Japan Fact Sheet

Country and population

Japan is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, east of China and Korea. It has a surface area of 374,744 square kilometres (144,689 square miles), a coastline of 29,751 kilometres and a population of around 126.5 million (estimate July 2011), with a population density of 335 inhabitants per square kilometre. Most of Japan is mountainous and unsuitable for urbanization, this results in pockets with high population density. The highest point of Japan is Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san (富士山) in Japanese, an active volcano with a low risk of eruption, with 3,776 metres (12,388 feet).

More demographic facts:

  • Population growth: –0,3%
  • Fertility rate: 1.4 births/woman
  • Life expectancy: 85.72 years for women, 78.96 years for men, 82.25 years (total population)
  • Infant mortality: 2.78/1000 births
  • Maternal mortality: 6 deaths/100,000 live births (2008)
  • Health expenditures: 9.3% of GDP (2009)
  • Physicians density: 2.063 physicians/1,000 population (2006)
  • Education expenditures: 3.5% of GDP (2007)
  • Death rate: 10.09 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)
  • Median age: 44.8 years (in total, 43.2 years for men, 46.7 years for women (2011 est.)

Map of Japan:

The regions of Japan

More on the regions of Japan.

Name:

The name "Japan" (日本 Nihon or Nippon) originates from the Chinese language, and means "Origin of the Sun", or "Land of the Rising Sun", since to the Chinese Japan was where the sun appeared. In the old times, China was considered the centre of the world (the name China 中国, literally means "the central country"). The traditional name for Japan was Yamato, meaning "Place of mountains", but written as 大和 ("great harmony"). The Chinese word Ribenguo/Jihpenkuo was Europeanised to Jipang. In Chinese Wu language (modern Shanghainese) Japan is still pronounced as "Zeppen". The name "Japan" is thought to come from the word "Cipangu", which Marco Polo brought from China in the 13th century. After the discovery by the Portuguese in 1542, Japan was known in Europe as "The Japans", denoting the whole archipelago.

Flag:

The Japanese flag is called the "Hinomaru" (日の丸), meaning "the disc which is the sun", officially called Nisshōki (日章旗) and adopted as Japan's national flag in 1870. The red circle symbolizes the rising sun after the name of the country. The flag with the sun off-centre and rays eminating from it, is the Japanese Naval ensign. It is not, as commonly believed, the old national flag, nor is it the "war" flag.

The flags of Japan

The flag has a width/length ratio of 7:10. The sun, a circle centered on the flag, has a diameter of 3/5 the width. The sun actually is positioned 1/100th the length closer to the pole edge of the flag.

Capital:

Japan's capital city is Tokyo (東京 Tōkyō), meaning "eastern capital". It was given this name during the Meiji restoration, which started in 1868. It was previously known as Edo(江戸) or Yedo. Edo has been the capital of Japan since the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1600. Before this Kyoto (京都), which means "capital city", was the capital, and before that Nara (奈良).

Tokyo raw facts:

  • Population: 8,967,665 (23 wards, 2011), 13,185,502 (Tokyo Prefecture)
  • Population density: 6,027.2/square kilometre
  • Tokyo Prefecture consists of 23 special wards ("Metropolitan Tokyo"), 26 cities, 1 district, & 4 subprefectures
  • Seat of the Japanese government & the Imperial Household
  • Part of the largest metropolitan area (Greater Tokyo Area) with 25 million inhabitants
  • Largest metropolitan with a GDP of US$1.479 trillion
  • Hosts 47 of the Fortune Global 500 companies.
  • Started as a small fishing village.
  • Measures 90 kilometres in length (east to west) and 25 north to south.
  • Tokyo has a number of outlying islands, the farthest 1,850 kilometres from central Tokyo.

The archipelago:

Japan consists of four large islands and 6,852 smaller islands, 430 of which are inhabited. The four major islands are known as Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō, also the largest prefecture) as the northernmost, Honshu (本州 Honshū, "main province") the main island, Shikoku (四国, "four provinces) the smallest of the four, and Kyushu (九州 Kyūshū, "Nine Provinces") the southern most island of the four. The most famous of the smaller islands is Okinawa (沖縄) in the Ryukyu Islands, and is the southernmost part of Japan.

The Emperor:

The current Emperor is His Imperial Highness Emperor Akihito. He is married to Empress Michiko. Emperor Akihito is the son of the Showa Emperor, the name by which Emperor Hirohito is posthumously known. The Japanese emperor rules for lifetime, after which the rule passes on to his son (or daughter). Emperor Akihito started his rule in 1989 at which time a new era started: Heisei (平成, intended to mean "peace everywhere"). The Japanese Imperial house is the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world, dating back over 1,400 years. They are said to be direct descendents from the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, who, according to legend, created Japan with her brother Susano no Mikoto. The Emperor serves a ceremonial role only, and is not involved in the national decision making process.

What the Emperor actually does:

  • The Emperor is the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power (the Constitution of Japan, Article 1).
  • The Imperial Throne is dynastic and succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law passed by the Diet (Constitution, Article 2).
  • The Emperor performs only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in the Constitution, and has no powers related to government (Constitution, Article 4(1)).
  • The Emperor's acts in matters of State (Constitution, Articles 6, Article 7, and Article 4(2))
  • Appointment of the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
  • The advice and approval of the Cabinet is required for all acts of the Emperor in matters of State, and the Cabinet is responsible for them (Constitution, Article 3).
  • Promulgation of amendments of the Constitution, laws, cabinet orders, and treaties
  • Convocation of the Diet
  • Dissolution of the House of Representatives and proclamation of general election of members of the Diet
  • Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers
  • Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers
  • Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment, reprieve, and restoration of rights
  • Awarding of honours
  • Performance of ceremonial functions

The Imperial Family Gallery:

The wedding of HIH Emperor (then Crown Prince) Akihito and HIH Empress Michiko (nee Shoda), April 10, 1959 HIH Emperor Akihito and HIH Empress Michiko HIH Emperor Akihito and HIH Empress Michiko The Imperial Family: center l-r HIH Crown Princess Masako, HIH Crown Prince Naruhito, HIH Emperor Akihito, HIH Empress Michiko, back l-r HIH Princess Mako of Akishino, HIH Fumihito, The Prince Akishino, HIH Princess Akishino (nee Kawashima Kiko), front l-r Aiko, Princess Toshi, and Princess Kako of Akishino The Imperial Seal HIH Emperor Akihito and HIH Empress Michiko at a garden reception with HIH Crown Prince Naruhito, HIH Fumihito, The Prince Akishino, HIH Princess Akishino (nee Kawashima Kiko) HIH Emperor Akihito and HIH Empress Michiko after the emperor's successful bypass operation in February 2012.

Government:

Japan is a unitary parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. The current Prime Minister of Japan is a member of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Yoshihiko Noda who assumed office on September 2, 2011. Japan is divided in 47 administrative units known as prefectures (都道府県 todōfuken) There is one to (都): Tokyo-to (東京都); one do (道): Hokkaido (北海道); two fu (府): Kyoto-fu (京都府) and Osaka-fu (大阪府); and 43 ken (県). Though the names may be different, all administrative units are the same.

Legislature:

The National Diet of Japan ((国会 Kokkai) consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives (衆議院 Shūgiin, Lower House) and the House of Councillors (参議院 Sangiin, Upper House). The 480 members of the Lower House are elected for a four-year term and are more powerful than the 242 councillors, who are elected for a six-year term (121 members are subject to election every three years). The representatives are elected from 300 single-member constituencies (300 members in total), and 11 multi-member constituencies (180 members). Not only can the Lower House override votes of the Upper House with a two-thirds majority of members present, it can also insist on its decisions in case of disagreement between the two chambers on the budget, treaties, or designation of the prime minister.

Times and dates:

Japan's time zone is Greenwich Mean Time plus 9 hours, and has no daylight savings time. The Japanese use their own calendar system, in conjunction with the Gregorian Calendar. The Japanese calendar starts counting from year 1 at the start of rule of a new Emperor, but its year's ends and beginnings coincide with the Gregorian Calendar. Each year is divided in the 12 Gregorian months, which are simply counted as Month 1 through Month 12. Weekdays are given the names of the basic natural elements, as defined by the Chinese: Moon (月曜日 getsuyōbi Monday), Fire (火曜日 kayōbi Tuesday), Water (水曜日 suiyōbi Wednesday), Wood (木曜日 mokuyōbi Thursday), Metal (金曜日 kin'yōbi Friday), Earth (土曜日 doyōbi Saturday), and Sun (日曜日 nichiyōbi Sunday).

Language:

The national language is Japanese. The writing system is derived from Chinese. The Chinese characters were supplemented with a simplified syllabary known as hiragana, often used as a writing system for female writers. Later another syllabary, known as katakana, was introduced. All three writing systems are still used in Japanese, along with a romanised version of Japanese language, known as rōmaji.

Currency:

The Japanese currency is the Yen (JPY - ¥ or 円). One hundred yen roughly equal one dollar and 30 cents (USD 1.30), 84 pence (GBP 0.84) or one euro (EUR 1.02) in value (January 2012). The one-yen coin is said to be the only coin in the world that can float on water. In the year 2000 a 2000-yen banknote was introduced, however it is quite rare since it has not been reprinted and most electronic dispensers cannot process it.

Japanese banknotes and coins:

Japanese banknotes & coins

Climate:

Japan is situated in the temperate zone and has four distinct seasons. Due ti its wide latitude, it has a variety of climates: Hokkaido in the far north has a temperate cool climate, with moderate summers and cold winters, while Okinawa has a subtropic climate with hot and humid summers, and moderate winters. Japan's climate is influenced by two ocean currents, the warm Black Current and the cold Okhotsk Current. Japan is a rainy country, from late June to the middle of July is Japan's rainy season or tsuyu (梅雨, "plum rain"). September and October are known as the typhoon (台風 tai-fū) season.

Natural phenomena:

Japan rests on a geologically active area. The islands were in fact created from two tectonic plates pushing against each other and emerging from the ocean. These tectonic plates are the cause of the seismic and geologic activities.

There are 108 active volcanoes in Japan. The best known among these are Mount Fuji (about 100 kilometres south-west of Tokyo), and Mount Aso (阿蘇山 Aso-san) in Kyushu.

Earthquakes are an everyday occurance, though most of them are hardly noticeable tremours. The two most recent heavy earthquakes were the Great Hanshin Earthquake (阪神・淡路大震災 Hanshin Daishinsai) which occured in Kobe on January 17, 1995 and had a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale, claiming more than 5,500 lives, and the most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan, the Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai) on March 11, 2011, with a magnitude of 9.0 and the epicentre about 70 kilometres off the Tōhoku coast, triggering a tidal wave (津波 tsunami, "harbour wave") of up to 40 metres in height and claiming the lives of 15,842 people, with 3,485 still missing. The worst earthquake in world history on September 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake (関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai) laid waste to Tokyo. The earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.3, and subsequent fires claimed 142,800 lives.

Every year, Asia is plagued by a large number of typhoons, and Japan is no exception. Typhoons are violent storms that develop over the southern Pacific Ocean. The word "typhoon" comes from the Chinese "taifeng". Typhoons occur in greater numbers during September and October.

It's not all bad though, the geologic activities also produce a large number of natural hot springs which the Japanese have eagerly transformed into spa-like bathhouses. These bathhouses, known as onsen (温泉), can be found all over Japan.

Voltage:

The Japanese power net uses 100 Volt AC at 50Hz (in northeastern Japan) and 60Hz (in southwestern Japan). The plug has the same shape as US plugs, so electric appliances can safely be connected.

For European and Australian equipment a power converter is required. Please note that an adapter plug will not convert the voltage between 220 Volts and 100 Volts. Using these plugs without a power converter might damage equipment. When using a two-way power converter correct settings are essential, as mistakes could result in 484 Volts being served into a machine designed for only 100 Volts.

Japanese sockets & plugs

The video system is also similar to the US NTSC system. For European and Australian application it is recommended to check whether it is capable of playing and recording NTSC before buying video tapes in Japan, as these countries employ the PAL system. When buying videorecorders in Japan it should be noted that most cannot record or play PAL videos. DVDs are Region 2, as used in Europe. Region 2 DVDs will not play on Region 1 or 4 players as used in the United States and Australia. A region free player may be the solution when importing DVDs from Japan. DVD players are usually capable of playing both PAL and NTSC discs.

Religion:

There are two main religions in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism, and a small Christian community (about one percent of the population). The constitution guarantees freedom to follow any religion, as the state is prohibited from religious education and supporting any religion at all. This was not always the case. With the Meiji Restoration of 1868, a "creation myth" for Japan which had been growing in importance over the past century was placed at the centre of the new constitution, enshrining the Emperor as a God and direct descendant of Amaterasu the sun goddess and setting Shinto as the State religion.

Until this time, Shinto and Buddhism had lived side by side, often with temples and shrines mixed up on the same sites. The Japanese tended to have a Shinto wedding and Buddhist funeral as most people practiced both religions - something that continues today. The Meiji Restoration demanded that the two be separated, and many temples were forcibly moved to other sites at this time, although a few do remain on mixed locations.

Most people today claim to be Buddhist (about 90 million or 75% of the population). Buddhism originated in India, and the form in Japan was imported via China and Korea around the sixth century. With imperial support, it spread quickly. Buddhism preaches that by personal development (achieved in different ways according to each sect) the follower can develop a true understanding of the relative nature of the self and the universe, and break free from the cycle of rebirth to live forever in nirvana - that is, achieve the state of enlightenment that is Buddhahood. In Japan, Buddhism took many forms, the most famous of which is probably Zen, but most preach that all people can reach salvation, as with other forms of Mahayana Buddhism.

Shinto developed from local Japanese animistic beliefs. Shrines are built to local gods and goddesses, and ancestors are worshipped. Many of Japan's festivals are tied to Shinto beliefs, such as Obon, the most important date of the Japanese festivals calendar.

Christianity was introduced in 1549 by Saint Francis Xavier, but was prohibited shortly after as the shogunate felt it was a divisive influence that could upset the status quo. Persecutions followed, and many followers were tortured and put to death.

Confucianism has also had an influence on Japanese thought, more as an ethical or moral tradition than as a religious system. Introduced at about the same time as Buddhism and writing to Japan, the Japanese incorporated elements in their moral system in, as ever, a generally eclectic sense.

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