Japan (/əˈpæn/; Japanese: 日本, Nippon [ɲippoꜜɴ] (listen) or Nihon [ɲihoꜜɴ] (listen))[lower-alpha 2] is an island country located off the eastern coast of the Asian continent. It is bordered by the Sea of Japan to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east, and extends more than 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) from the Sea of Okhotsk in the northeast to the East China Sea in the southwest. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan encompasses a stratovolcanic archipelago of 6,852 islands; five main islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa) comprise 97% of the country's land area of 377,975 square kilometers (145,937 sq mi) and more than 99% of its population.


  • 日本国 (Japanese)
  • Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku
Imperial Seal
Anthem: "Kimigayo" (君が代)
(English: "His Imperial Majesty's Reign")[1]
Government Seal of Japan
5-7 Paulownia (五七桐, go-shichi kiri)
Japanese territory in dark green; claimed but uncontrolled territory in light green
and largest city
35°41′N 139°46′E
National languageJapanese
Ethnic groups
GovernmentUnitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Shinzō Abe
LegislatureNational Diet
House of Councillors
House of Representatives
 National Foundation Day
February 11, 660 BC
November 29, 1890
May 3, 1947
April 28, 1952
377,975 km2 (145,937 sq mi)[3] (61st)
 2019 estimate
126,150,000[4] (11th)
 2015 census
334/km2 (865.1/sq mi) (24th)
GDP (PPP)2020 estimate
$5.888 trillion[6] (4th)
 Per capita
$46,827 (28th)
GDP (nominal)2020 estimate
$5.413 trillion[6] (3rd)
 Per capita
$43,043 (22nd)
Gini (2015)33.9[7]
medium · 78th
HDI (2018) 0.915[8]
very high · 19th
CurrencyJapanese yen (¥) (JPY)
Time zoneUTC+09:00 (JST)
Driving sideleft
Calling code+81
ISO 3166 codeJP
Internet TLD.jp
Japanese name

Japan is officially divided into 47 prefectures and traditionally into eight regions. About three-fourths of the country's terrain is mountainous, with much of the remainder made up by low-lying coastal plains. As a result, Japan is among the most densely populated and urbanized countries in the world, with more than 90% of its population living in urban areas. The largest of these is the Greater Tokyo Area centered on the capital city of Tokyo, which is the most populous metropolitan area in the world and home to more than 38 million people. Japan is the eleventh most populous country in the world with a population of 126.2 million, of which 97.8% are ethnically Japanese.

The kanji (or "Chinese characters") that make up the name of Japan in the Japanese language mean "sun origin"; in the Western world, the country is sometimes known by the sobriquet "Land of the Rising Sun". Periods of influence from other regions, primarily China, followed by periods of isolation, particularly from Western Europe, have characterized the history of Japan.

While archaeological evidence indicates that Japan was inhabited as early as the Upper Paleolithic period, the first written mentions of the country appear in Chinese texts from the first century AD. Between the fourth and ninth centuries, the kingdoms of Japan became gradually unified under an Emperor and imperial court based in Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto). Beginning in the twelfth century, however, political power came to be held by a succession of military dictators (shōgun), feudal lords (daimyō), and a class of warrior nobility (samurai). After a century-long period of civil war, the country was reunified in 1603 under the Tokugawa shogunate, which enacted a policy of foreign isolationism. This period ended in 1854 when a United States fleet forced Japan to open to the West, leading to the fall of the shogunate and the restoration of imperial power in 1868. In the resulting Meiji period, Japan adopted a Western-style government and pursued a program of industrialization and modernization, which transformed the feudal society into a great power. By 1920, Japan had established a colonial empire in East Asia after decisive victories in the First Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War. In 1937, the Empire of Japan invaded China, beginning the Second Sino-Japanese War; in 1940, it signed the Tripartite Pact and entered World War II the following year on the side of the Axis powers. After suffering major defeats in the Pacific and the atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, coming under a seven-year occupation and adopting a post-war constitution. Japan has since maintained a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with the Emperor as the head of state and an elected legislature known as the National Diet.

Today, Japan is a member of numerous international institutions, including the United Nations, the OECD, the G7, and the G20. Though it has officially renounced its right to declare war, Japan maintains a modern military for peacekeeping and self-defense, which has been ranked as the world's fourth most powerful. Following World War II, Japan experienced record economic growth, becoming the world's second-largest economy by 1980. As of 2019, Japan's economy is the world's third-largest by nominal GDP and fourth-largest by purchasing power parity; it is also the fourth-largest importer and exporter and an international leader in the automotive and electronics industries. Japan is categorized as "very high" on the Human Development Index, and its population enjoys high levels of tertiary education and the highest life expectancy in the world, though it is currently is experiencing a projected decline due to aging and low birth rates. Culturally, Japan is renowned around the world for its art, cuisine, cinema, music, and popular culture, including its prominent comics, animation, and video game industries.


The Japanese word for Japan is 日本, which is pronounced Nihon or Nippon. The character nichi () means "sun" or "day"; hon () means "base" or "origin".[9] The compound therefore means "origin of the sun" and is the source of the popular Western epithet "Land of the Rising Sun".[10]

The "King of Na gold seal", said to have been granted to Na king of Wa (Japan) by Emperor Guangwu of Han in 57 CE. The seal reads "漢委奴國王". Tokyo National Museum

The earliest record of the name Nihon appears in the Chinese Old Book of Tang. Prior to the adoption of Nihon, other terms such as Yamato (大和, or "Great Wa") and Wakoku (倭国) were used. The term Wa () is a homophone of Wo (pronounced "Wa" by the Japanese), which has been used by the Chinese as a designation for the Japanese as early as the third century Three Kingdoms period. However, the Japanese disliked some connotation of Wa (which has been associated in China with concepts like "dwarf" or "pygmy"), and it was therefore replaced with the substitute character Wa (), meaning "togetherness, harmony".[11][12]

The English word Japan possibly derives from the historical Chinese pronunciation of 日本. Japan was recorded by Marco Polo as Cipangu.[13] The old Malay word for Japan, Japun or Japang, was borrowed from a southern coastal Chinese dialect[14] and was encountered by Portuguese traders in Southeast Asia in the 16th century.[15] These Early Portuguese traders then brought the word to Europe.[16] The first record of this name in English is in a book published in 1577 and spelled Giapan, in a translation of a 1565 letter written by Portuguese Jesuit Luís Fróis.[17][18]


Prehistoric to classical history

Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇, Jinmu-tennō), the first Emperor of Japan dated as 660 BCE.[19][20][21] In modern Japan his accession is marked as National Foundation Day on February 11.

A Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC constitutes the first known habitation of the Japanese archipelago. This was followed from around 14,000 BC (the start of the Jōmon period) by a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture characterized by pit dwelling and rudimentary agriculture.[22] Jōmon pottery and decorated clay vessels from this period are some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world.[23][24] Around 300 BC, the Yayoi people began to enter the Japanese islands, intermingling with the Jōmon.[25] The Yayoi period, starting around 500 BC, saw the introduction of practices like wet-rice farming,[26] a new style of pottery[27] and metallurgy, introduced from China and Korea.[28]

Japan first appears in written history in the Chinese Book of Han.[29] According to the Records of the Three Kingdoms, the most powerful kingdom on the archipelago during the third century was called Yamataikoku. Buddhism was introduced to Japan from Baekje, Korea and was promoted by Prince Shōtoku, but the subsequent development of Japanese Buddhism was primarily influenced by China.[30] Despite early resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class and gained widespread acceptance beginning in the Asuka period (592–710).[31]

After defeat in the Battle of Baekgang by the Chinese Tang empire, the Japanese government devised and implemented the far-reaching Taika Reforms. It nationalized all land in Japan, to be distributed equally among cultivators, and ordered the compilation of a household registry as the basis for a new system of taxation.[32] The Jinshin War of 672, a bloody conflict between Prince Ōama and his nephew Prince Ōtomo, became a major catalyst for further administrative reforms.[33] These reforms culminated with the promulgation of the Taihō Code, which consolidated existing statutes and established the structure of the central and subordinate local governments.[32] These legal reforms created the ritsuryō state, a system of Chinese-style centralized government that remained in place for half a millennium.[33]

The Nara period (710–784) marked an emergence of the Japanese state centered on the Imperial Court in Heijō-kyō (modern Nara) and is characterized by the appearance of a nascent literature as well as the development of Buddhist-inspired art and architecture.[34] The smallpox epidemic of 735–737 is believed to have killed as much as one-third of Japan's population.[35] In 784, Emperor Kanmu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō, then to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto) in 794. This marked the beginning of the Heian period (794–1185), during which a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged. Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of Japan's national anthem "Kimigayo" were written during this time.[36]

Feudal era

Samurai warriors facing Mongols during the Mongol invasions of Japan; Suenaga, 1293

Japan's feudal era was characterized by the emergence and dominance of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. In 1185, following the defeat of the Taira clan in the Genpei War, samurai Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed shōgun by Emperor Go-Toba. In 1192, the shōgun Yoritomo and the Minamoto clan established a feudal military government in Kamakura.[37] After Yoritomo's death, the Hōjō clan came to power as regents for the shōguns. The Zen school of Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class.[38] The Kamakura shogunate repelled Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, but was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo. Go-Daigo was himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336. Ashikaga Takauji established the Ashikaga shogunate in Muromachi, beginning the Muromachi period (1336–1573). The culture based on Zen Buddhism (the art of Miyabi) evolved to Higashiyama Culture. However, the Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyōs) and a civil war (the Ōnin War) began in 1467, opening the century-long Sengoku period ("Warring States").[39]

During the 16th century, Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries reached Japan for the first time, initiating direct commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West. This allowed Oda Nobunaga to obtain European technology and firearms, which he used to conquer many other daimyōs. His consolidation of power began what was known as the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1573–1603). After Nobunaga was assassinated in 1582 by Akechi Mitsuhide, his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the nation in 1590 and launched two unsuccessful invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597.

Tokugawa Ieyasu served as regent for Hideyoshi's son and used his position to gain political and military support. When open war broke out, Ieyasu defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Tokugawa Ieyasu was appointed shōgun by Emperor Go-Yōzei in 1603 and established the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo (modern Tokyo).[40] The shogunate enacted measures including buke shohatto, as a code of conduct to control the autonomous daimyōs,[41] and in 1639 the isolationist sakoku ("closed country") policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period (1603–1868).[42] Modern Japan's economic growth began in this period, resulting in roads and water transportation routes, as well as financial instruments such as futures contracts, banking and insurance of the Osaka rice brokers.[43] The study of Western sciences, known as rangaku, continued through contact with the Dutch enclave at Dejima in Nagasaki. The Edo period also gave rise to kokugaku ("national studies"), the study of Japan by the Japanese.[44]

Modern era

Emperor Meiji (1868–1912), in whose name imperial rule was restored at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate

On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the "Black Ships" of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. Similar treaties with Western countries in the Bakumatsu period brought economic and political crises. The resignation of the shōgun led to the Boshin War and the establishment of a centralized state nominally unified under the Emperor (the Meiji Restoration).[45] Japan adopted Western political, judicial and military institutions and Western cultural influences. The Cabinet organized the Privy Council, introduced the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet. During the Meiji period, Japan expanded economically with the embrace of the market economy, and emerged as the most developed nation in Asia during a period of growth that lasted until the Great Depression.[46][47][48] Although France and Britain showed some interest, the European powers largely ignored Japan and instead concentrated on the much greater attractions of China.[49] After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan gained control of Taiwan, Korea and the southern half of Sakhalin.[50] Japan's population grew from 35 million in 1873 to 70 million by 1935.[51]

The early 20th century saw a period of Taishō democracy (1912–1926) accompanied by expansionism and militarization. In World War I, Japan joined the Allies and captured German possessions, and made advances into China. The 1920s saw a political shift towards statism, the passing of laws against political dissent and a series of attempted coups. This process accelerated during the 1930s, spawning a number of new Radical Nationalist groups that shared a hostility to liberal democracy and a dedication to expansion in Asia. In 1931 Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria and following international condemnation of this occupation, it quit the League of Nations in 1933. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and the 1940 Tripartite Pact made it one of the Axis Powers.

Japanese officials surrendering to the Allies on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, ending World War II

The Empire of Japan invaded other parts of China in 1937, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). The Imperial Japanese Army swiftly captured the capital Nanjing and conducted the Nanjing Massacre.[52] In 1940, the Empire invaded French Indochina, after which the United States placed an oil embargo on Japan.[53] On December 7–8, 1941, Japanese forces carried out surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, British forces in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong and declared war on the United States and the British Empire, beginning World War II in the Pacific. After Allied victories during the next four years, which culminated in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender.[54] The war cost Japan, its colonies, China and the war's other combatants tens of millions of lives and left much of Japan's industry and infrastructure destroyed. The Allies (led by the United States) repatriated millions of ethnic Japanese from colonies and military camps throughout Asia, largely eliminating the Japanese empire and its influence over its conquered territories.[55] The Allies also convened the International Military Tribunal for the Far East to prosecute some senior generals for war crimes.

In 1947, during the post-war Shōwa period, Japan adopted a new constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied occupation ended with the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952[56] and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Japan later achieved rapid growth to become the second-largest economy in the world. The period of overall real economic growth from the 1960s to the 1980s has been called the Japanese post-war economic miracle: it averaged 7.5 percent in the 1960s and 1970s, and 3.2 percent in the 1980s and early 1990s.[57] This ended in the mid-1990s during the "Lost Decade" due to after-effects of the Japanese asset price bubble and government policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets. Efforts to revive economic growth were unsuccessful and further hampered by the global slowdown in 2000.[58] In the early 21st century, positive growth has signaled a gradual economic recovery.[59] On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered one of the largest earthquakes in its recorded history; this triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, one of the worst disasters in the history of nuclear power.[60] On May 1, 2019, after the historic abdication of Emperor Akihito, his son Naruhito became the new Emperor, ending the Heisei Imperial Era and beginning the Reiwa Era.[61]


The Japanese archipelago as seen from satellite

Japan comprises 6,852 islands extending along the Pacific coast. It stretches over 3,000 km (1,900 mi) from the Sea of Okhotsk to the Philippine Sea in the Pacific Ocean.[62] The five main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa.[63] The Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa, are a chain to the south of Kyushu. The Nanpō Islands are south and east of the main islands of Japan. Together they are often known as the Japanese archipelago.[64] As of 2019, Japan's territory is 377,975.24 km2 (145,937.06 sq mi).[3] Japan has the sixth longest coastline in the world (29,751 km (18,486 mi)). Due to its many far-flung outlying islands, Japan has the eighth largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world covering 4,470,000 km2 (1,730,000 sq mi).[65]

About 73 percent of Japan is forested, mountainous and unsuitable for agricultural, industrial or residential use.[58][66] 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.[67] Approximately 0.5% of Japan's total area is reclaimed land (umetatechi). Late 20th and early 21st century projects include artificial islands such as Chubu Centrair International Airport in Ise Bay, Kansai International Airport in the middle of Osaka Bay, Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise and Wakayama Marina City.[68]

Sakurajima is the most active volcano in Japan

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 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. 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.[69] 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.[70] The 1923 Tokyo earthquake killed over 140,000 people.[71] More recent major quakes are the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, which triggered a large tsunami.[60] Japan is substantially prone to earthquakes, tsunami and volcanoes due to its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire.[72] It has the 15th highest natural disaster risk as measured in the 2013 World Risk Index.[73]


Autumn maple leaves (momiji) at Kongōbu-ji on Mount Kōya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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.[74] 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.[74] 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 and Nanpō Islands have a subtropical climate, with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very heavy, especially during the rainy season.[74]

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).[75] The highest temperature ever measured in Japan, 41.1 °C (106.0 °F), was recorded on July 23, 2018.[76] The main rainy season begins in early May in Okinawa, and the rain front gradually moves north until reaching Hokkaido in late July. In late summer and early autumn, typhoons often bring heavy rain.[75]


The Japanese macaques at Jigokudani hot spring

Japan has nine forest ecoregions which reflect the climate and geography of the islands. They range from subtropical moist broadleaf forests in the Ryūkyū and Bonin Islands, to temperate broadleaf and mixed forests in the mild climate regions of the main islands, to temperate coniferous forests in the cold, winter portions of the northern islands.[77] Japan has over 90,000 species of wildlife, including the brown bear, the Japanese macaque, the Japanese raccoon dog, the large Japanese field mouse, and the Japanese giant salamander.[78] A large network of national parks has been established to protect important areas of flora and fauna as well as thirty-seven Ramsar wetland sites.[79][80] Four sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their outstanding natural value.[81]


In the period of rapid economic growth after World War II, environmental policies were downplayed by the government and industrial corporations; as a result, environmental pollution was widespread in the 1950s and 1960s. Responding to rising concern about the problem, the government introduced several environmental protection laws in 1970.[82] The oil crisis in 1973 also encouraged the efficient use of energy because of Japan's lack of natural resources.[83]

As of 2015, more than 40 coal-fired power plants are planned or under construction in Japan, following the switching-off of Japan's nuclear fleet following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Prior to this incident, Japan's emissions had been on the decline, largely due to nuclear power plants creating no emissions. Japan ranks 20th in the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, which measures a nation's commitment to environmental sustainability.[84] As the host and signatory of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Japan is under treaty obligation to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and to take other steps to curb climate change.[85] Current environmental issues include urban air pollution (NOx, suspended particulate matter, and toxics), waste management, water eutrophication, nature conservation, climate change, chemical management and international co-operation for conservation.[86]


Japan is a constitutional monarchy and sovereign state whereby the Emperor is a ceremonial figurehead. Executive power is wielded chiefly by the Prime Minister and his cabinet, while sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people.[87] The Constitution of Japan, adopted in 1947, is the oldest unamended constitution in the world.[88]

The National Diet Building, seat of both houses of the National Diet of Japan.

Japan's legislative body is the National Diet, a bicameral body comprising the lower House of Representatives with 465 seats, elected by popular vote every four years or when dissolved; and the upper House of Councillors with 242 seats, whose popularly elected members serve six-year terms. There is universal suffrage for those over 18 years of age,[89] with a secret ballot for all elected offices.[87] The Diet is currently dominated by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with the largest opposition party being the social-liberal Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP). The LDP has enjoyed near-continuous electoral success since 1955. As of July 2019, it holds 285 seats in the lower house and 113 seats in the upper house. The Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government and is appointed by the Emperor after being designated by the Diet from among its members. The Prime Minister is the head of the Cabinet, and appoints and dismisses the Ministers of State. Following the LDP's victory in the 2012 general election, Shinzō Abe replaced Yoshihiko Noda as the Prime Minister on December 26, 2012.[90]

Historically influenced by Chinese law, the Japanese legal system developed independently during the Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki.[91] However, since the late 19th century the judicial system has been largely based on the civil law of Europe, notably Germany. For example, in 1896, the Japanese government established a civil code based on a draft of the German Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, with the code remaining in effect with post–World War II modifications.[92] Statutory law originates in Japan's legislature and has the rubber stamp of the Emperor. Japan's court system is divided into four basic tiers: the Supreme Court and three levels of lower courts.[93] The main body of Japanese statutory law is called the Six Codes.[94]

Administrative divisions

Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, each overseen by an elected governor, legislature and administrative bureaucracy.[95] Each prefecture is further divided into cities, towns and villages.[96]

HokkaidoTōkyō MetropolisOkinawa PrefectureTōkyō Metropolis

Foreign relations

Japan is a member of both the G7 and the G20

A member state of the United Nations since 1956, Japan has served as a non-permanent Security Council member for a total of 20 years. It is one of the G4 nations seeking permanent membership in the Security Council.[97] Japan is a member of the G7, APEC, and "ASEAN Plus Three", and is a participant in the East Asia Summit. Japan signed a security pact with Australia in March 2007[98] and with India in October 2008.[99] It is the world's fifth largest donor of official development assistance, donating US$9.2 billion in 2014.[100] In 2017, Japan had the fifth largest diplomatic network in the world.[101]

Japan has close economic and military relations with the United States; the US-Japan security alliance acts as the cornerstone of the nation's foreign policy.[102] The United States is a major market for Japanese exports and the primary source of Japanese imports, and is committed to defending the country, having military bases in Japan for partially that purpose.[103]

Japan's relationship with South Korea has been strained due to Japan's treatment of Koreans during Japanese colonial rule, particularly over the issue of comfort women.[104] In December 2015, Japan agreed to settle the comfort women dispute with South Korea by issuing a formal apology and paying money to the surviving comfort women. Today, South Korea and Japan have a stronger and more economically-driven relationship. Since the 1990s, the Korean Wave has created a large fanbase in East Asia: Japan is the number one importer of Korean music (K-pop), television (K-dramas), and films.[105] Most recently, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the 2017 G20 Summit to discuss the future of their relationship and specifically how to cooperate on finding solutions for North Korean aggression in the region.[106]

Japan is engaged in several territorial disputes with its neighbors. Japan contests Russia's control of the Southern Kuril Islands, which were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945.[107] South Korea's control of the Liancourt Rocks is acknowledged but not accepted as they are claimed by Japan.[108] Japan has strained relations with China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands[109] and the status of Okinotorishima.


JMSDF Kongō class destroyer

Japan maintains one of the largest military budgets of any country in the world.[110] The country's military (the Japan Self-Defense Forces – JSDF) is restricted by Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which renounces Japan's right to declare war or use military force in international disputes. Japan is the highest-ranked Asian country in the Global Peace Index.[111]

The military is governed by the Ministry of Defense, and primarily consists of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). The JMSDF is a regular participant in RIMPAC maritime exercises.[112] The forces have been recently used in peacekeeping operations; the deployment of troops to Iraq marked the first overseas use of Japan's military since World War II.[113] The Japan Business Federation has called on the government to lift the ban on arms exports so that Japan can join multinational projects such as the Joint Strike Fighter.[114]

The Government of Japan has been making changes to its security policy which include: the establishment of the National Security Council (NSC), the adoption of the National Security Strategy (NSS), and the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG).[115] In May 2014, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe said Japan wanted to shed the passiveness it has maintained since the end of World War II and take more responsibility for regional security.[116] Recent tensions, particularly with North Korea,[117] have reignited the debate over the status of the JSDF and its relation to Japanese society.[118] New military guidelines, announced in 2010, will direct the JSDF away from its Cold War focus on the former Soviet Union to China.[119]

Domestic law enforcement

Map of the division of jurisdiction between the 11 Coast Guard regions

Domestic security in Japan is provided mainly by the prefectural police departments, under the oversight of the National Police Agency,[120] and supervised by the Criminal Affairs Bureau of the National Police Agency.[121] As the central coordinating body for the Prefectural Police Departments, the National Police Agency is administered by the National Public Safety Commission.[122] The Special Assault Team comprises national-level counter-terrorism tactical units that cooperate with territorial-level Anti-Firearms Squads and Counter-NBC Terrorism Squads.[123]

Additionally, there is the Japan Coast Guard which guards territorial waters. The coast guard patrols the sea surrounding Japan and uses surveillance and control countermeasures against smuggling, marine environmental crime, poaching, piracy, spy ships, unauthorized foreign fishing vessels, and illegal immigration.[124]

The Firearm and Sword Possession Control Law strictly regulates the civilian ownership of guns, swords and other weaponry.[125][126] According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, among the member states of the UN that report statistics, the incidence rate of violent crimes such as murder, abduction, forced sexual intercourse and robbery is very low in Japan.[127][128][129][130][131]


The Tokyo Stock Exchange, one of the largest stock exchanges in Asia[132]

Japan is the third largest national economy in the world, after the United States and China, in terms of nominal GDP,[133] and the fourth largest national economy in the world, after the United States, China and India, in terms of purchasing power parity. As of 2016, Japan's public debt was estimated at more than 230 percent of its annual gross domestic product, the largest of any nation in the world.[134] The service sector accounts for three quarters of the gross domestic product.[135]

As of 2016, Japan's labor force consisted of some 65.9 million workers.[58] Japan has a low unemployment rate of around four percent. Some 20 million people, around 17 percent of the population, were below the poverty line in 2007.[136] Housing in Japan is characterized by limited land supply in urban areas.[137]

Japan's exports amounted to US$4,210 per capita in 2005. As of 2014, Japan's main export markets were the United States (20.2 percent), China (17.5 percent), South Korea (7.1 percent), Hong Kong (5.6 percent) and Thailand (4.5 percent). Its main exports are transportation equipment, motor vehicles, iron and steel products, semiconductors and auto parts.[58] Japan's main import markets as of 2015 were China (24.8 percent), the United States (10.5 percent), Australia (5.4 percent) and South Korea (4.1 percent).[58] 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.[138] Junichirō Koizumi's administration began some pro-competition reforms, and foreign investment in Japan has soared.[139]

Japan ranks 34th of 190 countries in the 2018 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.[138][140] Japanese companies are known for management methods like "The Toyota Way", and shareholder activism is rare.[141] Japan also has a large cooperative sector, with three of the ten largest cooperatives in the world located in Japan, including the largest consumer cooperative and the largest agricultural cooperative in the world.[142]

Today, Japan ranks highly for competitiveness and economic freedom. It is ranked sixth in the Global Competitiveness Report for 2015–2016.[143][144]

Agriculture and fishery

A rice paddy in Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture

The Japanese agricultural sector accounts for about 1.4% of the total country's GDP.[145] Only 12% of Japan's land is suitable for cultivation.[146][147] Due to this lack of arable land, a system of terraces is used to farm in small areas.[148] This results in one of the world's highest levels of crop yields per unit area, with an overall agricultural self-sufficiency rate of about 50% on fewer than 56,000 square kilometers (14,000,000 acres) cultivated. Japan's small agricultural sector, however, is also highly subsidized and protected, with government regulations that favor small-scale cultivation instead of large-scale agriculture as practiced in North America.[146] Rice, the most protected crop, is subject to tariffs of 777.7%.[147][149] There has been a growing concern about farming as the current farmers are aging with a difficult time finding successors.[150] Japan is the second-largest agricultural product importer in the world.

In 1996, Japan ranked fourth in the world in tonnage of fish caught.[151] Japan captured 4,074,580 metric tons of fish in 2005, down from 4,987,703 tons in 2000.[152] In 2003, the total aquaculture production was predicted at 1,301,437 tonnes.[153] In 2010, Japan's total fisheries production was 4,762,469 fish.[154] Japan maintains one of the world's largest fishing fleets and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch,[155] prompting some claims that Japan's fishing is leading to depletion in fish stocks such as tuna.[156] Japan has also sparked controversy by supporting quasi-commercial whaling.[157]


A plug-in hybrid car manufactured by Toyota, one of the world's largest carmakers – Japan is the third-largest maker of automobiles in the world.[158]

Japan has a large industrial capacity, and is home to some of the largest and most technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemical substances, textiles, and processed foods. Japan's industrial sector makes up approximately 27.5% of its GDP.[159] Some major Japanese industrial companies include Canon Inc., Toshiba and Nippon Steel.[159][160]

Japan is the third largest automobile producer in the world, and is home to Toyota, the world's largest automobile company.[158][161] Despite facing competition from South Korea and China, the Japanese shipbuilding industry is expected to remain strong due to an increased focus on specialized, high-tech designs.[162]


Japan's service sector accounts for about three-quarters of its total economic output.[145] Banking, insurance, real estate, retailing, transportation, and telecommunications are all major industries, with companies such as Mitsubishi UFJ, Mizuho, NTT, TEPCO, Nomura, Mitsubishi Estate, ÆON, Mitsui Sumitomo, Softbank, JR East, Seven & I, KDDI and Japan Airlines listed as some of the largest in the world.[163][164] Four of the five most circulated newspapers in the world are Japanese newspapers.[165] The six major keiretsus are the Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Fuyo, Mitsui, Dai-Ichi Kangyo and Sanwa Groups.[166]


Japan attracted 19.73 million international tourists in 2015[167] and increased by 21.8% to attract 24.03 million international tourists in 2016.[168][169][170] In 2008, the Japanese government has set up Japan Tourism Agency and set the initial goal to increase foreign visitors to 20 million in 2020. In 2016, having met the 20 million target, the government has revised up its target to 40 million by 2020 and to 60 million by 2030.[171][172] For inbound tourism, Japan was ranked 16th in the world in 2015.[173] Japan is one of the least visited countries in the OECD on a per capita basis,[174] and it was by far the least visited country in the G7 until 2014.[175]

Science and technology

The Japanese Experiment Module (Kibō) at the International Space Station

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.[176][177] Nearly 700,000 researchers share a US$130 billion research and development budget,[178] which relative to gross domestic product is the third highest budget in the world.[179] The country is a world leader in fundamental scientific research, having produced twenty-two Nobel laureates in either physics, chemistry or medicine[180] and three Fields medalists.[181]

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.[182] 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.[183][184][185]

The Japanese consumer electronics industry, once considered the strongest in the world, is currently in a state of decline as competition arises in countries like South Korea, the United States and China.[186][187] However, video gaming in Japan remains a major industry. Japan became a major exporter of video games during the golden age of arcade video games, an era that began with the release of Taito's Space Invaders in 1978 and ended around the mid-1980s.[188][189][190] Japanese-made video game consoles have been popular since the 1980s,[191] and it dominated the industry until Microsoft's Xbox consoles began challenging Sony and Nintendo in the 2000s.[192][193][194] As of 2009, $6 billion of Japan's $20 billion gaming market is generated from arcades, which represent the largest sector of the Japanese video game market, followed by home console games and mobile games at $3.5 billion and $2 billion, respectively.[195] In the present day, Japan is the world's largest market for mobile games;[196] in 2014, Japan's consumer video game market grossed $9.6 billion, with $5.8 billion coming from mobile gaming.[197]

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is Japan's national space agency; it conducts space, planetary, and aviation research, and leads development of rockets and satellites. It is a participant in the International Space Station: the Japanese Experiment Module (Kibō) was added to the station during Space Shuttle assembly flights in 2008.[198] The space probe Akatsuki was launched May 20, 2010, and achieved orbit around Venus on December 9, 2015. Japan's plans in space exploration include: developing the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter to be launched in 2018;[199] and building a moon base by 2030.[200] On September 14, 2007, it launched lunar explorer SELENE (Selenological and Engineering Explorer) from Tanegashima Space Center. The largest lunar mission since the Apollo program, its purpose was to gather data on the moon's origin and evolution. It entered a lunar orbit on October 4, 2007,[201][202] and was deliberately crashed into the Moon on June 11, 2009.[203]



Japan Airlines, the flag carrier of Japan

Japan's road spending has been extensive.[204] Its 1.2 million kilometers (0.75 million miles) of paved road are the main means of transportation.[205] As of 2012, Japan has approximately 1,215,000 kilometers (755,000 miles) of roads made up of 1,022,000 kilometers (635,000 miles) of city, town and village roads, 129,000 kilometers (80,000 miles) of prefectural roads, 55,000 kilometers (34,000 miles) of general national highways and 8,050 kilometers (5,000 miles) of national expressways.[206][207] A single network of high-speed, divided, limited-access toll roads connects major cities on Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu (Hokkaido has a separate network). 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.[208]

Since privatization 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.[209][210] A new Maglev line called the Chūō Shinkansen is being constructed between Tokyo and Nagoya. It is due to be completed in 2027.[211]

There are 175 airports in Japan;[58] the largest domestic airport, Haneda Airport in Tokyo, is Asia's second-busiest airport.[212] The largest international gateways are Narita International Airport, Kansai International Airport and Chūbu Centrair International Airport.[213] Nagoya Port is the country's largest and busiest port, accounting for 10 percent of Japan's trade value.[214]


The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, a nuclear plant with seven units, is the largest single nuclear power station in the world.

As of 2011, 46.1% of energy in Japan was produced from petroleum, 21.3% from coal, 21.4% from natural gas, 4.0% from nuclear power and 3.3% from hydropower. Nuclear power produced 9.2 percent of Japan's electricity, as of 2011, down from 24.9 percent the previous year.[215] However, by May 2012 all of the country's nuclear power plants had been taken offline because of ongoing public opposition following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011, though government officials continued to try to sway public opinion in favor of returning at least some of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors to service.[216] Reactors at Sendai restarted in 2015.[217] Japan lacks significant domestic reserves and so has a heavy dependence on imported energy.[218] Japan has therefore aimed to diversify its sources and maintain high levels of energy efficiency.[219]

Water supply and sanitation

The government took responsibility for regulating the water and sanitation sector is shared between the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in charge of water supply for domestic use; the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in charge of water resources development as well as sanitation; the Ministry of the Environment in charge of ambient water quality and environmental preservation; and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in charge of performance benchmarking of utilities.[220]

Access to an improved water source is universal in Japan. 97% of the population receives piped water supply from public utilities and 3% receive water from their own wells or unregulated small systems, mainly in rural areas.[221]


The Greater Tokyo Area is ranked as the most populous metropolitan area in the world.

Japan has a population of 126.3 million,[222] of which 124.8 million are Japanese nationals (2019).[223] Honshū is the world's second most populous island and has 80% of Japan's population. In 2010, 90.7% of the total Japanese population lived in cities.[224] The capital city Tokyo has a population of 13.8 million (2018).[225] It is part of the Greater Tokyo Area, the biggest metropolitan area in the world with 38,140,000 people (2016).[226][227]

Japanese society is linguistically, ethnically and culturally homogeneous,[228][229] composed of 98.1% ethnic Japanese,[58] with small populations of foreign workers.[228] The most dominant native ethnic group is the Yamato people; primary minority groups include the indigenous Ainu[230] and Ryukyuan people, as well as social minority groups like the burakumin.[231] Zainichi Koreans,[232] Chinese, Filipinos, Brazilians mostly of Japanese descent,[233] Peruvians mostly of Japanese descent and Americans are among the small minority groups in Japan.[234] 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,[233] the largest community of Westerners.[235]

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.[236][237] 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.[238] On September 15, 2018, for the first time, one in five Japanese residents was aged 70 or older. 26.18 million people are 70 or older and accounted for 20.7 percent of the population. Elderly women crossed the 20 million line at 20.12 million, substantially outnumbering the nation's 15.45 million elderly men.[239] The changes in demographic structure have created a number of social issues, particularly a potential decline in workforce population and increase in the cost of social security benefits such as the public pension plan.[240] A growing number of younger Japanese are not marrying or remain childless.[241] Japan's population is expected to drop to 95 million by 2050.[238][242]

Immigration and birth incentives are sometimes suggested as a solution to provide younger workers to support the nation's aging population.[243][244] Japan accepts an average flow of 9,500 new Japanese citizens by naturalization per year.[245] According to the UNHCR, in 2012 Japan accepted just 18 refugees for resettlement,[246] while the United States took in 76,000.[247] On April 1, 2019, Japan's revised immigration law was enacted, protecting the rights of foreign workers to help reduce labor shortages in certain sectors. The reform changes the status of foreign workers to regular employees.[248]


The torii of Itsukushima Shinto Shrine near Hiroshima, one of the Three Views of Japan and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Japan has full religious freedom based on its constitution. Upper estimates suggest that 84–96 percent of the Japanese population subscribe to Shinto as its indigenous religion (50% to 80% of which considering degrees of syncretism with Buddhism, shinbutsu-shūgō).[249][250] However, these estimates are based on people affiliated with a temple, rather than the number of true believers. Many Japanese people practice both Shinto and Buddhism;[251] they can either identify with both religions or describe themselves as non-religious or spiritual,[252] despite participating in religious ceremonies as a cultural tradition. As a result, religious statistics are often under-reported in Japan. Other studies have suggested that only 30 percent of the population identify themselves as belonging to a religion.[253] Nevertheless, the level of participation remains high, especially during festivals and occasions such as the first shrine visit of the New Year. Taoism and Confucianism from China have also influenced Japanese beliefs and customs.[254]

Christianity was first introduced into Japan by Jesuit missions starting in 1549.[255] Today, fewer than 1%[256][257][258] to 2.3% are Christians,[lower-alpha 3] most of them living in the western part of the country. As of 2007, there were 32,036 Christian priests and pastors in Japan.[260] Throughout the latest century, some Western customs originally related to Christianity (including Western style weddings, Valentine's Day and Christmas) have become popular as secular customs among many Japanese.[261]

Islam in Japan is estimated to constitute about 80–90% of foreign born migrants and their children, primarily from Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran.[262] Many of the ethnic Japanese Muslims are those who convert upon marrying immigrant Muslims.[263] The Pew Research Center estimated that there were 185,000 Muslims in Japan in 2010.[264]

Other minority religions include Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, and Bahá'í Faith;[265] since the mid-19th century numerous new religious movements have emerged in Japan.[266]


Kanji and Hiragana signs

More than 99 percent of the population speaks Japanese as their first language.[58] 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.[267] Public and private schools generally require students to take Japanese language classes as well as English language courses.[268]

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,[269] 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 is moribund, with only a few elderly native speakers remaining in Hokkaido.[270]


Students celebrating after the announcement of the results of the entrance examinations to the University of Tokyo

Primary schools, secondary schools and universities were introduced in 1872 as a result of the Meiji Restoration.[271] Since 1947, compulsory education in Japan comprises elementary and junior high school, which together last for nine years (from age 6 to age 15). Almost all children continue their education at a three-year senior high school. The two top-ranking universities in Japan are the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University.[272]

Japan's education system played a central part in the country's recovery after World War II when the Fundamental Law of Education and the School Education Law were enacted. The latter law defined the standard school system. Starting in April 2016, various schools began the academic year with elementary school and junior high school integrated into one nine-year compulsory schooling program; MEXT plans for this approach to be adopted nationwide.[273]

The Programme for International Student Assessment coordinated by the OECD currently ranks the overall knowledge and skills of Japanese 15-year-olds as the third best in the world.[274] Japan is one of the top-performing OECD countries in reading literacy, math and sciences with the average student scoring 529 and has one of the world's highest-educated labor forces among OECD countries.[275][274][276] In 2015, Japan's public spending on education amounted to just 4.1 percent of its GDP, below the OECD average of 5.0 percent.[277] The country's large pool of highly educated and skilled individuals is largely responsible for ushering Japan's post-war economic growth.[278] In 2017, the country ranked third for the percentage of 25 to 64 year-olds that have attained tertiary education with 51 percent.[278] In addition, 60.4 percent Japanese aged 25 to 34 have some form of tertiary education qualification and bachelor's degrees are held by 30.4 percent of Japanese aged 25 to 64, the second most in the OECD after South Korea.[278]


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.[279] Patients are free to select the physicians or facilities of their choice.[280]

Japan has a high suicide rate;[281][282] suicide is the leading cause of death for people under 30.[283] Another significant public health issue is smoking. Japan has the lowest rate of heart disease in the OECD, and the lowest level of dementia in the developed world.[284]


Contemporary Japanese culture combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America.[285] 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.[286] Twenty-two sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, eighteen of which are of cultural significance.[81]

Art and architecture

19th-century ukiyo-e woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Ritsurin Garden, one of the most famous strolling gardens in Japan

Japanese sculpture, largely of wood, and Japanese painting are among the oldest of the Japanese arts, with early figurative paintings dating back to at least 300 BC. The history of Japanese painting exhibits synthesis and competition between native Japanese esthetics and adaptation of imported ideas.[287] The interaction between Japanese and European art has been significant: for example ukiyo-e prints, which began to be exported in the 19th century in the movement known as Japonism, had a significant influence on the development of modern art in the West, most notably on post-Impressionism.[287] Japanese manga developed in the 20th century and have become popular worldwide.[288]

Japanese architecture is a combination between local and other influences. It has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. The Shrines of Ise have been celebrated as the prototype of Japanese architecture.[289] Largely of wood, traditional housing and many temple buildings see the use of tatami mats and sliding doors that break down the distinction between rooms and indoor and outdoor space.[290] Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern, and post-modern architecture into construction and design. Architects returning from study with western architects introduced the International Style of modernism into Japan. However, it was not until after World War II that Japanese architects made an impression on the international scene, firstly with the work of architects like Kenzō Tange and then with movements like Metabolism.

Literature and philosophy

12th-century illustrated handscroll of The Tale of Genji, a National Treasure

The earliest works of Japanese literature include the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki chronicles and the Man'yōshū poetry anthology, all from the 8th century and written in Chinese characters.[291][292] In the early Heian period, the system of phonograms known as kana (hiragana and katakana) was developed. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is considered the oldest Japanese narrative.[293] An account of court life is given in The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon, while The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is often described as the world's first novel.[294][295]

During the Edo period, the chōnin ("townspeople") overtook the samurai aristocracy as producers and consumers of literature. The popularity of the works of Saikaku, for example, reveals this change in readership and authorship, while Bashō revivified the poetic tradition of the Kokinshū with his haikai (haiku) and wrote the poetic travelogue Oku no Hosomichi.[296] The Meiji era saw the decline of traditional literary forms as Japanese literature integrated Western influences. Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ōgai were the first "modern" novelists of Japan, followed by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima and, more recently, Haruki Murakami. Japan has two Nobel Prize-winning authors – Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburō Ōe (1994).[293]

Japanese philosophy has historically been a fusion of both foreign, particularly Chinese and Western, and uniquely Japanese elements. In its literary forms, Japanese philosophy began about fourteen centuries ago. Confucian ideals are still evident today in the Japanese concept of society and the self, and in the organization of the government and the structure of society.[297] Buddhism has profoundly impacted Japanese psychology, metaphysics, and esthetics.[298]

Performing arts

Noh performance at a Shinto shrine

Japanese music is eclectic and diverse. Many instruments, such as the koto, were introduced in the 9th and 10th centuries. The popular folk music, with the guitar-like shamisen, dates from the sixteenth century.[299] Western classical music, introduced in the late 19th century, now forms an integral part of Japanese culture. The imperial court ensemble Gagaku has influenced the work of some modern Western composers.[300] Notable classical composers from Japan include Toru Takemitsu and Rentarō Taki. Popular music in post-war Japan has been heavily influenced by American and European trends, which has led to the evolution of J-pop, or Japanese popular music.[301] Karaoke is the most widely practiced cultural activity in Japan.[302]

The four traditional theaters from Japan are noh, kyōgen, kabuki, and bunraku. Noh and kyōgen theater traditions are among the oldest continuous theater traditions in the world.


In Japan, it is considered disrespectful to fail to remove shoes before entering a home.

The code of etiquette in Japan governs the expectations of social behavior. Honne and tatemae (本音と建前) contrasts a person's true feelings and desires and the behavior and opinions one displays in public.[303] Yamato-damashii (大和魂) describes the indigenous Japanese 'spirit' or cultural values as opposed to cultural values of foreign nations. Wa () is a Japanese cultural concept that implies a peaceful unity and conformity within a social group, in which members prefer the continuation of a harmonious community over their personal interests.[304][305] Ishin-denshin (以心伝心) is a Japanese idiom which denotes a form of interpersonal communication through unspoken mutual understanding.[306] Isagiyosa (潔さ) is a virtue of the capability of accepting death with composure and equanimity. Cherry blossoms are a symbol of isagiyosa in the sense of embracing the transience of the world.[307] Hansei (反省) is a central idea in Japanese culture, meaning to acknowledge one's own mistake and to pledge improvement. Kotodama (言霊) refers to the Japanese belief that mystical powers dwell in words and names.

Japan is regarded by sociologists as a high-context culture. People are more observant of hierarchical differences and communicate less explicitly and verbosely.[308] High context cultures such as Japan are more focused upon in-groups while low context cultures are focused upon individuals. Face-saving (to avoid being disgraced or humiliated) is generally considered as more important in Japan's high context culture than in low-context ones such as the United States or Germany.[309]


A plate of nigiri-zushi

Japanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on seasonality of food,[310] quality of ingredients and presentation. Japanese cuisine offers a vast array of regional specialties that use traditional recipes and local ingredients.

Seafood and Japanese rice or noodles are traditional staple of Japanese cuisine, typically seasoned with a combination of dashi, soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Dishes inspired by foreign food—in particular Chinese food—like ramen and gyōza, as well as foods like spaghetti, curry, and hamburgers have become adopted with variants for Japanese tastes and ingredients. Japanese curry, since its introduction to Japan from British India, is so widely consumed that it can be called a national dish.[311] Traditional Japanese sweets are known as wagashi.[312] Ingredients such as red bean paste and mochi are used. More modern-day tastes includes green tea ice cream.[313]

Popular Japanese beverages include sake, which is a brewed rice beverage that, typically, contains 14–17% alcohol and is made by multiple fermentation of rice.[314] Beer has been brewed in Japan since the late 1800s.[315] Green tea is produced in Japan and prepared in various forms such as matcha, the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony.[316]

Holidays and festivals

Young ladies celebrate Coming of Age Day (成人の日, Seijin no Hi) in Harajuku, Tokyo

Officially, Japan has 16 national, government-recognized holidays. Public holidays in Japan are regulated by the Public Holiday Law (国民の祝日に関する法律, Kokumin no Shukujitsu ni Kansuru Hōritsu) of 1948.[317] Beginning in 2000, Japan implemented the Happy Monday System, which moved a number of national holidays to Monday in order to obtain a long weekend. The national holidays in Japan are New Year's Day on January 1, Coming of Age Day on Second Monday of January, National Foundation Day on February 11, The Emperor's Birthday on February 23, Vernal Equinox Day on March 20 or 21, Shōwa Day on April 29, Constitution Memorial Day on May 3, Greenery Day on May 4, Children's Day on May 5, Marine Day on Third Monday of July, Mountain Day on August 11, Respect for the Aged Day on Third Monday of September, Autumnal Equinox on September 23 or 24, Health and Sports Day on Second Monday of October, Culture Day on November 3, and Labor Thanksgiving Day on November 23.[318]

There are many annual festivals in Japan, which are called in Japanese matsuri (). 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.


Fuji TV headquarters in Tokyo

Television and newspapers take an important role in Japanese mass media, though radio and magazines also take a part.[319][320] Over the 1990s, television surpassed newspapers as Japan's main information and entertainment medium.[321]

There are six nationwide television networks: NHK (public broadcasting), Nippon Television (NTV), Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS), Fuji Network System (FNS), TV Asahi (EX) and TV Tokyo Network (TXN).[320] Television networks were mostly established based on capital investments by existing radio networks. Variety shows, serial dramas, and news constitute a large percentage of Japanese television shows. According to the 2015 NHK survey on television viewing in Japan, 79 percent of Japanese watch television daily.[322]

Japanese readers have a choice of approximately 120 daily newspapers, with an average subscription rate of 1.13 newspapers per household.[323] The main newspapers are the Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Nikkei Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun. According to a survey conducted by the Japanese Newspaper Association in 1999, 85.4 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women read a newspaper every day.[321]

Japan has one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world; movies have been produced in Japan since 1897.[324] Ishirō Honda's Godzilla became an international icon of Japan and spawned an entire subgenre of kaiju films, as well as the longest-running film franchise in history. Japan has won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film four times, more than any other Asian country.

Japanese animated films and television series, known as anime, were largely influenced by Japanese manga and have been extensively popular in the West. Japan is a world-renowned powerhouse of animation.[325]


Sumo wrestlers form around the referee during the ring-entering ceremony

Traditionally, sumo is considered Japan's national sport.[326] 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.[327] 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[328] and is widely considered to be the highest level of professional baseball in the world outside of the North American Major Leagues. Since the establishment of the Japan Professional Football League in 1992, association football has also gained a wide following.[329] Japan was a venue of the Intercontinental Cup from 1981 to 2004 and co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with South Korea.[330] Japan has one of the most successful football teams in Asia, winning the Asian Cup four times,[331] and the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2011.[332] Golf is also popular in Japan.[333]

Japan has significant involvement in motorsport. Japanese automotive manufacturers have been successful in multiple different categories, with titles and victories in series such as Formula One, MotoGP, IndyCar, World Rally Championship, World Endurance Championship, World Touring Car Championship, British Touring Car Championship and the IMSA SportsCar Championship.[334][335][336] Three Japanese drivers have achieved podium finishes in Formula One, and drivers from Japan also have victories at the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in addition to success in domestic championships.[337][338] Super GT is the most popular national series in Japan, while Super Formula is the top level domestic open-wheel series.[339] The country also hosts major races such as the Japanese Grand Prix, Japanese motorcycle Grand Prix, Suzuka 10 Hours, 6 Hours of Fuji, FIA WTCC Race of Japan and the Indy Japan 300.

Japan hosted the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 1964 and the Winter Olympics in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.[340] Further, the country hosted the official 2006 Basketball World Championship.[341] Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, making Tokyo the first Asian city to host the Olympics twice.[342] The country gained the hosting rights for the official Women's Volleyball World Championship on five occasions, more than any other nation.[343] Japan is the most successful Asian Rugby Union country, winning the Asian Five Nations a record six times and winning the newly formed IRB Pacific Nations Cup in 2011. Japan also hosted the 2019 IRB Rugby World Cup.[344]

See also

  • Index of Japan-related articles
  • Outline of Japan


  1. The Japanese government does not collect data on ethnicity; these figures instead reflect the origin of foreign residents. See Ethnic groups of Japan.
  2. The official name of the country in English is simply "Japan". In Japanese, the name of the country as it appears on official documents, including the country's constitution, is 日本国 ( Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku), literally meaning "State of Japan". Despite this, the name 日本 is often used in official and international contexts.
  3. According to the Dentsu survey of 2006: 1% Protestants, 0.8% members of the Catholic Church, and 0.5% members of the Orthodox Church.[259]



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