Japan Facts

Map of Japan

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Flag of Japan

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Japan is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean with dense cities, imperial palaces, mountainous national parks and thousands of shrines and temples. Shinkansen bullet trains connect the main islands of Kyushu (with Okinawa’s subtropical beaches), Honshu (home to Tokyo and Hiroshima’s atomic-bomb memorial) and Hokkaido (famous for skiing). Tokyo, the capital, is known for skyscrapers, shopping and pop culture.

Languages

More than 99 percent of the population speaks Japanese as their first language. Japanese is an agglutinative language distinguished by a system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary indicating the relative status of speaker and listener. Japanese writing uses kanji (Chinese characters) and two sets of kana (syllabaries based on cursive script and radical of kanji), as well as the Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals.

Besides Japanese, the Ryukyuan languages (Amami, Kunigami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama, Yonaguni), also part of the Japonic language family, are spoken in the Ryukyu Islands chain. Few children learn these languages, but in recent years the local governments have sought to increase awareness of the traditional languages. The Okinawan Japanese dialect is also spoken in the region. The Ainu language, which has no proven relationship to Japanese or any other language, is moribund, with only a few elderly native speakers remaining in Hokkaido. Public and private schools generally require students to take Japanese language classes as well as English language courses.

Population

Japan’s population is estimated at around 127 million, with 80% of the population living on Honshū. Japanese society is linguistically and culturally homogeneous, composed of 98.5% ethnic Japanese, with small populations of foreign workers. Zainichi Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Brazilians mostly of Japanese descent, Peruvians mostly of Japanese descent and Americans are among the small minority groups in Japan. In 2003, there were about 134,700 non-Latin American Western (not including more than 33,000 American military personnel and their dependents stationed throughout the country) and 345,500 Latin American expatriates, 274,700 of whom were Brazilians (said to be primarily Japanese descendants, or nikkeijin, along with their spouses), the largest community of Westerners.

The most dominant native ethnic group is the Yamato people; primary minority groups include the indigenous Ainu and Ryukyuan peoples, as well as social minority groups like the burakumin. There are persons of mixed ancestry incorporated among the Yamato, such as those from Ogasawara Archipelago. In 2014, foreign-born non-naturalized workers made up only 1.5% of the total population. Japan is widely regarded as ethnically homogeneous, and does not compile ethnicity or race statistics for Japanese nationals; however, at least one analysis describes Japan as a multiethnic society. Most Japanese continue to see Japan as a monocultural society. Former Japanese Prime Minister and current Finance Minister Tarō Asō described Japan as being a nation of “one race, one civilization, one language and one culture”, which drew criticism from representatives of ethnic minorities such as the Ainu.

Japan has the second longest overall life expectancy at birth of any country in the world: 83.5 years for persons born in the period 2010–2015. The Japanese population is rapidly aging as a result of a post–World War II baby boom followed by a decrease in birth rates. In 2012, about 24.1 percent of the population was over 65, and the proportion is projected to rise to almost 40 percent by 2050.

Currency

The Japanese Yen is the third most traded currency in the world, and the most heavily traded currency in Asia. Due to its relatively low interest rates, the Japanese Yen is often used in carry trades with the Australian Dollar and the US Dollar.

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Geography

Japan has a total of 6,852 islands extending along the Pacific coast of East Asia. The country, including all of the islands it controls, lies between latitudes 24° and 46°N, and longitudes 122° and 146°E. The main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. The Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa, are a chain to the south of Kyushu. Together they are often known as the Japanese archipelago.

About 73 percent of Japan is forested, mountainous, and unsuitable for agricultural, industrial, or residential use. As a result, the habitable zones, mainly located in coastal areas, have extremely high population densities. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

The islands of Japan are located in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire. They are primarily the result of large oceanic movements occurring over hundreds of millions of years from the mid-Silurian to the Pleistocene as a result of the subduction of the Philippine Sea Plate beneath the continental Amurian Plate and Okinawa Plate to the south, and subduction of the Pacific Plate under the Okhotsk Plate to the north. The Boso Triple Junction off the coast of Japan is a triple junction where the North American Plate, the Pacific Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate meets. Japan was originally attached to the eastern coast of the Eurasian continent. The subducting plates pulled Japan eastward, opening the Sea of Japan around 15 million years ago.

Japan has 108 active volcanoes. During the twentieth century several new volcanoes emerged, including Shōwa-shinzan on Hokkaido and Myōjin-shō off the Bayonnaise Rocks in the Pacific. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunami, occur several times each century. The 1923 Tokyo earthquake killed over 140,000 people. More recent major quakes are the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, a 9.0-magnitude quake which hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and triggered a large tsunami. Japan is substantially prone to earthquakes, tsunami and volcanoes due to its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. It has the 15th highest natural disaster risk as measured in the 2013 World Risk Index.

Climate

The climate of Japan is predominantly temperate, but varies greatly from north to south. Japan’s geographical features divide it into six principal climatic zones: Hokkaido, Sea of Japan, Central Highland, Seto Inland Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Ryukyu Islands. The northernmost zone, Hokkaido, has a humid continental climate with long, cold winters and very warm to cool summers. Precipitation is not heavy, but the islands usually develop deep snowbanks in the winter.

In the Sea of Japan zone on Honshu’s west coast, northwest winter winds bring heavy snowfall. In the summer, the region is cooler than the Pacific area, though it sometimes experiences extremely hot temperatures because of the foehn. The Central Highland has a typical inland humid continental climate, with large temperature differences between summer and winter seasons, as well as large diurnal variation; precipitation is light, though winters are usually snowy. The mountains of the Chūgoku and Shikoku regions shelter the Seto Inland Sea from seasonal winds, bringing mild weather year-round.

The Pacific coast features a humid subtropical climate that experiences milder winters with occasional snowfall and hot, humid summers because of the southeast seasonal wind. The Ryukyu Islands have a subtropical climate, with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very heavy, especially during the rainy season.

The average winter temperature in Japan is 5.1 °C (41.2 °F) and the average summer temperature is 25.2 °C (77.4 °F). The highest temperature ever measured in Japan 40.9 °C (105.6 °F) was recorded on August 16, 2007. The main rainy season begins in early May in Okinawa, and the rain front gradually moves north until reaching Hokkaido in late July. In most of Honshu, the rainy season begins before the middle of June and lasts about six weeks. In late summer and early autumn, typhoons often bring heavy rain.

Economy

Japan is the third largest national economy in the world, after the United States and China, in terms of nominal GDP, and the fourth largest national economy in the world, after the United States, China and India, in terms of purchasing power parity. As of 2014, Japan’s public debt was estimated at more than 200 percent of its annual gross domestic product, the largest of any nation in the world. In August 2011, Moody’s rating has cut Japan’s long-term sovereign debt rating one notch from Aa3 to Aa2 in line with the size of the country’s deficit and borrowing level. The large budget deficits and government debt since the 2009 global recession and followed by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused the rating downgrade. The service sector accounts for three quarters of the gross domestic product.

Japan has a large industrial capacity, and is home to some of the largest and most technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronics, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemical substances, textiles, and processed foods. Agricultural businesses in Japan cultivate 13 percent of Japan’s land, and Japan accounts for nearly 15 percent of the global fish catch, second only to China.[2] As of 2010, Japan’s labor force consisted of some 65.9 million workers. Japan has a low unemployment rate of around four percent. Some 20 million people, around 17 per cent of the population, were below the poverty line in 2007. Housing in Japan is characterized by limited land supply in urban areas.

Japan’s exports amounted to US$4,210 per capita in 2005. As of 2012, Japan’s main export markets were China (18.1 percent), the United States (17.8 percent), South Korea (7.7 percent), Thailand (5.5 percent) and Hong Kong (5.1 percent). Its main exports are transportation equipment, motor vehicles, iron and steel products, semiconductors and auto parts. Japan’s main import markets as of 2012 were China (21.3 percent), the US (8.8 percent), Australia (6.4 percent), Saudi Arabia (6.2 percent), United Arab Emirates (5.0 percent), South Korea (4.6 percent) and Qatar (4.0 percent).

Japan’s main imports are machinery and equipment, fossil fuels, foodstuffs (in particular beef), chemicals, textiles and raw materials for its industries. By market share measures, domestic markets are the least open of any OECD country. Junichirō Koizumi’s administration began some pro-competition reforms, and foreign investment in Japan has soared.

Japan ranks 27th of 189 countries in the 2014 Ease of doing business index and has one of the smallest tax revenues of the developed world. The Japanese variant of capitalism has many distinct features: keiretsu enterprises are influential, and lifetime employment and seniority-based career advancement are relatively common in the Japanese work environment. Japanese companies are known for management methods like “The Toyota Way”, and shareholder activism is rare.

Tourism

Japan attracted 19.73 million international tourists in 2015. Japan has 19 World Heritage Sites, including Himeji Castle, Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and Nara. Popular tourist attractions include Tokyo and Hiroshima, Mount Fuji, ski resorts such as Niseko in Hokkaido, Okinawa, riding the shinkansen and taking advantage of Japan’s hotel and hotspring network.

In inbound tourism, Japan was ranked 16th in the world in 2015. In 2009, the Yomiuri Shimbun published a modern list of famous sights under the name Heisei Hyakkei (the Hundred Views of the Heisei period). The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015 ranks Japan 9th out of 141 countries overall, which was the best in Asia. Japan gained relatively high scores in almost all aspects, especially health and hygiene, safety and security, cultural resources and business travel. In 2015, 19,737,409 foreign tourists visited Japan.

Neighbouring South Korea is Japan’s most important source of foreign tourists. In 2010, the 2.4 million arrivals made up 27% of the tourists visiting Japan. Chinese travelers are the highest spenders in Japan by country, spending an estimated 196.4 billion yen (US$2.4 billion) in 2011, or almost a quarter of total expenditure by foreign visitors, according to data from the Japan Tourism Agency.

The Japanese government hopes to receive 40 million foreign tourists every year by 2020.

Science and technology

Japan is a leading nation in scientific research, particularly in fields related to the natural sciences and engineering. The country ranks second among the most innovative countries in the Bloomberg Innovation Index. Nearly 700,000 researchers share a US$130 billion research and development budget. The amount spent on research and development relative to its gross domestic product third highest in the world. The country is a world leader in fundamental scientific research, having produced twenty-two Nobel laureates in either physics, chemistry or medicine, and three Fields medalists.

Japanese scientists and engineers have contributed to the advancement of agricultural sciences, electronics, industrial robotics, optics, chemicals, semiconductors, life sciences and various fields of engineering. Japan leads the world in robotics production and use, possessing more than 20% (300,000 of 1.3 million) of the world’s industrial robots as of 2013—though its share was historically even higher, representing one-half of all industrial robots worldwide in 2000. Japan boasts the third highest number of scientists, technicians, and engineers per capita in the world with 83 scientists, technicians, and engineers per 10,000 employees.

Health

In Japan, health care is provided by national and local governments. Payment for personal medical services is offered through a universal health insurance system that provides relative equality of access, with fees set by a government committee. People without insurance through employers can participate in a national health insurance program administered by local governments. Since 1973, all elderly persons have been covered by government-sponsored insurance.[268] Patients are free to select the physicians or facilities of their choice.

Culture

Japanese culture has evolved greatly from its origins. Contemporary culture combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America. Traditional Japanese arts include crafts such as ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, swords and dolls; performances of bunraku, kabuki, noh, dance, and rakugo; and other practices, the tea ceremony, ikebana, martial arts, calligraphy, origami, onsen, Geisha and games. Japan has a developed system for the protection and promotion of both tangible and intangible Cultural Properties and National Treasures. Nineteen sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, fifteen of which are of cultural significance.

Festivals

There are many festivals in Japan, which are called in Japanese as matsuri (祭) which celebrate annually. There are no specific festival days for all of Japan; dates vary from area to area, and even within a specific area, but festival days do tend to cluster around traditional holidays such as Setsubun or Obon. Festivals are often based around one event, with food stalls, entertainment, and carnival games to keep people entertained. Its usually sponsored by a local shrine or temple, though they can be secular.

Notable festival often feature processions which may include elaborate floats. Preparation for these processions is usually organised at the level of neighborhoods, or machi (町). Prior to these, the local kami may be ritually installed in mikoshi and paraded through the streets, such as Gion in Kyoto, and Hadaka in Okayama.

Sports

Traditionally, sumo is considered Japan’s national sport.[300] Japanese martial arts such as judo, karate and kendo are also widely practiced and enjoyed by spectators in the country. After the Meiji Restoration, many Western sports were introduced in Japan and began to spread through the education system. Japan hosted the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 1964. Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics twice: Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998. Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, making Tokyo the first Asian city to host the Olympics twice. Japan is the most successful Asian Rugby Union country, winning the Asian Five Nations a record 6 times and winning the newly formed IRB Pacific Nations Cup in 2011. Japan will host the 2019 IRB Rugby World Cup.

Baseball is currently the most popular spectator sport in the country. Japan’s top professional league, now known as Nippon Professional Baseball, was established in 1936. Since the establishment of the Japan Professional Football League in 1992, association football has also gained a wide following.[306] Japan was a venue of the Intercontinental Cup from 1981 to 2004 and co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with South Korea. Japan has one of the most successful football teams in Asia, winning the Asian Cup four times. Also, Japan recently won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011. Golf is also popular in Japan, as are forms of auto racing like the Super GT series and Formula Nippon. The country has produced one NBA player, Yuta Tabuse.

Transportation

Japan’s road spending has been extensive. Its 1.2 million kilometres (0.75 million miles) of paved road are the main means of transportation. As of April 2012 Japan has approximately 1,215,000 kilometres (134,000 miles) of roads made up of 1,022,000 kilometres (14,000 miles) of city, town and village roads, 129,000 kilometres (80,000 miles) of prefectural roads, 55,000 kilometres (34,000 miles) of general national highways and 8,050 kilometres (5,000 miles) of national expressways. The Foreign Press Center/Japan cites a total length of expressways at 7,641 kilometres (4,748 miles) (fiscal 2008). A single network of high-speed, divided, limited-access toll roads connects major cities on Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Hokkaido has a separate network, and Okinawa Island has a highway of this type. A single network of high-speed, divided, limited-access toll roads connects major cities and is operated by toll-collecting enterprises. New and used cars are inexpensive; car ownership fees and fuel levies are used to promote energy efficiency. However, at just 50 percent of all distance traveled, car usage is the lowest of all G8 countries.

Since privatisation in 1987, dozens of Japanese railway companies compete in regional and local passenger transportation markets; major companies include seven JR enterprises, Kintetsu, Seibu Railway and Keio Corporation. Some 250 high-speed Shinkansen trains connect major cities and Japanese trains are known for their safety and punctuality. Proposals for a new Maglev route between Tokyo and Osaka are at an advanced stage.

There are 175 airports in Japan; the largest domestic airport, Haneda Airport, is Asia’s second-busiest airport. The largest international gateways are Narita International Airport, Kansai International Airport and Chūbu Centrair International Airport. Nagoya Port is the country’s largest and busiest port, accounting for 10 percent of Japan’s trade value.

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