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Japan /dʒəˈpæn/ (Japanese: 日本 Nihon or Nippon; formally 日本国 Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku, 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 Japan is sometimes referred to as the "Land of the Rising Sun".
Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands. The four largest islands are Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku, together accounting for ninety-seven percent of Japan's land area. Japan has the world's tenth-largest population, with over 127 million people. The Greater Tokyo Area, which includes the de facto capital city of Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures, is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 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 in Chinese history texts from the 1st century AD. Influence from other nations followed by long periods of isolation has characterized Japan's history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries victory 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. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937 expanded into part of World War II, which came to an end in 1945 following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since adopting its revised constitution in 1947, Japan has maintained a unitary constitutional monarchy with an emperor and an elected parliament called the Diet.
A major economic power, Japan has the world's third-largest economy by nominal GDP and 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 force in self-defense and peacekeeping roles. After Singapore, Japan has the lowest homicide rate (including attempted homicide) in the world. According to both UN and WHO estimates, Japan has the longest life expectancy of any country in the world. According to the UN, it has the third lowest infant mortality rate.
Prehistory and ancient history
A Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC constitutes the first known habitation of Japan. This was followed from around 14,000 BC (the start of the Jōmon period) by a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture, who include ancestors of both the contemporary Ainu people and Yamato people, characterized by pit dwelling and rudimentary agriculture. Decorated clay vessels from this period are some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world. Around 300 BC, the Yayoi people began to enter the Japanese islands, intermingling with the Jōmon. The Yayoi period, starting around 500 BC, saw the introduction of practices like wet-rice farming, a new style of pottery, and metallurgy, introduced from China and Korea.
The Japanese first appear in written history in the Chinese Book of Han. According to the Records of Three Kingdoms, the most powerful kingdom on the archipelago during the 3rd century was called Yamataikoku. Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from Baekje, but the subsequent development of Japanese Buddhism was primarily influenced by China. Despite early resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class and gained widespread acceptance beginning in the Asuka period (592–710).
The Nara period (710–784) of the 8th century marked the emergence of a strong Japanese state, centered on an imperial court in Heijō-kyō (modern Nara). The Nara period is characterized by the appearance of a nascent literature as well as the development of Buddhist-inspired art and architecture. The smallpox epidemic of 735–737 is believed to have killed as much as one-third of Japan's population. In 784, Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō before relocating it 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, noted for its art, poetry and prose. Lady Murasaki's The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of Japan's national anthem Kimigayo were written during this time.
Buddhism began to spread during the Heian era chiefly through two major sects, Tendai by Saichō, and Shingon by Kūkai. Pure Land Buddhism greatly becomes popular in the latter half of the 11th century.
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, sung in the epic Tale of Heike, samurai Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed shogun and established a base of power in Kamakura. After his death, the Hōjō clan came to power as regents for the shoguns. The Zen school of Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class. 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 establishes the shogunate in Muromachi, Kyoto. It is a start of Muromachi Period (1336–1573). The Ashikaga shogunate receives glory in the age of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and the culture based on Zen Buddhism (art of Miyabi) has prospered. It evolves to Higashiyama Culture, and has prospered until the 16th century. On the other hand, the succeeding Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyo), and a civil war (the Ōnin War) began in 1467, opening the century-long Sengoku period ("Warring States").
During the 16th century, traders and Jesuit missionaries from Portugal reached Japan for the first time, initiating direct commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West. Oda Nobunaga conquered many other daimyo using European technology and firearms; after he was assassinated in 1582, his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the nation in 1590. Hideyoshi invaded Korea twice, but following defeats by Korean and Ming Chinese forces and Hideyoshi's death, Japanese troops were withdrawn in 1598. This age is called Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573–1603).
Tokugawa Ieyasu served as regent for Hideyoshi's son and used his position to gain political and military support. When open war broke out, he defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu was appointed shogun in 1603 and established the Tokugawa shogunate at Edo (modern Tokyo). The Tokugawa shogunate enacted measures including buke shohatto, as a code of conduct to control the autonomous daimyo; 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). 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.
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. Subsequent similar treaties with Western countries in the Bakumatsu period brought economic and political crises. The resignation of the shogun led to the Boshin War and the establishment of a centralized state nominally unified under the Emperor (the Meiji Restoration). Adopting Western political, judicial and military institutions, the Cabinet organized the Privy Council, introduced the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet. The Meiji Restoration transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that pursued military conflict to expand its sphere of influence. 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. Japan's population grew from 35 million in 1873 to 70 million in 1935.
The early 20th century saw a brief period of "Taishō democracy" overshadowed by increasing expansionism and militarization. World War I enabled Japan, on the side of the victorious Allies, to widen its influence and territorial holdings. It continued its expansionist policy by occupying Manchuria in 1931; as a result of international condemnation of this occupation, Japan resigned from the League of Nations two years later. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, and the 1940 Tripartite Pact made it one of the Axis Powers. In 1941, Japan negotiated the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact.
The Empire of Japan invaded other parts of China in 1937, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). In 1940, the Empire then invaded French Indochina, after which the United States placed an oil embargo on Japan. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor and declared war, bringing the US into World War II. After the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August 15. The war cost Japan and the rest of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere millions of lives and left much of the nation's industry and infrastructure destroyed. The Allies (led by the US) repatriated millions of ethnic Japanese from colonies and military camps throughout Asia, largely eliminating the Japanese empire and restoring the independence of its conquered territories. The Allies also convened the International Military Tribunal for the Far East on May 3, 1946 to prosecute some Japanese leaders for war crimes. However, the bacteriological research units and members of the imperial family involved in the war were exonerated from criminal prosecutions by the Supreme Allied Commander despite calls for trials for both groups.
In 1947, Japan adopted a new constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied occupation ended with the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952 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, until surpassed by China in 2010. This ended in the mid-1990s when Japan suffered a major recession. In the beginning of the 21st century, positive growth has signaled a gradual economic recovery. On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered the strongest earthquake in its recorded history; this triggered the Fukushima I nuclear accidents, one of the worst disasters in the history of nuclear power.
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.
The Shrines of Ise have been celebrated as the prototype of Japanese architecture. 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. 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 aesthetics and adaptation of imported ideas. 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. Famous ukiyo-e artists include Hokusai and Hiroshige. The fusion of traditional woodblock printing and Western art led to the creation of manga, a comic book format that is now popular within and outside Japan. Manga-influenced animation for television and film is called anime. Japanese-made video game consoles have been popular since the 1980s.
Japanese music is eclectic and diverse. Many instruments, such as the koto, were introduced in the 9th and 10th centuries. The accompanied recitative of the Noh drama dates from the 14th century and the popular folk music, with the guitar-like shamisen, from the sixteenth. 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. 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. Karaoke is the most widely practiced cultural activity in Japan. A 1993 survey by the Cultural Affairs Agency found that more Japanese had sung karaoke that year than had participated in traditional pursuits such as flower arranging (ikebana) or tea ceremonies.
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. 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. An account of Heian 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.
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. 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, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima and, more recently, Haruki Murakami. Japan has two Nobel Prize-winning authors—Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburō Ōe (1994).
The primary staple is Japanese rice. In the early modern era ingredients such as red meats that had previously not been widely used in Japan were introduced. Japanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on seasonality of food, quality of ingredients and presentation. Japanese cuisine offers a vast array of regional specialties that use traditional recipes and local ingredients. The Michelin Guide has awarded Japanese cities more Michelin stars than the rest of the world combined.
Traditionally, sumo is considered Japan's national sport. Japanese martial arts such as judo, karate and kendo are also widely practiced and enjoyed by spectators in the country. After the Meiji Restoration, many Western sports were introduced in Japan and began to spread through the education system. Japan hosted the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 1964. Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics twice: Nagano in 1998 and Sapporo in 1972.
The Japanese professional baseball league was established in 1936. Today baseball is the most popular spectator sport in the country. Since the establishment of the Japan Professional Football League in 1992, association football has also gained a wide following. Japan was a venue of the Intercontinental Cup from 1981 to 2004 and co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with South Korea. Japan has one of the most successful football teams in Asia, winning the Asian Cup four times. Also, Japan recently won the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2011. Golf is also popular in Japan, as are forms of auto racing like the Super GT series and Formula Nippon.
Yuta Tabuse gained considerable international attention as he was Japan's first basketball player to play in the NBA.
Japan has a total of 6,852 islands extending along the Pacific coast of East Asia. The country, including all of the islands it controls, lies between latitudes 24° and 46°N, and longitudes 122° and 146°E. The main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaidō, Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū. The Ryūkyū Islands, including Okinawa, are a chain to the south of Kyūshū. Together they are often known as the Japanese Archipelago. About 73 percent of Japan is forested, mountainous, and unsuitable for agricultural, industrial, or residential use. As a result, the habitable zones, mainly located in coastal areas, have extremely high population densities. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
The islands of Japan are located in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire. They are primarily the result of large oceanic movements occurring over hundreds of millions of years from the mid-Silurian to the Pleistocene as a result of the subduction of the Philippine Sea Plate beneath the continental Amurian Plate and Okinawa Plate to the south, and subduction of the Pacific Plate under the Okhotsk Plate to the north. Japan was originally attached to the eastern coast of the Eurasian continent. The subducting plates pulled Japan eastward, opening the Sea of Japan around 15 million years ago. Japan has 108 active volcanoes. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunami, occur several times each century. The 1923 Tokyo earthquake killed over 140,000 people. More recent major quakes are the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, a 9.0-magnitude quake which hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and triggered a large tsunami.
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: Hokkaidō, Sea of Japan, Central Highland, Seto Inland Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Ryūkyū Islands. The northernmost zone, Hokkaido, has a temperate climate with long, cold winters and cool summers. Precipitation is not heavy, but the islands usually develop deep snowbanks in the winter. In the Sea of Japan zone on Honshū'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 wind. The Central Highland has a typical inland climate, with large temperature differences between summer and winter, and between day and night; precipitation is light. The mountains of the Chūgoku and Shikoku regions shelter the Seto Inland Sea from seasonal winds, bringing mild weather year-round. The Pacific coast experiences cold winters with little snowfall and hot, humid summers because of the southeast seasonal wind. The Ryukyu Islands have a subtropical climate, with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very heavy, especially during the rainy season.
The average winter temperature in Japan is 5.1 °C (41.2 °F) and the average summer temperature is 25.2 °C (77.4 °F). The highest temperature ever measured in Japan—40.9 °C (105.6 °F)—was recorded on August 16, 2007. The main rainy season begins in early May in Okinawa, and the rain front gradually moves north until reaching Hokkaidō in late July. In most of Honshū, the rainy season begins before the middle of June and lasts about six weeks. In late summer and early autumn, typhoons often bring heavy rain.
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. Japan has over 90,000 species of wildlife, including the brown bear, the Japanese macaque, the Japanese raccoon dog, and the Japanese giant salamander. 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.
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. The oil crisis in 1973 also encouraged the efficient use of energy due to Japan's lack of natural resources. 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.
Japan is one of the world's leaders in the development of new environment-friendly technologies, and is ranked 20th best in the world in the 2010 Environmental Performance Index. As a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, and host of the 1997 conference which created it, Japan is under treaty obligation to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and to take other steps to curb climate change.