8%
 - 2005 estimate 128,085,000 (10th)
 - 2004 census 127,333,002
 - Density 337/km² (20th)
873/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2006 estimate
 - Total $4.167 trillion (3rd)
 - Per capita $32,640 (12th)
GDP (nominal) 2005 estimate
 - Total $4,571 trillion (2nd)
 - Per capita $35,757 (14th)
HDI  (2004) 0.949 (high) (7th)
Currency Yen (¥) (JPY)
Time zone JST (UTC+9)
Internet TLD .jp
Calling code +81
1 Yokohama is the largest incorporated city.
2 Japan was founded on this date by the legendary Emperor Jimmu, first emperor of Japan; it is seen as largely symbolic.

Japan (日本 Nihon or Nippon?, officially 日本国 Nihon-koku or Nippon-koku) 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 literally mean "sun-origin", which is why Japan is sometimes referred to as the "Land of the Rising Sun." Its capital and largest city, with a population of over twelve and a half million, is Tokyo.

Japan comprises over 3,000 islands, the largest of which are Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku. Most of the islands are mountainous, and many are volcanic, including Japan’s highest peak, Mount Fuji. 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 the upper paleolithic period. The first written mention of Japan begins with brief appearances in Chinese history texts from the 1st century AD. Influence from the outside world followed by long periods of isolation characterize Japan's history. Thus, its culture today is a mixture of outside influences and internal developments. Since adopting its constitution on May 3, 1947, Japan has maintained a unitary constitutional monarchy with an emperor and an elected parliament, the Diet, which is one of the oldest legislative bodies in Asia.

Japan is an economic great power with the world's second largest economy (by nominal GDP). It is also the world's largest international creditor and the sixth largest exporter and importer and a member of the United Nations, G8, and APEC.





Early History

A Middle Jomon vessel (3000 to 2000 BC)
A Middle Jomon vessel (3000 to 2000 BC)

The first signs of civilization on the Japanese Archipelago appeared around 10,000 BC with the Jomon culture, characterized by a mesolithic to neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer lifestyle of pit dwelling and a rudimentary form of agriculture. Weaving was still unknown and clothes were often made of bark. The Jomon people made decorated clay vessels, however, often with plaited patterns. Some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world may be found in Japan.[1]

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 the Chinese mainland and the Korean peninsula. With the development of Yayoi culture, a predominantly agricultural society emerged on the Japanese archipelago.[2][3][4]

The Japanese first appear in written history in China’s Book of Han, in which it is recorded, "The people of Wa are located across the ocean from Lelang, are divided into more than one hundred tribes, and come to offer tribute from time to time." In China’s Book of Later Han it is recorded that in 57 AD, the southern Wa kingdom of Na sent an emissary named Taifu to pay tribute to Emperor Guangwu and received a golden seal. According to China's Book of Wei, Japan’s most powerful kingdom in the third century was called Yamataikoku and was ruled by Queen Himiko.

The Kofun period, from the third century to the seventh century, saw the establishment of a dominant polity centered in the Yamato area, which gave rise to the Japanese imperial lineage that continues to this day.

In the sixth century, Buddhism was introduced to Japan from the Korean kingdom of Baekje, and, although there was some early resistance to its official adoption, it was promoted by the ruling class and eventually gained growing acceptance throughout the Asuka and Nara periods. Prince Shōtoku, in particular, helped spread Buddhism and Chinese culture through an edict marking the first official recognition of Buddhism as a national religion in 593, the introduction of a Chinese-style cap and rank system of classifying bureaucrats in 603, and the drawing up of a Seventeen-article constitution that promoted Confucian morals and virtues in 604.

The Great Buddha at Tōdaiji, Nara, originally cast in 752
The Great Buddha at Tōdaiji, Nara, originally cast in 752

Starting with the Taika Reform Edicts of 645, the Yamato court intensified the adoption of Chinese cultural practices and reorganized the government and the penal code based on the Ritsuryō. This paved the way for the dominance of Confucian philosophy in Japan until the nineteenth century. This period also saw the first use of the word Nihon (日本?) as a name for the emerging state.

The Nara period of the eighth century marked the first emergence of a strong central Japanese state, centered around an imperial court in the city of Heijō-kyō, or modern day Nara, which was modeled after Chang'an, the capital of the Tang China. In addition to the continuing adoption of Chinese administrative practices, the Nara period is characterized by the appearance of a nascent written literature with the completion of the massive chronicles Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters, 712) and Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720), as well as a further strengthening of Buddhism's influence, culminating in the construction of the Daibutsu at Tōdaiji in 751. The imperial court was moved briefly to Nagaoka at the end of the Nara period, before finally being moved to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto), where it remained for more than a millenium until the Meiji period.

In the Heian period, from 794 to 1185, a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged, noted for its art, especially poetry and literature. In the early eleventh century, Lady Murasaki wrote the world's oldest surviving novel, The Tale of Genji. The Fujiwara clan's regency dominated politics during this period.


Feudal era

The samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga, Japan's first official ambassador to the Americas and Europe, in 1615
The samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga, Japan's first official ambassador to the Americas and Europe, in 1615

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 Shōgun and established a base of power in Kamakura near present-day Tokyo. After Yoritomo's death, another warrior clan, the Hōjō, came to rule as regents for the shoguns. The Kamakura shogunate managed to repel Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, with assistance from a storm that the Japanese interpreted as a kamikaze, or Divine Wind. The Kamakura shogunate lasted another fifty years and was eventually overthrown by Ashikaga Takauji in 1333. The succeeding Ashikaga shogunate failed to manage the feudal warlords — the daimyo — and a civil war erupted. The Ōnin War (1467 to 1477) is generally regarded as the onset of the "Warring States" or Sengoku period.

During the 16th 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. Oda Nobunaga conquered numerous other daimyo by using European technology and firearms, and had almost unified the nation when he was assassinated in 1582. Toyotomi Hideyoshi succeeded Nobunaga and united the nation in 1590. Hideyoshi invaded Korea twice, but was thwarted by Korean and Ming Chinese forces. Following several defeats and Hideyoshi's death, Japanese troops were withdrawn in 1597.

One of Japan's Red seal ships (1634), which were used for trade throughout Asia
One of Japan's Red seal ships (1634), which were used for trade throughout Asia

After Hideyoshi's death, Tokugawa Ieyasu utilized his position as the regent of Hideyoshi's son Toyotomi Hideyori as well as the conflicts among loyalists of the Toyotomi clan, to gain the support of warlords. When open war broke out, he defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu was appointed shōgun in 1603 and established the Tokugawa shogunate at Edo (modern Tokyo).

After defeating Toyotomi clan, at the Siege of Osaka in 1614 and 1615, the Tokugawa clan became the rulers of Japan, setting up a centralized feudal system. The Tokugawa shogunate enacted a variety of measures to control the daimyo, among them the sankin-kōtai policy of enforced rotation between fiefs and attendance in Edo. In 1639, the shogunate began the isolationist sakoku ("closed country") policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period. This is often considered to be the height of Japan's medieval culture. The study of Western sciences, known as rangaku, continued during this period through contacts with the Dutch enclave at Dejima in Nagasaki. The Edo period also gave rise to kokugaku. Literally translated, this means "Japanese studies," though it more correctly is represented by the study of native Japan by the Japanese themselves.[5]


Modern Japan

Samurai of the Satsuma clan, during the Boshin War period, circa 1867 - Photograph by Felice Beato
Samurai of the Satsuma clan, during the Boshin War period, circa 1867 - Photograph by Felice Beato

On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the "Black Ships" of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the West 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. Japan adopted numerous Western institutions, including a modern government, legal system, and military. A parliamentary system modeled after the British parliament was introduced, with Ito Hirobumi as the first Prime Minister in 1882.

The Meiji era reforms helped transform the Empire of Japan into a world power that embarked on a number of military conflicts to increase access to natural resources, with victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), which was the first time that an Asian country defeated an European imperial power. By 1910, Japan controlled Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin.

The early 20th 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. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, later joining the Axis Powers in 1941.

In 1937, Japan invaded other parts of China, starting the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). As a result of its aggression, the United States placed an oil embargo on Japan. 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 brought the United States into the Pacific Theatre of World War II, having entered the European Theatre when Germany declared war.

The 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki
The 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki

During the course of the Pacific War, Japanese forces in occupied territory were neutralized. Strategic bombing of major cities like Tokyo and Osaka killed thousands of civilians. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender.[6] The Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed on September 2, 1945 (V-J Day). The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (on May 31946) was convened to prosecute Japanese leaders for crimes against peace and humanity. Emperor Hirohito received immunity from prosecution and retained his position as emperor.

The war cost Japan millions of lives and left much of the country's industry and infrastructure destroyed. In 1947, Japan adopted a new pacifist constitution, seeking international cooperation and emphasizing human rights and democratic practices. Official American occupation lasted until 1952 and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Under a program of aggressive industrial development and with US assistance, Japan achieved spectacular growth to become the second largest economy in the world, with a growth rate averaging 10% for four decades. This ended in the late 1990s when Japan suffered a major recession from which it has since been slowly recovering.[7]


Government and politics

US President George W. Bush speaking to a joint session of the Diet on 19 February, 2002
US President George W. Bush speaking to a joint session of the Diet on 19 February, 2002

Japan is a constitutional monarchy, although the powers the Emperor (天皇 tennō, literally "heavenly sovereign") wields is severely curtailed. He is defined by the Constitution of Japan as "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people". As a ceremonial figurehead he does not wield even emergency reserve powers. Power is held chiefly by the Prime Minister, and other elected members of the Diet. Sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people by the constitution. Although not stated so, the emperor effectively acts as the head of state on diplomatic occasions. Akihito is the current emperor and the only reigning emperor in the world.

Japan's legislative organ is its bicameral parliament, the National Diet (Kokkai). The Diet consists of a House of Representatives (Lower House or Shūgi-in) containing 480 seats, elected by popular vote every 4 years or when dissolved, and a House of Councillors (Upper House or Sangi'in) of 242 seats, whose popularly-elected members serve six-year terms. There is universal adult (over 20 years old) suffrage, 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 its opposition parties in 1993; the largest opposition party is the liberal-socialist Democratic Party of Japan.

The Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government of Japan, although the literal translation of the title is "Prime Minister of the Cabinet". The Prime Minister 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 and appoints and dismisses the Ministers of State, a majority of whom must be Diet members. The current Prime Minister of Japan, since September 2006, is Shinzo Abe. Although the Prime Minister of Japan is theoretically very powerful, his position is attenuated by the factional nature of Japanese politics and the tendency towards coalition government.

Although historically heavily influenced by Chinese law, Japanese law developed independently during the Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki. However the judicial system has been largely based on the civil law of Europe, notably France and Germany, since the late 19th century. For example, in 1896 the Japanese government established Minpō, the Civil Code, on the French model. With post-World War II modifications, the code remains in effect in present-day Japan.[8] Statutory law originates in Japan's legislature, the National Diet of Japan, with the rubber-stamp approval of the Emperor. Under the current constitution, the Emperor may not veto or otherwise refuse to approve a law passed by the Diet. Japan's court system is divided into four basic tiers: 438 Summary Courts, one District Court in each prefecture, nine High Courts and the Supreme Court. There is also one Family Court tied to each District Court. The main body of Japanese statutory law is a collection called the Six Codes (六法 roppō).


Foreign relations

Japan maintains close economic and military relations with its key ally the United States; therefore the US-Japan security alliance serves as the cornerstone of its foreign policy. For example, Japan contributed non-combatant troops to the Iraq War with the United States and others. Japan is a member state of the United Nations and currently serving as a non-permanent Security Council member. It is also one of the "G4 nations" seeking permanent membership in the Security Council.

Japan is a member of the G8, the APEC, the "ASEAN Plus Three", and a participant in the East Asia Summit. It is also the world's second-largest donor of official development assistance, donating 0.19% of its GNP in 2004.[9] As member of the G8 Japan maintains cordial relations with most countries as a key trading partner.

Japan has several territorial disputes with its neighbors. These disputes partly involve the control of marine and natural resources, such as possible reserves of crude oil and natural gas. The country also has an ongoing dispute with North Korea over its abduction of Japanese citizens and its nuclear weapons and missile programs.



Sailors aboard the JMSDF training vessel JDS Kashima.
Sailors aboard the JMSDF training vessel JDS Kashima.

Japan's military is restricted by Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan of 1946, which states that "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes." Thus, Japan's current constitution prohibits the use of military force to wage war against other countries.

Japan's military is governed by the Ministry of Defense and primarily consists of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The military budget of Japan is less than one percent of its GDP, though it is estimated to be the fourth largest in the world at $44.3 billion per year, as of 2005. The forces have been recently used in peacekeeping operations and the deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq marked the first overseas use of its military since World War II.


Administrative divisions


Japan has forty-seven prefectures. Each has an elected governor and legislature, and an administrative bureaucracy. While there exist eight commonly defined regions of Japan, the prefecture is the largest administrative subdivision. The former city of Tokyo is further divided into twenty-three special wards, which have 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.[10]

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:

No. City Prefecture Population[citation needed]
1 Tokyoa   Tokyo 8,390,967
2 Yokohama Kanagawa   3,579,133
3 Osaka Osaka 2,640,097
4 Nagoya Aichi 2,214,958
5 Sapporo Hokkaidō 1,882,424
6 Kobe Hyōgo 1,525,389
7 Kyoto Kyoto 1,474,764
8 Fukuoka Fukuoka 1,400,621
9 Kawasakib Kanagawa 1,317,862
10 Saitama Saitama 1,185,030

a 23 municipalities. Also capital of Japan.
b Government Ordinance City only.


Geography and climate

Japan from space, May 2003.
Japan from space, May 2003.

Japan is a country of islands which extends along the Pacific coast of Asia. The main islands, running from north to south, are Hokkaidō, Honshū (the main island), Shikoku and Kyūshū. The Ryūkyū Islands, in south-west Japan, lies in a chain between China and Kyushū. In addition, about 3,000 smaller islands may be counted in the full extent of the Japanese archipelago. Japan also claims the southern Kuril Islands (controlled by Russia), which are located to the north-east of Hokkaidō.

Japan is the thirtieth most densely populated country in the world. About 70% to 80% of the country is forested, mountainous,[11][12] and unsuitable for agricultural, industrial, or residential use, due to the generally steep elevations, climate, and risk of landslides caused by earthquakes, soft ground, and heavy rain. This has resulted in an extremely high population density in the habitable zones that are mainly located in coastal areas. Its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the juncture of three tectonic plates, gives Japan frequent low-intensity tremors and occasional volcanic activity. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunamis, occur several times each century. The most recent major quakes are the 2004 Chūetsu Earthquake and the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Hot springs are numerous, and have been developed as resorts.

The climate of Japan is predominantly temperate but varies greatly from north to south. Japan's geographical features divide it into six principal climatic zones:

Sakura with Mount Fuji (highest point in Japan) and the Bullet Train in the foreground
Sakura with Mount Fuji (highest point in Japan) and the Bullet Train in the foreground

The main rainy season begins in early May in Okinawa, and the stationary rain front responsible for this gradually works its way north until it dissipates in northern Japan before reaching Hokkaidō in late July. In most of Honshū, the rainy season begins before the middle of June and lasts about six weeks. In late summer and early autumn, typhoons often bring heavy rain.

Japan is home to nine forest ecoregions which reflect the climate and geography of the islands. They range from subtropical moist broadleaf forests in the Ryūkyū and Bonin islands, to temperate broadleaf and mixed forests in the mild climate regions of the main islands, to temperate coniferous forests in the cold, winter portions of the northern islands.



The Bank of Japan is the nation's central bank. Shown here is its Tokyo headquarters.
The Bank of Japan is the nation's central bank. Shown here is its Tokyo headquarters.

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 if purchasing power parity is used. Japan's service sector accounts for about three-quarters of its total economic output. Banking, insurance, real estate, retailing, transportation, and telecommunications are all major industries. Japan's industrial strength is among the world's largest and technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronic equipment, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemicals, textiles, and processed foods, and is home to leading multinational corporations and commercial brands in technology and machinery (see also list of Japanese companies).[13] 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 include the cooperation of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and banks in closely-knit groups called keiretsu (examples include Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Fuyo, Mitsui, Dai-Ichi Kangyo and Sanwa), powerful enterprise unions and shunto, the guarantee of lifetime employment (shushin koyo) in big corporations, and highly unionized blue-collar factories. Recently, Japanese companies have begun to abandon some of these norms in an attempt to increase profitability.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange is the second largest in the world with market capitalization of more than US$4 trillion.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange is the second largest in the world with market capitalization of more than US$4 trillion.

In terms of financial sector, it is home to the world's largest bank,[14] the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group [15], which has roughly US$1.7 trillion in assets[14] and the world's largest postal savings system and the largest holder of personal savings, the Japan Post that holds personal savings that are 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.[16]. It's 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, Toyota Financial Services, and Sony Financial Holdings. (see also list of Japanese banks).

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.[17] 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 decceleration of the global economy.[13] However, the economy has shown strong signs of recovery since 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.[18] Unlike previous recovery trends, domestic consumption has been the dominant factor of growth.

Because only 29% of Japan's land is suitable for cultivation,[citation needed] 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%[19] of its requirements of grain and fodder crops other than rice, and relies on imports for most of its supply of meat. In fishing, Japan is ranked second in the world behind China in tonnage of fish caught. Japan maintains one of the world's largest fishing fleets and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch.[13]

Japan has 1,177,278 km of paved roadways, 173 airports, and 23,577 km of railways as of 2004.[13] Transportation is highly developed. 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.[13] 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%, U.S. 12,7%, Saudi Arabia 5.5%, UAE 4.9%, Australia 4.7%, 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.[20]


Science and technology

Japan is a leading nation in the fields of scientific research, technology, machinery, and medical research with the world's third largest budget for research and development at $130 billion,[21] after the United States and China with over 677,000 researchers.

Some of Japan's more important technological contributions are found in the fields of electronics, machinery, industrial robotics, optics, chemicals, semiconductors and metals. Japan leads the world in robotics, having produced QRIO, ASIMO, and Aibo, and possesses more than half (402,200 of 742,500) of the world's industrial robots used for manufacturing.[22] It is also home to six of the world's 15 largest automobile manufacturers and is home to seven of the world 20 largest semiconductor sales leaders.

Japan has also made headway into aerospace research and space exploration. On October 1, 2003, three organizations were merged to form the new Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA): Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (or ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), and Japan's National Space Development Agency (NASDA).Before the merger, ISAS was responsible for space and planetary research, while NAL was focused on aviation research. NASDA, which was founded on October 1, 1969, had developed rockets, satellites, and also built the Japanese Experiment Module, which is slated to be launched and added to the International Space Station during Space Shuttle assembly flights in 2007 and 2008.



Shibuya crossing is one of the largest pedestrian crossings and shopping areas.
Shibuya crossing is one of the largest pedestrian crossings and shopping areas.

Japan's population is estimated at around 127,463,611.[23] For the most part, Japanese society is linguistically and culturally homogeneous with only small populations of foreign workers, Zainichi Koreans, Japanese Brazilians and others. Japan also has indigenous minority groups such as the Ainu and Ryūkyūans, and social minority groups like the burakumin.

Japan has one of the highest life expectancy in the world, at 81.25 years of age as of 2006.[24] 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 20th century. In 2004, about 19.5% of the population was over the age of 65.[25] 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.[26] If its birth and death rates remain at the current levels, Japan's population has passed its peak and its population will continue to decline. It is expected to drop to 100 million by 2050, and to 64 million by 2100.[25]

Demographers and government planners are currently in a heated debate over how to cope with this problem.[26] Immigration and birth incentives are sometimes suggested as a solution to provide younger workers to support the nation's aging population.[27] Immigration, however, is not popular as recent increased crime rates are often attributed, both by the National Police Agency and in popular Japanese media, to the East Asian foreigners living in Japan.[28] The World Factbook of the CIA estimated 0 migrants per 1000 population as of 2006.[29]

In 2005, a United Nations report said that racism in Japan is "deep and profound" and that the government does not recognise the depth of the problem.[30] [31] The report concluded that racial discrimination and xenophobia in Japan primarily affects three groups: national minorities, descendants of former Japanese colonies, and foreigners from other Asian countries.[32]


About 99% of the population speaks Japanese as their first language.[33] The Ryūkyūan languages, also part of the Japonic language family to which Japanese belongs, are spoken in Okinawa, but few children learn these languages. Ainu, the language of the indigenous minority in northern Japan, 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.

The Japanese language is an agglutinative language distinguished by a system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary which indicate the relative status of speaker and listener.

Japanese incorporates many foreign elements. Japanese has borrowed or derived large amounts of vocabulary from Chinese. When non-Chinese foreign words are written in Japanese, they are usually done so in a separate alphabet called katakana. Since the end of World War II, Japanese has also extensively borrowed from English. The writing system uses kanji (Chinese characters) and two sets of kana (syllabaries based on simplified forms of Chinese characters), as well as the Roman alphabet and Arabic numerals.


The "floating" torii at Itsukushima Shrine.
The "floating" torii at Itsukushima Shrine.

Around 84% of Japanese people profess to believe both Shinto (the indigenous religion of Japan) and Buddhism.[23] Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism from China have significantly influenced Japanese beliefs and mythology. Religion in Japan tends to be syncretic in nature, and this results in a variety of practices, such as parents and children celebrating Shinto rituals, students praying before exams, couples holding a wedding at a Christian church and funerals being held at Buddhist temples. A minority (0.7%) profess to Christianity[23]. In addition, since the mid-19th century, numerous religious sects (Shinshūkyō) have emerged in Japan.


Primary, secondary schools, and universities were introduced into Japan in 1872 as a result of the Meiji Restoration.[34] Since 1947, compulsory education in Japan consists of elementary school and middle school, which lasts for 9 years (from age 6 to age 15). Almost all children continue their education at a three-year senior high school, and, according to the MEXT, about 75.9% of high school graduates attend a university, junior college, trade school, or other post-secondary institution in 2005.[35] Japan's education is very competitive,[citation needed] especially for entrance to institutions of higher education. The most prestigious universities in Japan are the University of Tokyo, Keio University, and Waseda University.[36]


In Japan, healthcare services are provided by national and local governments. Payment for personal medical services is offered through a universal health care insurance system that provides relative equality of access, with fees set by a government committee. People without insurance through employers can participate in a national health insurance program administered by local governments. Since 1973, all elderly persons have been covered by government-sponsored insurance.[37] Patients are free to select physicians or facilities of their choice.



A traditional Japanese dancer.
A traditional Japanese dancer.

Japanese culture has evolved greatly over the years, from the country's original Jomon culture to its contemporary hybrid 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, budō, architecture, gardens, swords), and cuisine.

Post-war Japan has been heavily influenced by American and European culture which has led to the evolution of popular band music (called J-Pop). 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. Japanese-made video game consoles have prospered since the 1980s.

The earliest works of Japanese literature include two history books the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, and a poetry book Man'yōshū in the eighth century, all written in Chinese characters. In the early days of the Heian period, the system of transcription known as kana (Hiragana and Katakana) was created as phonograms. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is considered the oldest Japanese narrative.[38] An account of Heian court life is given by The Pillow Book, written by Sei Shōnagon while The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki is sometimes called the world's first novel. During the Edo Period, literature became not so much the field of the samurai aristocracy as that of the chōnin, the ordinary people. Yomihon, for example, became popular and reveals this profound change in the readership and authorship.[38] The Meiji era saw the decline of traditional literary forms, during which Japanese literature integrated western influences. Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai were the first "modern" novelists of Japan, followed by Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Tanizaki Junichiro, Kawabata Yasunari, Mishima Yukio, and more recently, Murakami Haruki. Japan has two Nobel prize winning authors — Kawabata Yasunari (1968) and Oe Kenzaburo (1994).[38]

Japanese music is eclectic, having borrowed instruments, scales and styles from neighboring cultures. Many instruments, such as the koto, were introduced in the ninth and tenth centuries. The accompanied recitative of the Noh drama dates from the fourteenth century and the popular folk music, with the guitarlike shamisen, from the 16th.[39] Western music, introduced in the late nineteenth century, now forms an integral part of the culture, as evident from the profusion of J-Pop artists. Modern Japanese music uses western instruments, scales and style.


Sports and recreation

Sumo, a traditional Japanese sport.
Sumo, a traditional Japanese sport.

Traditionally, Sumo is sometimes considered Japan's national sport and is one of its most popular.[citation needed] Between mid-18th and early 19th century, various Japan's martial art masters developed several sports that exhibited both martial arts abilities as well as combative competition. These included judō, karate and kendō.

After the Meiji Restoration, many western sports were introduced and began to spread through the education system. These sports were initially stressed as a form of mental discipline, but Japanese have now come to enjoy them as recreational activities.

Baseball is the most popular ball game in Japan - the professional baseball league in Japan was established in 1936.[40] One of the most famous Japanese players in North American major league baseball is Suzuki Ichiro, who won three MVP Award for three consecutive years of 1994, 1995 and 1996. Concerning football, the professional soccer league in Japan was established in 1992. Japan was a venue of the Intercontinental Cup from 1981 to 2004, and Japan co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with South Korea. Golf is popular in Japan, as is auto racing, the Super GT sports car series and Formula Nippon formula racing.

Each year, Japan observes the second Monday in October as Health and Sports Day. The date, originally October 10, commemorates the opening day of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Other major sporting events that Japan has hosted include the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.


See also

Japan topics edit
History Paleolithic, Jomon, Yayoi, Yamato, Nara, Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi, Azuchi-Momoyama, Edo, Meiji, Taisho, Showa, Heisei
& politics
Emperor (list), Prime Minister (list), Cabinet, Ministries, Diet, House of Councillors, House of Representatives, Judiciary, Elections, Political parties, Fiscal policy, Foreign policy, Foreign relations, Human rights, Military
Geography Environment, Regions, Prefectures, Cities, Districts, Towns, Villages, Addresses, Islands, Lakes, Rivers
Economy Primary sector, Manufacturing, Labor, Communications, Transportation, Currency, Central bank
Culture Anime & Manga, Architecture, Art, Bonsai, Cuisine, Festivals, Gardens, Geisha, Go Game, Ikebana, Onsen & Sento, Literature, Music, Tea ceremony, Theatre
Society Demographics, Crime, Education, Etiquette, Language, Law, Mythology, Religion, Sports, Values


  1. Pottery in Japan:
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    • "That end of the Ice Age was accompanied by the first of the two most decisive changes in Japanese history: the invention of pottery. In the usual experience of archaeologists, inventions flow from mainlands to islands, and small peripheral societies aren't supposed to contribute revolutionary advances to the rest of the world. It therefore astonished archaeologists to discover that the world's oldest known pottery was made in Japan 12,700 years ago." Diamond, Jared. Japanese Roots. DISCOVER Vol. 19 No. 6 (June 1998)
    • "Japan, however, was the seat of the earliest known development of ceramics" (The History and Geography of Human Genes, p. 249, Cavalli-Sforza ISBN 0-691-08750-4.
    • Alternatively, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Timeline of Art History notes "Carbon-14 testing of the earliest known shards has yielded a production date of about 10,500 B.C., but because this date falls outside the known chronology of pottery development elsewhere in the world, such an early date is not generally accepted". "Japan, 8000–2000 B.C." In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2000)
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  40. Nagata, Yoichi and Holway, John B. (1995). “Japanese Baseball”, Pete Palmer Total Baseball, Fourth Edition, New York: Viking Press, 547.

External links


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