Facts about Japan

World Facts Index > Japan > Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nagasaki, Tokyo, Yokohama

JapanIn 1603, a Tokugawa shogunate (military dictatorship) ushered in a long period of isolation from foreign influence in order to secure its power. For more than two centuries this policy enabled Japan to enjoy stability and a flowering of its indigenous culture. Following the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854, Japan opened its ports and began to intensively modernize and industrialize. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1931-32 Japan occupied Manchuria, and in 1937 it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 - triggering America's entry into World War II - and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and a staunch ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians - with heavy input from bureaucrats and business executives - wield actual decisionmaking power. The economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s following three decades of unprecedented growth, but Japan still remains a major economic power, both in Asia and globally.

Geography of Japan

Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula
36 00 N, 138 00 E
total: 377,835 sq km
note: includes Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-gunto), Daito-shoto, Minami-jima, Okino-tori-shima, Ryukyu Islands (Nansei-shoto), and Volcano Islands (Kazan-retto)
water: 3,091 sq km
land: 374,744 sq km
Area comparative:
slightly smaller than California
Land boundaries:
0 km
29,751 km
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 NM
territorial sea: 12 NM; between 3 NM and 12 NM in the international straits - La Perouse or Soya, Tsugaru, Osumi, and Eastern and Western Channels of the Korea or Tsushima Strait
exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north
mostly rugged and mountainous
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Hachiro-gata -4 m
highest point: Mount Fuji 3,776 m
Natural resources:
negligible mineral resources, fish
Natural hazards:
many dormant and some active volcanoes; about 1,500 seismic occurrences (mostly tremors) every year; tsunamis; typhoons
Environment current issues:
air pollution from power plant emissions results in acid rain; acidification of lakes and reservoirs degrading water quality and threatening aquatic life; Japan is one of the largest consumers of fish and tropical timber, contributing to the depletion of these resources in Asia and elsewhere
Geography - note:
strategic location in northeast Asia

More Geography

Population of Japan

127,288,416 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 14.2% (male 9,309,524/female 8,849,476)
15-64 years: 65.7% (male 42,158,122/female 41,611,754)
65 years and over: 20% (male 10,762,585/female 14,772,150)
Median age:
42.9 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
3.24 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 81.25 years
male: 77.96 years
female: 84.7 years
Fertility rate:
1.4 children born/woman
noun: Japanese (singular and plural)
adjective: Japanese
Ethnic groups:
Japanese 99%, others 1% (Korean 511,262, Chinese 244,241, Brazilian 182,232, Filipino 89,851, other 237,914)
note: up to 230,000 Brazilians of Japanese origin migrated to Japan in the 1990s to work in industries; some have returned to Brazil (2004)
observe both Shinto and Buddhist 84%, other 16% (including Christian 0.7%)
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99% 


Government type:
constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government
Administrative divisions:
47 prefectures; Aichi, Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Ehime, Fukui, Fukuoka, Fukushima, Gifu, Gumma, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, Hyogo, Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Iwate, Kagawa, Kagoshima, Kanagawa, Kochi, Kumamoto, Kyoto, Mie, Miyagi, Miyazaki, Nagano, Nagasaki, Nara, Niigata, Oita, Okayama, Okinawa, Osaka, Saga, Saitama, Shiga, Shimane, Shizuoka, Tochigi, Tokushima, Tokyo, Tottori, Toyama, Wakayama, Yamagata, Yamaguchi, Yamanashi
660 BC (traditional founding by Emperor Jimmu)
National holiday:
Birthday of Emperor AKIHITO, 23 December (1933)
3 May 1947
Legal system:
modeled after European civil law system with English-American influence; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations
20 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: Emperor AKIHITO (since 7 January 1989)
head of government: Prime Minister Taro ASO (since 24 September 2008)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister
elections: Diet designates prime minister; constitution requires that prime minister commands parliamentary majority; following legislative elections, leader of majority party or leader of majority coalition in House of Representatives usually becomes prime minister; monarch is hereditary.
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)
Political parties and leaders:
Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ [Ichiro OZAWA]; Japan Communist Party or JCP [Kazuo SHII]; Komeito [Takenori KANZAKI]; Liberal Democratic Party or LDP [Junichiro KOIZUMI]; Social Democratic Party or SDP [Mizuho FUKUSHIMA]


Government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) helped Japan advance with extraordinary rapidity to the rank of second most technologically powerful economy in the world after the US and the third-largest economy in the world after the US and China, measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis. One notable characteristic of the economy has been how manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors have worked together in closely-knit groups called keiretsu. A second basic feature has been the guarantee of lifetime employment for a substantial portion of the urban labor force. Both features have now eroded. Japan's industrial sector is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and fuels. The tiny agricultural sector is highly subsidized and protected, with crop yields among the highest in the world. Usually self sufficient in rice, Japan must import about 55% of its food on a caloric basis. Japan maintains one of the world's largest fishing fleets and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch. For three decades, overall real economic growth had been spectacular - 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, averaging just 1.7%, largely because of the after effects of overinvestment and an asset price bubble during the late 1980s that required a protracted period of time for firms to reduce excess debt, capital, and labor. From 2000 to 2001, government efforts to revive economic growth proved short lived and were hampered by the slowing of the US, European, and Asian economies. In 2002-07, growth improved and the lingering fears of deflation in prices and economic activity lessened, leading the central bank to raise interest rates to 0.25% in July 2006, up from the near 0% rate of the six years prior, and to 0.50% in February 2007. In addition, the 10-year privatization of Japan Post, which has functioned not only as the national postal delivery system but also, through its banking and insurance facilities as Japan's largest financial institution, was completed in October 2007, marking a major milestone in the process of structural reform. Nevertheless, Japan's huge government debt, which totals 182% of GDP, and the aging of the population are two major long-run problems. Some fear that a rise in taxes could endanger the current economic recovery. Debate also continues on the role of and effects of reform in restructuring the economy, particularly with respect to increasing income disparities.

$4.272 trillion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 1.7%
industry: 25.8%
services: 72.5%
Inflation rate:
Labor force:
66.4 million
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture: 4.6%
industry: 27.8%
services: 67.7%
revenues: $1.429 trillion
expenditures: $1.775 trillion
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 60%
hydro: 8.4%
other: 1.8% 
nuclear: 29.8%
among world's largest and technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronic equipment, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemicals, textiles, processed foods
rice, sugar beets, vegetables, fruit, pork, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fish
transport equipment, motor vehicles, semiconductors, electrical machinery, chemicals
Export partners:
US 22.9%, China 13.4%, South Korea 7.8%, Taiwan 7.3%, Hong Kong 6.1% 
machinery and equipment, fuels, foodstuffs, chemicals, textiles, raw materials
Import partners:
China 21%, US 12.7%, Saudi Arabia 5.5%, UAE 4.9%, South Korea 4.7%, Australia 4.4%, Indonesia 4% 
yen (JPY)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress

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