Country name in Japanese: Nihon/Nippon
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Prime Minister: Shinzō Abe
Administrative division: 47 prefectures
Population: 127 million
Population density: (inhabitants/sq km) 336.72
Ethnic groups: Japanese 98.5%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.6%
Language: Japanese; using four different writing systems; Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana (phonetic alphabet), Katakana (phonetic alphabet for foreign words), and Romaji (western alphabet)
Main religions: Shintoism and Buddhism
Life Expectancy: Average: 82, Male: 78.8, Female: 85.6
GDP per Capita: $33,800
Literacy Rate: 99%
Japan is located in the North Pacific off the coast of Russia and the Korean peninsula. The area of Japan is 377,873km² (slightly smaller than Norway). With a population of 127 million and mainly mountainous terrain not suitable for human settlement the cities are typically sprawling and densely populated. Central Tokyo has a population of 12 million people, and the population of the Greater Tokyo Area is estimated at over 35 million people.
Japan consists of four main larger islands and over 4000 smaller islands. The main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Honshu is by far the largest. A modern and very effective railroad system connects the major islands and Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen runs between major urban areas.
The islands of Japan are located in an area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. This area is seismically very active resulting in volcanic eruptions from time to time and daily earthquakes.
The climate of Japan is predominantly temperate but varies considerably depending on the region. The main part of Japan has four seasons and a short rainy season during summer.
Japan is a constitutional monarchy where the emperor is the head of state. In practice, no actual power is vested in the emperor. Under the 1947 constitution, the emperor is the “symbol of the state and the unity of the people”. The present emperor is Emperor Akihito.
Japan has a parliamentary representative democracy where multiple political parties represent the people in the Diet, which consists of the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. Executive powers are vested in the Cabinet, which is headed by the Prime Minister. The present prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was elected in December 2012. Abe belongs to the liberal conservative party that has been in power for the majority of the postwar period.
There are two major religions in Japan: Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto is as old as the Japanese culture although its exact origin is unknown. Buddhism, on the other hand, was introduced from the mainland in the 6th century and since then, the two religions have co-existed and to some extent complemented each other.
While religion does not play a major role in the life of most Japanese, religious ceremonies are usually held at births, weddings, and funerals. In addition, many festivals (matsuri) originates from Shinto rituals. On New Year’s Day, visiting a temple or shrine is a common custom.
About 1% of the population is Christian.
There are a number of famous Japanese, in particular in the creative fields.
In film, the best known is Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998). Regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema Kurosawa directed 30 films in a career spanning 57 years. Kurosawa discovered the actor Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997) who became Japan’s first international film star.
Another world renowned Japanese is avant-garde artist and peace activist Yoko Ono (1933-) who is probably best known for her marriage to John Lennon. Art lovers might also recognize the name of Yayoi Kusama (1929- ) whose work is based on conceptual art. Major retrospectives of her work have been held at MOMA, Whitney Museum and Tate Modern and a retrospective is scheduled at Louisiana in the autumn of 2015.
In manga and anime, some of the most important are Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), often referred to as the Godfather of Anime and creator of Astro Boy and Akira Toriyama (1955- ) who is best known for Dr. Slump and the Dragon Ball manga series and games.
Hayao Miyazaki (1941- ) is one of Japan’s greatest animation directors and founder of studio Ghibli. Miyazaki won an Oscar for the animation movie “Spirited Away” and was recently awarded an honorary Oscar.
Video game die-hards may also know Shigeru Miyamoto (1952- ) a developer and pioneer in creating Nintendo’s Super Mario.
In literature, the writer Haruki Murakami (1949- ) has become world renowned since his major breakthrough, the “Wind-up Bird’s Chronicle”. He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature and a popular candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, which has previously been awarded two Japanese writers – Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) in 1968 and Kenzaburo Oe (1935- ) in 1994.
Japan has also fostered a number of well-known and well-established designers including Kenzo (Takada) (1939- ), Issey Miyake (1938-), Junko Koshino (1939- ) and Yohji Yamamoto (1943- ) in clothing and Tadao Ando (1941- ) in architecture.