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      ASIA
      You are here: Asia > Japan

      Japan

      General background information

      General background information including politics, international relations and economic overview.

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      Mount Fuji
      Mount Fuji

      Nippon / Nihon (koku)
      Japan

      Flag of the Philippines

      Coat of arms of the Philippines

      Flag

      Imperial seal

      Location of the Philippines

      Capital  

      Tokyo
      35°41′N, 139°46′E

      Largest city  

      Tokyo

      Official language  

      Japanese

      Government  

      Constitutional monarchy

      Area

       Total  

      377,873 km² (62nd)
      145,883 sq mi

       Water (%)  

      0.8

      Population

       2005 estimate  

      128,085,000 (10th)

       2004 census  

      127,333,002

       Density  

      337 /km² (30th)
      873 /sq mi

      GDP (nominal)  

      2006 estimate

       Total  

      $4.911 trillion2 (2nd)

       Per capita  

      $38,341 (14th)

      Human Development Index  (2004)  

      0.949 (high) (7th)

      Currency  

      Yen (International ¥)
      100 sen

      Hours ahead (+) or behind (-) SA:  

      +7

      Internet TLD  

      .jp

      Calling code  

      +981

      ISO code  

      JP

       

      Background

      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 city isTokyo.

      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.

      Politics

      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 Japan.

      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.

      International relations

      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.

      Administrative divisions

      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.

      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:

      City Prefecture Population
      1 Tokyoa   Tokyo 8,535,792
      2 Yokohama Kanagawa   3,602,758
      3 Osaka Osaka 2,635,420
      4 Nagoya Aichi 2,223,148
      5 Sapporo Hokkaidō 1,888,953
      6 Kobe Hyōgo 1,528,687
      7 Kyoto Kyoto 1,472,511
      8 Fukuoka Fukuoka 1,414,417
      9 Kawasakib Kanagawa 1,342,262
      10 Saitama Saitama 1,182,744

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

      Economic overview

      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 Holdings.

      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.

      Demographics

      Japan's 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 popular.

      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.

      This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Metasyntactic variable".

       

       

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