Landscape and Size : The country has over 7,000 (seven thousand) islands.

▶ Japan is a country of many islands. The total land area is about 380 (three hundred eighty) thousand square kilometers. This is close to the total land area of Germany.

▶ In Japan, there are about 7,000 (seven thousand) islands both large and small. The main island, Honshu, covers about 60% (sixty percent) of the total land area. The major cities Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya are all in Honshu.

▶ Japan is very mountainous. Three quarters of the land is covered by mountains and hills! Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain, is about 3,800 (three thousand eight hundred) meters high. Because of all the mountains, the area people can live in is very small.

Total Land Area

The total land area of Japan is approximately 378,000 square kilometers, which is about one twenty-fifth of that of the United States or China. It is much smaller than the state of California and about the same size as Germany or Vietnam.


Japan is an archipelago stretching a total of 3,500 kilometers from northeast to southwest. Tokyo, located nearly in the middle of the archipelago, lies at 140 degrees east longitude and 36 degrees north latitude. The latitude of Tokyo is about the same as that of North Carolina in the United States, that of Tsingtao in China, and that of the south of Italy. London is located further north than the northern end of Japan.

Topography and Land Use

Japan is an arc-shaped archipelago consisting of four main islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, and there are, in total, more than 6,000 islands. Nearly 70% of the land in Japan is mountains and forests, and flat areas are limited. About 14% of the land is used for agriculture and only 4% of it is for residential use. Although Japan is known as one of the most industrialized nations in the world, the land used for industrial purposes is a mere 0.4%.

Mountains and Rivers

The highest mountain in Japan is undoubtedly the famous Mt. Fuji, at 3,776 meters in height. The longest river in Japan is the Shinano, which is 367 kilometers in length. By comparison, Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, is 8,848 meters in height and the Amazon, the longest river in the world, is 6,520 kilometers long.


The total population of Japan was about 128 million as of 2013, which puts it in tenth place in the world after China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Russia. About 70% of the population is concentrated in the coastal areas along the Pacific Ocean between Tokyo and northern Kyushu, because of the mild climate. The population in large cities and their metropolitan areas has grown since the 60’s and over 43% of the national population lives in the urban Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya areas. Compared to the United States, Japan has about a half of its population in an area which is only one twenty-fifth of its size.

Population Density

Due to the limited space suitable for residences, the population density in Japan, at 337 persons per square kilometer, is one of the highest in the world, though it is slightly lower than Holland. Monaco ranks first in the world with about 17,000 persons per square kilometer. On the other hand, the countries with the lowest density of population are Australia and Mongolia with only two to three persons per square kilometer. The density of population in metropolitan Tokyo is more than 5,500 per square kilometer.


Japan has a varied climate due to the shape of the country, which stretches over 3,500 kilometers from the north to the south. Therefore, northern Japan has a subarctic climate while the southern part is subtropical. But most of Japan has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Another characteristic of the Japanese climate is the difference between the area along the Sea of Japan and that on the Pacific Ocean side which is caused by mountain ranges located between the two regions. In winter, the mountains block the cold, wet wind blowing from the northwest, which causes heavy snow to fall on the Japan Sea side and sends cold, dry air to the Pacific side. On the other hand, in summer, the southeasterly wind makes the Pacific side hot and humid.


Since the Japanese archipelago lies on the Circum-Pacific earthquake zone, Japan has many active volcanoes and experiences frequent earthquakes. The three most disastrous earthquakes that Japanese people remember are the Great Kanto Earthquake (M7.9) of 1923, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (M7.2) of 1995, and the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake (M9.0) of 2011. In the case of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, the damage was unprecedentedly severe because of the tsunami and accompanying accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. As of 2013, the total number of dead and missing people is 18,550, while more than 290,000 people remain evacuated.


Typhoons are low-pressure systems from subtropical areas which usually hit southwestern Japan from August to October. They cause a wide range of damage every year such as the destruction of buildings, reduction of crops, and landslides.


The present constitution of Japan was enforced on May 3rd, 1947, two years after Japan lost the war. The new constitution, prepared with the assistance of the United States, is totally different from the old one, the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. In the present constitution, sovereignty rests with the people, not the emperor, who is defined as a symbol of the State who unites them. It also guarantees basic human rights and advocates peace.

Three Independent Branches

The government of Japan is composed of three independent branches: legislative, administrative and judicial. The Diet is the highest organ of state power and its sole law-making body. The Cabinet, the administrative branch, consists of the prime minister and other ministers of state. The judicial branch of the government is made up of the Supreme Court, which is the highest judiciary organ, high courts, district courts, family courts and summary courts.

The Diet

The Diet consists of two houses, the House of Representatives (the Lower House) and the House of Councilors (the Upper House). The term of a member of the House of Representatives is four years but the Lower House has been dissolved for elections on an average of every two and a half years. The term of a member of the House of Councilors is six years and half of the members are elected every three years. The total number of seats in the House of Representatives is 480 and that in the House of Councilors is 247. The members of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors are elected by general election.


Members of the Diet, prefectural governors, mayors of cities, towns, villages, and assembly members are elected directly. All Japanese men and women who have reached the age of 20 have the right to vote. To be elected as prefectural governors and members of the House of Councilors, one must be at least 30 years old, and the minimum age to run for other offices is 25. It was only after 1945 that Japanese women were given suffrage, or the right to vote and run for office. As for the election system, it adopted a combined small constituency system and a proportional representation system in 1994.

Political Parties

There were 10 parties in Japan as of 2013, including the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japan Restoration Party, the New Komeito Party, the Your Party and the Japanese Communist Party. The Democratic Party defeated the LDP, which had been in power for decades, in the general election of 2010, and held power for three years. But the LDP has been back in power since winning the 2012 general election.

Self-Defense Forces

Japan renounced the use of force as a means of settling international disputes in the Japanese Constitution. And in 1954, the Self-Defense Forces were established mainly for the purpose of defense. They consist of the Ground Self-Defense Force, the Maritime Self-Defense Force, and the Air Self-Defense Force. The total number of troops was about 240,000 in 2013. As of 2013, the defense budget of Japan accounted for about 0.9% of its GDP.

Name of the Nation

“Nippon” literally means the place where the sun rises. It is said that when Imperial Prince Shotoku sent an official letter to a Chinese emperor of the Sui dynasty in the 7th century, he mentioned it was from the Imperial Prince of the sun-rising country to the emperor of the sun-sinking country. It is said that this was the first time Japan was designated the sun-rising country.

National Flag

The Japanese national flag is called hinomaru, which literally means the sun’s circle. The design of the flag is very simple with a red circle symbolizing the rising sun on a white background. It is said that flags with this design were originally used in shrines and, from the 16th century onward, people started to use it for identification on Japanese ships. It was in 1999 that hinomaru became the national flag by law.

National Anthem

In 1999 Kimigayo, the song customarily sung as the Japanese anthem, was formally designated as the national anthem. The words of Kimigayo were derived from a waka poem in the Kokin-Wakashu and Wakanroeishu and the melody was composed by imperial court musician Hayashi Hiromori, and arranged by a German music teacher in the Meiji era. The words of Kimigayo, which express people’s wishes about a long-lasting imperial system, are written in ancient Japanese so that many children don’t know the meaning of the song even though they often sing it during some school ceremonies. Today some people think that Japan should have a new national anthem because the status of the emperor changed after the war.

National Bird

In 1947 the Japanese Bird Society designated the pheasant as the national bird. The pheasant is native to Japan and it doesn’t migrate, so it used to be seen in wooded areas or near grass-covered plains all year round. The male and female appear very different. The male has a red face, a longer tail, and dark-green neck, breast and stomach, while the female is a light-brown color with black spots and a shorter tail. It is also known as a bird which gives a sharp cry to predict earthquakes.

National Flower

Although many Japanese people think the cherry blossom, or “sakura” in Japanese, is the national flower, there is no flower designated as such. Sakura, however, has been by far the most beloved flower in Japan since ancient times. For example, in old waka poems the word, “hana” or flower, means nothing but sakura. Sakura was also considered an ideal flower for samurai warriors who hoped to live full lives and die at the peak of their life, without regret, like sakura. Today, many people enjoy having parties under the sakura blossoms and drinking sake.

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji, the highest peak in Japan, is 3,776 meters in height. It has been worshipped and loved by the Japanese people since ancient times for its noble and nearly perfect conical shape. It is classified as an active volcano whose last eruption took place in 1707. At that time, three inches of ash fell on Tokyo—at that time, Edo—about 120 kilometers away from the mountain. The name “Fuji” meant fire mountain in the aborigines’ language and it also means immortality.

The Origin of the Japanese People

It is still not clear where the Japanese originally came from. But it is believed that the origins of the Japanese are related to a primitive mongoloid race because most Japanese babies are born with blue spots called Mongolian marks at the base of their spine. People called Jomon are said to have entered Japan from the Eurasian Continent over the so-called “ice bridge” and gradually mixed with people from other parts of the Eurasian Continent and Southeast Asia who moved to Japan.


According to an old Chinese history text, The Wei Chronicle, there was a country called Yamatai in Japan in the end of the second century. Himiko was the name of the queen of Yamatai. Historians have long debated as to whether it was in Kyushu or in the Kinki area, but they have yet to reach an agreement. Many people think she may have been in someway connected to Amaterasu, the Goddess of the Sun, who was considered an imperial ancestor, because “Hinomiko”, meaning Imperial child of the sun, sounds like “Himiko.”


Kofun are burial mounds, below which are the graves of rulers or other men of power in former times, like the Egyptian pyramids. Their bodies are placed in stone rooms with their possessions. Many kofun were created during the 4th century.

Role and History of the Emperor

The status of the emperor is stated in the Japanese Constitution as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.” He carries out affairs of the state such as appointing the prime minister designated by the Diet and the convocation of the Diet as approved and advised by the Cabinet. His status is similar to that of the Queen of England. According to Japan’s oldest history book, written in the 8th century, the first emperor, Jimmu, was a descendant of Amaterasu, the Goddess of the Sun, and is said to have ascended to the Imperial Throne in 660 BC.

Family and Life of the Emperor

The present emperor Akihito was born in 1933 and married Michiko Shoda in 1959. Their marriage was very much applauded by the Japanese people because she was the first commoner’s daughter in modern history to join the imperial family. He became emperor in January, 1989 when his father Emperor Showa died. They have two sons and a daughter. Their oldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito was born in 1960 and married Masako Owada in 1993. Masako was a diplomat who graduated from Harvard University. Their marriage was broadcast all over the world, and many people were surprised that Masako would give up her career as a diplomat to enter such a totally different environment. They have a daughter, Princess Aiko, who was born in 2001. The emperor and empress’s second son, Prince Fumihito, was born in 1965 and married Kiko Kawasima in 1990. They have two daughters and a son, Prince Hisahito, born in 2006—the only male grandson of the emperor. The emperor’s daughter, Sayako, was born in 1969. She had to give up her status as a member of the imperial family when she married in 2005. They don’t have suffrage or eligibility to run for public office and are not included in the census register. The Imperial Palace is guarded by 300 imperial policemen. There are also about 1,050 Imperial Household Agents working for them in the palace.

Industrial Structure

In 2012, the percentages of Japanese workers engaged in primary, secondary, and tertiary industries were 3.8%, 24.5%, and 70.7%. After the war, a large part of the population shifted from the primary industries to the secondary industries during the high-growth period. More people engaged in tertiary industries as the nation’s economy stabilized. In 1960, as many as 32% of workers were engaged in primary industries and only 38% in tertiary industries.


Japan’s primary energy sources are petroleum, coal, natural gas, nuclear power, hydroelectric power, and new energy. Among them, petroleum accounted for about 47% of the total energy supply, and nuclear power 11.2% in 2006. 80% of the primary energy supply is imported and the dependence on imported petroleum is as high as more than 99%. After the oil crisis in the 70’s, the dependency rate on petroleum from the Middle East dropped to 70% in the 80’s, but increased again and rose to 90% in 2005. The government has been promoting various energy-conservation measures and is building oil-storage facilities to cope with emergencies. As a nation without its own energy sources, Japan’s electric power supply depends greatly on nuclear generation, which covers about 30% of the total electric power supply. However, since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2011, as of 2013, almost all of the existing 50 nuclear power reactors have been temporarily shut down. As a result, the amount of thermal power generation using imported natural gas has risen.

Automobile Industry

The automobile industry, which accounts for about 12.5% of all exports from Japan, is no doubt one of its most important industries. Japan produces about 11% of the automobiles produced annually in the world and is home to about 7.5% of the world’ s existing automobiles. Japan had been the top automobile manufacturer in the world for 15 years, with over 11 million automobiles produced annually until 1994, when total production fell to 10.5 million. This was due to the appreciation of the yen, which made exports difficult and slowed domestic sales. Since 2009, China has become the No. 1 automobile manufacturer in the world, with an annual production of 19 million cars. Japan now ranks No. 3 behind China and the U.S. But many Japanese automobile companies have shifted their production overseas to cope with the strong yen and cut production costs. As a result, the annual overseas production of Japanese cars, at 15.8 million cars, is greater than its domestic production, at 9.9 million cars. This means, if you include overseas production, the total annual production volume of Japanese cars is still the highest in the world.


The percentage of the population engaged in agriculture in Japan has been about 2% of the workforce since 2002, falling from 26.8% in 1960. The percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) accounted for by agricultural production also dropped from 9% to less than 1% during the same period. The importance of agriculture to the Japanese economy has rapidly diminished in Japan with economic growth. About 13% of the total land area is used for agriculture, but the area per farming household is only 1.8 hectares, less than one fortieth of that of Canada. Japanese farming households today make more income from non-agricultural sources, and their dependency rate on farming is as low as 18%. As of 2012, the annual consumption of rice in Japan is about 7.98 million tons or about 59 kilograms of rice per person. This statistic has been gradually decreasing.

GDP (Gross Domestic Product)

GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product. This is the total amount of added value of goods and services created by producers with operations in a country, including foreign-affiliated enterprises and foreign workers. From 1993, the Japanese government started to use GDP instead of GNP to measure its economic activity and condition, since Japanese overseas investments have increased in recent years.

Per Capita National Income

The per capita national income of Japanese increased rapidly up until the middle of the 90’s. Japan was then number three among member countries of the OECD, after Luxembourg and Switzerland. Due to the prolonged recession, Japan’s per capita national income dropped to $34,640 in 2010, which places Japan fifteenth among member countries of the OECD.

Major Imports and Exports

The No.1 main import to Japan is petroleum, accounting for 20% of all imports. And the import of natural gas has rapidly increased since the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station in 2011. Thus the total imports of energy sources account for 32% of all imports. The next largest import to Japan is machinery accounting for 19%. As for exports from Japan, the No.1 item is machinery, at 39% of all exports, which is followed by automobiles at 12.5%. The No.1 trading partner for both imports and exports is China, which accounts for 21.5% of the imports and 19.7% of the exports.

Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

One of the things that many foreign visitors want to do in Japan is to ride the Shinkansen, otherwise known as the “bullet train,” which was launched in 1964 as the world’s first high-speed train. Many rival trains have been introduced, including TGV, ICE and, HSR (technically assisted by Germany and Japan) in China. As for the speed, it is difficult for the Shinkansen to compete with them because its routes include many curves and tunnels. The Shinkansen’s top speed remains at 300 km/h. But the Shinkansen takes pride in being No.1 in its frequency of daily departures from Tokyo Station, which is every five minutes, and the average delay per day, which is only six seconds.

Ownership Ratio of Automobiles

Although cars are not commonly used for commuting in metropolitan areas, the ownership rate of passenger cars in Japan is one car per 2.3 persons, which is rather high for a country of its size. There are about 75 million automobiles including buses and trucks in total in Japan, which account for about 8% of the world’s total. In terms of the number of cars per unit area, Japan ranks first in the world, though its number of cars per capita is less than that of the U.S., Canada or Australia (2012).

Certificate of Parking Space

It may be surprising for foreigners to hear that a Japanese law requires people to present documents that prove they have a parking space for their car before they even buy one. Although people in Singapore and Indonesia have to buy a government permit before buying a car, it is only in Japan that people must arrange a parking space first. Since parking spaces in Tokyo are very expensive, some people rent cheaper ones one subway station away from their central destination.

Air Pollution

The air pollution caused by SOx and NOx has been a serious environmental problem in Japan since the 60’s, causing various “pollution-related” diseases such as asthma. In 1999, the Environmental Agency suggested the government employ a new standard of automobile tax, decided by the amount of a vehicle’s discharged pollutants. This new taxation system was applied in 2009. For example, there are lower tax rates for electric cars, hybrid cars, and new cars with less harmful emissions, and higher rates for diesel cars and older cars.


Dioxin is said to be the deadliest organic chemical ever produced by humans. It is a by-product in the manufacturing process of agricultural chemicals and is also created in waste incinerators. It remains in the water and earth, and when it enters the human body it can cause cancer and deformities. In Japan, dioxin contamination became a serious issue in the 90’s when they detected high levels of dioxin in some waste disposal sites and also discovered it contained in certain agricultural chemicals.

Waste Treatment

The total quantity of garbage produced in daily life has increased rapidly since the mid-80’s, reaching 52 million tons a year in 2001. But since then it has started to decrease gradually. Currently the quantity of garbage disposed of per day per person is 976 grams. About 16% of waste is recycled, 4% reclaimed, and about 80% is incinerated.

Bullying in Schools

Since the beginning of the 80’s, the reported number of bullying cases in schools, especially in junior high schools, has increased. In some cases, students who were bullied by classmates killed themselves and left notes to explain the reasons. People used to think that bullying was a social problem particular to Japan, where young people live under the severe pressure put on passing examinations, but similar cases have been reported recently in other industrialized nations such as Norway and England. Since 1995, the government has been dispatching clinical psychologists and psychiatrists to schools in order to solve this problem.


Foreign visitors to Japan often ask if Japan has any homeless people. They ask such a question partly because homeless people are seen less frequently in Japan than in big cities in other countries. There used to be over 25,000 homeless people in Japan in 2003 and their shacks covered with blue plastic sheets were often seen along riverbanks or parks in Tokyo. But by 2012, the number of them has decreased to about 9,500 in all Japan because now there are more self-support facilities and emergency shelters where they can stay.


The crime rate of Japan, which used to be known for being quite low, has risen recently. But it is still much lower than many other countries. The main reasons for this relatively low crime rate are that Japan’s wealth is distributed rather equally and that there are less drug-related and gun-related crimes here than in many other countries.