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Space shuttle view of Mt. Fuji on Honshu. The snow-capped dormant volcano lies southwest of Tokyo. @ NASA.

Japan is a nation on 127 million people in Eastern Asia; an island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula.

Japan is susceptible to many formas of natural hazards including:

  • many dormant and some active volcanoes;
  • about 1,500 seismic occurrences (mostly tremors but occasional severe earthquakes) every year;
  • tsunamis; and,
  • typhoons

Its major environmental issues include:

  • air pollution from power plant emissions results in acid rain;
  • participation in whaling, endangering a number of cetacean species;
  • acidification of lakes and reservoirs degrading water quality and threatening aquatic life;
  • Japan is one of the largest consumers of fish and tropical timber, contributing to the depletion of these resources in Asia and elsewhere.

In 1603, after decades of civil warfare, the Tokugawa shogunate (a military-led, dynastic government) ushered in a long period of relative political stability and isolation from foreign influence. For more than two centuries this policy enabled Japan to enjoy a flowering of its indigenous culture.

Japan opened its ports after signing the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854 and began to intensively modernize and industrialize.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1931-32 Japan occupied Manchuria, and in 1937 it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 - triggering America's entry into World War II - and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia.

After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and an ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians hold actual decision-making power.

Following three decades of unprecedented growth, Japan's economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s, but the country remains a major economic power.

In March 2011, Japan's strongest-ever earthquake, and an accompanying tsunami, devastated the northeast part of Honshu island, killing thousands and damaging several nuclear power plants. The catastrophe hobbled the country's economy and its energy infrastructure, and tested its ability to deal with humanitarian disasters.


Japan, a country of islands, extends along the eastern or Pacific coast of Asia. The four main islands, running from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu (or the mainland), Shikoku, and Kyushu. Okinawa Island is about 380 miles southwest of Kyushu. About 3,000 smaller islands are included in the archipelago. In total land area, Japan is slightly smaller than California. About 73% of the country is mountainous, with a chain running through each of the main islands. Japan's highest mountain is the world-famous Mt. Fuji (12,388 feet). Since so little flat area exists, many hills and mountainsides are cultivated all the way to the summits. As Japan is situated in a volcanic zone along the Pacific depth, frequent low-intensity earth tremors and occasional volcanic activity are felt throughout the islands. Destructive earthquakes occur several times a century. A massive earthquake (magnitude 9.0) and tsunami struck northeastern Japan's Tohoku region on March 11, 2011. Hot springs are numerous and have been developed as resorts.

Location: Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula

Major cities: Tokyo (capital) 36.507 million; Osaka-Kobe 11.325 million; Nagoya 3.257 million; Fukuoka-Kitakyushu 2.809 million; Sapporo 2.673 million (2009)

Geographic Coordinates: 36 00 N, 138 00 E


Tota area: 377,915 sq km (61st largest - slightly smaller than California):
Land area: 364,485 sq km
Inland water area: 13,430 sq km
Note: Areas quoted include Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-gunto), Daito-shoto, Minami-jima, Okino-tori-shima, Ryukyu Islands (Nansei-shoto), and Volcano Islands (Kazan-retto)

Land Boundaries: 0 km

Coastline: 29,751 km

Maritime Claims: Territorial sea: 12 nautical miles (nm); between three and twelve nm in the international straits - La Perouse or Soya, Tsugaru, Osumi, and Eastern and Western Channels of the Korea or Tsushima Strait.

  • Contiguous zone: 24 nm
  • Exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Japan is involved in a sovereignty dispute over the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, and Shikotan, and the Habomai group, known in Japan as the "Northern Territories" and in Russia (Energy profile of Russia) as the "Southern Kuril Islands," occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945, now administered by Russia and claimed by Japan, remains the primary sticking point to signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II hostilities; Japan and South Korea claim Liancourt Rocks (Take-shima/Tok-do) occupied by South Korea since 1954; China and Taiwan dispute both Japan's claims to the uninhabited islands of the Senkaku-shoto (Diaoyu Tai) and Japan's unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea, the site of intensive hydrocarbon prospecting.

Natural Hazards: Many dormant and some active volcanoes; about 1500 seismic occurrences (mostly tremors) every year; tsunamis; typhoons

Volcanism: both Unzen (elevation. 1500 meters) and Sakura-jima (elev. 1117 meters), which lies near the densely populated city of Kagoshima, have been deemed "Decade Volcanoes" by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior, worthy of study due to their explosive history and close proximity to human populations; other notable historically active volcanoes include Asama, Honshu Island's most active volcano, Aso, Bandai, Fuji, Iwo-Jima, Kikai, Kirishima, Komaga-take, Oshima, Suwanosejima, Tokachi, Yake-dake, and Usu.

Terrain: Chiefly rugged and mountainoustopography. The highest point is Mount Fujiyama (3776 m)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Climate: Varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north. Temperature extremes are less pronounced than in the United States, but the climate varies considerably. Sapporo, on the northernmost main island, has warm summers and long, cold winters with heavy snowfall. Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, in central and western parts of the largest island of Honshu, experience relatively mild winters with little or no snowfall and hot, humid summers. Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, has a climate similar to that of Charleston, South Carolina, with mild winters and wet summers. Okinawa is subtropical.

Key geographic features:

  • Shirakami-sanchi (Shirakami mountains)
  • Shiretoko
  • Yakushima (Yaku-Island)

Sendai earthquake and tsunami

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred near the east coast of Honshu, Japan, occurred at 2:46 p.m. (local time) on March 11, 2011. The strongest earthquake ever measured.

Source: New Scientist

The earthquake was followed by a tsunami that struck the east coast of japan causing major damage and loss of life. As of July 17, 2001, the number of recovered dead was reported by the Japanese National Police Agency at 15,578 and the number of missing at 5,070, for a total of 20,648 dead and missing. The earthquake and tsunami also caused extensive damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant resulting in releases of redioactive materials which caused extensive concern in Japan and elsewhere.

According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred "as a result of thrust faulting on or near the subduction zone interface plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates". At the latitude of this earthquake, the Pacific plate moves approximately westwards with respect to the North America plate at a velocity of 83 mm/yr. The Pacific plate thrusts underneath Japan at the Japan Trench, and dips to the west beneath Eurasia. The location, depth, and focal mechanism of the March 11 earthquake are consistent with the event having occurred as thrust faulting associated with subduction along this plate boundary. Note that some authors divide this region into several microplates that together define the relative motions between the larger Pacific, North America and Eurasia plates; these include the Okhotsk and Amur microplates that are respectively part of North America and Eurasia.

"The March 11 earthquake was preceded by a series of large foreshocks over the previous two days, beginning on March 9th with an M 7.2 event approximately 40 km from the March 11 earthquake, and continuing with a further three earthquakes greater than magnitude 6 on the same day."

"The Japan Trench subduction zone has hosted nine events of magnitude 7 or greater since 1973. The largest of these was an M 7.8 earthquake approximately 260 km to the north of the March 11 event, in December 1994, which caused three fatalities and almost 700 injuries. In June of 1978, an M 7.7 earthquake 35 km to the southwest caused 22 fatalities and over 400 injuries."

See also: Cleanup After Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami

The city of Ishinomaki was one of the hardest hit when a powerful tsunami swept ashore on 21 March 2011. This satellite image is from three days later, when water still inundated the city. Water is dark blue in this false-color image. Plant-covered land is red, exposed earth is tan, and the city is silver. The most extensive flooding may be seen around Matsushima Air Base (lower left corner) where several airplanes were damaged and where the surrounding neighborhoods are flooded. Dark blue fills in the spaces between buildings in sections of Ishinomaki near the harbor (image center) and by the river (upper right). Photo courtesy of NASA.

Ecology and Biodiversity

  1. Nansei Islands subtropical evergreen forests
  2. Taiheiyo evergreen forests
  3. Taiheiyo montane deciduous forests
  4. Nihonkai evergreen forests
  5. Nihonkai montane deciduous forest
  6. Honshu alpine conifer forests
  7. Hokkaido deciduous forests
  8. Hokkaido montane conifer forests

See also:


Source: World Wildlife Fund

People and Society

This high-oblique, northeast-looking space shuttle photograph captures a portion of Southern Honshu Island and Shikoku Island of Japan. The darker areas show volcanic, mountainous terrain that comprises more than 80 percent of Japan; the lighter, more highly reflective areas of the coastal plains and valleys are urban and agricultural areas. Separated by the Seto Inland Sea are Shikoku Island to the south and the Osaka-Kobe industrial metroplex on Honshu Island to the north. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Japan's population, currently just under 127 million, experienced a phenomenal growth rate for much of the 20th century as a result of scientific, industrial, and sociological changes, but birth rates have fallen steadily since the 1970s. In 2005, Japan's population declined for the first time, 2 years earlier than predicted. In 2010, the population growth rate was -1.0%. However, high sanitary and health standards produce a life expectancy exceeding that of the United States.

Japan is an urban society with only about 1% of the labor force engaged in agriculture. Many farmers supplement their income with part-time jobs in nearby towns and cities. About 80 million of the urban population is heavily concentrated on the Pacific shore of Honshu and in northern Kyushu. Major population centers include: Metropolitan Tokyo with approximately 8.9 million; Yokohama with 3.6 million; Osaka with 2.6 million; Nagoya with 2.2 million; Sapporo with 1.8 million; Kyoto and Kobe with 1.5 million each; Kawasaki and Fukuoka with 1.4 million each, and Saitama with 1.2 million. Japan faces the same problems that confront urban industrialized societies throughout the world: overcrowded cities, congested roads, air pollution, and juvenile delinquency.

Population: 127,368,088 (July 2012 est.) - 10th largest in world

Ethnic Groups: Japanese 98.5%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.6%
note: up to 230,000 Brazilians of Japanese origin migrated to Japan in the 1990s to work in industries; some have returned to Brazil (2004)

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 13.1% (male 8,521,571/female 8,076,173)
15-64 years: 64% (male 40,815,840/female 40,128,235)
65 years and over: 22.9% (male 12,275,829/female 16,658,016) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: -0.077% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 8.39 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 9.15 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: total population: 83.91 years

male: 80.57 years
female: 87.43 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.39 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Japanese

Literacy: (15 years and older): 99% (2002)

Urbanization: 67% of total population (2010) growing at a 0.2% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)


Japanese legend maintains that Japan was founded in 600 BC by the Emperor Jimmu, a direct descendant of the sun goddess and ancestor of the present ruling imperial family. In about AD 405, the Japanese court officially adopted the Chinese writing system. Together with the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century, these two events revolutionized Japanese culture and marked the beginning of a long period of Chinese cultural influence. From the establishment of the first fixed capital at Nara in 710 until 1867, the emperors of the Yamato dynasty were the nominal rulers, but actual power was usually held by influential court nobles, regents, or "shoguns" (military governors).

Mount Fuji, located 100 kilometres (62mi) south-west of Tokyo on the islands of Honshū, with a Shinkansen (also known as the "Bullet Train") passing. Source: Wikimedia Commons
View of Mount Yarigatake from Enzansou, Honshū, Japan. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Satellite image of part of Tokyo and its harbor (dimensions are 13.5 km x 19 km). Tokyo is Japand larest city. Source: NASA. Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
The Buddhist temple Kongōbu-ji on Mount Kōya south of Osaka on Honshū island. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A torii (a traditional Japanese gate) atItsukushima Shrine, a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima (Miyajima) in Hiroshima Prefecture. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Source: Dan Smith/Wikimedia Commons.
The sandbar Amanohashidate located in Miyazu Bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Matsushima (Pine Islands)is a group of 260 tiny islands (shima) in Miyagi Prefecture, covered in pines (matsu). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Contact With the West
The first recorded contact with the West occurred in about 1542, when a Portuguese ship, blown off its course to China, landed in Japan. During the next century, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries. During the early part of the 17th century, Japan's shogunate suspected that the traders and missionaries were actually forerunners of a military conquest by European powers. This caused the shogunate to place foreigners under progressively tighter restrictions. Ultimately, Japan forced all foreigners to leave and barred all relations with the outside world except for severely restricted commercial contacts with Dutch and Chinese merchants at Nagasaki. This isolation lasted for 200 years, until Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy negotiated the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

Within several years, renewed contact with the West profoundly altered Japanese society. The shogunate resigned, and the emperor was restored to power. The "Meiji restoration" of 1868 initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished, and numerous Western institutions were adopted, including a Western legal and educational system and constitutional government along parliamentary lines.

In 1898, the last of the "unequal treaties" with Western powers was removed, signaling Japan's new status among the nations of the world. In a few decades, by creating modern social, educational, economic, military, and industrial systems, the Emperor Meiji's "controlled revolution" had transformed a feudal and isolated state into a world power.

Wars With China and Russia

Japanese leaders of the late 19th century regarded the Korean Peninsula as a potential threat to Japan. It was over Korea that Japan became involved in war with the Chinese Empire in 1894-95 and with Russia in 1904-05. The war with China established Japan's domination of Korea, while also giving it the Pescadores Islands and Formosa (now Taiwan). After Japan defeated Russia in 1905, the resulting Treaty of Portsmouth awarded Japan certain rights in Manchuria and in southern Sakhalin, which Russia had received in 1875 in exchange for the Kurile Islands. Both wars gave Japan a free hand in Korea, which it formally annexed in 1910.

World War I to 1952
World War I permitted Japan, which fought on the side of the victorious Allies, to expand its influence in Asia and its territorial holdings in the Pacific. The postwar era brought Japan unprecedented prosperity. Japan went to the peace conference at Versailles in 1919 as one of the great military and industrial powers of the world and received official recognition as one of the "Big Five" of the new international order. It joined the League of Nations and received a mandate over Pacific islands north of the Equator formerly held by Germany.

During the 1920s, Japan progressed toward a democratic system of government. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the 1930s, during which military leaders became increasingly influential.

Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo. In 1933, Japan resigned from the League of Nations. The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 followed Japan's signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany the previous year and was part of a chain of developments culminating in the Japanese attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

After years of war, resulting in the loss of 3 million Japanese lives and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan signed an instrument of surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945. As a result of World War II, Japan lost all of its overseas possessions and retained only the home islands. Manchukuo was dissolved, and Manchuria was returned to China; Japan renounced all claims to Formosa; Korea was occupied and divided by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.; southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles were occupied by the U.S.S.R.; and the U.S. became the sole administering authority of the Ryukyu, Bonin, and Volcano Islands. The 1972 reversion of Okinawa completed the U.S. return of control of these islands to Japan.

After the war, Japan was placed under international control of the Allies through the Supreme Commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur. U.S. objectives were to ensure that Japan would become a peaceful nation and to establish democratic self-government supported by the freely expressed will of the people. Political, economic, and social reforms were introduced, such as a freely elected Japanese Diet (legislature) and universal adult suffrage. The country's constitution took effect on May 3, 1947. The United States and 45 other Allied nations signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan in September 1951. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in March 1952, and under the terms of the treaty, Japan regained full sovereignty on April 28, 1952.

The post-World War II years saw tremendous economic growth in Japan, with the political system dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party until 1993. In August 2009 the Democratic Party of Japan gained a majority in the more-powerful lower house--to go with its leading coalition in the upper house--resulting in the first non-LDP Prime Minister in postwar history. DPJ Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned in June 2010 due to lingering public discontent over a political finance scandal. Minister of Finance Naoto Kan was sworn in as the new Prime Minister on June 8, 2010 and later won a September 14, 2010 intra-party DPJ presidential election against former DPJ Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa. The DPJ lost its upper house coalition majority in July 2010, creating the current “twisted Diet” in which the two houses of parliament are led by opposing political parties.

After a short reprieve following the March 2011 earthquake, Prime Minister Kan’s popularity continued a downward trend, and he resigned in August 2011. In an internal election, the DPJ selected former Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda as party leader. A fiscal hawk, Noda won the election by a margin of 38 votes, 215 to 177, and was attested Prime Minister by the Emperor on September 2, 2011. Prime Minister Noda has focused on “ittai kaikaku,” or integrated reform that combines fiscal austerity with an increase in consumption tax.

Shintoism and Buddhism are Japan's two principal religions. Shintoism is founded on myths and legends emanating from the early animistic worship of natural phenomena. Since it was unconcerned with problems of afterlife which dominate Buddhist thought, and since Buddhism easily accommodated itself to local faiths, the two religions comfortably coexisted, and Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples often became administratively linked. Today many Japanese are adherents of both faiths.

From the 16th to the 19th century Shintoism flourished. Adopted by the leaders of the Meiji restoration, Shintoism received state support and was cultivated as a spur to patriotic and nationalistic feelings. Following World War II, state support was discontinued, and the emperor disavowed divinity. Today Shintoism plays a more peripheral role in the life of the Japanese people. The numerous shrines are visited regularly by a few believers and, if they are historically famous or known for natural beauty, by many sightseers. Many marriages are held in the shrines, and children are taken there after birth and on certain anniversary dates; special shrine days are celebrated for certain occasions, and numerous festivals are held throughout the year. Many homes have "god shelves" where offerings can be made to Shinto deities.

Buddhism first came to Japan in the 6th century and for the next 10 centuries exerted profound influence on its intellectual, artistic, social, and political life. Most funerals are conducted by Buddhist priests, and many Japanese visit family graves and Buddhist temples to pay respects to ancestors.

Confucianism arrived with the first great wave of Chinese influence into Japan between the 6th and 9th centuries. Overshadowed by Buddhism, it survived as an organized philosophy into the late 19th century and remains today as an important influence on Japanese thought and values.

Christianity, first introduced into Japan in 1549, was virtually stamped out by the government a century later; it was reintroduced in the late 1800s and has spread slowly. Today Christianity has an estimated 3 million adherents throughout Japan.

Beyond the three traditional religions, many Japanese today are turning to a great variety of popular religious movements normally lumped together under the name "new religions." These religions draw on the concept of Shinto, Buddhism, and folk superstition and have developed in part to meet the social needs of elements of the population. The officially recognized new religions number in the hundreds, and total membership is reportedly in the tens of millions.


Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. There is universal adult suffrage with a secret ballot for all elective offices. Sovereignty, previously embodied in the emperor, is vested in the Japanese people, and the Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state.

Japan's government is a parliamentary democracy, with a House of Representatives (also known as the Lower House) and a House of Councillors (sometimes called the Upper House). Executive power is vested in a cabinet composed of a prime minister and ministers of state, all of whom must be civilians. The prime minister must be a member of the Diet and is designated by his colleagues. The prime minister has the power to appoint and remove ministers, a majority of whom must be Diet members. The judiciary is independent.

The seven major political parties represented in the National Diet are the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the People’s New Party (PNP), the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the New Komeito Party (NK), the Japan Communist Party (JCP), and Your Party (YP).

Government Type: Parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy

Capital: Tokyo (35 41 N, 139 45 E) - 36.507 million (2009)

Other Major Cities: Osaka-Kobe 11.325 million; Nagoya 3.257 million; Fukuoka-Kitakyushu 2.809 million; Sapporo 2.673 million (2009)

A nighttime view of Tokyo, Japan from the International Space Station. The heart of the city is brightest, with ribbons of lights radiating outward from the center along streets and railways. The regularly spaced bright spots along one of the ribbons heading almost due west out of the downtown area are train stations along a public transit route. The lights of Tokyo are a cooler blue-green color than in many other world cities. The color results from the more widespread use of mercury vapor lighting as opposed to sodium vapor lighting, which produces an orange-yellow light. Photo: NASA.

Administration divisions: Japan does not have a federal system, and its 47 prefectures are not sovereign entities in the sense that U.S. states are. Most depend on the central government for subsidies. Governors of prefectures, mayors of municipalities, and prefectural and municipal assembly members are popularly elected to 4-year terms.

47 prefectures; Aichi, Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Ehime, Fukui, Fukuoka, Fukushima, Gifu, Gunma, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, Hyogo, Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Iwate, Kagawa, Kagoshima, Kanagawa, Kochi, Kumamoto, Kyoto, Mie, Miyagi, Miyazaki, Nagano, Nagasaki, Nara, Niigata, Oita, Okayama, Okinawa, Osaka, Saga, Saitama, Shiga, Shimane, Shizuoka, Tochigi, Tokushima, Tokyo, Tottori, Toyama, Wakayama, Yamagata, Yamaguchi, Yamanashi


Independence Date: 3 May 1947 (current constitution adopted as amendment to Meiji Constitution); notable earlier dates: 660 B.C. (traditional date of the founding of the nation by Emperor JIMMU); 29 November 1890 (Meiji Constitution provides for constitutional monarchy)

Legal System: Japan's judicial system, drawn from customary law, civil law, and Anglo-American common law, consists of several levels of courts, with the Supreme Court as the final judicial authority. The Japanese constitution includes a bill of rights similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has the right of judicial review. Japanese courts do not use a jury system, and there are no administrative courts or claims courts. Because of the judicial system's basis, court decisions are made in accordance with legal statutes. Only Supreme Court decisions have any direct effect on later interpretation of the law. Modeled after European civil law systems with English-American influence; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations.

Executive Branch:

  • Chief of state: Emperor Akihito (since 7 January 1989)
  • Head of government: Prime Minister Naoto Kan (since 8 June 2010)
  • Cabinet: Cabinet is appointed by the Prime Minister
  • Elections: Diet designates the prime minister; constitution requires that the prime minister commands parliamentary majority; following legislative elections, the leader of majority party or leader of majority coalition in House of Representatives usually becomes Prime Minister; the monarchy is hereditary

International Environmental Agreements

Japan is party to international agreements on: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling


Total Renewable Water Resources: 430 cu km (1999)

Layers of green foliage along the shoreline of a Japanese garden.
The Imperial Palace and Nijubashi Bridge in Tokyo. Source: CIA World Factbook
Osaka Castle in Chuo-ku, Osaka, Osaka prefecture, Japan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Atomic Bomb Dome (also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial), located beneath (though not exactly) the point of explosion of the first use of a nuclear bomb in war at 8:15 A.M. on August 6, 1945, and modern buildings, Hiroshima. It is now a UNESCO World heritage site. Source: Hirotsugu Mori

Freshwater Withdrawal: (domestic, industrial, agricultural): total: 88.43 cu km/yr (20%/18%/62%)
per capita: 690 cu m/yr (2000)

See also: Water profile of Japan


Less than 15% of Japan's land is arable. The agricultural economy is highly subsidized and protected. With per hectare crop yields among the highest in the world, Japan maintains an overall agricultural self-sufficiency rate of about 40% on fewer than 4.6 million cultivated hectares (14 million acres). Japan normally produces a slight surplus of rice but imports large quantities of wheat, corn, sorghum, and soybeans, primarily from the United States. Japan is the fourth-largest market for U.S. agricultural exports.

Agricultural products: Rice, sugar beets, vegetables, fruit; pork, poultry, dairy products, eggs; fish

Irrigated Land: 25,920 sq km (2003)


Deposits of gold, magnesium, and silver meet current industrial demands, but Japan is dependent on foreign sources for many of the minerals essential to modern industry. Iron ore, coke, copper, and bauxite must be imported, as must many forest products.

Natural Resources: Fish; negligible mineral resources. Note: with virtually no energy natural resources, Japan is the world's largest importer of coal and liquefied natural gas, as well as the second largest importer of oil.

Land Use:

Arable land: 11.64%
Permanent crops: 0.9%
Other: 87.46% (2005)


Given its heavy dependence on imported energy, Japan has aimed to diversify its sources and maintain high levels of energy efficiency. Since the oil shocks of the 1970s, Japan has reduced dependence on petroleum as a source of energy, from more than 75% in 1973 to less than 50% in 2009. Other important energy sources are coal, liquefied natural gas, nuclear power, and hydropower. Today Japan enjoys one of the most energy-efficient developed economies in the world.

Detailed presentations of energy issues in Japan are found in:

Climate Change

See: Greenhouse Gas Control Policies in Japan


In the years following World War II, government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) helped Japan develop a technologically advanced economy. Two notable characteristics of the post-war economy were the close interlocking structures of manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors, known as keiretsu, and the guarantee of lifetime employment for a substantial portion of the urban labor force. Both features are now eroding under the dual pressures of global competition and domestic demographic change.

Japan's industrial sector is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and fuels.

A tiny agricultural sector is highly subsidized and protected, with crop yields among the highest in the world. Usually self-sufficient in rice, Japan imports about 60% of its food on a caloric basis. Japan maintains one of the world's largest fishing fleets and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch.

After achieving one of the highest economic growth rates in the world from the 1960s through the 1980s, the Japanese economy slowed dramatically in the early 1990s, when the "bubble economy" collapsed, marked by plummeting stock and real estate prices. Japan eventually recovered from its worst period of economic stagnation since World War II. Real GDP in Japan grew at an average of roughly 1% yearly in the 1990s, compared to growth in the 1980s of about 4% per year. After sustaining several consecutive years of growth in the early 2000s, the Japanese economy began to slow in line with global economic conditions, and the country fell into its first recession in roughly 6 years in 2008. As worldwide demand for its goods tumbled, the Bank of Japan reported real GDP growth of -5.5% in FY 2009. Japan recovered slightly in 2010 and reported real GDP growth of 4.4%.

Measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis that adjusts for price differences, Japan in 2011 stood as the third-largest economy in the world after China, which surpassed Japan in 2001.

Government stimulus spending helped the economy recover in late 2009 and 2010, but the economy contracted again in 2011 as the massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake in March disrupted manufacturing. The earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11, 2011, devastated the northeast coast of Honshu Island, washing away buildings and infrastructure as far as six miles inland, killing thousands, severely damaging several nuclear power plants, displacing and leaving homeless more than 320,000 people, and leaving a million households without running water. Radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant prompted mass evacuations and the declaration of an exclusion zone--initially for people and planes within 12.5 miles of the plant but later expanded to 19 miles. Radioactive iodine-131 has been found as far as 100 miles from the plant in samples of water, milk, fish, beef, and certain vegetables, at levels that make these foods unfit for consumption and create uncertainty regarding possible long-term contamination of the area. Energy-cutting efforts by electric companies and train lines have slowed the pace of business throughout Honshu Island, while Japan’s financial markets have fluctuated dramatically. In order to ensure stability, the Bank of Japan injected more than $325 billion in yen into the economy. Estimates of the direct costs of the damage--rebuilding homes and factories--range from $235 billion to $310 billion.

Electricity supplies remain tight because Japan has temporarily shut down almost all of its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors were crippled by the earthquake and resulting tsunami. Estimates of the direct costs of the damage - rebuilding homes, factories, and infrastructure - range from $235 billion to $310 billion, and GDP declined almost 1% in 2011.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko NODA has proposed opening the agricultural and services sectors to greater foreign competition and boosting exports through membership in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and by pursuing free-trade agreements with the EU and others, but debate continues on restructuring the economy and reining in Japan's huge government debt, which exceeds 200% of GDP. Persistent deflation, reliance on exports to drive growth, and an aging and shrinking population are other major long-term challenges for the economy.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $4.389 trillion (2011 est.) - 3rd largest in the world after United States and China (4th largest is the European Union is counted as a single economy)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $5.855 trillion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $34,300 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 1.4%
industry: 24%
services: 74.6% (2011 est.)

Industries: Among the world's largest and technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronic equipment, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemicals, textiles, processed foods.

Currency: Yen


Agency, C., & Department, U. (2012). Japan. Retrieved from http://editors.eol.org/eoearth/wiki/Japan