Japan, in long form the State of Japan, in Japanese Nihon or Nippon (日本) and Nihon-koku or Nippon-koku (日本国) respectively, is an island country in East Asia, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of China, South Korea and Russia, and north of Taiwan. Etymologically, the kanji (Chinese characters) that make up the name of Japan mean “country (国, kuni) of origin (本, hon) of the Sun (日, ni)”; thus Japan is referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun”.
Since 1945, Japan has formed an archipelago of 6,852 islands larger than 100 m2 , the four largest of which are Hokkaidō, Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū, which together account for 95% of the country’s land area. The archipelago stretches more than 3,000 kilometres. Most of the islands are mountainous, sometimes volcanic; for example, Japan’s highest peak, Mount Fuji (3,776 m), is a volcano (inactive since 1707). Japan is the eleventh most populous country in the world, with about 127 million people living on 377,975 km2 (337 inhab./km2 ), most of which is concentrated on the narrow coastal plains south of Honshū and north of Shikoku and Kyūshū, forming a virtually continuously urbanized area called the “Japanese Megacity” or “Taiheiyō Belt” (太平洋ベルト, Taiheiyō beruto, literally “Pacific Belt”). Greater Tokyo, which includes the capital Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures, is the world’s largest metropolitan area, with more than 35 million inhabitants. The city was the world’s leading financial centre in 1990.
Archaeological research shows that Japan was populated as early as the Upper Paleolithic period. The first written mentions of Japan are brief appearances in texts of Chinese history of the 1st century. The history of Japan is characterized by periods of great influence in the outside world followed by long periods of isolation. Since the adoption of its constitution in 1947, Japan has maintained a constitutional monarchy with an emperor and an elected parliament, the Diet.
Japan is the third largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP and fourth in terms of GDP at purchasing power parity. It is also the fourth largest exporter and sixth largest importer in the world. As a major player in international trade and a saving power, it has accumulated a net creditor position vis-à-vis the rest of the world of more than 325 trillion yen, placing it in first place ahead of China. It is a developed country with a very high standard of living (seventeenth highest HDI) and the longest life expectancy in the world according to UN estimates. But this idyllic picture should not hide important problems that weigh on the country’s future: Japan suffers from one of the lowest birth rates in the world, far below the generational renewal threshold. The country is currently in demographic decline. It is also the country with the highest gross public debt burden in the world, which in 2017 will amount to 240% of GDP.