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Capital Tokyo
Continent Asia
Code +81
Currency Japanese yen (¥)
Languages Japanese , Japanese


Japan is an island country in East Asia. It is situated in the northwest Pacific Ocean and is bordered on the west by the Sea of Japan while extending from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north toward the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south. Japan is a part of the Ring of Fire, and spans an archipelago of 6852 islands covering 377,975 square kilometers (145,937 sq mi); the five main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu (the "mainland"), Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. Tokyo is the nation's capital and largest city; other major cities include Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Kobe, and Kyoto.

Japan is the eleventh most populous country in the world, as well as one of the most densely populated and urbanized. About three-fourths of the country's terrain is mountainous, concentrating its population of 125.36 million on narrow coastal plains. Japan is divided into 47 administrative prefectures and eight traditional regions. The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with more than 37.4 million residents.

Japan has been inhabited since the Upper Paleolithic period (30,000 BC), though the first written mention of the archipelago appears in a Chinese chronicle (the Book of Han) finished in the 2nd century AD. Between the 4th and 9th centuries, the kingdoms of Japan became unified under an emperor and the imperial court based in Heian-kyō. Beginning in the 12th century, political power was held by a series of military dictators (shōgun) and feudal lords (daimyō) and enforced by 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 an isolationist foreign policy. In 1854, a United States fleet forced Japan to open trade to the West, which led to the end of the shogunate and the restoration of imperial power in 1868. In the Meiji period, the Empire of Japan adopted a Western-modeled constitution and pursued a program of industrialization and modernization. Amidst a rise in militarism and overseas colonization, Japan invaded China in 1937 and entered World War II as an Axis power in 1941. After suffering defeat in the Pacific War and two atomic bombings, Japan surrendered in 1945 and came under a seven-year Allied occupation, during which it adopted a new constitution. Under the 1947 constitution, Japan has maintained a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with a bicameral legislature, the National Diet.

Japan is a great power and a member of numerous international organizations, including the United Nations (since 1956), the OECD, and the Group of Seven. Although it has renounced its right to declare war, the country maintains Self-Defense Forces that rank as one of the world's strongest militaries. After World War II, Japan experienced record growth in an economic miracle, becoming the second-largest economy in the world by 1990. As of 2021, the country's economy is the third-largest by nominal GDP and the fourth-largest by PPP. Ranked "very high" on the Human Development Index, Japan has one of the world's highest life expectancies, though it is experiencing a population decline. A global leader in the automotive and electronics industries, Japan has made significant contributions to science and technology. The culture of Japan is well known around the world, including its art, cuisine, music, and popular culture, which encompasses prominent comic, animation, and video game industries.


The first human inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago have been traced to prehistoric times around 30,000 BCE. The Jōmon period, named after its cord-marked pottery, was followed by the Yayoi people in the first millennium BCE when new inventions were introduced from Asia. During this period, the first known written reference to Japan was recorded in the Chinese Book of Han in the first century CE.

Around the 4th century BCE, the Yayoi people from the continent immigrated to the Japanese archipelago and introduced iron technology and agricultural civilization. Because they had an agricultural civilization, the population of the Yayoi began to grow rapidly and overwhelm the Jōmon people, natives of the Japanese archipelago who were hunter-gatherers. Between the fourth, the ninth century, Japan's many kingdoms and tribes gradually came to be unified under a centralized government, nominally controlled by the Emperor of Japan. The imperial dynasty established at this time continues to this day, albeit in an almost entirely ceremonial role. In 794, a new imperial capital was established at Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto), marking the beginning of the Heian period, which lasted until 1185. The Heian period is considered a golden age of classical Japanese culture. Japanese religious life from this time and onwards was a mix of native Shinto practices and Buddhism.

Over the following centuries, the power of the imperial house decreased, passing first to great clans of civilian aristocrats – most notably the Fujiwara – and then to the military clans and their armies of samurai. The Minamoto clan under Minamoto no Yoritomo emerged victorious from the Genpei War of 1180–85, defeating their rival military clan, the Taira. After seizing power, Yoritomo set up his capital in Kamakura and took the title of shōgun. In 1274 and 1281, the Kamakura shogunate withstood two Mongol invasions, but in 1333 it was toppled by a rival claimant to the shogunate, ushering in the Muromachi period. During this period, regional warlords called daimyō grew in power at the expense of the shōgun. Eventually, Japan descended into a period of civil war. Over the late 16th century, Japan was reunified under the leadership of the prominent daimyō Oda Nobunaga and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After Toyotomi died in 1598, Tokugawa Ieyasu came to power and was appointed shōgun by the emperor. The Tokugawa shogunate, which governed from Edo (modern Tokyo), presided over a prosperous and peaceful era known as the Edo period (1600–1868). The Tokugawa shogunate imposed a strict class system on Japanese society and cut off almost all contact with the outside world.

Portugal and Japan came into contact in 1543, when the Portuguese became the first Europeans to reach Japan by landing in the southern archipelago. They had a significant impact on Japan, even in this initially limited interaction, introducing firearms to Japanese warfare. The American Perry Expedition in 1853–54 more completely ended Japan's seclusion; this contributed to the fall of the shogunate and the return of power to the emperor during the Boshin War in 1868. The new national leadership of the following Meiji period transformed the isolated feudal island country into an empire that closely followed Western models and became a great power. Although democracy developed and modern civilian culture prospered during the Taishō period (1912–26), Japan's powerful military had great autonomy and overruled Japan's civilian leaders in the 1920s and 1930s. The Japanese military invaded Manchuria in 1931, and from 1937 the conflict escalated into a prolonged war with China. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to war with the United States and its allies. Japan's forces soon became overextended, but the military held out despite Allied air attacks that inflicted severe damage on population centers. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender on 15 August 1945, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.

The Allies occupied Japan until 1952, during which a new constitution was enacted in 1947 that transformed Japan into a constitutional monarchy. After 1955, Japan enjoyed very high economic growth under the governance of the Liberal Democratic Party and became a world economic powerhouse. Since the Lost Decade of the 1990s, economic growth has slowed. On 11 March 2011, Japan suffered from a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, which killed almost 20,000 people and caused the serious Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.


Japan comprises 6852 islands extending along the Pacific coast of Asia. It stretches over 3000 km (1900 mi) northeast-southwest from the Sea of Okhotsk to the East China Sea. The country's five main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. 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. As of 2019, Japan's territory is 377,975.24 km2 (145,937.06 sq mi). Japan has the sixth-longest coastline in the world at 29,751 km (18,486 mi). Because of its far-flung outlying islands, Japan has the sixth-largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world, covering 4,470,000 km2 (1,730,000 sq mi).

The Japanese archipelago is 66.4% forests, 12.8% agricultural, and 4.8% residential (2002). The primarily rugged and mountainous terrain is restricted for habitation. Thus the habitable zones, mainly in the coastal areas, have very high population densities: Japan is the 40th most densely populated country. Honshu has the highest population density at 450 persons/km2 (1,200/sq mi) as of 2010, while Hokkaido has the lowest density at 64.5 persons/km2 as of 2016. As of 2014, approximately 0.5% of Japan's total area is reclaimed land (umetatechi). Lake Biwa is an ancient lake and the country's largest freshwater lake.

Japan is substantially prone to earthquakes, tsunami, and volcanic eruptions because of its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. It has the 17th highest natural disaster risk as measured in the 2016 World Risk Index. Japan has 111 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, which triggered a large tsunami.


Japan is a unitary state and constitutional monarchy in which the power of the Emperor is limited to a ceremonial role. Executive power is instead wielded by the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet, whose sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people. Naruhito is the Emperor of Japan, having succeeded his father Akihito upon his accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 2019.

Japan's legislative organ is the National Diet, a bicameral parliament. It consists of a lower House of Representatives with 465 seats, elected by popular vote every four years or when dissolved, and an upper House of Councillors with 245 seats, whose popularly-elected members serve six-year terms. There is universal suffrage for adults over 18 years of age, with a secret ballot for all elected offices. The prime minister as the head of government has the power to appoint and dismiss Ministers of State and is appointed by the emperor after being designated from among the members of the Diet. Fumio Kishida is Japan's prime minister; he took office after winning the 2021 Liberal Democratic Party leadership election.

Historically influenced by Chinese law, the Japanese legal system developed independently during the Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki. Since the late 19th century, the judicial system has been largely based on the civil law of Europe, notably Germany. In 1896, Japan established a civil code based on the German Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, which remains in effect with post–World War II modifications. The Constitution of Japan, adopted in 1947, is the oldest unamended constitution in the world. Statutory law originates in the legislature, and the constitution requires that the emperor promulgate legislation passed by the Diet without giving him the power to oppose the legislation. The main body of Japanese statutory law is called the Six Codes Japan's court system is divided into four basic tiers: the Supreme Court and three levels of lower courts.


Japan is the third-largest national economy in the world, after the United States and China, in terms of nominal GDP, and the fourth-largest national economy in the world, after the United States, China, and India, in terms of purchasing power parity as of 2019. As of 2019, Japan's labor force consisted of 67 million workers. Japan has a low unemployment rate of around 2.4 percent. Around 16 percent of the population was below the poverty line in 2017. Japan today has the highest ratio of public debt to GDP of any developed nation, with the national debt at 236% relative to GDP as of 2017. The Japanese yen is the world's third-largest reserve currency (after the US dollar and the euro).

Japan's exports amounted to 18.5% of GDP in 2018. As of 2019, Japan's main export markets were the United States (19.8 percent) and China (19.1 percent). Its main exports are motor vehicles, iron and steel products, semiconductors, and auto parts. Japan's main import markets as of 2019 were China (23.5 percent), the United States (11 percent), and Australia (6.3 percent). Japan's main imports are machinery and equipment, fossil fuels, foodstuffs, chemicals, and raw materials for its industries.

Japan ranks 29th of 190 countries in the 2019 ease of doing business index The Japanese variant of capitalism has many distinct features: Keiretsu enterprises are influential, and lifetime employment and seniority-based career advancement are common in the Japanese work environment. Japan has a large cooperative sector, with three of the ten largest cooperatives in the world, including the largest consumer cooperative and the largest agricultural cooperative in the world as of 2018. Japan ranks highly for competitiveness and economic freedom. It is ranked sixth in the Global Competitiveness Report for 2015–2016.


Contemporary Japanese culture combines influences from Asia, Europe, and North America. Traditional Japanese arts include crafts such as ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, swords, and dolls; performances of baroque, 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. Twenty-two sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, eighteen of which are of cultural significance.