An Introduction to Japan

I should have written this when I first started this blog, but better late than never, eh?  Here is a brief introduction to Japan.


Japan is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, off the coasts of China, Korea, and Russia.  It consists of four large islands and several thousand small ones, and has a total land area slightly less than that of California.

Japan (orthographic projection)

[Picture taken from Wikipedia.]

In the Japanese language, “Japan” is called Nihon or Nippon.  These are just two ways of pronouncing 日本, which means “sun source,” hence “Land of the Rising Sun.”  Appropriately, the flag of Japan represents a sun.

Flag of Japan

Japan is a constitutional monarchy.  The emperor is the symbolic head of state and the prime minister is the head of government.  The legislature is a two-house parliament, known as the Diet.

The capital of Japan is Tokyo.   Tokyo’s population is about 12 million, but the Greater Tokyo Area (the region you get if you put the borders at where the city actually stops instead of where its official boundaries are) is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with 36 million people.  Tokyo also has the largest GDP of any city in the world.  New York is only US$60 billion behind, but the gap between New York and #3, LA, is about $500 billion.  Japan’s national economy, meanwhile, is the second third largest in the world.

Japan has a population of 127 million people.  98.5% of those people are ethnically Japanese, 0.5% are Korean, 0.4% are Chinese, and the rest come from everywhere else.  Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world, but the birthrate has dropped so much that the population has been contracting slightly for a few years now.

Finally, regarding religion, the CIA’s World Factbook says that about 84% of Japanese are Shinto, 71% are Buddhist, and 2% are Christian.  The numbers add up to more than 100 because most Japanese follow a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism, rather than only one or the other.  However, it’s worth noting that for the majority of these people, the Shinto and Buddhist beliefs and practices they adhere to fall more in the realms of culture and tradition than deep religious devotion.


And there you have it.

In separate posts, I’ll give overviews of Japan’s geography, history, and language.


*** Update – January 2011 ***

In 2010, China overtook Japan to become world’s second largest economy.

But speaking of “world’s largest,” this UN report from 2009 projects that Greater Tokyo will continue to be the biggest urban agglomeration (by population) for the next several decades at least.

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2 Responses to “An Introduction to Japan”

  1. The Geography of Japan « Erratic Dispatches Says:

    […] Erratic Dispatches from a former Kobe JET « An Introduction to Japan […]

  2. Plants and Animals of Japan « Erratic Dispatches Says:

    […] and Animals of Japan By kevinjames Following my Introduction to Japan and overview of The Geography of Japan, this is a brief look at the country’s flora and […]

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