Japan (Japanese: 日本, Nihon, or Nippon) is an island country in East Asia, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of China, South Korea, North Korea and Russia, and northern Taiwan.
|Japan (ja) 日本/Nihon or Nippon|
|Hymn||in Japanese: 君が代 (Kimi ga yo, “Your reign”)|
|National day||February 23|
|Commemorated event||Birthday of the reigning emperor|
|Form of the State||Constitutional monarchy|
|Prime minister||Fumio Kishida|
House Lower House
|House of Councillors
House of Representatives
35° 41′ N, 139° 46′ E
|Total area||377,975 km2
|Water area||1,7 %|
|Time zone||UTC +9|
|Mythical foundation of the nation||February 11, 660 BC|
|Mongol invasions of Japan||1274 and 1281|
|Nanban Trade Era||1543–1650|
|Battle of Sekigahara||October 20 and 21, 1600|
|Empire of Japan||1868–1947|
|Constitution Meiji||November 29, 1890|
|Current constitution||May 3, 1947|
|Total population (September 1, 2022)||124,971,000 inhabitants
|Nominal GDP (2022)||$
4,912.147 billion- 0.51% (3rd/230)
|GDP (PPP) (2022)||$
6,110.075 billion + 8.81% (5th/229)
|Nominal GDP per capita (2022)||$
|GDP (PPP) per capita (2022)||$
48,813.674 + 9.10% (42nd/230)
|Unemployment rate (2022)||2.5% of pop. active
|Government gross debt (2022)||Nominal
1,462,246.907 billion + 2.54%
262.544% of the GDP
|HDI (2021)||0.925 (very high; 19th)|
|ISO 3166-1 code||
Etymologically, the kanji (Chinese characters) that make up the name of Japan mean “country (国, koku) of origin (本, hon) of the Sun (日, ni)”; this is how Japan is referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun”.
Since 1945, Japan has formed an archipelago with an estimated number of islands ranging from 6,852 to 14,125 islands (over 100 m2), the four largest of which are Hokkaidō, Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū, accounting for 95% of the country’s land area. The archipelago stretches for more than three thousand kilometers. Most of the islands are mountainous, sometimes volcanic. Thus, the highest peak in Japan, Mount Fuji (3,776 m), is a volcano whose last eruption took place in 1707.
Japan is the eleventh most populous country in the world, with more than 125 million inhabitants for 377,975 km2 (337 inhabitants/km2), most of which is concentrated on the narrow coastal plains of southern Honshū and northern Shikoku and Kyūshū, forming a virtually continuously urbanized ensemble called “Japanese Megalopolis” or “Taiheiyō Belt” (太平洋ベルト, Taiheiyō beruto, literally “Pacific belt”). Greater Tokyo, which includes the capital of Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures, is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with more than 35 million inhabitants. The city was the world’s leading financial center in 1990.
Archaeological research shows that Japan was populated as early as the Upper Paleolithic period. The first written mentions of Japan are brief appearances in texts of Chinese history of the first century. The history of Japan is characterized by periods of great influence in the outside world followed by long periods of isolation. Since the adoption of its constitution in 1947, Japan has maintained a constitutional monarchy with an emperor and an elected parliament, the Diet.
Japan is the third-largest economy in the world for nominal GDP and the fourth-largest for GDP at purchasing power parity. This economic dynamism is mainly based on an efficient and innovative industry, driven by large groups of global importance called Keiretsu (系列), especially in the automotive manufacturing sectors (third largest producer in the world in 2017) or advanced electronics. It is also the fourth-largest exporter and sixth-largest importer in the world.
A major player in international trade and saving power, it has accumulated a net creditor position vis-à-vis the rest of the world of more than 325,000 billion yen, placing it in first position ahead of China. It is a developed country, with a very high standard of living (nineteenth highest HDI in 2021), low inequality (the third highest inequality-adjusted HDI, also in 2018) and the longest life expectancy in the world according to UN estimates. In 2022, Japan is ranked 13th on the Global Innovation Index.
But this idyllic picture should not hide major problems weighing on the country’s future: Japan suffers from one of the lowest birth rates in the world, well below the replacement level. The country is currently in a demographic decline. It is also the country with the highest gross public debt burden in the world, the latter amounting to 240% of GDP in 2017.
In Japanese, “Japan” is Nihon or Nippon (日本), or possibly in administrative documents Nipponkoku or Nihonkoku (日本国), meaning “Japanese nation”. The abbreviated form Nichi (日), most often as a prefix, is sometimes used for a qualifying purpose: thus we find Nitchū (日中) for the adjective “Japanese-Chinese” or “Sino-Japanese”. The name Japan is an exonym, indeed it is a Chinese pronunciation then transmitted to Europeans.
The name 日本 means “origin of the sun” or “where the sun is born”, which is often translated as “Empire of the rising sun”. Indeed, 日 means “sun” (or day) and 本 means “origin” (or root). The Japanese flag (a red disc) evokes the sun. It was during the first trade with China (traditionally through a letter from Prince Regent Shōtoku) that this name, logical from the point of view of China’s western neighbor, was introduced, while the Japanese of the time referred to their country as Yamato (大和, an ateji originally designating a geographical region of Nara). First pronounced Hi-no-moto, it was preferred, from the Nara period (eighth century) the pronunciations Nihon or Nippon, appellations still in use today.
The Japanese name Nippon is used on stamps, banknotes, and for international sporting events, while Nihon is used more frequently in everyday life. An official designation of Japan under the 1889 Constitution was Dai-Nippon Teikoku, but this did not render the Nihon reading null and void. In contexts related to nationalism, Nippon tends to be preferred — without this implying that this reading has, in general, such a connotation. Nihon is found in the gentile, Nihonjin (日本人, literally “person from Japan”), and the name of the language, Nihongo (日本語).
In addition to Nihon-jin, which is used specifically to refer to Japanese citizens located in Japan, the terms Hōjin (邦人, literally “person of the country”) are also used for Japanese citizens present abroad (designating tourists, business persons or students who have left the archipelago for more or less long periods, expression particularly common in the media when they speak of a disaster that caused Japanese victims). Nikkeijin (日系人, literally “person of Japanese lineage”), or Nikkei (日系, literally “of Japanese lineage”), is the generic word for Japanese immigrants and their descendants around the world (whose main community remains Japanese-Americans), of any generation, including those who came or returned to live or work in Japan but do not have citizenship.
Yamato (大和) is now the name given to the historical period from 250 to 710. It is actually the name of the first known imperial structure that exercised power around Nara (奈良) around the fifth century. Today, the word Yamato is still found in expressions such as Yamato-damashii (大和魂, “the Japanese spirit”).
The term Japan would most certainly come from the Chinese pronunciation of 日本 (rìbĕn). Marco Polo used the term Cipangu, derived from the Chinese Zipang used by the Chinese to designate Japan at that time.
History of Japan
Prehistory and Antiquity
Japan has been populated since the Paleolithic. A human presence is indicated by archaeology on several levels of excavation for more than 12,000 years; it begins with the arrival of the Ainu, an indigenous Paleo-Siberian people, the first inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago. Thanks to global warming following the Würm glaciation, the Ainu remained isolated from Eurasia and developed a form of culture based on hunting, gathering and fishing that lasted until the early twentieth century.
The first waves of migration in the modern era would have begun in the seventh century BC. Amaterasu (“Amaterasu-sume-okami” (天照皇大神), “great imperial goddess illuminating the sky”) linked to the Emperor of Japan through the Shinto shrine of Ise and the kamidana (神棚), “House of kami”, ōmikami (大御神) meaning “great goddess”) ordered his grandson Ninigi to rule the Earth. The Kojiki reports that Japan was founded in the seventh century BC. by the latter’s grandson, Emperor Jinmu. The Chinese writing system, as well as Buddhism, were introduced during the fifth and sixth centuries by Chinese and Korean Buddhist monks, beginning a long period of Chinese cultural influence.
The emperors were the symbolic rulers, while the real power was most often held by the powerful nobles of the court, from the regents of the Fujiwara clan (from the eighth century to the middle of the eleventh century) to the shoguns (general in chief of the armies, from 1192). The peak of imperial authority was at the beginning of the Nara period (first part of the eighth century) and at the end of the Heian period through the system of retired emperors (from about 1053 to 1085-1092).
Middle Ages and Edo period
Subsequently, from the end of the twelfth century, the reality of power is taken in hand by a warrior class foreign to the imperial court, that of the samurai. This military government was accompanied by major population movements, a source of societal mixing and economic growth. The shoguns relied on efficient networks of liges-men, the Gokenin, who, in exchange for their support and loyalty, obtained land and the government of provinces or castles.
A feudal system was then set up that lasted until the nineteenth century. During the second half of the fifteenth century and in the sixteenth century, during the Sengoku period, the disintegration of central power led to a privatization of public offices and provinces by their governors, as well as constant political and military instability. The country thus finds itself divided between domains of varying size, ruled by rival warrior clans, maintaining intrigues or open conflicts against each other. One expression sums up this instability: Gekokujō, literally “The weakest rule the strongest”, each lord (or daimyo) can be overthrown by rivals as well as by his own vassals, who themselves are threatened by forces even inferior than them, while rebel bands (ikkō-ikki) made up of peasants, religious or small local nobles create real small independent kingdoms.
A succession of three conquering daimyo between 1573 and 1603 (Azuchi Momoyama period) will allow Japan to definitively regain political unity and to frame the feudal organization by the Han system. These three “unifiers of Japan” are successively: Oda Nobunaga (1573-1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1583-1598) and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu who won at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 to found in 1603 a shogunal government which, from its capital of Edo, will rule the archipelago for two and a half centuries (Edo period).
From the sixteenth century, traders from Portugal (1543), then from the Netherlands and England landed in Japan with Christian missionaries. During the first part of the seventeenth century, the Tokugawa bakufu (shogunate) feared that these Portuguese missionaries were the source of dangers similar to those suffered by its neighbors (such as the beginnings of a military conquest by the European powers or annihilation) and the Christian religion was formally banned in 1635 on pain of death accompanied by torture. Then, in 1639, Japan ceased all foreign relations, except for some limited contacts with Chinese and Dutch merchants in Nagasaki, specifically on the island of Dejima.
Empire of Japan
This voluntary isolation of two centuries lasted until the United States, with Commodore Matthew Perry, forced Japan to open up to the West through the gunboat policy by signing the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854 after the shelling of Japanese ports. Until then, most Japanese knew only Dutch as a Western language and discovered with surprise the existence of other languages, including American English.
In just a few years, intensive contacts with the West profoundly transformed Japanese society. It promoted fundamental exchanges and saved in particular the sericulture milestone of the French economy. In 1865, Tokugawa Yoshinobu offered 15,000 cartons of silkworm seeds to Napoleon III, in exchange for ten mares and ten stallions of Algerian breed, a costume and a bicorne. After the Tokugawa shogunate fostered 250 years of peace in Japan, Tokugawa Yoshinobu was forced to resign and the emperor was reinvested with power.
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 implemented many reforms. The feudal-type system and the samurai order were officially abolished, many Western institutions were adopted (prefectures were established), and the country rapidly industrialized. New legal and governmental systems as well as major economic, social, and military reforms transformed the Empire of Japan into a regional power. These changes gave rise to a strong ambition that turned into a war against China (1895) and Russia (1905), in which Japan won Korea, Taiwan and other territories.
Japan’s military expansionism had begun in the early twentieth century with the annexation of Korea in 1910. It gained momentum during the Shōwa era with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and then the northern provinces of China. In the early 1930s Japan, as well as Germany and Italy, managed to resupply themselves with armaments, seeing the development of a large military-industrial complex based on powerful conglomerates, the zaibatsu (Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo and Yasuda, in particular).
Moreover, in 1933, Japan, now ready to re-establish a more stable military system, left the League of Nations and thus freed itself from the constraints of the treaty. In 1937, the empire embarked on an invasion of China that began with the strategic bombing of Shanghai and Canton, which resulted in a resolution of blame by the League of Nations against Japan but especially a crushing of Kuomintang forces. It is estimated that between one hundred and fifty thousand and three hundred thousand Chinese were exterminated in the Nanjing (Nanjing) Massacre by the Imperial Japanese Army.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian archipelago in 1941, aimed at destroying part of the American war fleet, triggered the Pacific War and engaged the Empire of Japan in World War II on the side of the Axis. From then on, Japan further expanded its influence to occupy Burma, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, New Guinea, French Indochina and most of the Pacific islands (from 1937 to 1942). This gigantic military empire, officially called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, was intended to serve as a reservoir of raw materials. The occupation of these territories was marked by countless abuses against the people of the Far East, crimes for which Japan’s neighboring countries are still demanding apologies or reparations today.
Emperor Shōwa finally surrendered the Empire of Japan on August 15, 1945, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by American aircraft and the Soviet invasion of Manchukuo. The peace treaty with Russia is still under negotiation, in settlement of the problem of the southern Kuril Islands, occupied by the latter since the end of the conflict.
Japan, several of whose major cities were devastated by bombing, was occupied by troops of the Supreme Allied Command, MacArthur. He set up the Tokyo tribunal to try some of the political and military leaders of the empire but exonerated all members of the imperial family as well as members of bacteriological research units.
Confined to the archipelago, the country remained under the tutelage of the United States until 1951 (Treaty of San Francisco). They imposed a new, more democratic constitution and provided financial aid that encouraged Japan’s revival. The economy recovered quickly and allowed the return of prosperity in the archipelago of which the Tokyo Olympics and the launch of the Shinkansen in 1964 were the symbols.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, Japan experienced a cultural and economic peak and tremendous growth. However, this “economic miracle” ended in the early 1990s, when the “Japanese real estate speculative bubble” burst, marking the beginning of the “lost decade”. These years were also marked by political instability (with the first fall of a government by a motion of censure in 1993) and several man-made disasters (sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995) or natural (Kobe earthquake, also in 1995).
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, although its share of State finances was relatively small, Japan ranked fifth in the world in terms of the military budget in absolute terms, but the size of this budget did not make Japan a major military power. The Japanese constitution prohibits the maintenance of an army, the right of belligerence and the launching of any military operation outside its borders other than in the context of self-defense. The Japanese “Self-Defense Force” is a professional military corps with advanced technical capabilities.
With the Iraq war in 2003, the interpretation of this pacifist clause of the Constitution was revised to be able to deploy troops outside its territory in the context of operations of a strictly non-military nature (reconstruction, humanitarian aid, etc.). In this way, Japan hopes to acquire a diplomatic role more in line with its economic power.
On March 11, 2011, a severe earthquake of magnitude 9.0, followed by a tsunami, struck eastern Tōhoku around Sendai, causing the death of several thousand people, very serious damage throughout northeastern Honshū and the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, governed by the 1947 Constitution. The emperor (天皇, Tennō) now occupies only an honorary place, being defined as the symbol of the state and the unity of the Japanese people in Article I of the Basic Law. The constitution assigns sovereignty, which previously belonged to the emperor, to the Japanese people, in a representative democracy where most political power is held by a bicameral parliament, the Diet (国会, Kokkai). Although he is not officially established as the head of state and has no reserved domain, the emperor performs all the ceremonial functions of a head of state: accreditation of foreign ambassadors, investiture of the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, dissolution of the House of Representatives on the proposal of the latter, opening of parliamentary sessions.
The Japanese population generally retains a strong attachment and deference to the emperor, including the birthday (天皇誕生日, Tennō Tanjōbi) is the national holiday of Japan. Similarly, each reign corresponds to an era used to date official acts and whose name becomes the official name of the emperor after his death. The current emperor (天皇陛下, Tennō Heika) since May 1, 2019, better known internationally by his birth name Naruhito, is, according to tradition, the 126th Japanese monarch descended from the Yamato lineage by the goddess Amaterasu, reigning during the Reiwa era (令和時代, Reiwa-jidai, Reiwa meaning “beautiful harmony”).
Accompanied by servants wearing the bicorne (a symbol recalling the close ties between the Tokugawa Shogunate and Emperor Napoleon III), Emperor Naruhito rides in a carriage on November 23, 2019, for a visit to the Naiku, or inner shrine, of Ise Jingu Shrine to report to Amaterasu-omikami, the legendary sun goddess, on the completion of her enthronement ceremonies. The succession to the throne was made according to the law of the imperial house of 1947, by male primogeniture within the descendants, exclusively in the male line, of Emperor Taishō. Daughters born into the imperial family leave once married and therefore do not transmit any inheritance rights. The rest of the old Japanese nobility (華族, kazoku, literally “flowery ancestry”) was abolished in 1947.
Japanese political life is largely dominated by dynasties, with the sons of political figures succeeding them in the family electoral stronghold. The phenomenon is particularly marked in the case of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) but is also, to a lesser degree, found in the Democratic Party (DPJ). Half of the LDP’s MPs for the 2005-2009 term belong to political dynasties, as do five of the six prime ministers who have succeeded each other since 1996. Along with money, “influence capital” – social status – are key elements for a career in politics. Most Japanese prime ministers had ties to the aristocracy.
Separation of powers
The executive power belongs to the Cabinet (内閣, Naikaku), responsible to the Diet, headed by the Prime Minister (総理大臣, Sōri Daijin) and composed of Ministers of State (国務大臣, Kokumu Daijin) who must all be civilians. The Prime Minister is chosen from the Diet by his peers before being appointed by the Emperor. He had the power to appoint and dismiss other ministers, a majority of whom must be members of Parliament, as well as the power to dissolve the House of Representatives (formally pronounced by the emperor). All members of the Cabinet are responsible to the Sejm.
The legislative branch, and thus the Diet, initially consisted of a lower house, the House of Representatives (衆議院, Shūgi-in) with 465 seats, of which the first-past-the-post system elected 289 members and 176 by regional proportional representation. Representatives are elected for four years by universal suffrage (you must be 18 years old to vote). The 242-member upper house called the House of Councillors (参議院, Sangi-in), is composed of people elected for a term of six years, half of which is renewed every three years. Suffrage is universal and secret.
The voting system is also mixed: 146 councilors are elected by a multi-member majority vote within the framework of the prefectures, and 96 councilors by national proportional representation. The choices expressed by the absolute majority of the Chamber of Representatives are binding on those of the Chamber of Councillors for the election of the Prime Minister, votes of confidence or censure in the government, or the adoption of the budget. On the other hand, any other non-constitutional text requires, in the event of disagreement between the two chambers, a two-thirds majority of the representatives to have it adopted anyway. For amendments to the Constitution, a two-thirds majority in both chambers is required, which, on the date of May 11, 2018, has not happened since 1947.
The judiciary is based on a judicial organization composed of four basic levels: 483 courts of first instance, a district court with a family division in each prefecture, eight High Courts and a Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court (最高裁判所, Saikō-Saibansho) is the highest judicial authority, both courts of last resort and court reviewing the constitutionality of the decisions and actions of the other two branches, including local governments and public administrations. It is composed of fifteen judges. They are appointed by the government and then confirmed by a retention vote (which has never overturned any). The court was headed by a chief justice (長官, Chōkan) appointed by the emperor on the proposal of the prime minister.
Japan uses the death penalty. Its use increased between 2006 and 2009: executions doubled in one year and sentences increased sixfold in four years. However, under the Democratic administration in power from 2009 to 2010, the first Minister of Justice, Keiko Chiba, and her successors, Satsuki Eda and Hideo Hiraoka, are all historical opponents of capital punishment. All of them have nevertheless signed execution orders.
Political forces of Japan
Political life has long been dominated after the end of the US occupation by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which provided all prime ministers to the country from 1955 to 1993, from 1996 to 2009 and since 2012. The latter, of liberal-conservative tendency, governs alone or in a coalition, notably with the Kōmeitō, a party under the influence of the Sōka Gakkai, whose deputies are mostly from 1999 and 2009 and since 2012. The main opposition party has long been the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) until it suffered the loss of its traditional electorate following its alliance from 1994 to 1998 with the LDP in a grand coalition government and its transformation in 1996 into the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
Since the 1990s, the non-communist opposition has been led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), founded in 1996 and reformed in 1998, composed of former dissidents from both the former PSJ and the LDP and positioning itself in the center or even center-left of the Japanese political scale with an ideology close to the social-liberal Third Way. He finally came to power after the parliamentary elections of August 30, 2009, and its president, Yukio Hatoyama, became the 60th Prime Minister of Japan on September 16, 2009. Naoto Kan succeeded him on June 4, 2010, before leaving his place in turn to Yoshihiko Noda on September 2, 2011.
He leads a two-party coalition government with the center-right New People’s Party (NPP). However, it lost the majority in the following parliamentary elections of December 16, 2012, for the benefit of the return of the LDP-Kōmeitō coalition. Shinzō Abe, already Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007, returned to the head of government on December 26, 2012.
Subsequently, weakened, the opposition to the LDP underwent multiple mergers, splits and recompositions: the DPJ united with the Restoration Party in 2016 to form the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP); the right wing of the latter joined, in 2017, the newly created Party of Hope by the popular governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike, a movement which, after a poor performance in the 2017 parliamentary elections, ended up merging with what remained of the PDP to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP again) in 2018, a party that defines itself as a reformist centrist; The left wing of the Democratic Progressive Party founded the Constitutional Democratic Party (PDC), located on the social-liberal and pacifist center-left, which became the leading parliamentary opposition party after the 2017 parliamentary elections.
Several hundred thousand Koreans have had permanent resident status in Japan for several generations and many of them refuse to take Japanese nationality so as not to have to renounce their Korean nationality; They are therefore still considered foreigners legally, even though many of them are fluent in Japanese or cannot speak Korean. However, they have the status of “special permanent residents” which gives them certain advantages over other permanent residents.
However, they cannot vote in Japanese elections or access certain senior positions in the civil service without becoming naturalized. There is, however, a debate about giving permanent residents the right to vote in local elections, as has been the case since 2005 in some parts of South Korea. This was one of the main campaign promises of the DPJ, which is in power from September 2009 to December 2012.
Foreign relations and defense
Japan maintains close economic and military relations with its main ally, the United States, formalized by the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. A member of the United Nations since 1956, Japan has been a non-permanent member of the Security Council for a total of 18 years and was a member for the period 2009-2010. It is also one of the G4 nations seeking to become permanent members of the Security Council.
As a member of the G8, APEC, ASEAN plus three and a participant in the East Asia Summit, Japan actively participates in international affairs and strengthens diplomatic ties with important partners around the world. Japan signed a security pact with Australia in March 2007 and with India in October 2008. It is also the third largest donor of official development assistance, after the United States and the United Kingdom, with a grant of US$8.86 billion in 2004. Japan contributed with non-combat troops to the military coalition in Iraq from 2004 to 2008.
In addition, Japan is engaged in several territorial disputes with its neighbors: with Russia over the Kuril Islands, with South Korea over the Liancourt Rocks, with the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands (territorial dispute of the Senkaku Islands) and with the People’s Republic of China over the EEZ around Okinotori-shima, making relations between China and Japan complex.
Japan also faces a dispute with North Korea over its abduction of Japanese citizens and its nuclear weapons. As a result of the Kuril Islands dispute, Japan is technically still at war with Russia, as no solution to the issue has ever been signed.
Japan’s military is restricted by Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which denounces Japan’s right to declare war or use its military force as a means of settling international disputes. Japan’s forces are governed by the Ministry of Defense, and consist of a land, sea and air force. The forces that were recently used in peacekeeping operations and for the deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq marked Japan’s first military intervention abroad since World War II.
The country also has a National Security Council (国家安全保障会議), which met for the first time on December 4, 2013, to discuss the national security strategy in response to China’s establishment of an aerial identification zone in the East China Sea.
In 2014, Japan became an associate observer to the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP) at the Dili Summit.
Since September 2015, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces can be used outside the country, to support an ally.
- Japan, a major player in the era of Sino-American rivalry?
Given its historical ties with Washington, and its more recent rapprochement with Beijing, Japan could, by confirming its international legitimacy, constitute a pole of stability in a high-tension Indo-Pacific Asia. In any case, this is one of its major strategic objectives. Given the importance of the alliance to Japan’s security, Tokyo continues to increase signs of goodwill to ensure the continued support of its partner.
In 2019, Japan’s political and diplomatic agenda will be full in terms of timing and symbols: the emperor’s abdication at the end of April will precede the G20 summit in Osaka at the end of June. On this occasion, important meetings are scheduled with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, who is due to be the first Chinese head of state to visit Japan in ten years.
The free and open Indo-Pacific strategy must offer an alternative choice for countries in the region to expand their options and avoid a face-to-face confrontation with China. Contrary to the Russian-Western tensions since the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2014, Japan has embarked on a policy of rapprochement and cooperation with Moscow.
The Prime Minister’s personal commitment raises questions about the future of this proactive diplomacy after his departure at the end of 2021. Japan certainly benefits from a certain number of assets to position itself as a force of proposal on these subjects, and, more broadly, to play a significant international role. It is now at the heart of a network of partners who recognize it as a liberal democracy and a legitimate and benevolent international actor. Japan’s military normalization, accelerated under Shinzō Abe, now gives it tools to contribute more to security and international peace.
The State of Japan forms, in East Asia, an archipelago of 6,852 to 14,125 islands — although this number varies according to estimates — of more than 100 m2 over more than three thousand kilometers long, facing Russia (Kuril Islands), Taiwan, Korea and China. Of Japan’s 6,852 islands, about 430 are inhabited. Four of these islands — from north to south, Hokkaidō (79,000 km2), historically populated by the Ainu, Honshū (227,000 km2) the largest and most populous with 105 million inhabitants, Shikoku (18,000 km2) which is the island of the Inland Sea and Kyūshū (36,000 km2) — represent the bulk of a territory of 377,975 km2 (95% of the territory of the 4,000 islands of the island arc). These four islands form the Central Island Block (Hondo).
The other islands of the archipelago are smaller, especially in Okinawa Prefecture. Naha, on Okinawa Hontō Island in the Ryūkyū (Nansei Archipelago), is located more than six hundred kilometers southwest of Kyūshū. South of Tokyo, the Nanpō archipelago stretches for more than a thousand kilometers to Iwo Jima. To the north, Sakhalin (Karafuto in Japanese) and the Kuril Islands (Chishima rettō, which extend more than one thousand two hundred kilometers northeast of Hokkaidō), annexed by Russia a few days after Japan’s defeat by the United States in August 1945, are sometimes considered the extreme points of the archipelago. Because of the exclusive economic zones, the country claims a maritime territory of 4.5 million km2, multiplying its area by twelve.
Japan is divided, geographically and not politically, into eight regions (or even nine, if Okinawa Prefecture is not included in Kyūshū) that are from north to south: Hokkaidō, Tōhoku, Kantō, Chūbu, Kansai (commonly called Kinki), Chūgoku, Shikoku and Kyūshū. The Chūbu region is sometimes divided into three regions: the Hokuriku region on the northwest coast, the Kōshinetsu region in the east, and the Tōkai region in the south. However, the limits of the latter are not precisely fixed.
Japan is subdivided into forty-seven prefectures (or departments), including one metropolitan prefecture or metropolis (Tokyo), one island prefecture or territory (Hokkaidō), two government prefectures or urban governments (Osaka Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture), and 43 rural prefectures.
|(01) Hokkaidō (北海道) (territory)||(02) Aomori (青森)||(03) Iwate (岩手)|
|(04) Miyagi (宮城)||(05) Akita (秋田)||(06) Yamagata (山形)|
|(07) Fukushima (福島)||(08) Ibaraki (茨城)||(09) Tochigi (栃木)|
|(10) Gunma (群馬)||(11) Saitama (埼玉)||(12) Chiba (千葉)|
|(13) Tokyo (東京, metropolis)||(14) Kanagawa (神奈川)||(15) Niigata (新潟)|
|(16) Toyama (富山)||(17) Ishikawa (石川)||(18) Fukui (福井)|
|(19) Yamanashi (山梨)||(20) Nagano (長野)||(21) Gifu (岐阜)|
|(22) Shizuoka (静岡)||(23) Aichi (愛知)||(24) Mie (三重)|
|(25) Shiga (滋賀)||(26) Kyoto Prefecture (京都, Urban Government)||(27) Osaka Prefecture (大阪, Urban Government)|
|(28) Hyōgo (兵庫)||(29) Nara (奈良)||(30) Wakayama (和歌山)|
|(31) Tottori (鳥取)||(32) Shimane (島根)||(33) Okayama (岡山)|
|(34) Hiroshima (広島)||(35) Yamaguchi (山口)||(36) Tokushima (徳島)|
|(37) Kagawa (香川)||(38) Ehime (愛媛)||(39) Kōchi (高知)|
|(40) Fukuoka (福岡)||(41) Saga (佐賀)||(42) Nagasaki (長崎)|
|(43) Kumamoto (熊本)||(44) Ōita (大分)||(45) Miyazaki (宮崎)|
|(46) Kagoshima (鹿児島)||(47) Okinawa (沖縄)|
Two prefectures have their own special subdivisions: Hokkaidō, which has its entire territory divided into subprefectures, and Tokyo, which also has special administrative districts through the twenty-three special wards (which have the status of urban municipalities without having all the jurisdictions, some of which are exercised directly by the Metropolitan Government) and the four Pacific Island subprefectures. Otherwise, all prefectures (or sub-prefectures) are organized into urban municipalities (cities) or rural municipalities (towns and villages, themselves grouped into rural districts).
The main cities of Japan in descending order of inhabitants are (2005 figures):
- Tokyo: 13.2 million for the prefecture, including 8.3 million for the twenty-three special districts.
- Yokohama: 3.6 million
- Osaka: 2.6 million
- Nagoya: 2.2 million
- Sapporo: 1.9 million
- Kobe: 1.5 million
- Kyoto: 1.5 million
- Fukuoka: 1.4 million
- Kawasaki: 1.3 million
- Saitama: 1.2 million
- Hiroshima: 1.1 million
- Sendai: 1 million
The Tokyo metropolitan area, encompassing Yokohama, Kawasaki, Chiba and Saitama, among others, is, with more than 33 million inhabitants, the most populous urban area in the world.
Mountains occupy 71% of the territory, foothills 4%, high plains 12% and low plains 13%. Only a little more than a fifth of the territory is habitable (80,500 km2) and the largest plain of the archipelago, that of Kantō, does not reach 15,000 km2. The mountain range of the Japanese Alps stretches from north to south for more than 1,800 km, along the 4 main islands. The highest point in Japan is the famous Mount Fuji reaching 3,776 m above sea level. It is a volcanic relief, still active but not threatening.
The scarcity of plains (except near the coasts), very populated (more than 800 inhabitants per km2 on the east coast of Honshū), forces the exploitation of hills and mountains with the system of cultivation in plateaus (the slopes are covered with successive basins of decreasing size with height, allowing the cultivation of rice, soybeans, etc). If the coasts of Japan are long (33,000 km) and of great variety, the rivers are short, steep and violent and are not suitable for navigation.
Above all, Japan’s geography expresses the most remarkable contrast in the world between an eminently ungrateful environment that offers its inhabitants only a cultivable area of less than 78,000 km2 (less than 24% of the total area) and the presence of 127 million inhabitants (2007 figure).
Volcanism and earthquakes
As Japan is located in a subduction zone of four tectonic plates (Pacific, North American, Philippine and Eurasian), many volcanoes, such as Mount Unzen, on the island of Kyūshū, are active. In 2018, Japan has 111.
Thousands of earthquakes of varying intensity ( from 4 to 9 on the Richter scale) are felt throughout Japan each year. In addition, powerful and devastating tremors of the underwater floor generate tidal waves called tsunamis. 1⁄5 of the earthquakes of magnitude equal to or greater than 6 recorded in the world occur in Japan. Japan is the country in the world best prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis. It has spent billions of euros on renovating old buildings and equipping new ones with shock absorbers.
High levees protect many coastal towns, and tsunami evacuation routes are well-signposted. Accustomed to such disasters, residents have taken systematic precautions. They set up a system with high-performance computers that can detect the formation of a tsunami, deduce the height of the waves as well as the speed of their propagation and the moment when the waves will reach the coast thanks to the epicenter and magnitude of the earthquake. They also transmit this data to Pacific countries, even to their competitors, unlike Indian Ocean monitoring.
Natural hot springs (called onsen) are numerous and very popular. They have often been converted into public baths, hotels or spas for holiday stays and health retreats.
For example, you can bathe in natural “bathtubs” of 40 to 65 ° C.
Some earthquakes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries were particularly devastating:
- September 1, 1923: the Kantō earthquake, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, killed about 140,000 people and destroyed most of the wooden houses by fire;
- January 17, 1995: the Kōbe earthquake, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, killed 6,437 people and injured 43,792;
- March 11, 2011: the Tōhoku earthquake off Sendai, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, caused very few casualties and damage in itself thanks to the quality of Japanese construction and its anti-seismic know-how unparalleled in the world, but it was followed by a tsunami that wiped out everything on several hundred kilometers of coastline and left about 20,000 dead and missing. It is at the origin of the Fukushima nuclear accident.
The archipelago is very stretched on the North-South axis from the latitude of Quebec to that of Cuba, Japan has a wide climatic range. The island of Hokkaidō and northern Honshū have a temperate continental (Acadian) climate, with mild summers and cold winters with heavy snowfall that holds on the ground for several months. Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, to the east and west-central of the largest island (Honshū), have a humid subtropical climate characterized by relatively mild winters, with little or no snow, and hot, humid summers, with a rainy season (tsuyu) from early June to mid-July.
The climate of Fukuoka (Hakata), on the island of Kyūshū, is relatively temperate with mild autumns and winters. However, summer is tropical, long, stifling and ultra-rainy (from late May to late September) combining high temperatures – even scorching – and high humidity. Finally, the climate of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa Hontō, in the extreme south of the Japanese archipelago (latitude of Taiwan), is quasi-tropical, without frost or snow, with minimum winter temperatures above 16 °C.
The Japanese archipelago experiences alternating winds and sea currents that influence its climate. In winter, Siberian winds sweep over the Sea of Japan and cause huge snowfall on the western coast of the archipelago. Conversely, the eastern coast is protected by the Japanese Alps chain and experiences dry and sunny winters, with temperatures warmed by the effect of the warm Kuroshio current in the southeast. In summer, the cold Oyashio Current lowers temperatures on the northwest coasts.
The Japanese archipelago is affected by tropical storms and typhoons, especially between June and October. In 2004, ten cyclones hit Japan, including Meari, which left twenty-two dead and six missing. The material toll of the 2004 season is catastrophic: at least 155 billion yen (1.4 billion US dollars or one billion euros) in damage. The strongest typhoons of the twentieth century in Japan devastated Muroto (Typhoon Muroto of 1934) (three thousand dead) and Ise Bay in 1959 (five thousand dead).
Most recently, Typhoon #19 (“Hagibis”) brought record rain and winds to central, eastern and northern Japan on October 12 and 13, 2019. It has led to flooding, landslides and deaths in several places, including the Kanto region, around Tokyo, the Chubu region and the Tohoku region in the east of the country.
On September 10, 2020, Typhoon Haishen rammed on the southwest coast of Japan. It quickly changed course, heading towards Korea. Soon, more than 1.6 million people were evacuated. A total of 5.6 million evacuation notices were distributed by the Japanese authorities.
On September 22, 2020, Typhoon Dolphin headed for Japan. It will then cause rough seas, wind and rain in southern Honshu. The city of Osaka and its surroundings in central Japan are affected. The storm then moves northeastward over Tokyo, then toward Sendai and neighboring areas of northern Japan later in the week.
|Number of weather events classified as Tropical Storm or more depending on the month|
|Severe tropical storm||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||1||2||0||0|
|Severe tropical storm||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||2||0||1||0|
|Records of Japan|
|Record cold (°C)
date of record
|Heat record (°C)
Many animal and plant species have been discovered in Japan or near its coasts, sometimes endemic. They have often been given the specific epithet japonicus, japonica or japonicum. In 2019, Japan had more than 90,000 species of wildlife, including the brown bear, Japanese macaque, Japanese raccoon dog, Japanese field mouse, and Japanese giant salamander.
Japan has nine forest ecoregions that reflect the climate and geography of the islands. They include subtropical moist deciduous forests in the Ryukyu and Bonin Islands, temperate deciduous and mixed forests in the mild-climate regions of the main islands, and temperate coniferous forests in the cold parts of the northern islands.
An extensive network of national parks has been established to protect areas important for flora and fauna, as well as 52 Ramsar wetland sites. Four sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their outstanding natural value.
Japan’s environmental history and current policies reflect a delicate balance between economic development and environmental protection. In the rapid pace of economic growth after World War II, environmental policies were neglected by government and industrial enterprises. As an inevitable consequence, pollution was rampant in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s and led to certain scourges such as Minamata disease. With growing concerns about the problem, the government introduced numerous environmental protection laws in 1970 and created the Ministry of Environment in 1971. The first oil shock also encouraged a more efficient use of energy in Japan due to the lack of natural resources. Current priority environmental issues include urban air pollution (NOx, or nitrogen oxides, are toxic respiratory irritants), waste management, water eutrophication, nature conservation, chemicals management and international cooperation for environmental conservation.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Japan became one of the world leaders in the development of new environmentally friendly techniques. Toyota and Honda’s hybrid vehicles were identified as having the highest fuel economy and lowest greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to the advanced technology of hybrid systems, biofuels, the use of lightweight equipment and better engineering.
Japan is also taking into consideration the issues surrounding climate change. As a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, and host of the 1997 conference that established it, Japan is obliged to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and take other measures related to the fight against climate change. The Cool Biz, introduced by former Prime Minister Jun’ichirō Koizumi, targeted reducing energy use by reducing the use of air conditioning in government offices. Japan will force industry to make reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, under its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.
Japan is ranked among the worst performers in the world when it comes to fishing and consumption of bluefin tuna and whaling. It is the 4th largest fisher of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the world with 9% of catches, as well as a strong importer, resulting in an estimated local consumption of 80% of tuna caught in the Mediterranean. Bluefin tuna, especially fatty tuna, is consumed in the form of sushi, which is highly sought after in Japan despite the scarcity of this fish.
The whale is hunted as part of a scientific research program, however, the whale meat caught is then sold in Japanese restaurants. Japan is suspected of buying the votes of small countries (Tanzania, Kiribati, Marshall Islands) in the International Whaling Commission, trading their vote against development aid. Along with China, Japan also blocks the fight against shark fishing, responsible for the death of more than 100 million sharks each year.
The Japanese authorities are criticized by environmental associations, especially on the sidelines of the 2019 Conference on climate change (COP 25), for their very low ambitions in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the archipelago. In addition, Japan has become the largest financier of coal-fired power plant projects in the world. Between 2017 and 2019, Japanese banks accounted for 32% of all direct loans granted worldwide to coal-fired power plant developers. The country’s three megabanks – Mizuho, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group – take the first three places in the list of these financings, ahead of the American Citigroup (4th) and the French BNP Paribas (5th). Public opinion remains very little aware of environmental issues. The country’s political authorities and economic elites refuse to give up financing for new coal-fired power plants, putting forward geopolitical or financial arguments.
Japan is ranked 30th in the ranking of countries according to its environmental sustainability index. In 2018, Japan’s Overshoot Day (the date of the year from which humanity is supposed to have consumed all the resources that the planet is able to regenerate in a year) is on May 9.
Japan is one of the countries in the world, along with Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico, to use the highest concentrations of pesticides. One-third of insect species recorded in Japan are at risk of extinction.
Japan is after the United States the second largest consumer of plastic in the world. Since 2019, the country can no longer export its plastic waste to China, the latter having announced that it no longer accepts to be the “trash of the world”. As a result, 60% of plastic waste is now burned.
On July 3, 2020, the Japanese government proposes to close inefficient coal-fired power plants, with the aim of reducing its energy dependence on coal by 2030 and making renewables a major source of electricity.
Japan had a population of 126 million in 2018.
The low rate of immigrants combined with a low birth rate means that Japan is currently in a “demographic winter”: raising the retirement age is the order of the day and older people are even beginning to be rehired to fill the growing shortage of young labor. Between 1980 and 2005, the share of people over sixty-five years of age in the Japanese population doubled to over 20% in 2006, a figure that would increase to 40% in 2050.
For the first time in 2005, the population declined, the country losing about thirty thousand inhabitants, with a fertility rate of 1.25 children per woman. Tokyo has fallen below 1 child per woman with a rate of 0.98 in a country where facilities for young children are rare. In addition, mortality reached its second highest in 2008 with about 1.14 million deaths in the year, which translated into 51,000 fewer Japanese than in 2007.
In 2012, the country’s total fertility rate rose for the 3rd consecutive year from its lowest value to 1.39 children per woman (1.26 in 2005; 1.32 in 2006; 1.34 in 2007): there were 2,000 more births than in 2007, which is partly explained by the leap year 2012.
At the end of 2013, the population continued to decline with a decrease of more than 244,000 inhabitants.
Without short-term demographic change, Japan will have a population of about 90 million in 2050. At this rate, they will be less than sixty million in 2100. 80% of Japanese say they are very concerned about the consequences of population aging for their pensions, health spending and taxation. According to current forecasts, one in three Japanese will be over the age of 64 in 2035.
In addition, the distribution of the population is heterogeneous, mainly concentrated on the southern coastal strip of the country while the interior of the country and the island of Hokkaidō are very sparsely populated. Today, urban areas account for 80% of the population. The Japanese megalopolis, generally referred to as the Taiheiyō Belt (“Pacific Belt”) and which stretches for one thousand two hundred kilometers from Tokyo to the north of Fukuoka, concentrates more than one hundred million inhabitants.
Japan had 2,217,000 foreigners at the end of 2008, or 1.74 percent of the total population, with a 50 percent increase over ten years. The Chinese represent the largest group (30%), with 655,000 people, followed by Koreans (589,000), Brazilians (313,000), Filipinos (211,000) and Peruvians (60,000). There are very few irregular migrants in the country. In the early 1990s, Japan had 300,000 but increasingly repressive policies were adopted in the early 2000s, rapidly dropping their number.
They are only about 150,000 in 2008, then 82,000 in 2020. Illegal aliens arrested by the police are imprisoned until they are returned to their country of origin. In addition, illegal residence is a crime and can lead to a conviction. The longer the stay, the heavier the sentence will be. Sometimes these expulsions involve children born in Japan, even if they have lived in the territory for many years to the point of speaking only Japanese. Finally, any criminal conviction of an illegal alien entails a lifetime ban on entering the country.
The Japanese probably came from successive waves of immigration from China, Korea and the Pacific Islands.
Economy of Japan
Japan, which is the oldest component of the East Asian pole of the Triad, is qualified as the third world economic power with 5.867 billion dollars (current US) of GDP, according to figures from the World Bank for the year 2011. It is behind the United States and China but ahead of India and Germany. A member since 1964 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and a founding member of the Group of Five (informal G5, officially G6 in 1975, G7 in 1976 and finally G8 in 1997) since 1974 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) since 1989, the Japanese economy is one of the most strongly integrated into globalization. With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.925 in 2021 (ranking 19th that year among all countries in the world), Japan is a developed market economy (DMC).
Strengths and weaknesses of industrial and commercial power
The huge groups (Toyota, Fujitsu, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Akai, Sharp, Nintendo, Seiko, Bridgestone, etc) built on this modest surface area place Japan among the major industrial nations: first place in the world for the automobile, long leader in electronics, second place for shipbuilding (cargo ships, container ships, oil tankers…). It is also a highly diversified and competitive service economy, particularly successful in high-tech sectors.
Most strategy consultants, geographers, economists or sociologists rank Tokyo among the top five cities in the world, alongside New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong, because of: its demographic weight (the most populous metropolitan area in the world), its stock exchange (nicknamed Kabutochō 兜町, the second largest on the planet in terms of market capitalization), its many international business and commercial districts (Shinjuku, Shibuya) and its port (31st container port in the world in 2016 for its annual traffic in millions of twenty-foot equivalent units, the main multimodal platform on the Japanese Pacific coast, itself the seventh largest maritime coastline in the world).
After the Second World War, during which the country suffered heavy human and material losses, Japan progressed at an extraordinary pace until it became the world’s second-largest economy. This has been called the Japanese economic miracle in the 1950s and 1960s. The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo played a role in accelerating this strong growth. These advances are mainly attributed to the initial presence of significant human capital, cooperation between the State (MITI then METI) and companies, production oriented towards foreign markets (important exports to Asia and America), a strong work ethic, mastery of advanced techniques through research, and relatively low military spending (1% of gross domestic product).
Japan’s economic organization has some unique features:
- close links between manufacturers, subcontractors and distributors in groups called keiretsu;
- powerful enterprise unions, grouped within the Federation of Japanese Economic Organizations (usually called by its acronym Keidanren, 経団連), with few conflicts and a culture of dialogue marked by an annual wage protest movement (shuntō) in the spring;
- Strong investments in research and development.
Until recently, a significant proportion of employees in the industry had a lifetime job guarantee, but since the bursting of the Japanese speculative bubble, layoffs and especially the closure of many subcontractors have skinned this myth. The crisis has led to an increase in unemployment (more than 5% in the early 2000s, but fell below 4% in 2008) and poverty, with the multiplication of homeless and precarious workers (Freeter, フリーター).
Industry, the largest sector of the economy (with 39% of gross domestic product, compared with 25% in the United States, and 33% of the labor force, compared with 25% in France), is highly dependent on imports of raw materials and energy. Indeed, Japanese territory provides only 3 or 4 percent of the country’s natural resources. The agricultural sector, which is much smaller, is heavily subsidized, for political and social reasons. Yields are among the highest in the world. However, food self-sufficiency is capped at 40%. Most often self-sufficient in rice, Japan imports half of its consumption of other cereals: the country was the world’s largest cereal importer in the mid-2010s. Japan was the world’s second-largest exporter of copper in the mid-2010s, behind Chile, the world leader.
Japan’s fishing fleet is one of the largest in the world, accounting for almost 15% of the total catch. As for the merchant navy, it has 3 991 vessels with 223.815 million deadweight tonnes — of which 206.598 million are under foreign flags — January 1, 2013), ranking second among maritime nations (behind Greece) and representing a significant share (13.87%) of the world’s total tonnage. It should be noted that 71.00% of Japan’s total tonnage is registered in Panama (flag of convenience).
For three decades, growth was spectacular: on average and excluding inflation 10% per year in the 1960s, 5% in the 1970s and 4% in the 1980s. During the 1970s and 1980s, Japanese capitalism relocated its Fordist-style production to the rest of East Asia, Southeast Asia and North America. The aim is threefold: to circumvent the increasing number of quotas imposed by the various American or European protectionist barriers; reduce production costs through cheaper, low-skilled labor; Conquer, also, local and national markets thanks to an on-site installation. This is how Japan gradually opened up to the southwest and west.
In the 1990s, growth was significantly weaker, largely due to overinvestment in the late 1980s, the Plaza Accords of 1985, and an austerity economic policy designed to purge previous excesses of the stock and real estate markets. The government’s efforts to revive growth will have little success, as the country sinks into a long cycle of deflation with devastating consequences for the least competitive companies and the most fragile households.
The signing of agreements with the World Trade Organization has forced Japan to reduce its subsidies to farmers, paving the way for American or Vietnamese rice, a sensitive subject in a country where this cereal is the daily food base. The Asian economic crisis of 1997 exacerbated this tense economic situation.
Since the end of 2002, a recovery movement has begun, driven by the rapid development of neighboring China, which has become the leading importer of Japanese products and, more recently, by domestic demand (household consumption, falling unemployment, etc.). and the consolidation of the banking sector. This was confirmed in early 2006 when Japan was able to officially announce that it had overcome the deflation that had persisted since the early 2000s. During the same decade, despite a record public debt (about 160% to 170% of gross domestic product), Japan managed to emerge from the housing crisis.
However, the global economic slowdown in 2008 presented this export-intensive economy with a difficult challenge, especially as its strong currency increased the cost of exports. But for several years, the country’s place in the global electronics market has fallen: leader in the period from 1970 to 1990, the country has seen its companies at half-mast since the beginning of the millennium. In a decade, the ten largest groups lost a third of their turnover, competing with the Chinese and Koreans. The lack of responsiveness to strategic decisions to be taken and the cost of industrial production are highlighted as major shortcomings in this area.
In the long term, overcrowding of habitable areas and population aging are two major problems. Robotics is one of the great strengths of the Japanese economy in the long term, so much so that it is considered the laboratory of post-industrial society. 410,000 of the world’s 720,000 industrial robots are in Japan, or 57%. Employment in Japan remains a major concern. In 2018, 19% of older people lived below the poverty line, which is a record for an industrialized country and forces some of them to return to work. Shinzō Abe’s government plans to raise the retirement age to 70 and intends to promote exoskeletons, a kind of robot attached to the body that accompanies and supplements the movements of an individual, to make the elderly work longer. In 2017, the employment rate for 65-69 year-olds in Japan was 54.8% for men and 35% for women.
Since September 1, 2009, a Free Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (FTEPE) between Switzerland and Japan is in force.
Since 2013, the Japanese government has been investing in the African economy, particularly in infrastructure. In 2016, at the Japan-Africa Summit in Nairobi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe continued on this path and pledged to invest an additional thirty billion dollars in the African continent, of which ten billion will be allocated to infrastructure development.
Japan again recorded the strongest growth in dividends paid to shareholders worldwide in 2019 (+6.3% to $85.7 billion ). Dividends increased by 173% in Japan between 2009 and 2019.
According to the OECD, 22% of Japanese employees work more than 50 hours a week. Japanese employees usually take a few vacations (eighteen days of annual leave).
During the Heisei era (1989-2019), employees’ working conditions deteriorated. The bursting of the speculative bubble of the early 1990s had the effect of accentuating job insecurity. Workers have experienced reduced pay and overtime bonuses. The proportion of irregular jobs (fixed-term and low-paid) has risen from 20% to 40% in about thirty years. This trend helps explain the rise in income inequality in Japan. The hourly wage of an irregular worker is only about 60% of that of a regular worker.
The sharp increase in the number of precarious workers tends to push wages down. Hourly compensation in the private sector fell by 9% between 1997 and 2017. The level of pensions is also falling. From 2004 to 2016, the amount of retirement allowance for a couple decreased by 5% in absolute terms.
The country has one of the most efficient transport networks in the world, with almost all of its territory accessible by public transport. This ease of movement has contributed to the economic and demographic development of the country.
In Japan, the railway is the main means of passenger transport: the network of trains, subways and bullet lines (Shinkansen) is dense and very efficient. It is complemented by local bus networks, both in urban and rural areas.
Japan’s road infrastructure is well maintained and effectively covers the entire territory, down to the most remote mountainous areas. The highways are numerous, well-maintained, and punctuated by gigantic rest areas called Service Areas. These areas include restaurants, and sometimes free internet access or showers. There are also projects to duplicate major roads through the mountains (a project called Japan Corridor).
Japan also has the second-largest commercial maritime fleet in the world (see previous chapter).
The air transport network is very modern, with two airlines: Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways.
The average download speed is 14.54 Mbps in November 2011, the ninth highest in the world.
In 2019, tourism in Japan reached record figures with more than 32.5 million foreign visitors. In 2017, Japan ranks 16th in the world and 5th in Asia in terms of welcoming international tourists.
In 2017, the top ten countries of origin of tourists were:
- China (7,355,818 visitors)
- South Korea (7,140,438 visitors)
- Taiwan (4,654,053 visitors)
- Hong Kong (2,231,568 visitors)
- United States (1,374,964 visitors)
- Thailand (987,211 visitors)
- Australia (495,054 visitors)
- Malaysia (439,548 visitors)
- Philippines (424,121 visitors)
- Singapore (404,132 visitors)
Science and technology
Considered one of the most advanced countries in the world, Japan is a driving force in scientific research, especially electronics, machine tools and medical research. Nearly 700,000 researchers share a budget of US$130 billion allocated to research and development, the third largest in the world. For example, some of Japan’s largest contributions to technology are in electronics (Sony, Panasonic), automotive (Toyota, Honda), machinery (Brother), earthquake-resistant construction, industrial robotics (SoftBank Robotics), optics, chemistry (DIC Corporation), semiconductors (Tokyo Electron), algae fuels (Euglena) and metals (Nippon Steel).
Japan is the undisputed leader in terms of the production and use of robotics, and has more than half (402,200 out of 742,500) of the industrial robots used for construction worldwide. Japanese companies, for example, are behind Qrio, ASIMO and Aibo robots. Japan is the world’s largest producer of automobiles and is home to six of the world’s fifteen largest auto manufacturing companies, and seven of the top twenty semiconductor manufacturers in 2007.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is Japan’s space agency that conducts space research, aviation research, and develops rockets and satellites. It is a participant in the International Space Station and the Japanese Experiment Module (Kibō) was added to the International Space Station during assembly flights of the Space Shuttle in 2008. The agency has plans for space exploration, such as the launch of the Venus Climate Orbiter in 2010, the launch of the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter in 2018 and the construction of a lunar base in 2030.
On September 14, 2007, Japan launched SELENE, a Japanese lunar mission with an H-IIA rocket (type H2A2022) from Tanegashima Launch Base. SELENE is also known as Kaguya, the lunar princess of the folk tale Kaguya-hime. Kaguya is the largest lunar probe mission since the Apollo program. Its mission is to collect data on the Moon, its origin and evolution. It entered lunar orbit in October 2007 flying at an altitude of about 100 kilometers.
According to the Business Software Alliance’s 2011 ranking of the world’s most competitive countries in technology, Japan ranks 16th. According to them, the business environment, infrastructure and legal environment are very conducive indicators for the development of this industry. However, it is public support for the development of the ICT industry, research and development, and human capital, three declining indicators, that cause the country to fall four places compared to the 2009 ranking. However, Japan contributes about one-fifth of the global budget in the field of research and development.
Education and health
First, high schools and universities were introduced to Japan in 1872 following the Meiji Restoration. Since 1947, compulsory education in Japan has consisted of primary and secondary school, which lasts nine years (from age 6 to age 15).
In Japan, medical care services are provided by national and local governments. Payment for medical services is offered through health care insurance that ensures relative equality of access, with fees set by a government committee. People without insurance can participate in a national health insurance program run by local governments. Since 1973, all seniors have been covered by government-sponsored insurance. Patients are free to choose the physicians and facilities of their choice.
In 2019, Japan ranked 110th out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s report on gender inequalities. It fell in 2020 to 121st place.
According to lawyer Yukiko Tsunoda, this is partly because gender principles are deeply rooted in the justice system and systematically challenge women’s rights: “When the penal code was created in 1907, Japan was an extremely patriarchal society […] Rape was then criminalized in order to ensure that a married woman would bear a child only from her husband and that no other man could have any relationship with her. It was a law of chastity in the sole service of a husband or father”. In 2017, Japan overhauled sexual assault laws for the first time in 110 years, recognizing male victims and raising the minimum prison sentence for rape. However, the fact that a victim is obliged to prove that he could not resist was maintained in the law, despite the protests of the experts.
A divorced or widowed woman must wait a little over three months before having the right to remarry. Until 2016, this period was six months.
Tokyo Medical University admitted in 2018 that it manipulated the results of its entrance exam to put girls at a disadvantage. In the weeks that followed, nine of the country’s 81 medical schools acknowledged having practiced the same discriminatory policy.
With regard to custody of children of separated parents, the country does not recognize visitation rights or shared parental authority. The Japanese system operates on principles inherited from the Meiji era (1868-1912). A new legal form of the family was then to reinforce its patriarchal aspect. Based on the “continuity and maintenance of the family”, it provides that in the event of separation, one of the parents leaves the family. Custody of children is vested in one parent, usually the one who takes them first, without guaranteeing the other the opportunity to see them.
In a context where Japanese politics is traditionally a “man’s business”, women represent only 10% of parliamentarians. The government led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had only two women out of twenty-one ministers.
Inequalities at work are significant, with corporate culture remaining particularly sexist in Japan. The adoption of a law on gender equality in 1987 increased the proportion of women in employment from 53% in 1985 to 64% in 2016; However, only 44% of them have stable, full-time jobs, with the proportion of precarious jobs tending to increase each year. Many face discrimination, as business leaders are reluctant to give them responsibilities. Motherhood is also a major obstacle to women’s professional prospects. While maternity leave exists, in practice, few use it (17%), because they are under pressure from their superiors. This situation, combined with the lack of crèche places, leads 60% of employees to stop working after the birth of their first child.
Japanese culture is influenced by that of China and Korea. But it is also distinct from it.
Foreign cultural influences have historically been made via Korea because of their geographical proximity. The arrival of the Portuguese and later the Americans changed this system somewhat.
Japanese society is linguistically very uniform with 98.2% of the population having Japanese as their mother tongue. The remaining 1.8% consists mainly of immigrant populations from Korea (seven hundred thousand people) and China (three hundred and fifty thousand people), as well as Vietnamese, Brazilians, Americans (eighty thousand people), Europeans (forty-five thousand people). There are some dialectal variations in the Ryukyu archipelago called the Ryukyu languages. Hokkaidō Ainu is still spoken within the indigenous community but remains endangered.
English is the first foreign language learned in primary school (and often, from kindergarten), and is a widely used foreign language, especially among the youngest. Mandarin Chinese comes in second, followed by Korean.
Shinto is the main religion of Japan, so the Japanese are traditionally animist with shamanic practice, as evidenced by the use of many amulets, both at home and when traveling. Other religions often undergo an animist reappropriation of their gods in the personal or collective pantheon of the Japanese. Most Japanese do not believe in a particular and single religion, but show syncretism, especially with regard to Buddhism, but also more generally with regard to all religions. Many Japanese, therefore, practice rites of several religions during their lives.
The same person can go to invoke the gods at the Shinto shrine on the occasion of the New Year and try to get their attention before school or university entrance exams. Reasoning in a Confucian way, she will sometimes wish for a Western-style wedding in a Christian church after a more traditional ceremony and will have a funeral in a Buddhist temple.
This syncretism is reflected in the statistics of religious practices of the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which recorded in 2014:
- 92.169 million Shinto (72.5% of the population);
- 87.126 million Buddhists (68.6% of the population);
- nearly 1.951 million Christians (1.5% of the population);
- other religions: 8.974 million Japanese (7.1% of the population).
Japan experienced a “Christian century” following the arrival of Portuguese missionaries and then that of the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier in 1549. The new religion quickly met with great success in the south of the country (especially in the Nagasaki region). After an initial relative tolerance, however, Catholicism was quickly persecuted, then banned and punished with death in 1614. Some Christians went into hiding, becoming kakure kirishitan (“hidden Christians”). Christianity was re-authorized during the Meiji era.
During the Meiji era, the state both established freedom of worship and took control of Shinto as a privileged religion. This state of Shinto was inseparable from Japanese nationalism, which advocated a pure and simple elimination of the ancient contributions of Buddhism. During World War II, the Japanese people were required to participate in Shinto ceremonies and the activities of other religions were severely restricted. Today, more and more Japanese, especially among the younger generation, are opposed to religions both for these historical reasons and because of the development of science.
In 2010, the Islamic Center of Japan estimated that there were 100,000 Muslims in the country. Only 10% of them are Japanese. A number of new religions or sects, including the Sōka Gakkai and its six million members, which were established just before or after World War II occupy an important place in Japan.
Arts and Literature
Japan has a long cultural and artistic tradition forged by its history, geography and a particular conception of aesthetics.
Although there are various forms of primitive art on the archipelago, such as pottery of the Jōmon period or haniwa, Japanese art was quickly influenced by Buddhism and imperial China, from the sixthcentury. In the Nara period, temples flourished, of which Tōdai-ji and Hōryū-ji were among the best known, and religion strongly permeated sculpture and painting. These influences remain vivid until the sixteenth century, whether through the realistic sculpture of Kamakura or the monochromatic painting of Muromachi, marked by Zen thought.
However, the originality of Japanese art is felt more fully in more secular movements, such as narrative scrolls (emaki) or ukiyo-e, often attached to everyday and urban life, as well as entertainment. The Japanese eventually became interested in a wide variety of arts, appropriating calligraphy, fabrics (including kimono), ceramics, lacquer and sword forging. In the twentieth century, cinema and manga (Japanese comics) spread and became a strong vector for the export of Japanese culture.
Classical architecture is also oriented towards Buddhism, but also Shinto, and is fully expressed through temples and shrines. Several World Heritage sites are listed in Nara, Kyoto and Nikkō. Later, tea houses adopted the principles of Zen Buddhism. From the Azuchi Momoyama period, Japanese castles flourished, generally built on imposing stone foundations; Himeji Castle remains an iconic structure of the time. The traditional habitat (minka and machiya) is also made of wood.
Calligraphy and literature also developed with the arrival of Chinese writing (kanji), in the fourth century approximately. The themes then quickly diversified, ranging from mythological and historical stories (such as the Nihon shoki) to waka poetry. The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari, Template: S-XI), which intimately recounts life at the Heian court, is often seen as one of the first psychological novels. Zen Buddhism and civil wars mark medieval literature just like art. In the Edo period, new major literary movements appeared, including haikus (short and symbolic poems) and chōnin (bourgeois) literature, romantic and sometimes even frivolous.
The same transformation can be observed in the theater, while Noh, religious and elitist, gives way somewhat to kabuki, which originates in the pleasure districts of Edo. On the fringes of the theater appear other original and often humorous forms of Japanese art, such as masks, puppet shows (bunraku), folk dances (especially odori) or storytellers (rakugo).
Then, the rapid industrialization and opening to the Western world from the Meiji era, as well as the effects on Japanese society of the atomic bombing and surrender at the end of World War II, largely contributed to forging modern Japanese literature from the late nineteenth century. These developments particularly saw the birth and development of a new genre, that of shishōsetsu (“personal novel”) or watakushi shōsetsu (“first-person novel”).
The existentialist influences of ancient Zen writings and the realities of the contemporary world are then combined, placing them in a context where rapid progress only serves to exacerbate the author’s feeling of alienation, to give great importance to the themes of beauty, myth, fantasy, of loneliness and death. Among the most representative authors of this modern literature, often having obtained international recognition, are Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Osamu Dazai, Yasunari Kawabata (Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968), Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburō Ōe (Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994) or Haruki Murakami.
Today, Japan’s most valuable heritage properties are classified as national treasures and protected by a 1950 law.
Japanese cuisine is mainly known around the world through sushi and sashimi. This global omnipresence (30,000 so-called Japanese restaurants worldwide: 14,000 in North America, 10,000 in Asia and 2,500 across Europe) masks a complex cuisine that includes many variations and local specialties. Today’s Japanese haute cuisine is a refined and codified cuisine whose two best-known incarnations are the kaiseki meal and the snack offered during the Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu) called cha-kaiseki. On a daily basis, the Japanese are open to the diversity of world cuisine. You can easily find Chinese or Korean restaurants, but also Italian, French, or the world’s major fast food chains.
|Date||French name||Local name||In Japanese||Remarks|
|January 1||New Year’s Day||Ganjitsu||元日|
|2nd Monday of January||Day of coming of age||Seijin shiki||成人の日||movable since 2000,
January 15 previously
|February 11||Anniversary of the founding of the State||Kenkoku kinen no hi||建国記念の日|
|February 23||Emperor’s birthday||Tennō Tanjōbi||天皇誕生日||National Holiday|
|March 20 or 21||Spring equinox||Shunbun no hi||春分の日||movable according to the Observatory|
|April 29||Shōwa Festival||Shōwa no hi||昭和の日||Emperor Shōwa’s birthday (Hirohito)|
|May 3||Commemoration of the Constitution||Kenpō kinen bi||憲法記念日|
|May 4th||Nature Festival (also known as “Green Festival”)||Midori no hi||みどりの日|
|May 5||Children’s Day||Kodomo no hi||こどもの日|
|3rd Monday of July||Festival of the Sea||Umi no hi||海の日||movable since 2003,
July 20 previously
|3rd Monday of September||Seniors’ Day||Keirō no Hi||敬老の日||movable since 2003,
September 15 previously
|September 22 or September 23||Fall equinox||Shūbun no Hi||秋分の日||movable according to the Observatory|
|2nd Monday of October||Sports Festival||Taiiku no Hi||体育の日||movable since 2000, October 10 previously|
|November 3||Culture Days||Bunka no hi||文化の日|
|November 23||Labour Day||Kinrō kansha no hi||勤労感謝の日|
Note: when the date of a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the next day is the holiday.
- Kimi ga yo is the national anthem of Japan.
- The chrysanthemum is the symbol of the imperial family and one is found on the imperial seal of Japan.
- The dragonfly is a symbol of Japan: Akitsu Shima (“dragonfly islands”) is an ancient designation of Japan.
- The Japanese cherry tree also symbolizes the country.
Baseball is the national sport of Japan. The Japan Baseball Championship was established in 1937. Since the 1920s, it has been the most popular sport in the country. One of the most famous Japanese baseball players is Ichirō Suzuki, who after winning the Japanese Player of the Year award in 1994, 1995 and 1996, now plays for the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball. Before that, Sadaharu Oh was best known outside of Japan, having hit more home runs during his career in Japan than his contemporary Hank Aaron hit in America.
Football has become the second most popular sport in the country. Japan was the venue of the Intercontinental Cup from 1981 to 2004 and co-hosts the 2002 FIFA World Cup with South Korea. His national team is one of the biggest football teams in Asia, having won the Asian Cup a record four times. The women’s team won the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup by defeating the United States 2-2, 3-1 on penalties in the final.
Golf is also popular in Japan, as are forms of motor racing, such as Super GT and Formula Nippon. The Twin Ring Motegi was completed in 1997 by Honda, which produces the series engines, to add a Japanese event to the U.S. IndyCar Series championship.
Honda has always had an active presence in Formula 1 and has even won several titles as an engine supplier with the McLaren team whose drivers included Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the 1980s and 1990s. The Japanese Grand Prix has been held at the Suzuka Circuit since 1987 (except in 2007 and 2008). The latter is one of the only circuits in the world to have the distinction of being in eight and not in a loop, a bridge spanning another part of the track. Previously, the Grand Prix was held at the Fuji Circuit in 1976, 1977, 2007 and 2008.
Western sports were introduced to Japan after the Meiji Restoration, and began to spread throughout the educational system. Among traditional sports, sumo is probably the most popular. Martial arts such as judo, karate, aikido and modern kendo are also widely practiced and appreciated in the country.
Wrestling is also very popular in the country with several promotions such as All Japan Pro Wrestling, Dragon Gate, DDT Pro-Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Pro Wrestling NOAH and Pro Wrestling Zero1.
The ninth edition of the Rugby World Cup, from September 20 to November 2, 2019, was the first to be held in an Asian country since its inception in 1987. Seventeen years after the 2002 World Cup, Japan has once again been at the center of the sporting world, hosting a major international competition. Enough to prepare the country’s sports bodies before the organization of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
Japan will host the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021.
Traditions in Japan
Since the year 760, a tradition of snorkeling has been practiced around the archipelago by old villagers named ama. Thus, until the mid-twentieth century, these remarkable divers were still more than 10,000 to play with the depths of the ocean to collect pearls, shells and crustaceans. Today, there are only 2,000 ama in Japan, half of which are concentrated in Mie Prefecture, a sparsely populated region more than 300 km southwest of Tokyo. One of the reasons for the decline of their fishery is the regression of the seaweed carpet and its biotope. As new recruits are scarce, the average age in 2011 is 67. Also, the next decade could see the disappearance of freediving fishing. The seaside resort of Toba is home to young fishermen who act as a tourist attraction.
Freedom of the press in Japan
Between 2010 and 2016, Japan fell from 11th to 72nd place in Reporters Without Borders annual press freedom rankings. This situation can be explained in particular by the increased authoritarianism of the authorities since Shinzō Abe’s return to power: according to The Guardian, several journalists have lost their jobs for criticizing the government’s policy; Many textbooks were also reportedly censored if they did not fit the view of history promoted by the authorities. The Japanese Deputy Prime Minister, Tarō Asō, had also considered it necessary to amend the constitution to make it faithful to the values supported by the government.
Japan has the following codes:
- J, according to the list of international number plate codes;
- JA, according to the list of country codes used by NATO, alpha-2 code;
- .jp, according to the Internet Domain Code;
- JP, according to ISO 3166-1 (list of country codes), Japan has the alpha-2 code;
- JPN, in ISO 3166-1, alpha-3 code (list of country codes);
- JPN, according to the IOC country code list;
- JPN, according to the list of country codes used by NATO, alpha-3 code;
- RJ, according to the list of ICAO airport code prefixes.