The Japanese islands form an arc about 2,500 km long. There are a total of 4,000 islands, but only four are significant in terms of area: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. These separate the shallow shelves of the Sea of Japan to the west from the deep Japan Trench of the Pacific Ocean to the east and southeast. In the southwest, the 1000 km long Ryukyu Archipelago with the island of Okinawa forms the border between the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea. About 1,000 km south of Tokyo lie the small Bonin Islands and three Vulcan Islands even further. In the north, Hokkaido is separated from Sakhalin Island by the La Pérous Strait, and beyond the Nemuro Strait in the northeast lie the disputed Kuril Islands belonging to Russia.
Until the middle of the 19th century, any foreigner who tried to enter Japan risked his life, and none of the Japanese who left the country were allowed to return. After the forced end of the policy of isolation in 1853, the Japanese embarked on a path of rapid social and economic change and unlimited adoption of Western technology. According to Country Verifier, in the post-war period, Japanese society achieved immense economic growth within one generation.
According to the 1947 constitution, the emperor is not explicitly head of state, but he has the powers that normally belong to heads of state. The highest legislative body is the bicameral parliament (kokkai). It consists of the Lower House (shugiin), which consists of 592 deputies elected for 4 years, and the Upper House (sangiin), which consists of 252 members with a six-year mandate. The emperor appoints the prime minister based on the recommendation of the parliament.
At the local government level, Japan is divided into 43 prefectures (ken), 2 separate administrative regions (fa), the island of Hokkaido (dō) and the capital (to). Both prefectures and special status regions are governed by local councils whose members are elected by the population of the region and headed by governors. Prefectures are further divided into cities (pi), townships (mači or co) and villages (mura or son), with each lower administrative unit having its own local government. Most members of parliament are elected in individual prefectures on the basis of proportional representation, but 2/5 of the members of the Upper House are elected in so-called nationwide constituencies. Every citizen over the age of twenty has the right to vote. The Japanese constitution prohibits the maintenance of offensive armed forces, and Japan renounces war as a means of resolving international disputes.
Most Japanese belong to the Mongoloid race. However, the Ainu living in Hokkaido are descendants of the Austronesian populations that once inhabited all of Japan. Another national minority is the Koreans, still considered foreigners, even if they have a permanent residence permit, and the so-called burakumin – descendants of Japanese people from the impure caste.
The official language, Japanese, is quite different from all other Asian languages, although it does show some similarities to Korean. The writing system was originally based on Chinese characters, but was significantly modified over the centuries. After World War II, the Tokyo dialect became the basis of standard Japanese, but a number of local dialects are still widely used throughout Japan.
Shinto is a purely Japanese polytheistic religion. Alongside it, there is also Christianity, various forms of Buddhism and a number of new religions (Shinko Shukyo) that have appeared since the end of the 19th century. From the Meiji Restoration until the end of World War II, Shintoism was the state religion. Since then, the state does not support any religious direction and religious education in schools is prohibited. However, the constitution fully guarantees freedom of religion.
The Japanese have highly developed and polished cultural traditions. However, in recent years we can observe a growing influence of Western ideas. On the other hand, a number of Japanese cultural traditions have penetrated the whole world, especially in the field of sports and martial arts (judo, karate, kung fu, etc.). Japanese cinematography has also received international recognition as a unique artistic style.
Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Only on the island of Hokkaido is the average density lower than 100 inhabitants per km 2, in the rest of the territory it reaches 400 and in some prefectures up to 1000 inhabitants per km 2. During the 20th century, Japan achieved a high rate of urbanization and currently 78% of the population lives in cities. The Tokyo agglomeration, extending for 130 km along the entire bay of the same name, has around 28 million inhabitants and represents the largest concentration in the world. The age composition of the population is also changing. Both the birth rate and the death rate are gradually decreasing, with the result that the category of population under 15 does not even contribute to 17% of the total population, while the age group over 65 will soon reach the same share.