Japan

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Japan (Japanese: 日本, literally “the State of Japan”) is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south. The characters that make up Japan’s name mean “sun-origin”, which is why the country is sometimes referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands, the four largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Together, these four islands hold about 97 percent of the country’s land area. Japan has the world’s tenth-largest population, with more than 126 million people. Honshū’s Greater Tokyo Area includes the de facto capital city of Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures. It is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with more than 30 million residents.
Archaeological research indicates that people lived in Japan as early as the Upper Paleolithic period. The first written mention of Japan is found in Chinese texts from the 1st century AD. Influence from other nations followed by long periods of isolation has characterized Japan’s history. Japan evolved into a cohesive society during the Heian period (8th-11th centuries AD). From the 12th century until 1868, Japan was ruled by successive feudal military dictatorships or shogunates in the name of the Emperor. In the early 17th century, Japan entered into a long period of isolation, which was only ended in 1853 when a United States fleet pressured Japan to open to the West. Nearly two decades of internal conflict and insurrection followed before the Meiji Emperor was restored as head of state in 1868 and the Empire of Japan was proclaimed, with the Emperor enshrined as a divine symbol of the nation.
Periodic insurrections and civil disturbances continued into the 1870s. A modern constitution was promulgated in 1889 and a Western-style parliament established. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, victories in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War and World War I allowed Japan to expand its empire during a period of increasing militarism. From 1931, military expansion into China and Manchuria led to the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Japan allied itself with the Axis powers in 1940, and the war in China became part of World War II in 1941. While Japan initially enjoyed a period of military dominance, successive military defeats and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the end of the war in 1945, Japan’s surrender and the loss of its empire. Under Allied military occupation lasting until 1952, Japan dissolved and restructured its military, adopted a revised constitution in 1947 and became a unitary constitutional monarchy with an emperor and a democratically elected legislature.
A major economic power, Japan has the world’s third-largest economy by nominal GDP and the world’s fourth-largest economy by purchasing power parity. It is also the world’s fourth-largest exporter and fourth-largest importer. Although Japan has officially renounced its right to declare war, it maintains a modern military with the fifth largest military budget, used for self-defense and peacekeeping roles. According to Japan’s health ministry, Japanese women have the second highest life expectancy of any country in the world. According to the United Nations, Japan also has the third lowest infant mortality rate.
More than 99 percent of the population speaks Japanese as their first language. Japanese is an agglutinative language distinguished by a system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary indicating the relative status of speaker and listener. Japanese writing uses kanji (Chinese characters) and two sets of kana (syllabaries based on simplified Chinese characters), as well as the Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals.
Besides Japanese, the Ryukyuan languages, also part of the Japonic language family, are spoken in Okinawa; however, few children learn these languages. The Ainu language, which has no proven relationship to Japanese or any other language, is moribund, with only a few elderly native speakers remaining in Hokkaido. Most public and private schools require students to take courses in both Japanese and English. Japanese culture has evolved greatly from its origins. Contemporary culture combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America. Traditional Japanese arts include crafts such as ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, swords and dolls; performances of bunraku, kabuki, noh, dance, and rakugo; and other practices, the tea ceremony, ikebana, martial arts, calligraphy, origami, onsen, Geisha and games. Japan has a developed system for the protection and promotion of both tangible and intangible Cultural Properties and National Treasures. Sixteen sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, twelve of which are of cultural significance.