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Major Cities of Japan in the continent of Asia
Tokyo • Yokohama • Osaka • Nagoya • Sapporo • Kobe • Kyoto • Fukuoka • Kawasaki • Saitama • Hiroshima • Sendai • Kitakyushu • Chiba • Sakai •
|THE JAPAN IMPERIAL SEAL|
Location of Japan within the continent of Asia
Map of Japan
Flag Description of Japan:The Japan flag was officially adopted on January 26, 1870.
The centered sun symbol (called Hinomaru) has been an important part of Japan's flag for thousands of years. The white field is symbolic of honesty and purity. .
Official name Nihon, or Nippon (Japan)
Form of government constitutional monarchy with a national Diet consisting of two legislative houses (House of Councillors ; House of Representatives )
Symbol of state Emperor: Akihito
Head of government Prime Minister: Abe Shinzo
Official language Japanese
Official religion none
Monetary unit yen (¥)
Population (2013 est.) 127,260,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 145,898
Total area (sq km) 377,873
- Urban: (2011) 91.3%
- Rural: (2011) 8.7%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 79.9 years
- Female: (2012) 86.4 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: 100%
- Female: 100%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 47,870
Background of Japan
Japan, island country lying off the east coast of Asia. It consists of a great string of islands in a northeast-southwest arc that stretches for approximately 1,500 miles (2,400 km) through the western North Pacific Ocean. Nearly the entire land area is taken up by the country’s four main islands; from north to south these are Hokkaido (Hokkaidō), Honshu (Honshū), Shikoku, and Kyushu (Kyūshū). Honshu is the largest of the four, followed in size by Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. In addition, there are numerous smaller islands, the major groups of which are the Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands (including the island of Okinawa) to the south and west of Kyushu and the Izu, Bonin (Ogasawara), and Volcano (Kazan) islands to the south and east of central Honshu. The national capital, Tokyo (Tōkyō), in east-central Honshu, is one of the world’s most populous cities.
The Japanese landscape is rugged, with more than four-fifths of the land surface consisting of mountains. There are many active and dormant volcanoes, including Mount Fuji (Fuji-san), which, at an elevation of 12,388 feet (3,776 metres), is Japan’s highest mountain. Abundant precipitation and the generally mild temperatures throughout most of the country have produced a lush vegetation cover and, despite the mountainous terrain and generally poor soils, have made it possible to raise a variety of crops. Japan has a large and, to a great extent, ethnically homogeneous population, which is heavily concentrated in the low-lying areas along the Pacific coast of Honshu.
Complexity and contrast are the keynotes of life in Japan—a country possessing an intricate and ancient cultural tradition yet one that, since 1950, has emerged as one of the world’s most economically and technologically advanced societies. Heavy emphasis is placed on education, and Japan is one of the world’s most literate countries. Tension between old and new is apparent in all phases of Japanese life. A characteristic sensitivity to natural beauty and a concern with form and balance are evident in such cities as Kyōto and Nara, as well as in Japan’s ubiquitous gardens. Even in the countryside, however, the impact of rapid Westernization is evident in many aspects of Japanese life. The agricultural regions are characterized by low population densities and well-ordered rice fields and fruit orchards, whereas the industrial and urbanized belt along the Pacific coast of Honshu is noted for its highly concentrated population, heavy industrialization, and environmental pollution.
Humans have occupied Japan for tens of thousands of years, but Japan’s recorded history begins only in the 1st century bce, with mention in Chinese sources. Contact with China and Korea in the early centuries ce brought profound changes to Japan, including the Chinese writing system, Buddhism, and many artistic forms from the continent. The first steps at political unification of the country occurred in the late 4th and early 5th centuries ce under the Yamato court. A great civilization then developed first at Nara in the 8th century and then at Heian-kyō (now Kyōto) from the late 8th to the late 12th century. The seven centuries thereafter were a period of domination by military rulers culminating in near isolation from the outside world from the early 17th to the mid-19th century.
The reopening of the country ushered in contact with the West and a time of unprecedented change. Japan sought to become a modern industrialized nation and pursued the acquisition of a large overseas empire, initially in Korea and China. By late 1941 this latter policy caused direct confrontation with the United States and its allies and to defeat in World War II (1939–45). Since the war, however, Japan’s spectacular economic growth—one of the greatest of any nation in that period—brought the country to the forefront of the world economy. It now is one of the world’s foremost manufacturing countries and traders of goods and is a global financial leader.
Geography of Japan
Japan is bounded to the west by the Sea of Japan (East Sea), which separates it from the eastern shores of South and North Korea and southeastern Siberia (Russia); to the north by La Perouse (Sōya) Strait, separating it from Russian-held Sakhalin Island, and by the Sea of Okhotsk; to the northeast by the southern Kuril Islands (since World War II under Soviet and then Russian administration); to the east and south by the Pacific; and to the southwest by the East China Sea, which separates it from China. The island of Tsushima lies between northwestern Kyushu and southeastern South Korea and defines the Korea Strait on the Korean side and the Tsushima Strait on the Japanese side.
The mountainous character of the country is the outcome of orogenic (mountain-building) forces largely during Quaternary time (roughly, the past 2.6 million years), as evidenced by the frequent occurrence of violent earthquakes, volcanic activity, and signs of change in sea levels along the coast. There are no sizable structural plains and peneplains (large land areas leveled by erosion), features that usually occur in more stable regions of the Earth.--->>>>>Read On.<<<<
Drainage and soils
The increasing demand for freshwater for use in paddy (wet-rice) cultivation and industry and for domestic consumption is a serious problem. Difficulties of supply lie in the paucity of natural water reservoirs, the swift runoff of the rivers, and the engineering difficulties of constructing large-scale dams in the rugged mountains.
Japan’s rivers are generally short and swift-running and are supplied by small drainage basins. The most significant rivers are the Teshio and Ishikari rivers of Hokkaido; the Kitakami, Tone, Shinano, Kiso, and Tenryū rivers of Honshu; and the Chikugo River of Kyushu. Some of the rivers from the volcanic areas of northeastern Honshu are acidic and are useless for irrigation and other purposes.
Lake Biwa, the largest in Japan, covers 259 square miles (670 square km) of central Honshu. All other major lakes are in the northeast. Most of the coastal lakes, such as Lakes Kasumi and Hamana of Honshu, are drowned former valleys, the bay mouths of which have been dammed by sandbars. Inland lakes such as Biwa, Suwa, and Inawashiro of Honshu occupy tectonic depressions of geologically recent fault origin. Lakes of volcanic origin (e.g., Kutcharo of Hokkaido and Towada and Ashi of Honshu) outnumber all other types.
The soils of Japan are customarily divided from northeast to southwest into a weak podzolic (soils with a thin organic mineral layer over a gray leached layer) zone, a brown earth zone, and a red earth zone. There are some local variations. The northern half of the Tōhoku area of northern Honshu is included in the area of brown forest soils. The northern tip of Hokkaido is classed as a subzone of the podzolic soils; the remainder of the island is included in the subzone of the acidic brown forest soils. Most of western Honshu is a transitional zone. Yellow-brown forest soils extend along the Pacific coast from southern Tōhoku to southern Kyushu, while red and yellow soils are confined to the Ryukyu Islands. The widespread reddish soils are generally regarded as the products of a former warmer, more humid climate. Immature volcanic ash soils occur on the uplands.
Kuroboku soils (black soils rich in humus content) are found on terraces, hills, and gentle slopes throughout Japan, while gley (sticky, blue-gray compact) soils are found in the poorly drained lowlands. Peat soils occupy the moors in Hokkaido and Tōhoku. Muck (dark soil, containing a high percentage of organic matter) and gley paddy soils are the products of years of rice cultivation. Polder soils (those reclaimed from the sea) are widely distributed. Soil fertility increases in the lowlands where agriculture is practiced, the result of a combination of natural alluvium washed down from the uplands and centuries of intense reworking of the soil medium by rice farmers.
In general, Japan’s climate is characterized as monsoonal (i.e., governed by wet and dry seasonal winds). The main influences are the country’s latitudinal extent, the surrounding oceans, and its proximity to the neighbouring Asian landmass. There are numerous local climatic variations, the result of relief features. In winter the high pressure zone over eastern Siberia and the low pressure zone over the western Pacific result in an eastward flow of cold air (the winter monsoon) from late September to late March that picks up moisture over the Sea of Japan. The winter monsoon deposits its moisture as rain or snow on the side of Japan facing the Sea of Japan and brings dry, windy weather to the Pacific side. The pressure systems are reversed during the summer, and air movements from the east and south (the summer monsoon) from mid-April to early September bring warmer temperatures and rain. Cyclonic storms and frequent and destructive typhoons (tropical cyclones) occur during late summer and early fall, especially in the southwest.
The warm waters of the Kuroshio (Japan Current), which corresponds in latitude and general directional flow to the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic, flow northward along Japan’s Pacific coast as far as latitude 35° N. The Tsushima Current branches westward from the Kuroshio off southern Kyushu and washes the coasts of Honshu and Hokkaido along the Sea of Japan; it is this current that lends moisture to the winter monsoon. The Pacific counterpart of the Atlantic’s Labrador Current, the cold Oya (Kuril) Current, flows southeastward from the Bering Sea along the east coast of Hokkaido and northeastern Honshu. Its waters meet those of the Kuroshio, causing dense sea fogs in summer, especially off Hokkaido.
The physical feature that most affects climate is the mountainous backbone of the islands. The ranges interrupt the monsoonal winds and cause the gloomy weather and heavy snows of winter along the Sea of Japan coast and the bright and windy winter weather along the Pacific. Temperatures and annual precipitation are about the same on both coasts, but they drop noticeably in the mountainous interior.
Temperatures are generally warmer in the south than in the north, and the transitional seasons of spring and fall are shorter in the north. At Asahikawa, in central Hokkaido, the average temperature in January, the coldest month, is 18 °F (−8 °C), and the average temperature in August, the warmest month, is 70 °F (21 °C), with an annual average temperature of 44 °F (7 °C). At Tokyo the average temperature for January is 42 °F (6 °C), the average for August 81 °F (27 °C), and the annual average 61 °F (16 °C). Inland from Tokyo, Nagano is cooler, with an annual average temperature of 53 °F (12 °C), whereas an annual average of 57 °F (14 °C) occurs on the Sea of Japan coast at Kanazawa. The warmest temperatures occur on Kyushu and the southern islands; at Kagoshima, the mean temperature for January is 46 °F (8 °C), the mean for August is 82 °F (28 °C), and the average is 64 °F (18 °C).
Precipitation in the form of rain and snow is plentiful throughout the islands. Maximum precipitation falls in the early summer, and the minimum occurs in winter—except on the Sea of Japan coast, which receives the country’s highest snowfall. The summer rainy season occurs through June and July; it is known as the baiu (“plum rain”) because it begins when the plums ripen. Torrential rains accompany the typhoons.
Precipitation patterns vary with topography, but most of the country receives more than 40 inches (1,020 mm) annually, mainly as rain during the summer. The smallest amount of precipitation occurs on eastern Hokkaido, where only 36 inches (920 mm) fall annually at Obihiro, whereas the mountainous interior of the Kii Peninsula of central Honshu receives more than 160 inches (4,060 mm) annually. Varying amounts of snow fall on Japan. From November to April snow blankets Hokkaido, northern and interior Honshu, and the northwest coast.
Plant and animal life
Much of the original vegetation has been replaced by agriculture or by the introduction of foreign species to the islands. Semitropical rainforest prevails in the Ryukyu and Bonin archipelagoes and contains various kinds of mulberries, camphor, oaks, and ferns (including tree ferns); madder and lianas are found as undergrowth. In the Amami Islands this type of plant life occurs only on lowlands, but it grows at higher elevations to the south. There are a few mangrove swamps along the southern coast of Kyushu.
The laurel forest zone of evergreen, broad-leaved trees extends from the southwestern islands northward to the lowlands of northern Honshu. Camphor, pasanias, Japanese evergreen oaks, camellias, and hollies are typical trees, with various kinds of ferns as undergrowth. In Kyushu, the evergreen zone reaches elevations above 3,300 feet (1,000 metres), but its vertical limit decreases northeastward across Honshu. In general, camphor dominates in the littoral lowlands, pasania in sunny and well-drained sites, and Japanese evergreen oak in the foggy and cloudy inlands. In the southwestern Hondo region (western Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu) are ficus and fan palm. The coastal dunes are dominated by pine trees. Natural stands of Japanese cedars, some containing trees that are more than 2,000 years old, occur above 2,300 feet (700 metres) on Yaku Island, south of Kyushu.
Deciduous broad-leaved forests develop in the higher and more northerly portions of the laurel forest zone. In Kyushu, this type of forest occurs above 3,300 feet, but it gradually descends northward to sea level in northern Honshu. Its upper limit reaches 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) in Shikoku and 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) in central Honshu. Representative trees are beeches, katsura trees, maples, oaks, and birches, rising above an undergrowth of various species of bamboo. All these trees, but especially the maples, are admired for their beautiful fall colours. The deciduous trees have been occasionally replaced by larches, false cypresses, false arborvitaes, Japanese cedars, Japanese red pines, Japanese black pines, and other coniferous species. The deciduous zone extends into western Hokkaido, where beeches terminate at the southwestern peninsula and further northeastward are replaced by basswoods and maples. Some stands of conifers are mixed with the representative forests of this zone.
Coniferous trees are numerous in the north and eastern periphery of Hokkaido up to elevations of 2,300 feet. Sakhalin spruces, Sakhalin firs, blue firs, and Yezo spruces are mixed with such deciduous trees as birches, oaks, and maples and dense undergrowth of mosses and lichens. Coniferous trees are mixed with deciduous vegetation in southwestern Hokkaido and occur in the higher portion of central Honshu and Shikoku. High-elevation small shrubs, creeping pines, and alpine plants grow in the high mountain knots of central Honshu above 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). This zone gradually descends northward to the Hakkōda Mountains, in northern Honshu, at 4,600 feet (1,400 metres) and to the Daisetsu Mountains, in central Hokkaido, at about 3,600 feet (1,100 metres).
The cherry tree (sakura), celebrated for its spring blossoms, long one of the symbols of Japan, is planted throughout the country. Many varieties have been cultivated, and natural stands are also found in the mountains.
Despite the country’s large human population, the land mammals of Japan are relatively numerous in the remote, heavily forested mountain regions. These animals include bears, wild boars, raccoon dogs (tanuki), foxes, deer (including sikas), antelope, hares, and weasels; some species are distinct from those of the neighbouring Asian continent. Wild monkeys (the Japanese macaque) inhabit many places; those found at the northern tip of Honshu represent the northern limit of monkey habitation in the world.
Reptiles include sea turtles, freshwater tortoises, sea snakes, and lizards. There are two species of poisonous snakes, but most of the snakes, including the 5-foot- (1.5-metre-) long Japanese rat snake, are harmless. Toads, frogs, and newts are common, and the endemic Japanese giant salamander of Kyushu and western Honshu can attain a length of four feet or more. Insect life is typical of a temperate humid climate; several species have seasonal associations in literature and popular culture, such as cicadas and dragonflies (summer) and crickets (autumn).
The Japanese archipelago constitutes a major East Asian flyway, and some 600 bird species are either resident or transitory. Water birds are abundant and include gulls, auks, grebes, albatrosses, shearwaters, herons, ducks, geese, swans, and cranes. The cormorant is sometimes trained to catch fish. There are about 150 species of songbirds, as well as eagles, hawks, falcons, pheasant, ptarmigan, quail, owls, and woodpeckers.
The confluence of cold and warm ocean currents near Japan has produced a rich sea life. Japanese waters are inhabited by whales, dolphins, porpoises, and fish such as salmon, sardines, sea bream, mackerel, tuna, trout, herring, gray mullet, smelts, and cod. Crustaceans and mollusks include crabs, shrimp, prawns, clams, and oysters. The rivers and lakes abound in trout, salmon, and crayfish. Carp (koi) are often kept in ponds, both for commercial food production and for decorative purposes.
The tremendous growth in population from the late 19th to the mid-20th century and the rapid industrialization after 1945 put increased pressure on Japan’s natural plant and animal communities, primarily through loss of habitat and environmental pollution. Once-abundant creatures, such as the eastern white stork (kōnotori) and the Japanese crested ibis (toki), have become extinct. Awareness of pollution grew from the 1960s, and after 1970 a number of strict measures were taken. Although domestic air and water quality improved, air pollution from the East Asian mainland increased the incidence of acid rain in Japan.
Demography of Japan
- Ethnic groups
The Japanese people constitute the overwhelming majority of the population. They are ethnically closely akin to the other peoples of eastern Asia. During the Edo (Tokugawa) period (1603–1867), there was a social division of the populace into four classes—warrior, farmer, craftsman, and merchant—with a peer class above and an outcast class below. With the exception of the burakumin (literally, “people of the hamlet”), the descendants of the former outcast class, this social class system has almost disappeared. The burakumin, however, are still subject to varying degrees of discrimination.
Insofar as a social class system does persist, it does not have the ethnic basis that can exist in multiracial societies, since the Japanese regard themselves as belonging to a single ethnic group. The few exceptions include those classified as resident aliens (particularly Koreans) and Japanese citizens of Ainu and, to a lesser degree, Okinawan origin. Japan also has a small population of Chinese descent.
Hundreds of thousands of Koreans migrated to Japan (a great many against their will) before and during World War II, when Korea was a Japanese colony, and worked mainly as labourers; those remaining after the war and their descendants, the latter born and raised in Japan, do not have Japanese citizenship and face considerable discrimination.
Both Ainu and Okinawans are often relegated to a second-class status. The indigenous Ainu largely were assimilated into the general population centuries ago; a few small, scattered groups, however, have maintained their identity in Hokkaido. Before the war there was a tendency to distinguish the people of Okinawa from other Japanese because of perceived physical and cultural differences; this tendency has diminished but not disappeared. Okinawan culture, including its dialect and religion, is now recognized as sharing many traits with Japanese culture.
Japanese is the national language, and Ainu is almost extinct. The Japanese language is generally included in the Altaic linguistic group and is especially akin to Korean, although the vocabularies differ. Some linguists also contend that Japanese contains elements of Southeast Asian languages. The introduction of the Chinese writing system and of Chinese literature about the 4th century ce enriched the Japanese vocabulary. Until that time Japanese had no written form, and at first Chinese characters (called kanji in Japanese) were used to write Japanese; by the 9th century two syllabaries, known collectively as kana (katakana and hiragana), were developed from them. Since then, a combination of kanji and kana has been used for written Japanese. Although some 3,000 to 5,000 kanji are in general use, after World War II the number of characters necessary for a basic vocabulary was reduced to about 2,000, and the writing of these characters was simplified. Tens of thousands of Western loanwords, principally from English, also have been adopted.
The distribution of Japanese nearly coincides with the territory of Japan. Standard Japanese, based on the dialect spoken in Tokyo, was established in the late 19th century through the creation of a national educational system and through more widespread communication. There are many local dialects, which are often mutually unintelligible, but standard Japanese, widely used in broadcasting, is understood nationwide.
Japanese is broadly divided linguistically into the two major dialects of Hondo and Nantō. The Hondo dialect is used throughout Japan and may be divided into three major subdialects: Eastern, Western, and Kyushu. The Eastern subdialects were established in the 7th and 8th centuries and became known as the Azuma (“Eastern”) language. After the 17th century there was a vigorous influx of the Kamigata (Kinai) subdialect, which was the foundation of standard Japanese. Among the Western subdialects, the Kinki version was long the standard language of Japan, although the present Kamigata subdialect of the Kyōto-Ōsaka region is of relatively recent origin. The Kyushu subdialects have been placed outside the mainstream of linguistic change of the Western dialects and retain some of the 16th-century forms of the latter. They extend as far south as Tanega and Yaku islands. The Nantō dialects are used by Okinawa islanders from the Amami Islands in Kagoshima prefecture to Yonaguni Island at the western end of the archipelago. Long placed outside the mainstream of linguistic change, they strongly retain their ancient forms.
The indigenous religion of Japan, Shintō, coexists with various sects of Buddhism, Christianity, and some ancient shamanistic practices, as well as a number of “new religions” (shinkō shukyō) that have emerged since the 19th century. Not one of the religions is dominant, and each is affected by the others. Thus, it is typical for one person or family to believe in several Shintō gods and at the same time belong to a Buddhist sect. Intense religious feelings are generally lacking except among the adherents of some of the new religions. Japanese children usually do not receive formal religious training. On the other hand, many Japanese homes contain a Buddhist altar (butsudan), at which various rituals—some on a daily basis—commemorate deceased family members.
Shintō is a polytheistic religion. People, commonly major historical figures, as well as natural objects have been enshrined as gods. Some of the Hindu gods and Chinese spirits were also introduced and Japanized. Each rural settlement has at least one shrine of its own, and there are several shrines of national significance, the most important of which is the Grand Shrine of Ise in Mie prefecture. Many of the ceremonies associated with the birth of a child and the rites of passage to adulthood are associated with Shintō. After the Meiji Restoration (1868), Shintō was restructured as a state-supported religion, but this institution was abolished after World War II.
Buddhism, which claims the largest number of adherents after Shintō, was officially introduced into the imperial court from Korea in the mid-6th century ce. Direct contact with central China was maintained, and several sects were introduced. In the 8th century Buddhism was adopted as the national religion, and national and provincial temples, nunneries, and monasteries were built throughout the country. The Tendai (Tiantai) and Shingon sects were founded in the early 9th century, and they have continued to exert profound influence in some parts of Japan. Zen Buddhism, the development of which dates to the late 12th century, has maintained a large following. Most of the major Buddhist sects of modern Japan, however, have descended from those that were modified in the 13th century by monks such as Shinran, who established an offshoot of Pure Land (Jōdo) Buddhism called the True Pure Land sect (Jōdo Shinshū), and Nichiren, who founded Nichiren Buddhism.
Christianity was introduced into Japan by first Jesuit and then Franciscan missionaries in the mid- to late 16th century. It initially was well received, both as a religion and as a symbol of European culture. After the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603), Christians were persecuted, and Christianity was totally banned in the 1630s. Inaccessible and isolated islands and the peninsula of western Kyushu continued to harbour “hiding Christian” villages until the ban was lifted by the Meiji government in 1873. Christianity was reintroduced by Western missionaries, who established a number of Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant congregations. Practicing Christians account for only a tiny fraction of the total population.
The great majority of what are now called the “new religions” were founded after the mid-19th century. Most have their roots in Shintō and shamanism, but they also were influenced by Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism, and Christianity. One of the largest, the Sōka Gakkai (“Value Creation Society”), is based on a sect of Nichiren Buddhism. Another new Nichiren sect to attract a large following is the Risshō Kōsei-kai. New Shintō cults include Tenrikyō and Konkōkyō.
- TRADITIONAL REGIONS
The concept of regions in Japan is inseparable from the historical development of administrative units. Care was always taken to include various physical features in the larger administrative units so as to create a well-balanced geographic whole. Many of the ancient terms for administrative units have survived in the form of place-names.--->>>>>Read More<<<
- Demographic trends
Japan’s population distribution is highly variable. The mountainous character of the country has caused the population to concentrate within the limited plains and lowlands—notably along the Pacific littoral. The increased population there, however, was absorbed into the expanding urban areas, while the population of rural districts declined considerably; this had the effect of further concentrating population in a limited area.
Japan experienced spectacular population growth after 1868; the population increased nearly fourfold since then. This increase was directly related to slow but steady urban growth; the development of Hokkaido, Tōhoku, and southern Kyushu; and the introduction of commercial agriculture. In 1897, when industrialization first began, the population numbered more than 42 million. From 1898 to 1918, growing industrial cities and mining towns absorbed a large population, as did Hokkaido and the sericultural (silkworm-raising) rural districts.
In 1920, when the first precise census was conducted, the population was nearly 57 million. Between 1919 and 1945 Tokyo-Yokohama (Keihin), Ōsaka-Kōbe-Kyōto (Keihanshin), Nagoya (Chūkyō), and northern Kyushu developed as the country’s four major industrial districts. At the same time, some of the smaller cities lost their ability to sustain a growing population, and some of them declined. By 1940 the population had grown to more than double that of 1868. During World War II there was a marked migration to the rural areas to avoid aerial bombing; some cities, such as Ōsaka, were reduced to one-third their previous size. After 1945 the repatriated population of nearly 9 million and the temporarily explosive increase in the birth rate caused abnormally high growth.
The rapid rehabilitation of industry after 1950 resulted in the continued concentration of population in the Pacific coastal areas. The expansion of the Keihin area was not confined to Tokyo, Yokohama, and their adjacent suburbs but extended to a much wider circle. The same was true of the Keihanshin and Chūkyō areas. Rural areas outside the direct influence of urbanization were subjected to a marked decline. Adult males migrated to the Pacific coast, and many of those who remained at home periodically left as temporary labourers, creating a constant outflow of population from the mountainous areas and isolated islands. In many places, emigration was so marked that the remaining population could not maintain a balanced community, and whole settlements were abandoned. These trends continued in the early 21st century, although rural-to-urban migration slowed somewhat, and people have been leaving city centres for outlying districts and suburbs.
The striking demographic feature in post-World War II Japan is the decline of birth and death rates, the result of families having fewer children and of health conditions improving markedly. Japan’s rate of population increase slowed dramatically at the end of the 20th century and became essentially stagnant in the first decade of the 21st century. Japan now has one of the world’s lowest birth rates, and its life expectancy is among the world’s highest. Consequently, the country has a rapidly aging population, a circumstance that at times has created severe labour shortages for its vast economy. During periods when labour is scarce, low-skilled job needs at least have been met by a growing number of temporary foreign workers, though such arrangements are suspended during economic downturns.
Economy of Japan
Japan is remarkable for its extraordinarily rapid rate of economic growth in the 20th century, especially in the first several decades after World War II. This growth was based on unprecedented expansion of industrial production and the development of an enormous domestic market, as well as on an aggressive export trade policy.--->>>>>Read More<<<
Because of the country’s mountainous terrain, the supply of agricultural land is limited. Japan’s largely infertile and immature soils require careful husbandry and fertilization. However, Japan’s relatively wet climate provides the country with considerable freshwater supplies. The general reliability of the precipitation pattern, coupled with Japan’s extensive network of rivers that can be used for irrigation, make possible extensive wet-rice (paddy) cultivation.--->>>>>Read More<<<
The most notable feature of Japan’s economic growth since World War II is the rapid development of manufacturing, with progress in quantitative growth, quality, variety, and efficiency. Emphasis has shifted from light to heavy industries and to a higher degree of processing. Thus, some of the older industries, including lumber and wood processing and the manufacture of textiles and foodstuffs, have declined considerably in relative importance.--->>>>>Read More<<<
In the first decades after World War II, Japan’s complex financial system was significantly different from that of other developed countries in several respects, most notably in the major role played by banking and the relatively minor position of securities. However, these differences gradually disappeared as markets were deregulated and internationalized.--->>>>>Read More<<<
- EXTERNAL TRADE
An outstanding feature of Japan’s economic development after World War II was the rapid advance in overseas sales, even though the share of exports in the country’s gross national product generally remained relatively constant.--->>>>>Read More<<<
- Labour and taxation
- TRADE UNIONS AND EMPLOYERS’ ASSOCIATIONS
Japanese trade unions have had a relatively short history. Although there were several labour organizations before World War II, trade unions became important only after the U.S. occupation forces introduced legislation that gave workers the right to organize, to bargain with employers, and to strike. Because Japanese trade unions were generally organized on a plant or enterprise basis, their number was relatively large, and in many cases there were different organizations for different plants of the same company.
The great majority of the enterprise unions became affiliated to federations that were loosely organized on craft lines, such as the Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers’ Unions (Jidōsha Soren). Most of these in turn became affiliated with one of four major national labour organizations established after the war. Interest in uniting the rival national organizations deepened during the 1980s, mainly because of the trend toward ever greater concentration in industry and greater cooperation between the various employers’ organizations. In the late 1980s the major national organizations and other private- and public-sector unions were reorganized into the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (JTUC-Rengō); those unions politically more to the left of JTUC-Rengō formed the much smaller National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenrōren).
While the craft and national federations formulate general policy, discuss and advise on strategy, and coordinate wage offensives, serious negotiations are usually conducted on an enterprise basis by individual unions and the employees, especially during the annual institutionalized “spring offensive” (shuntō) wage drive. JTUC-Rengō serves as a voice for the unions in general, publicizing their demands and dealing with the government and other business organizations.
The unionization rate peaked in the mid-1950s at around two-fifths of the workforce, at a time when Japan was troubled by a series of protracted confrontations between labour and management. However, labour-management relations generally have become nonconfrontational and are now characterized by cooperation, with few working days lost through labour action. Membership gradually fell off, and by the early 21st century the number of employees who were organized was less than half of what it had been 50 years earlier. The major reason for the decline has been the shift in the employment structure itself from manufacturing to trade, coupled with the increasing number of part-time and temporary workers.
Japan has a well-developed system of chambers of commerce and trade and industry associations. These groups serve as a sounding board and make policy recommendations while interacting with politicians, government bureaucracies, and labour. Among the best-known are the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), the latter formed in 2002 by the merger of the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) and the Japan Federation of Employers’ Association (Nikkeiren).
Tax revenues account for the single largest source of the government’s total income. Since World War II the tax system has been characterized by heavy dependence on direct taxes, and steeply progressive income taxes on individuals and high corporate taxes have constituted most of the tax revenues. In the late 1980s an indirect consumption (value-added) tax was imposed on most goods and services to augment the tax structure. Initially, the tax rate was 3 percent, but, after it was increased to 5 percent in the late 1990s, the government undertook a general overhaul of the tax system, in which tax rates were cut, the number of tax brackets was reduced, new deductions were introduced, and certain levies were lifted. However, in relation to national income, the total tax burden for Japan is considerably lower than it is for most other developed countries.
Until the latter part of the 19th century, the majority of Japanese people traveled on foot. Vehicular traffic was limited to small wagons, carts, or palanquins (kago) carried by men or animals. The first railway was built between Tokyo and Yokohama in 1872, and others soon followed, though the rugged terrain required the construction of many tunnels and bridges. Iron ships were built about the same time, and modern ports were constructed. Road construction, however, tended to lag behind the development of other means of transport, resulting in the present congestion of most urban areas.--->>>>>Read More<<<
Government and Society of Japan
- Constitutional framework
Japan’s constitution was promulgated in 1946 and came into force in 1947, superseding the Meiji Constitution of 1889. It differs from the earlier document in two fundamental ways: the principle of sovereignty and the stated aim of maintaining Japan as a peaceful and democratic country in perpetuity. The emperor, rather than being the embodiment of all sovereign authority (as he was previously), is the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, while sovereign power rests with the people (whose fundamental human rights are explicitly guaranteed). Article 9 of the constitution states that Japan “forever renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation”—a clause that has been much debated since the constitution’s promulgation.
The government is now based on a constitution that stipulates the separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The emperor’s major role now consists of such formalities as appointing the prime minister—who is first designated by the Diet (Kokkai)—and appointing the chief justice of the Supreme Court (Saikō Saibansho), convoking sessions of the Diet, promulgating laws and treaties, and awarding state honours—all with the advice and approval of the cabinet (naikaku).
Legislative powers are vested in the Diet, which is popularly elected and consists of two houses. The House of Representatives (Shūgiin), or lower house, ultimately takes precedence over the House of Councillors (Sangiin), or upper house, in matters of passing legislation, controlling the budget, and approving treaties with foreign powers. Executive power is vested in the cabinet, which is organized and headed by the prime minister, though formally appointed by the House of Representatives. If the House of Representatives passes a resolution of no confidence or refuses to pass a vote of confidence in the government, the cabinet must resign, unless the House of Representatives is dissolved within 10 days of such action. There are governmental ministries and agencies in addition to the Prime Minister’s Office. All offices of the central government are located in and around the Kasumigaseki district in central Tokyo. An independent constitutional body called the Board of Audit is responsible for the annual auditing of the accounts of the state.
- Local government
The 1947 constitution establishes the principle of autonomy for local public entities. Significant powers are allotted to local assemblies, which are elected by direct public vote, as are their chief executive officers. Many matters related to labour, education, social welfare, and health—as well as land preservation and development, disaster prevention, and pollution control—are dealt with by local governing bodies.
Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, 43 of which are ken (prefectures proper); of the remainder, Tokyo is a to (metropolitan prefecture), Hokkaido is a dō (district), and Ōsaka and Kyōto are fu (urban prefectures). Prefectures, which are administered by governors and assemblies, vary considerably both in area and in population. The largest prefecture is Hokkaido, with an area of 32,221 square miles (83,453 square km), while the smallest is Kagawa, with 724 square miles (1,876 square km). The population of Tokyo, the most populous prefecture, is some 20 times greater than that of Tottori, the least populous. An intermediate level of governmental services is formed between the central and prefecture levels. The branch offices of several central ministries are located in certain cities, which—as regional centres—generally administer several prefectures together.
Prefectures are further subdivided into minor civil divisions; these include shi (cities), machi or chō (towns), and mura or son (villages). All these local government units have their own mayors, or chiefs, and assemblies. In addition, a city that has a population of at least 500,000 can be given the status of shitei toshi (designated city). Designated cities are divided into ku (wards), each of which has a chief and an assembly, the former being nominated by the mayor and the latter elected by the residents. The number of these cities has steadily increased since the first five (Yokohama, Ōsaka, Nagoya, Kyōto, and Kōbe) were named in the mid-1950s. Tokyo has 23 tokubetsu ku (special wards), the chiefs of which are elected by the residents. These special wards, created after the metropolitan prefecture was established in 1943, demarcate the city of Tokyo from the other cities and towns that make up the metropolitan prefecture; the city proper, however, no longer exists as an administrative unit.
The judiciary is completely independent of the executive and legislative branches of the government. The judicial system consists of three levels: the Supreme Court, eight high (appellate) courts, and a district court and a family court in each prefecture (except for Hokkaido, which has four). In addition, there are many summary (informal) courts, which hear cases for some minor offenses or those involving small sums of money. Other than those minor cases, district and family courts are the courts of first instance—except for cases involving insurrection, which are tried in the high courts.
The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and 14 other justices. The chief justice is appointed by the emperor upon designation by the cabinet, while the other justices are appointed by the cabinet. The appointment of the justices of the Supreme Court is subject to review in a national referendum, first at the time of the general election following their appointment and then at the general election every 10 years thereafter. An impeachment system also exists; the court of impeachment consists of members of the House of Representatives and of the House of Councillors. The Supreme Court is the body of final review, and its rulings set the precedent for all final decisions in the administration of justice. The Supreme Court also exercises the power of judicial review, enabling it to determine the constitutionality of any law, order, regulation, or official act. Lower-court judges are appointed by the cabinet from a list of persons nominated by the Supreme Court. The appointment term is for 10 years, and reappointment is allowed. All judges of lower courts are required by law to retire at the age of 70.
- Political process
ELECTIONS Japan has universal adult suffrage for all citizens age 20 or older. Members of the House of Representatives must be at least age 25; the minimum age for those in the House of Councillors is 30. The number of seats for each Diet constituency was determined largely on the basis of the population in each area in 1947, with some modifications resulting from the population increase in urban constituencies. Over the next several decades, Japan’s population distribution changed so much that the value of a vote in a sparsely populated rural district might be five times that of one in an urban district. A limited amount of reapportionment was done in the mid-1980s, which somewhat redressed this imbalance, and in 1994 legislation that reduced the size of the lower house to 500 was passed; in 2000 the number of seats was reduced to 480. Similar seat reductions were carried out in the House of Councillors, with the number brought down from 252 to 247 in 2000 (effective in 2001) and then to 242 in 2004.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected to four-year terms, which may be terminated early if the house is dissolved. The country is divided into 300 single-member constituencies, with the remaining members being elected from large electoral districts based on proportional representation. Members of the House of Councillors are elected to six-year terms, with half the members being elected every three years. The electoral procedure for the upper house differs from that for the lower house in that about two-fifths of the total are elected on a proportional basis from a national constituency; the remaining members are elected from the prefectural constituencies. Heads of local governmental units, such as prefectures, cities, special wards, towns, and villages, are elected by local residents.
Party politics in Japan was inaugurated during the Meiji period (1868–1912), although it subsequently was suppressed during the war years of the 1930s and ’40s. The freedom to organize political parties was guaranteed by the 1947 constitution. Any organization that supports a candidate for political office is required to be registered as a political party; thousands of parties, most of them of local or regional significance, have since been organized, merged, or dissolved.
Several parties rose to national prominence. Chief among these is the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), generally conservative and pro-business and the dominant force in government for most of the period since its founding in the mid-1950s. The moderately socialist New Kōmeitō (New Clean Government Party)—traditionally an important opposition party and (since 1999) part of a government coalition with the LDP—originally drew its main support from the Sōka Gakkai, although the religious organization subsequently renounced any formal ties with the party. The Social Democratic Party (SDP), originally called the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), long was the major opposition party, drawing much of its support from labour unions and inhabitants of the large cities. More recently, the main party in opposition has been the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), formed initially in the mid-1990s by the short-lived New Party Harbinger and gradually enlarged by absorbing other smaller parties. The Japanese Communist Party (JCP), small but influential for its size, has remained on the fringe of the opposition.
ARMED FORCES As mentioned above, Japan’s 1947 constitution stipulates that the country cannot maintain armed forces for purposes of aggression. Between 1945 and 1950, Japan had no armed forces except for police. After the outbreak of the Korean War, however, the government, at the suggestion of the Allied occupation forces, established a National Police Reserve, which later became the Self-Defense Forces (SDF; Jieitai). The SDF consist of ground, maritime, and air branches and are administered by the cabinet-level Ministry of Defense, although overall policy is deliberated and set by the Security Council (consisting of the prime minister and several high-level cabinet ministers).
Japan’s national defense also is maintained by collective security arrangements with the United States that have been in place since the early 1950s. Through the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security—concluded between Japan and the United States in 1960, reaffirmed in 1970, and further corroborated and slightly revised in the late 1990s—the United States operates military bases in Japan, primarily in Okinawa. The treaty may be terminated one year after either signatory indicates such an intention.
The existence of the SDF and of the treaty have provoked considerable controversy. A continuing dispute has been the constitutionality of the SDF, although in 1959 the Supreme Court ruled that the SDF did not violate the constitution because of their defensive nature. The antiwar provision of the constitution also has been challenged, especially by nationalist groups. In 1992 the government authorized the first postwar use of Japanese forces outside the country for noncombatant UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations. The first deployment of Japanese combatant forces outside the country was in 2009, when destroyers were sent to the Gulf of Aden to counteract pirate operations against Japanese shipping off the coast of Somalia.
POLICE Japan’s police services are under the administration of the National Public Safety Commission, headed by a cabinet minister. The commission has supervisory authority over the National Police Agency. This body in turn supervises, guides, and coordinates the activities of separate prefectural forces that are directly under the control of a commission for public safety in each prefecture. Administrative areas are further divided into precincts, each headed by a police station. Law enforcement is aided by the existence of an extensive network of small neighbourhood police boxes (kōban). There also are a number of more specialized policing bodies, the largest of which, the Maritime Safety Agency, patrols Japan’s coastal waters.
Japan’s crime rate is low compared with that of most countries, especially for violent crimes—in part because of the severe restrictions placed on the possession of firearms. There has been a gradual rise in the overall crime rate through the years, notably in property crimes. However, arrest and conviction rates are high. The police have stepped up their efforts to crack down on the crime syndicates (bōryokudan, or yakuza), but by the early 21st century there were still some two dozen organized crime groups and tens of thousands of gang members.
- Health and welfare
HEALTH Japan has a high standard of living, which contributes much to the general good health of the Japanese people. However, because of the country’s low birth rate and high life expectancy, its population has aged considerably since the mid-20th century, and the number of those who are infirm or who seek medical treatment has shifted disproportionately to the elderly. The country has one of the most comprehensive health care systems in the world, with national health insurance covering all citizens.
Malignant neoplasms (cancers) have been the leading cause of death in Japan since about 1980; the cancer death rate per 100,000 people roughly tripled between 1955 and 2005. Conversely, the rate for cerebrovascular diseases (formerly the highest) generally has declined. These two causes alone account for more than half of the country’s annual death total. Other leading causes of death include heart disease, pneumonia, accidents, and suicide.
Most of the country’s hospitals are operated by unions, associations, or individuals and the remainder by local governments and the national government. The cost of health care has been rising gradually, partly because of the rapidly growing numbers of elderly people.
The Japanese people enjoy a varied diet. Traditional Japanese foods are being supplemented or replaced by Western types of food (notably red meats and dairy products). In addition, particularly Chinese but also Korean and other Asian cuisines are now commonplace on the Japanese menu. Although Japanese per capita consumption of calories and fat is generally lower than that of Europeans or Americans, many more Japanese are overweight now than in the past.
WELFARE The vast discrepancies that existed between the conditions of the wealthy and the poor before World War II have been reduced, largely as a result of the agricultural land reforms between 1946 and 1950 and of the application of a graduated income tax. The great majority of Japanese now regard themselves as middle class, although within this designation there still are considerable differences in income levels and property ownership. Most of those in the upper middle income group own their own homes, usually houses with several rooms surrounded by a garden; those in the lower middle-income group usually live in a two- to five-room house or (more commonly in urban areas) in an apartment house.
Social welfare services were vastly improved and expanded during the period of strong economic growth from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. Programs include social insurance (health insurance, pension insurance, unemployment insurance, and worker’s accident compensation insurance), services for the elderly and the physically and mentally handicapped, and care for disadvantaged children. The health insurance system, established in 1961, covers all citizens. The scale of payments into it varies, and in some cases no payments are required. Elderly people may receive many services, including medical examinations, home-help services, recreational services, and institutional care, as well as varying amounts of financial aid. Local governments are obliged to provide welfare services for the physically and mentally handicapped. Various children’s welfare programs also exist; for example, medical care services are free to expectant mothers and to young children from low-income families.
Employers and employees bear most of the costs of pension and health care plans for working people and their families, but the costs of most other social welfare programs are shouldered by national and local governments. Demographic changes and rapidly rising costs since the 1980s forced the government to introduce various reforms of the social security system, particularly in such areas as care of the elderly, health care, and old-age pensions. Although the government has tried to increase the quantity and quality of available old-age care, it also raised the eligibility age to receive full social-security pension benefits from 60 to 65 and enacted a revised nursing-care law that increases the portion of expenses borne by the beneficiaries.
To cope with the initial postwar housing shortage, a semigovernmental agency, the Housing Loan Corporation, was established in 1950 to finance house construction at low interest rates. In 1955 another semigovernmental agency, the Japan Housing Corporation (in 1981–2004 called the Housing and Urban Development Corporation), was organized; it at first contributed significantly to the construction of low-priced housing and later focused more on developing transportation and utilities infrastructure. Since 2004 these activities have been part of the broader-based Urban Development Agency, which also is responsible for rehabilitating existing housing, implementing longer-range urban planning, and providing disaster relief and recovery.
Local governments have built a number of units, mostly of the apartment-house type and primarily for low-income families, and many large corporations maintain low-cost apartment or dormitory-style housing for their employees. However, the proportion of people living in public and corporate-owned dwellings is small and is gradually declining, while the larger majority of people (more than three-fifths) live in owner-occupied housing units—an increasing number of which are detached houses. In addition, the area of living space per person and number of rooms per dwelling has gradually increased.
Despite the increases in Japan’s overall housing stock, housing shortages persist in large metropolitan areas. The primary cause of this is high urban population concentrations, which create steep land prices and housing costs. Even though housing prices fell significantly after the real-estate boom of the late 1980s, the prices of homes in these urban markets usually has continued to far exceed average incomes.
The absence of strict zoning in urban areas has contributed to the mixed land uses characteristic of Japan’s cities. Thus, the same urban district may include shops, factories, offices, and homes—sometimes interspersed with plots of agricultural land. The shortages of land for residential use and the high cost of housing in city centres have forced people farther into outlying areas. As a result, for years the length of daily commuting to and from jobs steadily increased, although this trend showed signs of reversing in the early 21st century. Still, it is not uncommon for commuters to travel two or more hours each way.
Japan’s modern education system has been a key element in the country’s emergence as a highly industrialized country. The social and economic benefits of education long have been recognized in Japan, and education has been seen as the all-important means to achieve personal advancement. Thus, attending the “right” schools tends to become the critical factor in determining an individual’s ultimate social status and earning power. From the elementary to the university level, students are screened and selected for advancement, and students from a young age work extremely hard to qualify for the best possible schools. Merit-based admission has led to strict ranking among the schools and severely intensified competition, which has contributed to a number of problems—notably bullying and other violence and absenteeism—that have beset the Japanese educational system for years.
Higher education is greatly desired. The rigorous high-school curriculum is largely designed as preparation for the difficult and highly competitive university entrance examinations, which are given once per year. The two great former imperial universities—Tokyo and Kyōto—represent the pinnacle of academic success, and competition to enter one of them is particularly intense. However, once students are enrolled, requirements are usually lenient, and it is rare for someone to fail. The graduates of these universities are considered the best prospects by public and private employers. Most high-school students attend one of the large number of extracurricular “cram” schools (juku) that help them prepare for the examinations. High-school graduates who do not pass the examinations on their first attempt often study intensively for a year and retake the tests. Juku-type schools now exist on all levels, including those catering to preschool children.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE MODERN SYSTEM Many educational institutions existed in Japan even in the feudal period preceding the Meiji Restoration of 1868, a number of which had been subjected to Chinese cultural influences since ancient times. Numerous private temple schools (terakoya), mostly in towns, functioned as elementary schools; reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught by monks, unemployed warriors, or others. Provincial lords (daimyo) also established special schools for children of the warrior class. Yet another type of school instructed primarily the children of wealthier merchants and farmers.
The modern Japanese educational system was introduced immediately after the Meiji Restoration. The government set up elementary and secondary schools throughout the country in 1872, and in 1886 a system providing three to four years of education was inaugurated. The introduction of modern education did not encounter many problems, primarily because it utilized the existing system. Free compulsory education was introduced in 1900, and in 1908 it was extended to a period of six years. Since 1947, education has been compulsory for a nine-year period, beginning at the age of six.
SYSTEM ORGANIZATION PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION The primary and secondary educational systems are organized as follows: kindergarten (not compulsory), from one to three years; compulsory elementary school, six years; compulsory middle school, three years; and high school (not compulsory), another three years. Public elementary and middle schools are free, and there are numerous private institutions. Japan is one of the few countries in the world that provide a complete and thorough education for almost all their people. Although neither kindergartens nor high schools are compulsory, attendance at both has become virtually universal.
In principle, educational administration is decentralized; responsibilities for the budget, curriculum, teacher appointments, and the supervision of elementary and middle schools are in the hands of local educational boards, with the Ministry of Education playing a coordinating role. In practice, however, the ministry keeps a tight rein on curriculum and other aspects of primary and secondary instruction. Some reforms of the public system, including modifying the curriculum to make it less regimented and eliminating classes on Saturdays (which had begun to be phased out in the mid-1990s), were undertaken in the early 21st century.
HIGHER EDUCATION Institutions of higher education—of which there are some 1,200—consist of junior colleges, with degree programs that last two to three years, and ordinary colleges and universities, whose programs last four years. A master’s degree can be obtained in two years after a bachelor’s degree is earned and a doctor’s degree in three years after completion of a master’s degree program. In addition, there are five-year technological colleges that combine high school and junior college education. The Tokyo metropolitan area, including Yokohama and many other satellite cities, has a high concentration of both institutions and college students. Of note is Tsukuba Science City, located about 40 miles (65 km) northeast of Tokyo, which consists of research facilities and educational institutions (especially the University of Tsukuba). In addition to the two major public universities in Tokyo and Kyōto, prominent private institutions include Waseda and Keiō universities in Tokyo and Dōshisha University in Kyōto.
The number of female undergraduate students and their proportion of the overall student body has grown significantly since 1980; however, females still constitute somewhat than less than half of the total number of students. The number of foreign students attending Japanese colleges and universities also has increased considerably since the 1980s, the great majority of them coming from China and South Korea.
CONTINUING EDUCATION Education in Japan extends well beyond formal schooling. The great variety of instruction offered and the large number of people it attracts shows a strong enthusiasm for continued adult learning. The government has worked to advance the cause of adult education through legislation and by developing facilities for such activities. Both local governments and private institutions offer classes in general education, vocational training, technology, homemaking, home economics, arts, physical education, and recreation. Foreign-language schools have become especially popular. In 1985 the University of the Air (renamed the Open University of Japan in 2007) began operation as a means of providing opportunities for higher education via television broadcasts.
Culture and Sports of Japan
Historically, the development of Japanese culture has been characterized by periods of foreign influence followed by periods of isolation, during which the foreign innovations were developed into uniquely Japanese cultural traditions. Traditional Japanese arts include crafts (ikebana, origami, ukiyo-e, dolls, lacquerware, pottery), performances (bunraku, dance, kabuki, noh, rakugo), traditions (games, tea ceremony, budō, architecture, gardens, swords), and cuisine.
Urbanization and the rise of a middle class during the Edo period created a demand for popular art and music and resulted in artistic innovations such as ukiyo-e, souvenir woodblock prints, and posters. Western influence introduced new concepts to Japanese artists and craftsmen, whose work in turn influenced European art during the nineteenth century. The fusion of traditional woodblock printing and Western art led to the creation of modern manga, a typical Japanese 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 prospered since the 1980s.
Japanese music is eclectic, having borrowed instruments, scales, and styles from neighboring cultures. Many instruments, such as the koto, were introduced in the ninth and tenth centuries. The accompanied recitative of the Noh drama dates from the fourteenth century and the popular folk music, with the guitar-like shamisen, from the sixteenth. Western music, introduced in the late nineteenth century, now forms an integral part of Japanese culture. Post-war Japan has been heavily influenced by American and European modern music, which has led to the evolution of popular band music called J-Pop. Karaoke is the most widely practiced cultural activity. A November 1993 survey by the Cultural Affairs Agency found that more Japanese had sung karaoke that year than had participated in traditional cultural pursuits such as flower arranging or tea ceremony.
The earliest works of Japanese literature include two history books, the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) and the eighth century poetry book Man'yōshū (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), all written in Chinese characters. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is considered the oldest Japanese narrative. The Pillow Book written by Sei Shōnagon gives a detailed account of Heian court life, and its contemporary, The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki is often described as the world's first novel. During the Edo Period, literature was no longer confined to the elite aristocratic and samurai classes. Literary genres such as the yomihon used legend, romance, and fantasy as subject matter, rather than history and the lives of the nobility. During the Meiji era, traditional literary forms declined as Japanese literature integrated Western influences. Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ogai were the first "modern" novelists of Japan, followed by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Tanizaki Junichirō, Kawabata Yasunari, Mishima Yukio and, more recently, Murakami Haruki. Japan has two Nobel Prize-winning authors, Kawabata Yasunari (1968) and Oe Kenzaburo (1994).
Sumo, traditionally Japan's national sport, is one of its most popular spectator sports. Martial arts such as judo, karate, and kendō are also widely practiced and enjoyed as spectator sports in Japan. After the Meiji Restoration, many Western sports were introduced and began to spread through the education system.
The professional Japanese Baseball League was established in 1936. Today baseball is the most popular spectator sport in the country. One of the most famous Japanese baseball players is Ichiro Suzuki, who, having won Japan's Most Valuable Player award in 1994, 1995, and 1996, now plays in North American major league baseball. Since the establishment of the Japan Professional Football League in 1992, football in Japan 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.
Golf is popular in Japan, as is auto racing, the Super GT sports car series, and Formula Nippon formula racing.
History of Japan
Early History to the Ashikaga Shoguns
Japan's early history is lost in legend. The divine design of the empire—supposedly founded in 660 B.C. by the emperor Jimmu, a lineal descendant of the sun goddess and ancestor of the present emperor—was held as official dogma until 1945. Actually, reliable records date back only to about A.D. 400. In the first centuries of the Christian era the country was inhabited by numerous clans or tribal kingdoms ruled by priest-chiefs. Contacts with Korea were close, and bronze and iron implements were probably introduced by invaders from Korea around the 1st cent. By the 5th cent. the Yamato clan, whose original home was apparently in Kyushu, had settled in the vicinity of modern Kyoto and had established a loose control over the other clans of central and W Japan, laying the foundation of the Japanese state.
From the 6th to the 8th cent. the rapidly developing society gained much in the arts of civilization under the strong cultural influence of China, then flourishing in the splendor of the T'ang dynasty. Buddhism was introduced, and the Japanese upper classes assiduously studied Chinese language, literature, philosophy, art, science, and government, creating their own forms adapted from Chinese models. A partially successful attempt was made to set up a centralized, bureaucratic government like that of imperial China. The Yamato priest-chief assumed the dignity of an emperor, and an imposing capital city, modeled on the T'ang capital, was erected at Nara, to be succeeded by an equally imposing capital at Kyoto.
By the 9th cent., however, the powerful Fujiwara family had established a firm control over the imperial court. The Fujiwara influence and the power of the Buddhist priesthood undermined the authority of the imperial government. Provincial gentry—particularly the great clans who opposed the Fujiwara—evaded imperial taxes and grew strong. A feudal system developed. Civil warfare was almost continuous in the 12th cent.
The Minamoto family defeated their rivals, the Taira, and became masters of Japan. Their great leader, Yoritomo, took the title of shogun, established his capital at Kamakura, and set up a military dictatorship. For the next 700 years Japan was ruled by warriors. The old civil administration was not abolished, but gradually decayed, and the imperial court at Kyoto fell into obscurity. The Minamoto soon gave way to the Hojo, who managed the Kamakura administration as regents for puppet shoguns, much as the Fujiwara had controlled the imperial court.
In 1274 and again in 1281 the Mongols under Kublai Khan tried unsuccessfully to invade the country (see kamikaze). In 1331 the emperor Daigo II attempted to restore imperial rule. He failed, but the revolt brought about the downfall of the Kamakura regime. The Ashikaga family took over the shogunate in 1338 and settled at Kyoto, but were unable to consolidate their power. The next 250 years were marked by civil wars, during which the feudal barons (the daimyo) and the Buddhist monasteries built up local domains and private armies. Nevertheless, in the midst of incessant wars there was a brisk development of manufacturing and trade, typified by the rise of Sakai (later Osaka) as a free city not subject to feudal control. This period saw the birth of a middle class. Extensive maritime commerce was carried on with the continent and with SE Asia; Japanese traders and pirates dominated East Asian waters until the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th cent.
- The Tokugawa Shoguns and the Meiji Restoration
The first European contact with Japan was made by Portuguese sailors in 1542. A small trade with the West developed. Christianity was introduced by St. Francis Xavier, who reached Japan in 1549. In the late 16th cent. three warriors, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu, established military control over the whole country and succeeded one another in the dictatorship. Hideyoshi unsuccessfully invaded Korea in 1592 and 1596 in an effort to conquer China. After Hideyoshi's death, Ieyasu took the title of shogun, and his family ruled Japan for over 250 years. They set up at Yedo (later Tokyo) a centralized, efficient, but repressive system of feudal government (see Tokugawa). Stability and internal peace were secured, but social progress was stifled. Christianity was suppressed, and all intercourse with foreign countries was prohibited except for a Dutch trading post at Nagasaki.
Tokugawa society was rigidly divided into the daimyo, samurai, peasants, artisans, and merchants, in that order. The system was imbued with Confucian ideas of loyalty to superiors, and military virtues were cultivated by the ruling aristocracy (see bushido). Oppression of the peasants led to many sporadic uprisings. Yet despite feudal restrictions, production and trade expanded, the use of money and credit increased, flourishing cities grew up, and the rising merchant class acquired great wealth and economic power. Japan was in fact moving toward a capitalist system.
By the middle of the 19th cent. the country was ripe for change. Most daimyo were in debt to the merchants, and discontent was rife among impoverished but ambitious samurai. The great clans of W Japan, notably Choshu and Satsuma, had long been impatient of Tokugawa control. In 1854 an American naval officer, Matthew C. Perry, forced the opening of trade with the West. Japan was compelled to admit foreign merchants and to sign unequal treaties. Attacks on foreigners were answered by the bombardment of Kagoshima and Shimonoseki. Threatened from within and without, the shogunate collapsed. In 1867 a conspiracy engineered by the western clans and imperial court nobles forced the shogun's resignation. After brief fighting, the boy emperor Meiji was "restored" to power in the Meiji restoration (1868), and the imperial capital was transferred from Kyoto to Tokyo.
- Industrial and Military Expansion
Although the Meiji restoration was originally inspired by antiforeign sentiment, Japan's new rulers quickly realized the impossibility of expelling the foreigners. Instead they strove to strengthen Japan by adopting the techniques of Western civilization. Under the leadership of an exceptionally able group of statesmen (who were chiefly samurai of the western clans) Japan was rapidly transformed into a modern industrial state and a great military power.
Feudalism was abolished in 1871. The defeat of the Satsuma rebellion in 1877 marked the end of opposition to the new regime. Emissaries were sent abroad to study Western military science, industrial technology, and political institutions. The administration was reorganized on Western lines. An efficient modern army and navy were created, and military conscription was introduced. Industrial development was actively fostered by the state, working in close cooperation with the great merchant houses. A new currency and banking system were established. New law codes were enacted. Primary education was made compulsory.
In 1889 the emperor granted a constitution, modeled in part on that of Prussia. Supreme authority was vested in the emperor, who in practice was largely a figurehead controlled by the clan oligarchy. Subordinate organs of government included a privy council, a cabinet, and a diet consisting of a partially elected house of peers and a fully elected house of representatives. Universal manhood suffrage was not granted until 1925.
After the Meiji restoration nationalistic feeling ran high. The old myths of imperial and racial divinity, rediscovered by scholars in the Tokugawa period, were revived, and the sentiment of loyalty to the emperor was actively propagated by the new government. Feudal glorification of the warrior and belief in the unique virtues of Japan's "Imperial Way" combined with the expansive drives of modern industrialism to produce a vigorous imperialism. At first concerned with defending Japanese independence against the Western powers, Japan soon joined them in the competition for an Asian empire. By 1899, Japan cast off the shackles of extraterritoriality, which allowed foreign powers to exempt themselves from Japanese law, thus avoiding taxes and tariffs. It was not until 1911 that full tariff autonomy was gained.
The First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) marked the real emergence of imperial Japan, with acquisition of Taiwan and the Pescadores and also of the Liao-tung peninsula in Manchuria, which the great powers forced it to relinquish. An alliance with Great Britain in 1902 increased Japanese prestige, which reached a peak as a result of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904–5. Unexpectedly the Japanese smashed the might of Russia with speed and efficiency. The treaty of Portsmouth (see Portsmouth, Treaty of), ending the war, recognized Japan as a world power. A territorial foothold had been gained in Manchuria. In 1910, Japan was able to officially annex Korea, which they had controlled de facto since 1905. During World War I the Japanese secured the German interests in Shandong (later restored to China) and received the German-owned islands in the Pacific as mandates. In 1915, Japan presented the Twenty-one Demands designed to reduce China to a protectorate. The other world powers opposed those items that would have given Japan policy control in Chinese affairs, but China accepted the rest of the demands.
In 1918, Japan took the lead in Allied military intervention in Siberia, and Japanese troops remained there until 1922. These moves, together with an intensive program of naval armament, led to some friction with the United States, which was temporarily adjusted by the Washington Conference of 1921–22 (see naval conferences).
During the next decade the expansionist drive abated in Japan, and liberal and democratic forces gained ground. The power of the diet increased, party cabinets were formed (see Seiyukai), and despite police repression, labor and peasant unions attained some strength. Liberal and radical ideas became popular among students and intellectuals. Politics was dominated by big business (see zaibatsu), and businessmen were more interested in economic than in military expansion. Trade and industry, stimulated by World War I, continued to expand, though interrupted by the earthquake of 1923, which destroyed much of Tokyo and Yokohama. Agriculture, in contrast, remained depressed. Japan pursued a moderate policy toward China, relying chiefly on economic penetration and diplomacy to advance Japanese interests.
- Militarism and War
The moderate stance regarding China as well as other foreign policies pursued by the government displeased more extreme militarist and nationalist elements developing in Japan, some of whom disliked capitalism and advocated state socialism. Chief among these groups were the Kwantung army in Manchuria, young army and navy officers, and various organizations such as the Amur River Society, which included many prominent men. Militarist propaganda was aided by the depression of 1929, which ruined Japan's silk trade. In 1931 the Kwantung army precipitated an incident at Shenyang (Mukden) and promptly overran all of Manchuria, which was detached from China and set up as the puppet state of Manchukuo. When the League of Nations criticized Japan's action, Japan withdrew from the organization.
During the 1930s the military party gradually extended its control over the government, brought about an increase in armaments, and reached a working agreement with the zaibatsu. Military extremists instigated the assassination of Prime Minister Inukai in 1932 and an attempted coup in 1936. At the same time Japan was experiencing a great export boom, due largely to currency depreciation. From 1932 to 1937, Japan engaged in gradual economic and political penetration of N China. In July, 1937, after an incident at Beijing, Japanese troops invaded the northern provinces. Chinese resistance led to full-scale though undeclared war (see Sino-Japanese War, Second). A puppet Chinese government was installed at Nanjing in 1940.
Meanwhile relations with the Soviet Union were tense and worsened after Japan and Germany joined together against the Soviet Union in the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936 (see Comintern). In 1938 and 1939 armed clashes took place on the Manchurian border. Japan then stepped up an armament program, extended state control over industry through the National Mobilization Act (1938), and intensified police repression of dissident elements. In 1940 all political parties were dissolved and were replaced by the state-sponsored Imperial Rule Assistance Association.
After World War II erupted (1939) in Europe, Japan signed a military alliance with Germany and Italy, sent troops to Indochina (1940), and announced the intention of creating a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" under Japan's leadership. In Apr., 1941, a neutrality treaty with Russia was triumphantly concluded. In Oct., 1941, the militarists achieved complete control in Japan, when Gen. Hideki Tojo succeeded a civilian, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, as prime minister.
Unable to neutralize U.S. opposition to its actions in SE Asia, Japan opened hostilities against the United States and Great Britain on Dec. 7, 1941, by striking at Pearl Harbor, Singapore, and other Pacific possessions. The fortunes of war at first ran in favor of Japan, and by the end of 1942 the spread of Japanese military might over the Pacific to the doors of India and of Alaska was prodigious (see World War II). Then the tide turned; territory was lost to the Allies island by island; warfare reached Japan itself with intensive bombing; and finally in 1945, following the explosion of atomic bombs by the United States over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered on Aug. 14, the formal surrender being on the U.S. battleship Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on Sept. 2, 1945.
- Surrender and Occupation
The Japanese surrender at the end of World War II was unconditional, but the terms for Allied treatment of the conquered power had been laid down at the Potsdam Conference. The empire was dissolved, and Japan was deprived of all territories it had seized by force. The Japanese Empire at its height had included the southern half of Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Pescadores, Korea, the Bonin Islands, the Kwantung protectorate in Manchuria, and the island groups held as mandates from the League of Nations (the Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands, and Mariana Islands (see Northern Mariana Islands). In the early years of the war, Japan had conquered vast new territories, including a large part of China, SE Asia, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies. With defeat, Japan was reduced to its size before the imperialist adventure began.
The country was demilitarized, and steps were taken to bring forth "a peacefully inclined and responsible government." Industry was to be adequate for peacetime needs, but war-potential industries were forbidden. Until these conditions were fulfilled Japan was to be under Allied military occupation. The occupation began immediately under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. A Far Eastern Commission, representing 11 Allied nations and an Allied council in Tokyo, was to supervise general policy. The commission, however, suffered from the rising tension between the USSR and the Western nations and did not function effectively, leaving the U.S. occupation forces in virtual control.
The occupation force controlled Japan through the existing machinery of Japanese government. A new constitution was adopted in 1946 and went into effect in 1947; the emperor publicly disclaimed his divinity. The general conservative trend in politics was tempered by the elections of 1947, which made the Social Democratic party headed by Tetsu Katayama the dominant force in a two-party coalition government. In 1948 the Social Democrats slipped to a secondary position in the coalition, and in 1949 they lost power completely when the conservatives took full charge under Shigeru Yoshida.
Many of the militarist leaders and generals were tried as war criminals and in 1948 many were convicted and executed, and an attempt was made to break up the zaibatsu. Economic revival proceeded slowly with much unemployment and a low level of production, which improved only gradually. In 1949, however, MacArthur loosened the bonds of military government, and many responsibilities were restored to local authorities. At San Francisco in Sept., 1951, a peace treaty was signed between Japan and most of its opponents in World War II. India and Burma (Myanmar) refused to attend the conference, and the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Poland refused to sign the treaty. It nevertheless went into effect on Apr. 28, 1952, and Japan again assumed full sovereignty.
- Postwar Japan
The elections in 1952 kept the conservative Liberal party and Premier Shigeru Yoshida in power. In Nov., 1954, the Japan Democratic party was founded. This new group attacked governmental corruption and advocated stable relations with the USSR and Communist China. In Dec., 1954, Yoshida resigned, and Ichiro Hatoyama, leader of the opposition, succeeded him. The Liberal and Japan Democratic parties merged in 1955 to become the Liberal Democratic party (LDP). Hatoyama resigned because of illness in 1956 and was succeeded by Tanzan Ishibashi of the LDP. Ishibashi was also forced to resign because of illness and was followed by fellow party member Nobusuke Kishi in 1957.
In the 1950s Japan signed peace treaties with Taiwan, India, Burma (Myanmar), the Philippines, and Indonesia. Reparations agreements were concluded with Burma (Myanmar), the Philippines, Indonesia, and South Vietnam, with reparations to be paid in the form of goods and services to stimulate Asian economic development. In 1951, Japan signed a security treaty with the United States, providing for U.S. defense of Japan against external attack and allowing the United States to station troops in the country. New security treaties with the United States were negotiated in 1960 and 1970. Many Japanese felt that military ties with the United States would draw them into another war. Student groups and labor unions, often led by Communists, demonstrated during the 1950s and 1960s against military alliances and nuclear testing.
Prime Minister Kishi was forced to resign in 1960 following the diet's acceptance, under pressure, of the U.S.-Japanese security treaty. He was succeeded by Hayato Ikeda, also of the LDP. Ikeda led his party to two resounding victories in 1960 and 1963. He resigned in 1964 because of illness and was replaced by Eisaku Sato, also of the LDP. Sato overcame strong opposition to his policies and managed to keep himself and his party in firm control of the government throughout the 1960s.
Opposition to the government because of its U.S. ties abated somewhat in the early 1970s when the United States agreed to relinquish its control of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, which had come under U.S. administration after World War II. All of the Ryukyus formally reverted to Japanese control in 1972. In that same year, Sato resigned and was succeeded by Kakuei Tanaka, also a Liberal Democrat. For his efforts in opposing the development of nuclear weapons in Japan, Sato was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974. Later that year, Tanaka resigned and was replaced as prime minister by Takeo Miki, another Liberal Democrat. Miki, who became embroiled in a scandal over his personal finances, was replaced by Takeo Fukuda. Though Fukuda was considered to be an expert in economic policy, he had difficulty in combating the economic downturn of the late 1970s. He was replaced by Masayoshi Ohira, who died in office in 1980 and was replaced by Zenko Suzuki.
In 1982, the more outspoken Yasuhiro Nakasone took office. He argued for an increase in Japan's defensive capability, extended his second term by an extra year, and appointed his own successor, Noboru Takeshita. The terms of both Takeshita and his replacement, Sosuke Uno, were cut short by influence-peddling and other scandals that shook the LDP and caused a public outcry for governmental reform. In the general election of 1989, the LDP lost in the upper house of the parliament for the first time in 35 years; nonetheless, LDP president Toshiki Kaifu became prime minister later that year. He drew much criticism for pledging $9 million to the United States for military operations in the Persian Gulf, and in 1991 he was succeeded as prime minister by Kiichi Miyazawa.
After the LDP split over the issue of political reforms in 1993, the Miyazawa government fell. None of Japan's political parties managed to win a majority in the subsequent elections. An opposition coalition formed a government and Morihiro Hosokawa became prime minister. Hosokawa resigned in 1994 and was succeeded by fellow coalition member Tsutomi Hata, who resigned after just two months in office. In June, 1994, Tomiichi Murayama was named prime minister of an unlikely coalition of Socialists (who later became the Social Democrats) and Liberal Democrats, thus becoming the nation's first Socialist leader since 1948.
During 1995, Japan was shaken by two major disasters. The worst earthquake in Japan in more than 70 years struck the Kobe region on Jan. 17, killing more than 6,400 people. On Mar. 20, lethal nerve gas was released through plastic bags left in the Tokyo subway system by members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious group; 12 people were killed, and about 5,000 others suffered ill effects.
Murayama resigned as prime minister early in 1996 and was succeeded by LDP leader Ryutaro Hashimoto. In 1997, Japan suffered a major economic crisis resulting from the failure of stock brokerage firms and banks. The financial industry was rocked by scandals, leading to a number of prosecutions and, in early 1998, the resignation of the finance minister and the governor of the Bank of Japan, the nation's central bank. Although Prime Minister Hashimoto announced a program of tax cuts and spending to spur the economy, Japan slipped into its deepest recession since the end of World War II. The country's bad debt was estimated at near $1 trillion when Keizo Obuchi was elected head of the LDP and succeeded Hashimoto as prime minister in mid-1998. In Oct., 1998, the parliament approved legislation to allow the government to nationalize failing banks and to commit more than $500 billion to rescue the nation's banking system. By the time Japan's economy began to revive somewhat in 1999, the government had spent more than $1 trillion in a series of economic stimulus packages that included numerous public works projects.
In Jan., 1999, the LDP agreed to form a coalition government with the Liberal party, and the New Komeito party (a Buddhist-influenced party) later joined the coalition. The Liberals withdrew from the government in Apr., 2000. Shortly afterward, Obuchi was incapacitated by a severe stroke and was replaced as prime minister by Yoshiro Mori, secretary-general of the LDP. lower-house elections the LDP-led coalition lost seats, but it retained control of the house and Mori remained prime minister. A series of political blunders undermined Mori, who was replaced by Junichiro Koizumi, an insurgent supported by the LDP rank and file, in Apr., 2001; the same month the New Conservative party joined the governing coalition. An LDP victory in upper-house elections in July, which the party had earlier been expected to lose, was regarded by Koizumi as a mandate for his government. Reform was resisted, however, by entrenched government bureaucrats as well as by LDP factions that would be affected by it, and Koizumi's government has tended to avoid difficult choices and largely has continued the status quo.
Despite that mandate and his initial popularity, Koizumi had difficulty passing more than superficial economic reforms, as powerful and entrenched bureaucratic and LDP interests resisted change. The stagnant economy, hindered by a domestic deflationary spiral that began in the early 1990s and did not clearly end until 2006 and by contraction overseas, experienced its fourth recession in 10 years in 2001. In November unemployment reached 5.5%, a postwar high. In part because of already high levels of government debt, Koizumi's government adopted a 2002 budget that reduced expenditures, instead of increasing spending to stimulate the economy. The economy improved beginning in 2002, but the government continued to fail to make any significant economic reforms. Also in 2002, Koizumi made a landmark visit to North Korea, which led to an agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea.
Elections in 2003 resulted in large gains for the opposition Democratic party of Japan (DPJ), but the LDP-led coalition retained a significant majority in parliament. Following the election, the New Conservatives merged with the LDP. The LDP and New Komeito party largely held onto their majority in the July, 2004, upper house elections, but the DPJ made solid gains at the expense of smaller parties.
In 2005, Koizumi sought to win passage of a plan to privatize Japan Post, which includes Japan's largest savings and insurance systems in addition to the postal system, but failed to win support for it in the upper house when a sizable number of LDP members voted against it. Calling a snap lower-house election, Koizumi gained (Sept., 2005) a huge victory in which the LDP took 60% of the seats, and the following month secured passage of legislation to privatize Japan Post over the decade beginning in 2007. A 2006 proposal by Koizumi to allow women, and children through the maternal line, to succeed to the Japanese throne (because the current emperor has no grandsons) brought protests from Japanese conservatives. That opposition and the birth of a son to the emperor's younger son led the prime minister to shelve the proposed change.
Koizumi retired as prime minister in Sept., 2006; newly elected LDP-leader Shinzo Abe succeeded him in the post. The agency responsible for overseeing Japan's self-defense forces was upgraded to a ministry in Dec., 2006, and the forces' mandate was expanded to include international peacekeeping and relief. At the same time the Abe government enacted legislation designed to promote patriotism in Japanese schools. A series of financial scandals involving cabinet officials and electoral losses (July, 2007) that ended the LDP's control of the Diet's upper house led to Abe's resignation as prime minister in Sept., 2007. Liberal Democrat Yasuo Fukuda, a former chief cabinet secretary and the son of former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, was chosen as Abe's successor. Fukuda's term in office turned out to be as brief as his predecessor's. An economic downturn and series of scandals hurt undermined his prime ministership, although there was an improvement in Japan's relations with China, including the first visit to Japan by a Chinese head of state (May, 2008) and an agreement (June, 2008) to develop jointly a contested natural gas field in the East China Sea. However, the opposition's control of the Diet's upper house enabled it to stymie the passage of significant legislation, including an economic stimulus package, and Fukuda resigned in Sept., 2008.
Taro Aso, an outspoken conservative and former foreign minister, became LDP party leader and prime minister. A series of stumbles and Japan's slide into recession in 2008 soon undermined Aso's government as well. The recession, which developed into the worst downturn since World War II as demand for Japanese exports plunged, led the government to propose stimulus packages cumulatively worth $27.4 trillion yen by Apr., 2009. Beginning in Mar., 2009, Japan also experienced a new round of deflation. Also that year, Japan joined the antipiracy forces off the Somali coast and in June expanded the powers of the self-defense forces to allow them to protect vessels of any nation from piracy.
After the LDP suffered losses in local elections in Tokyo in July, Aso moved to call parliamentary elections for late August. The DPJ subsequently won control of the Diet's lower house in a landslide, ending the LDP's postwar dominance of Japan's government; DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama became prime minister. The DPJ assured control of the upper house as well by forming a coalition with two smaller parties, but one of the parties quit the coalition in May, 2010, after the government agreed to continue basing U.S. forces on Okinawa despite DPJ campaign promises to the contrary. Hatoyama subsequently resigned as DPJ leader and prime minister, and in June Naoto Kan, the finance minister, succeeded him; the new government did not change Hatoyama's decision concerning Okinawa. The DPJ subsequently lost control of the Diet's upper house in the July, 2010, elections, but in September Kan survived a DPJ leadership challenge from Ichiro Ozawa.
Funding scandals involving Ozawa and the foreign minister led (Mar., 2011) to calls for Kan to step down, but that was soon eclipsed by the effects of a 9.0 offshore earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which devastated many areas of the NE Honshu coast on March 11. More than 20,000 were killed or missing, mainly as a result of the tsunami, which overtopped many seawalls and reached as far as 5 mi (8 km) inland in some places. Damage was estimated at $210 billion, and the nation's economy suffered a slowdown as a result. Japan's worst natural disaster since the 1923 Tokyo earthquake also led to cooling failures at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima that resulted in meltdowns and the release of radioactive material into the air and sea.
In June, Kan, who had become to be regarded as indecisive in the aftermath of the disaster, survived a no-confidence vote and a rebellion by members of his own party by promising to step down after the worst of the nuclear crisis had passed. When he resigned in August, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda succeeded him as DPJ leader and prime minister. Passage of an increase in the sales tax in June, 2012, led Ichiro Ozawa and his faction to quit the DPJ.
In the elections of Dec., 2012, the LDP won a resounding victory, winning a sizable majority and, with its coalition partner New Komeito, securing two thirds of the lower house seats. Shinzo Abe, who had led Japan in 2006–7, again became prime minister. In 2013, the new government subsequently adopted a stimulus package, and the Bank of Japan eased its monetary policy and undertook other measures to spur growth. In the July, 2013, the governing coalition also won control of the upper house, in an election marked by light turnout and a fragmented opposition vote.
- Postwar International Relations
As the world's second largest national economy, Japan has struggled to define its international role. Its postwar foreign policy was aimed at the maintenance and expansion of foreign markets, and the United States became its chief ally and trade partner. In the early 1970s, however, U.S.-Japanese relations became strained after the United States pressured Japan to revalue the yen, and again when it began talks with Communist China without prior consultation with Japan. Partly in response, the Tanaka government established (1972) diplomatic relations with Communist China and announced plans for negotiation of a peace treaty. Relations also became strained with South Korea and Taiwan. Japan did not sign a peace treaty with the USSR because of a dispute over territory in the Kuril Islands formerly held by Japan but occupied by the USSR after the war. The two countries did, however, sign (1956) a peace declaration and establish fishing and trading agreements. The unresolved issue of the Kuril Islands remained a source of friction in Japan-Russia relations into the 21st cent.
Beginning in late 1973, when Arab nations initiated a cutback in oil exports, Japan faced a grave economic situation that threatened to reduce power and industrial production. In addition, a high annual inflation rate (19% in 1973), a price freeze, and the instability of the yen on the international money markets slowed Japan's economy; in the late 1970s, however, the continued growth of foreign markets brought Japan out of its slump.
In the 1980s many Japanese firms invested heavily in other countries, and Japan had a surplus with virtually every nation with which it traded. The high level of government involvement in banking and industry led many other countries to accuse Japan of protectionism. The United States in particular sought to reduce its huge trade deficit with Japan. Japan also had to deal with growing economic competition within its own region from such countries as South Korea, Taiwan, and (beginning in the 1990s) China. Japan's emphasis on exports also caused it to neglect its domestic markets.
In addition to these economic pressures, great political pressure was put on Japan to assume a larger role in world affairs. Although its constitution forbids the maintenance of armed forces, Japan has a sizable military capability for defensive warfare. The United States has increasingly pressed Japan to assume a larger share of responsibility for the defense of its region. The first Persian Gulf War caused great dissension in Japan. The government, which felt tremendous pressure to contribute to the UN effort in accordance with its economic power, also had to address the decidedly antimilitaristic bias of the Japanese people. In 2001, Japan provided refueling support in the Indian Ocean to U.S. naval forces involved in the invasion of Afghanistan. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Japan also contributed (2004–6) forces to reconstruction efforts. That deployment was opposed by most Japanese, despite its noncombat nature.
Meanwhile, by 2003 concern over North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles and over China's growing power led to the removal of some legal restrictions on the government's ability to respond militarily to an attack, and the Liberal Democrats proposed amending the constitution's limits on its defense forces. Late in 2004 relations with North Korea became especially strained when Japan suspended food aid to it after the remains it returned to Japan of a woman who had been kidnapped by Korea turned out to be not hers. The issues of North Korean missile development and the abduction of Japanese citizens increasingly worsened bilateral relations into 2006.
Relations with South Korea and China soured in the spring of 2005. Both nations were upset by school history textbooks that minimized aspects of Japan's role in World War II. In addition, South Koreans objected to the reassertion of Japanese claims to the Liancourt Rocks, which Korea occupies, while Chinese demonstrated against a plan that called for giving Japan a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and both nations contested the ownership of an exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea. The annual visits of the Prime Minister Koizumi to the Tokyo shrine honoring Japan's war dead also strained relations with South Korea and China, as did Prime Minister Abe's remarks (early 2007) denying that Japan's military had forced Asian women to serve in its brothels during World War II. Abe nonetheless managed to improve relations with China, in part by not visiting the Tokyo shrine.
North Korea's announcement of a nuclear weapons test in Oct., 2006, brought a quick and strong response from Japan, which imposed new, much tighter sanctions on North Korea. All trade with North Korea was banned, and most travel from the North was was as well. Japan also pushed for strong UN sanctions to be imposed on the North. Although Japan supported the Jan., 2007, six-party agreement that called for closure of North Korea's reactor, it maintained a harder line in its bilateral relations with the North, concerned over unresolved abduction issues and North Korean missiles (which led to the installation of ballistic missile interceptors in 2007). Relations with North Korea remained difficult in subsequent years.
When DPJ came to power in 2009, it adopted a more assertive relationship with the United States, especially with respect to U.S. bases in Japan, and sought to improve relations with South Korea and China. The new government reviewed the proposed realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa, which was opposed by elements within the DPJ-led government and on Okinawa that preferred to see U.S. forces there reduced even further, but in May, 2010, the government announced it would honor the 2006 relocation agreement. That decision catalyzed the resignation of Prime Minister Hatoyama. Japan also ended its naval refueling mission in support of U.S. forces in the Indian Ocean.
In Sept., 2010, relations with China were strained after a Chinese trawler collided with Japanese patrol boats near the Senkaku Islands, an island group controlled by Japan but claimed by China. Japan accused the captain of intentionally crashing into the Japanese vessels, and when he was not released when his ship and crew was, China demanded his release, canceled high-level intergovernmental meetings with Japan, and was reported to have halted the export of industrially important rare earths to Japan. The captain subsequently was released, but the events undermined public support for the Japanese government, and frictions between the two nations remained. A revised agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa was reached in Apr., 2012; it did not change the number of U.S. forces that would remain after the realignment. Tensions over the Senkaku Islands, with both China and Taiwan, flared up again in the second half of 2012 and continued into 2013, and affected sales of Japanese products in China.
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