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Whitaker's Almanack: Japan

Information on Japan

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Nihon-koku/Nippon-koku – Japan

Whitaker's Almanack Definitions

  • Area – 377,915 sq. km
  • Capital – Tokyo; population, 36,506,600 (2009 est)
  • Major cities – Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kawasaki, Kobe, Kyoto (the ancient capital), Nagoya, Osaka, Saitama, Sapporo, Yokohama
  • Currency – Yen of 100 sen
  • Population – 127,368,088 falling at 0.07 per cent a year (2012 est)
  • Religion – Shinto 82 per cent, Buddhist 70 per cent, Christian 2 per cent (est); much of the population adheres to more than one religion, most commonly combining Shinto and Buddhist beliefs
  • Language – Japanese (official)
  • Population density – 350 per sq. km (2010)
  • Urban population – 66.8 per cent (2010 est)
  • Median age (years) – 44.8 (2011 est)
  • National anthem – 'Kimi ga Yo' ['May Your Reign Last Forever']
  • National day – 23 December (Birthday of Emperor Akihito)
  • Death penalty – Retained
  • CPI score – 8.0 (2011)

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Climate and Terrain

Japan consists of four large islands: Honshu (or Mainland), Shikoku, Kyushu and Hokkaido, and many smaller islands. Typically, the islands have coastal plains and wooded, mountainous interiors; 67 per cent of Japan's land area is forested. The mountains running across the mainland from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean include a number of volcanoes, mainly extinct or dormant. Elevation extremes range from 3,776m (Mt Fuji) to −4m (Hachiro-gata). The climate varies from temperate in the north to tropical in the south. Average temperatures in Tokyo range from 5°C in January to 27°C in August.

The islands are located at the intersection of three tectonic plates and are prone to seismic activity; 20 per cent of the world’s major earthquakes occur in this area. A magnitude-9 earthquake and the ensuing tsunami devastated the north-east of Honshu in March 2011.

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History and Politics

The 1947 constitution established Japan as a constitutional monarchy with a hereditary emperor as head of state. The bicameral Diet comprises the House of Representatives (the lower house) and the House of Councillors. The House of Representatives has 480 members directly elected for a four-year term, including 180 by proportional representation. The House of Councillors has 242 members, including 96 elected by proportional representation, who serve six-year terms, with half elected every three years; unlike the lower house, it cannot be dissolved by the prime minister. The prime minister is formally elected by the House of Representatives and appoints the cabinet.

The Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) has dominated post-war politics, holding power continuously from 1955 to 1993, and then – usually as the main party in coalition governments – from 1994 to 2009. In 2010, it regained control of the upper house of the legislature from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ); prime minister and leader of the DPJ-led coalition, Naoto Kan, subsequently resigned from office in August 2011, and was replaced by former finance minister Yoshihiko Noda.


HIM The Emperor of Japan, Akihito, born 23 December 1933, succeeded 8 January 1989, enthroned 12 November 1990
Heir, HRH Crown Prince Naruhito Hironomiya, born 23 February 1960


Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda
Finance, Jun Azumi
Foreign Affairs, Koichiro Gemba
Defence, Naoki Tanaka


101–104 Piccadilly, London W1J 7JT
T 020-7465 6500 E W
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, HE Keiichi Hayashi, apptd 2011


No. 1 Ichiban-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102–8381
T (+81) (3) 5211 1100 W
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, HE Sir David Warren, KCMG, apptd 2008

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The constitution prohibits the maintenance of armed forces, although internal security forces were created in the 1950s and their mission was extended in 1954 to include the defence of Japan against aggression. In the 1990s, legislation was passed permitting limited participation by the armed forces in UN peacekeeping missions and allowing them to enter foreign conflicts in order to rescue Japanese nationals. A revision to the USA–Japan defence cooperation guidelines agreed in 1997 permits Japan to play a supporting role in US military operations in areas surrounding Japan; Japanese troops were also deployed in Iraq to assist with post-war reconstruction between 2003 and 2006.

All aged 16–49, 2010 estMalesFemales
Available for military service27,301,44326,307,003
Fit for military service22,390,43121,540,322

Military expenditure – US$54,529m (2011)

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Economy and Trade

Japan has the third-largest economy in the world after the USA and China. Its rapid post-war economic growth, based largely on car and consumer electronics manufacturing, experienced a marked contraction from 1990. Exacerbated by the 1997 Asian economic crisis, the recession lasted 14 years, causing unprecedented levels of bankruptcy, unemployment and homelessness and a huge public debt (estimated at 192 per cent of GDP in 2009). Reforms introduced from 2001, particularly to the corporate and public sectors, improved economic growth from 2002 to 2007, but the economy went into recession again in 2008 owing to the global downturn. Government stimulus packages and an increase in global demand spurred the start of a recovery from late 2009, but the drop in production and cost of reconstruction following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami are expected to reverse this.

High-technology industries remain the mainstay of the economy, producing vehicles, electronic equipment, machine tools, steel and other metals, ships, chemicals, textiles and processed food. Financial services is also a major sector, supplying a global market. Agriculture is constrained by the mountainous terrain but intensive cultivation produces high yields, and there is a large fishing industry. The service sector contributes 74.6 per cent of GDP, industry 24 per cent and agriculture 1.4 per cent.

The main trading partners are China, the USA, other Pacific Rim countries and the Gulf states. Principal exports include transport equipment, motor vehicles, semiconductors, electrical machinery and chemicals. The main imports are machinery and equipment, fuels, foodstuffs, chemicals, textiles and raw materials.

GNI – US$5,601,557m; US$41,850 per capita (2010)
Annual average growth of GDP – -0.5 per cent (2011 est)
Inflation rate – 0.4 per cent (2011 est)
Unemployment – 4.8 per cent (2011 est)
Total external debt – US$2,719,000m (2011)
Imports – US$692,566m (2010)
Exports – US$770,003m (2010)


Trade – US$77,438m surplus (2010)
Current Account – US$195,856m surplus (2010)

Trade with UK20102011
Imports from UK£3,328,979,042£4,394,992,532
Exports to UK£8,624,970,671£8,509,383,029

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Airports – There are 144 airports and airfields; the principal airports include Haneda (Tokyo), Narita, Kansai and Chubu

Waterways – Japan has a large merchant fleet, with 684 ships of over 1,000 tonnes in 2011. The main seaports are Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Kobe and Kawasaki

Roadways – 1,210,251km, including 7,083 of motorways

Railways – 27,182km

Telecommunications – 40.41 million fixed lines and 121 million mobile subscriptions (2010); there were 99.18 million internet users in 2009

Internet code and IDD – jp; 81 (from UK); 1 44/010 44/41 44/61 44 (to UK)

Major broadcasters – A public broadcaster, NHK, provides radio and television services; satellite and cable television is widespread and digital broadcasting is expanding

Press – Around 80 per cent of the population reads a daily newspaper, creating huge markets for publications such as Asahi Shimbun and English-language title The Japan Times

WPFI score – 2,50 (11)

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Education and Health

Elementary education is free and compulsory at elementary level (six-year course) and lower secondary (three-year course).

Gross enrolment ratio (percentage of relevant age group) – primary 103 per cent; secondary 102 per cent; tertiary 59 per cent (2009 est)
Health expenditure (per capita) – US$3,321 (2009)
Hospital beds (per 1,000 people) – 13.8 (2004–9)
Life expectancy (years) – 83.91 (2012 est)
Mortality rate – 9.15 (2012 est)
Birth rate – 8.39 (2012 est)
Infant mortality rate – 2.21 (2012 est)

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