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Posted by kaori 02/26/2009 @ 21:01

Tags : japan, asia, world

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Surrender of Japan

Japanese foreign affairs minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board USS Missouri as General Richard K. Sutherland watches.

The surrender of Japan in August 1945 brought World War II to a close. On August 10, 1945, after the invasion of Manchuria by the Soviet Union and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, Japan's leaders at the Supreme War Council (the "Big Six") decided, in principle, to accept the terms the Allies had set down for ending the war in the Potsdam Declaration. It was after several more days of behind-the-scenes negotiations and a failed coup d'état that on on August 15 Emperor Hirohito gave a radio address to the nation. In this radio address, called the Gyokuon-hoso (Jewel Voice Broadcast), Hirohito read the Imperial Rescript on Surrender, announcing Japan's surrender to the Japanese populace.

On August 28, occupation of Japan by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers began. On September 2, the Japanese government signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, which officially ended World War II. Allied civilians and servicemen alike celebrated VJ-day, the end of the war. Some isolated commands of Japan's far-flung forces throughout Asia and the Pacific islands refused to surrender for months and years after, up into the 1970s.

By 1945, the war was going very badly for Japan. For two years, the Japanese had suffered an unbroken string of defeats, in the South West Pacific, the Marianas campaign, and the Philippines campaign. In July 1944, following the loss of Saipan, General Hideki Tojo was replaced as prime minister by General Kuniaki Koiso, who declared that the Philippines would be the site of the decisive battle. After the fall of the Philippines, Koiso was in turn replaced by Admiral Kantarō Suzuki. The first half of 1945 saw the Allies capture the nearby islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Okinawa was to be a staging area for the Invasion of Japan itself.

The Japanese Imperial High Command planned an all-out defense of Kyushu code named Operation Ketsu-Go.

Legally, the Japanese Army and Navy had the right to nominate (or refuse to nominate) their respective ministers. Thus, they could prevent the formation of undesirable governments, or by resignation bring about the collapse of an existing government.

Japanese leaders had always envisioned a negotiated settlement to the war. Their pre-war planning expected a rapid expansion, consolidation, eventual conflict with the United States and then a settlement in which they were able to retain at least some of the new territory they had conquered. Although by 1945 Japan's leaders were in agreement that the war was going badly, they disagreed over the best means to negotiate an end to it. There were two camps: the so-called "peace" camp, which favored a diplomatic initiative to persuade Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, to mediate a settlement between the US, its allies and Japan; and the hard liners, who favored fighting one last "decisive" battle that would inflict so many casualties on the Allies that they would be willing to offer more lenient terms. Both approaches were based on Japan's experience in the Russo-Japanese War forty years earlier, which consisted of a series of costly but largely indecisive battles, followed by the decisive naval engagement in the Tsushima Strait.

By the end of January 1945, some Japanese officials close to the Emperor were seeking surrender terms which would protect his position. These proposals, sent through both British and American channels were assembled by General Douglas MacArthur into a 40-page dossier and given to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 2, two days before the Yalta Conference. The dossier was reportedly dismissed by Roosevelt out of hand—the proposals all included the condition that Emperor's position would be assured, albeit possibly as a puppet ruler. At this time, however, the allied policy was to accept only an unconditional offer of surrender. Additionally, these proposals were strongly opposed by powerful members of the Japanese government itself and thus cannot be said to represent the true willingness of Japan to surrender at this time.

In February 1945, Prince Fumimaro Konoe gave to Emperor Hirohito a memorandum about his analysis of the situation and told him that if the war continued, the Imperial house might be in greater danger from an internal revolution than from defeat. According to the diary of Grand Chamberlain Hisanori Fujita, the Emperor, looking for a decisive battle (tennōzan), replied that it was premature to seek peace, "unless we make one more military gain".

On April 5, the Soviet Union announced that it would not renew the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact, which had been signed in 1941 following the Nomonhan Incident. (At the Yalta conference in February 1945, the Western Allies had made substantial concessions to the Soviets in order to secure a promise from them that they would declare war on Japan no more than 6 months after Germany surrendered). Although legally the treaty officially stayed in force until one year after Soviet denouncement (that is, until April 13, 1946) the tone of the Soviet cancellation strongly implied an intent to go to war.

At a series of high level meetings in May, for the first time, the Big Six seriously discussed ending the war—none of them, however, on terms that would have been acceptable to the Allies. Because anyone openly supporting Japanese surrender risked assassination from zealous army officers, the meetings were closed to anyone except the Big Six, the Emperor, and the Privy council—no second or third echelon officers were permitted to attend. At these meetings, only Foreign minister Togo realized the possibility that the Western allies may have already made concessions to the Soviets in order to bring them into the war against Japan. As a result of these meetings, Togo was authorized to approach the Soviet Union, seeking to maintain its neutrality, or more fantastically, to form an alliance.

On June 9, the Emperor's confidant, Marquis Kōichi Kido, wrote a "Draft Plan for Controlling the Crisis Situation", warning that by the end of the year, Japan's ability to wage modern war would be extinguished and the government would be unable to contain civil unrest. "...We cannot be sure we will not share the fate of Germany and be reduced to adverse circumstances under which we will not attain even our supreme object of safeguarding the Imperial Household and preserving the national polity". Kido proposed that the Emperor himself take action, offering to end the war on "very generous terms". Kido proposed that Japan give up occupied European colonies, provided they were granted independence, and that the nation disarm and for a time be "content with minimum defense". With the Emperor's authorization, Kido approached several members of the Supreme Council, the "Big Six". Tōgō was very supportive. Suzuki and Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, the Navy minister, were both cautiously supportive; both wondered what the other thought. General Korechika Anami, the Army minister, was ambivalent, insisting that diplomacy must wait until "after the United States has sustained heavy losses in ".

In June, the Emperor lost confidence in the chances of achieving a military victory. The battle of Okinawa was lost, and he learned of the weakness of the Japanese army in China, of the navy, and of the army defending the Home Islands.

On June 22, the Emperor summoned the Big Six to a meeting. Unusually, he spoke first. "I desire that concrete plans to end the war, unhampered by existing policy, be speedily studied and that efforts made to implement them." It was agreed to solicit Soviet aid in ending the war. Other neutral nations, like Switzerland, Sweden, and the Vatican City were known to be willing to play a role in making peace, but they were so small they could not have done more than deliver the Allies' terms of surrender and Japan's acceptance or rejection. The Japanese hoped that the Soviet Union could be persuaded to act as an agent for Japan in negotiations with the Western Allies.

The Emperor proposed sending Prince Konoe as a Special Envoy, though he would be unable to reach Moscow before the Potsdam Conference.

Satō advised Tōgō that in reality, "unconditional surrender or terms closely equivalent thereto" was all that Japan could expect. Moreover Tōgō's messages were not "clear about the views of the Government and the Military with regard to the termination of the war," questioning whether Tōgō's initiative was supported by the key elements of Japan's power structure.

American cryptographers had broken most of Japan's codes, including the Purple code used by the Japanese Foreign Office to encode high-level diplomatic correspondence. As a result, messages between Tokyo and Japan's embassies were provided to Allied policy-makers nearly as quickly as to the intended recipients.

Whether the Emperor was of one those who had "misled the people of Japan", or even a war criminal—or potentially part of a "peacefully inclined and responsible government" was left unstated.

The meaning of the word mokusatsu, literally "kill with silence", is not precise; it can range from 'ignore' to 'treat with contempt'—which actually described fairly accurately the range of effective reactions within the government. However, Suzuki's statement, particularly its final sentence, leaves little room for misinterpretation and was taken as a rejection by the press, both in Japan and abroad, and no further statement was made in public or through diplomatic channels to alter this understanding.

On July 30, Ambassador Satō wrote that Stalin was probably talking to the Western Allies about his dealings with Japan.

At first, some refused to believe the Americans could have managed to build an atomic bomb. The Japanese knew enough about the potential process to know how very difficult it was (and the fact that both their Army and Navy had independent atomic-bomb programs had further complicated their own efforts). Admiral Soemu Toyoda, the Chief of the Naval General Staff, argued that even if the Americans had made one, they could not have many more. More detailed reports of the unprecedented scale of the destruction at Hiroshima were received, but two days passed before the government met to consider the changed situation.

The Supreme Council met at 10:30. Suzuki, who had just come from a meeting with the Emperor, said it was impossible to continue the war. Tōgō Shigenori said that they could accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, but they needed a guarantee of the Emperor's position. Navy Minister Yonai said that they had to propose something — they could no longer afford to wait for better circumstances. In the middle of the meeting, shortly after 11:00, news arrived that Nagasaki, on the west coast of Kyūshū, had been hit by a second atomic bomb. By the time the meeting ended, the Big Six had split 3–3. Suzuki, Tōgō, and Admiral Yonai favored Tōgō's one additional condition to Potsdam, while Generals Anami, Umezu, and Admiral Toyoda insisted on three further terms that modified Potsdam: that Japan handle her own disarmament, that Japan deal with any Japanese war criminals, and that there be no occupation of Japan.

The full cabinet met on 14:30 on August 9th, and spent most of the day debating surrender. Like the Big Six before then, they split, with neither Tōgō's position nor Anami's attracting a majority. Anami shared with the other cabinet ministers that, under torture, a captured American B-29 pilot had told his interrogators that the Americans possessed 100 atom bombs and that Tokyo and Kyoto would be bombed "in the next few days". (The pilot, Marcus McDilda, was lying. He knew nothing of the Manhattan project, and simply told his interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear in order to end the torture. The lie, which caused him to be classified as a high-priority prisoner, probably saved him from beheading. In actuality, the United States would have had at third bomb ready for use around August 19, and a fourth in September 1945. The third bomb would probably have been used against Tokyo.) The meeting adjorned at 17:30 with no consensus. A second meeting lasting from 18:00 to 22:00 also ended with no consensus.

Once the Emperor had left, Suzuki pushed the cabinet to accept the Emperor's will, which it did. Early that morning (August 10), the Foreign Ministry sent telegrams to the Allies, announcing that Japan would accept the Potsdam Declaration but would not accept any peace conditions that would "prejudice the prerogatives" of the Emperor. That effectively meant no change in Japan's form of government — that the Emperor of Japan would remain a position of real power within the government. Later that day, the cabinet drafted an "Imperial Rescript ending the War" following the Emperor's indications that the declaration did not compromise any demand which prejudiced the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.

The Allied response was written by James F. Byrnes and approved by the British, Chinese, and Soviet governments, although the Soviets agreed only reluctantly. President Truman also ordered military operations (including the B-29 bombings) to continue until official word of Japanese surrender was received. However, news correspondents incorrectly interpreted a comment by Carl Andrew Spaatz that the B-29s were not flying on August 11 (because of bad weather) as a statement that a cease fire was in effect. In order to avoid giving the Japanese the impression that the Allies had abandoned peace efforts and resumed bombing, Truman ordered a halt to further bombings.

The Big Six and the cabinet spent August 13 debating their response to the Allied message, but remained deadlocked. At the suggestion of American Psychological operations experts, B-29s spent the day dropping leaflets over Japan, describing the Japanese offer of surrender and the Allied response. Meanwhile, the Allies grew doubtful, waiting for the Japanese to respond. The Japanese had been instructed to reply with an unqualified acceptance in the clear, but had replied in code, which was taken as a qualified response. The Allies also detected increase diplomatic and military traffic, which was taken as evidence that the Japanese were preparing a "all-out banzai attack." President Truman ordered a resumption of military operations.

The leaflets had a profound affect on Japanese decision-making process. As August 14 dawned, Suzuki, Kido, and the Emperor realized the day would end with either an acceptance of the American terms or a military coup. The Emperor met with the most senior Army and Navy officers. While several spoke in favor of fighting on, Field Marshall Shunroku Hata did not. As commander of the Second General Army, the headquarters of which had been in Hiroshima, Hata commanded all the troops defending southern Japan—the troops preparing to fight the "decisive battle". Hata said he had no confidence in defeating the invasion and did not dispute the Emperor's decision. The Emperor requested that his military leaders cooperate with him in ending the war.

The cabinet immediately convened and unanimously ratified the Emperor's wishes. They also decided to destroy vast amounts of material pertaining to matters related to war crimes and the war responsibility of the nation's highest leaders. Immediately after the conference, the Foreign ministry transmitted orders to their embassies in Switzerland and Sweden to accept the Allied surrender. These orders were picked up and received in Washington at 02:49, August 14.

The text of the Imperial rescript was finalized by 19:00, transcribed by the official court calligrapher, and brought to the cabinet for their signatures. Around 23:00, the Emperor, with help from an NHK recording crew, recorded gramophone record of himself reading the Imperial rescript of Surrender. The record was given to court chamberlain Yoshihiro Tokugawa, who hid the record in a locker in the empress's secretary's office.

As the days passed following the Allied reply of August 12, the American high command grew progressively more pessimistic about the prospects for peace. Truman ordered a resumption of attacks against Japan at maximum intensity "so as to impress Japanese officials that we mean business and are serious in getting them to accept our peace proposals without delay." The United States Third Fleet began shelling the Japanese coast. In largest bombing raid of the Pacific War, more than 400 B-29s attack Japan during the day of August 14, and more than 300 that night.. In the longest bombing mission of the war, B-29s from the 315 Bombardment Wing flew 3,800 miles to destroy the Nippon Oil Company refinery at Tsuchizaki on the northern tip of Honshu. This was the last operational refinery in the Japan home islands and produced 67% of their oil. Although after the war, the bombing raids were justified on the basis that they were already in progress when word of the Japanese surrender was recieved, this is only partially true.

Late on the night of August 12, 1945, Major Kenji Hatanaka, along with Lieutenant Colonels Masataka Ida, Masahiko Takeshita (Anami's brother-in-law), and Inaba Masao, and Colonel Okitsugu Arao, the Chief of the Military Affairs Section, spoke to War Minister Anami Korechika, hoping for his support, and asking him to do whatever he could to prevent acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration. General Anami refused to say whether he would help the young officers in treason. As much as they needed his support, Hatanaka and the other rebels decided they had no choice but to continue planning and to attempt a coup d’état on their own. Hatanaka spent much of August 13 and the morning of August 14 gathering allies, seeking support from the higher-ups in the Ministry, and perfecting his plot.

Around 21:30 on August 14, Hatanaka's rebels set their plan into motion. The Second Regiment of the First Imperial Guards had entered the palace grounds, doubling the strength of the battalion already stationed there, presumably to provide extra protection against Hatanaka's rebellion. However, Hatanaka, along with Lt. Col. Jirō Shiizaki, convinced the commander of the 2nd Regiment of the First Imperial Guards, Colonel Haga Toyojirō, of their cause, and (untruthfully) that the Anami, Umezu, and the commanders of the Eastern District Army and Imperial Guards Divisions were all in on the plan. Hatanaka also went to the office of Shizuichi Tanaka, commander of the Eastern region of the army, to try to persuade him to join the coup. Tanaka refused, and ordered Hatanaka to go home. Hatanaka ignored the order.

Originally, Hatanaka hoped that by simply occupying the palace, by simply showing the beginnings of a rebellion, the rest of the Army would be inspired and would rise up against the move to surrender. This philosophy guided him through much of the last days and hours and gave him the blind optimism to move ahead with the plan, despite having little support from his superiors. Having set all the pieces into position, Hatanaka and his co-conspirators decided that the Guard would take over the palace at 02:00. The hours until then were spent in continued attempts to convince their superiors in the Army to join the coup. At about the same time, General Anami committed seppuku, leaving a message that, "I—with my death—humbly apologize to the Emperor for the great crime." Whether the crime involved losing the war, or the coup, remains unclear.

At some time after 01:00, Hatanaka and his men surrounded the palace. Hatanaka, Lt. Col. Shiizaki and Captain Shigetarō Uehara (of the Air Force Academy) went to the office of Lt. General Takeshi Mori to ask him to join the coup. Mori was in a meeting with his brother-in-law, Michinori Shiraishi. Mori's cooperation, as commander of the 1st Imperial Guards Division, was crucial to the coup. When Mori refused to side with Hatanaka, Hatanaka killed him, fearing Mori would order the Guards to stop the rebellion. Uehara killed Shiraishi. These were the only two murders of the night. Hatanaka then used General Mori's official stamp to authorize Imperial Guards Division Strategic Order No. 584, a false set of orders created by his co-conspirators, which would greatly increase the strength of the forces occupying the Imperial Palace and Imperial Household Ministry, and "protecting" the Emperor.

The palace police were disarmed and all the entrances blocked. Over the course of the night, Hatanaka's rebels captured and detained eighteen people, including Ministry staff, and NHK workers sent to record the surrender speech.

The rebels, led by Hatanaka, spent the next several hours fruitlessly searching for Imperial House Minister Sotaro Ishiwatari, Lord of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido, and the recordings of the surrender speech. The two men were hiding in the "bank vault", a large chamber underneath the Imperial Palace The search was made more difficult by a blackout, caused by Allied bombings, and by the archaic organization and layout of the Imperial House Ministry. Many of the rooms' names were unrecognizable to the rebels. The rebels did find the chamberlain Tokugawa. Though Hatanaka threatened to disembowel him with a samurai sword, Tokugawa lied and told them he did not know where the recordings or men were. During their search, the rebels cut nearly all of the telephone wires, severing communications between their prisoners on the palace grounds and the outside world.

At about the same time, in Yokohama, another group of Hatanaka's rebels led by Captain Takeo Sasaki went to Prime Minister Suzuki's office, intent on killing him. When they found it empty, they machine gunned the office and set the building on fire, then left to go to his home. Hisatsune Sakomizu warned Suzuki, and he escaped minutes before the would-be assassins arrived. After setting fire to Suzuki's home, they went to the estate of Kiichirō Hiranuma in order to assassinate him. Hiranuma escaped through a side gate, and the rebels burned his house as well. Suzuki spent the rest of August under police protection, spending each night in a different bed.

Around 03:00, Hatanaka was informed by lieutenant colonel Masataka Ida that the Eastern District Army was on its way to the palace to stop him, and that he should simply give up. Finally, seeing his plan crumbling to pieces around him, Hatanaka tried to plead with Tatsuhiko Takashima, Chief of Staff of the Eastern District Army, to be given at least ten minutes on the air on NHK radio. He wanted to explain to the people of Japan what he was trying to accomplish and why. He was refused. Colonel Haga, commander of the 2nd Regiment of the First Imperial Guards, discovered that the Army was not, in fact, in support of this rebellion, and he ordered Hatanaka to leave the palace grounds.

Just before 05:00, as his rebellion continued its search, Major Hatanaka went to NHK studios, and, brandishing a pistol, tried desperately to get some airtime to explain his actions. A little over an hour later, after receiving a phone call from the Eastern District Army, Hatanaka finally gave up. He gathered his officers and walked out of the NHK studio.

At dawn, Tanaka learned that the palace had been invaded. He went there, and confronted the rebellious officers, berating them for acting contrary to the spirit of the Japanese army. He convinced them to return to their barracks.

By 08:00, the rebellion was entirely dismantled, having succeeded in holding the palace grounds for much of the night but ultimately failing to find the recordings.

The low quality of the recording, combined with the archaic Japanese dialect used by the Emperor in the rescript, made the recording very difficult to understand for most listeners.

Japan's forces were still at war against the Soviets and Chinese, so managing their cease-fire and surrender was difficult. The Soviet Union continued to fight until early September, taking the Kuril Islands.

Allied civilians and servicemen alike rejoiced at the news of the end of the war. Alfred Eisenstaedt took a famous picture, V–J day in Times Square, of an American sailor kissing a woman in Times Square. In Australia, a similarly joyful photograph of the Dancing Man was taken. August 14 and 15 are celebrated as VJ Day in many Allied countries.

On August 28, the occupation of Japan began, led by by Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur. Investigations into Japanese war crimes began quickly. Legal procedures for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East were issued on January 19, 1946.

The formal surrender occurred on September 2, when representatives from the Empire of Japan signed Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri. Japanese forces in South East Asia followed suit on September 12, 1945 in Singapore. Flying on the Missouri that day were two American flags — the one that flew over Pearl Harbor on the day it was attacked, and the one flown on the USS Powhatan by Matthew C. Perry in 1853 when forced the Japanese to open the country to foreigners.

Following the signing of the instrument of surrender many further surrender ceremonies took place across Japan's remaining holdings in the Pacific. It was not until 1947 that all prisoners held by the Western allies were repatriated. As late as April 1949, China still held more than 60,000 Japanse prisoners. Some, such as Shozo Tominaga, were not repatriated until the late 1950s.

The logistical demands of the surrender were formidable. After Japan's capitulation, over 5,400,000 Japanese soldiers and 1,800,000 Japanese sailors were taken prisoner by the Allies.. The damage done to Japan's infrastructure, combined with a severe famine in 1946, further complicated the Allied efforts to feed the Japanese POWs and civilians.

Some Japanese holdouts, especially on small Pacific Islands, refused to surrender at all (believing the declaration to be propaganda or considering the act too much against their code). Some may never have heard of it. Teruo Nakamura, the last known survivor, emerged from his hidden retreat in Indonesia in December 1974, while two other Japanese soldiers, who had joined communist guerillas at the end of the war, fought in southern Thailand until 1991.

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History of Japan

Japan's first treatise on Western anatomy, published in 1774, an example of Rangaku.

The written history of Japan begins with brief references of Twenty-Four Histories, a collection of Chinese historical texts, in the 1st century AD. However, archaeological evidence indicates that people were living on the islands of Japan as early as the upper paleolithic period. Following the last ice-age, around 12,000 BC, the rich ecosystem of the Japanese Archipelago fostered human development. The earliest-known pottery belongs to the Jōmon period.

The Japanese Paleolithic (旧石器時代 ,kyū-sekki-jidai?) covers a period starting from around 100,000 to 30,000 BC, when the earliest stone tool implements have been found, and ending around 12,000 BC, at the end of the last ice age, corresponding with the beginning of the Mesolithic Jōmon period. A start date of around 35,000 BC is most generally accepted. The Japanese archipelago was disconnected from the continent after the last ice age, around 11,000 BC. After a hoax by an amateur researcher, Shinichi Fujimura, had been exposed , the Lower and Middle Paleolithic evidence reported by Fujimura and his associates has been rejected after thorough reinvestigation. Only some Upper Paleolithic evidence not associated with Fujimura can be considered well established.

The Jōmon period (縄文時代 ,Jōmon-jidai - lit. "period of patterns of plaited cord"?) lasted from about 14,000 BC to 300 BC. The first signs of civilization and stable living patterns appeared around 14,000 BC with the Jōmon culture, characterized by a mesolithic to neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer lifestyle of wood stilt house and pit dwelling and a rudimentary form of agriculture. Weaving was still unknown and clothes were often made of fur. The Jōmon people started to make clay vessels, decorated with patterns made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks. Some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world may be found in Japan, based on radio-carbon dating, along with daggers, jade, combs made of shells, and other household items dated to the 11th millennium BC, although the specific dating is disputed. Clay figures (dogu) were also excavated. The household items suggest trade routes existed with places as far away as Okinawa. DNA analysis suggests that the Ainu, an indigenous people that lived in Hokkaidō and the northern part of Honshū are descended from the Jōmon and thus represent descendants of the first inhabitants of Japan.

The Yayoi period (弥生時代 ,Yayoi-jidai?) lasted from about 400 or 300 BC to 250 AD. It is named after Yayoi town, the subsection of Bunkyō, Tokyo where archaeological investigations uncovered its first recognized traces.

The start of the Yayoi period marked the influx of new practices such as weaving, rice farming, shamanism and iron and bronze-making brought from Korea or China. For example, some paleoethnobotany studies show that wet-rice cultivation began about 8000 BC in the Yangtze River Delta and spread to Japan about 1000 BC.

Japan first appeared in written records in AD 57 with the following mention in China's Book of Later Han: Across the ocean from Lelang are the people of Wa. Formed from more than one hundred tribes, they come and pay tribute frequently. The Sanguo Zhi written in the 3rd century noted the country was the unification of some 30 small tribes or states and ruled by a shaman queen named Himiko of Yamataikoku.

During the Han Dynasty and Wei Dynasty, Chinese travelers to Kyūshū recorded its inhabitants and claimed that they were the descendants of the Grand Count (Tàibó) of the Wu. The inhabitants also show traits of the pre-sinicized Wu people with tattooing, teeth-pulling and baby-carrying. The Sanguo Zhi records the physical descriptions which are similar to ones on Haniwa statues, such men with braided hair, tattooing and women wearing large, single-piece clothing.

The Yoshinogari site is the most famous archaeological site in the Yayoi period and reveals a large, continuously inhabited settlement in Kyūshū for several hundreds of years. Excavation has shown the most ancient parts to be around 400 BC. Among the artifacts are iron and bronze objects, including those from China. It appears the inhabitants had frequent communication with the mainland and trade relations. Today some reconstructed buildings stand in the park on the archaeological site.

The Yamato polity was the main ruling power in Japan from the middle of the 3rd century until 710. The Kofun period (mid 3rd century – mid 6th century), is defined by the construction of many keyhole-shaped tumuli. At the beginning of the Asuka period (mid 6th century – 710), the capital was moved to Asuka, the southernmost part of Nara Basin. The main difference between the Yayoi period and the Kofun-Asuka periods is the development from a sedentary and agricultural culture to a more advanced and militaristic culture due to influences from China via the Korean peninsula. This was replaced by Tang Dynasty Chinese influences during the Nara period which introduced centralized imperial government, new aesthetics and new religious ideas instead of the military advances of the Yamato era.

The Ryukyuan languages and Japanese most likely diverged during this period .

The Kofun period (古墳時代 , - Kofun-jidai, lit. "period of ancient mound/tomb"?), beginning around AD 250, is named after the large burial mounds (kofun) that appeared at the time. The Kofun period saw the establishment of strong military states centered around powerful clans, and the establishment of the dominant Yamato polity centered in the Yamato and Kawachi provinces, from the 3rd century to the 7th century, origin of the Japanese imperial lineage. The polity, suppressing the clans and acquiring agricultural lands, maintained a strong influence in the western part of Japan. Japan started to send tributes to Imperial China in the 5th century. In the Chinese history records, the polity was called Wa and its five kings were recorded. Based upon the Chinese model, they developed a central administration and an imperial court system and its society was organized into occupation groups.

Close relationships between the Three Kingdoms of Korea and Japan began during the middle of this period, around the end of the 4th century.

The Asuka period (飛鳥時代 , - lit. "period of flying bird"?), 538 to 710, is when the proto-Japanese Yamato polity gradually became a clearly centralized state, defining and applying a code of governing laws, such as the Taika Reform and Taihō Codes. The introduction of Buddhism led to the discontinuing of the practice of large kofun.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 538 by Baekje, to which Japan provided military support, and it was promoted by the ruling class. Prince Shotoku devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism and Chinese culture in Japan. He is credited with bringing relative peace to Japan through the proclamation of the Jūshichijō kenpō (十七条憲法), often referred to in Japan as the Seventeen-article constitution, a Confucian style document that focused on the kinds of morals and virtues that were to be expected of government officials and the emperor's subjects.

In a letter brought to the Emperor of China by an emissary from Japan in 607 stated that the Emperor of the Land where the Sun rises (Japan) sends a letter to the Emperor of the land where Sun sets (China), thereby implying an equal footing with China which angered the Chinese emperor.

Starting with the Taika Reform Edicts of 645, Japanese intensified the adoption of Chinese cultural practices and reorganized the government and the penal code in accordance with the Chinese administrative structure (Ritsuryo) of the time. This paved the way for the influential Confucian philosophy in Japan until the 19th century. This period also saw the first uses of the word Nihon (日本) as a name for the emerging state.

The Nara period (奈良時代 ?) of the 8th century marked the first emergence of a strong Japanese state. Following an Imperial rescript by Empress Genmei the move of the capital to Heijō-kyō, present-day Nara, took place in 710. The city was modelled on the capital of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Chang'an (now Xi'an).

During the Nara Period, political development was quite limited, since members of the imperial family struggled for power with the Buddhist clergy as well as the regents, the Fujiwara clan. Japan did enjoy friendly relations with Silla as well as formal relationships with Tang China. In 784, the capital was moved again to Nagaoka to escape the Buddhist priests and then in 794 to Heian-kyo, present-day Kyoto.

Historical writing in Japan culminated in the early 8th century with the massive chronicles, the Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters, 712) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720). These chronicles give a legendary account of Japan's beginnings, today known as the Japanese mythology. According to the myths contained in these 2 chronicles, Japan was founded in 660 BC by the ancestral Emperor Jimmu, a direct descendant of the Shinto deity Amaterasu, or the Sun Goddess. The myths recorded that Jimmu started a line of emperors that remains to this day. Historians assume the myths partly describe historical facts but the first emperor who actually existed was Emperor Ōjin, though the date of his reign is uncertain. After the Nara period, actual political power has not been in the hands of the emperor, but in the hands of the court nobility, the shoguns, the military and, more recently, the prime minister.

The Heian period (平安時代; "平安" - lit. "peace, tranquility" ?), lasting from 794 to 1185, is the final period of classical Japanese history. It is considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially in poetry and literature. In the early 11th century, Lady Murasaki wrote the world's oldest surviving novel called The Tale of Genji. The Man'yōshū and Kokin Wakashū, the oldest existing collections of Japanese poetry, were compiled in the period.

Strong differences from mainland Asian cultures emerged (such as an indigenous writing system, the kana). Chinese influence had reached its peak, and then effectively ended with the last Imperial-sanctioned mission to Tang China in 838, due to the decline of the Tang Dynasty, although trade expeditions and Buddhist pilgrimages to China continued.

Political power in the Imperial court was in the hands of powerful aristocratic families, especially the Fujiwara clan, who ruled under the titles Sessho and Kampaku (regents).

The end of the period saw the rise of various military clans. The four most powerful clans were the Minamoto clan, the Taira clan, the Fujiwara clan, and the Tachibana clan. Towards the end of the 12th century, conflicts between these clans turned into civil war, such as the Hōgen and Heiji Rebellions, followed by the Genpei war, from which emerged a society led by samurai clans, under the political rule of the shogun.

The "feudal" period of Japanese history, dominated by the powerful regional families (daimyo) and the military rule of warlords (shogun), stretched from the 12th through the 19th centuries. The Emperor remained but was mostly kept to a de jure figurehead ruling position. This time is usually divided into periods following the reigning family of the shogun.

The Kamakura period (鎌倉時代 ?), 1185 to 1333, is a period that marks the governance of the Kamakura Shogunate and the transition to the Japanese "medieval" era, a nearly 700-year period in which the Emperor (天皇 tennō), the court, and the traditional central government were left intact but were largely relegated to ceremonial functions. Civil, military, and judicial matters were controlled by the bushi (samurai) class, the most powerful of whom was the de facto national ruler, the shogun. This period in Japan differed from the old shōen system in its pervasive military emphasis.

In 1185, Minamoto no Yoritomo defeated the rival Taira clan, and in 1192, Yoritomo was appointed Seii Tai-Shogun by the emperor; he established a base of power in Kamakura. Yoritomo ruled as the first in a line of Kamakura shoguns. However, after Yoritomo's death, another warrior clan, the Hōjō, came to rule as regents for the shoguns.

A traumatic event of the period was the Mongol invasions of Japan between 1272 and 1281, in which massive Mongol forces with superior naval technology and weaponry attempted a full-scale invasion of the Japanese islands. A famous typhoon referred to as kamikaze, translating as divine wind in Japanese, is credited with devastating both Mongol invasion forces, although some scholars assert that the defensive measures the Japanese built on the island of Kyūshū may have been adequate to repel the invaders. Although the Japanese were successful in stopping the Mongols, the invasion attempt had devastating domestic repercussions, leading to the extinction of the Kamakura shogunate.

The Kamakura period ended in 1333 with the destruction of the shogunate and the short reestablishment of imperial rule (the Kenmu restoration) under the Emperor Go-Daigo by Ashikaga Takauji, Nitta Yoshisada, and Kusunoki Masashige.

Thus, the "Japanese Middle Ages", which also include the Muromachi period and lasted until the Meiji Restoration, started with the Kamakura period.

The Muromachi period (室町時代 ,Muromachi-jidai?) is a division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573. The period marks the governance of the Ashikaga shogunate, also called Muromachi shogunate, which was officially established in 1336 by the first Muromachi shogun Ashikaga Takauji, who seized political power from Emperor Go-Daigo, ending the Kemmu restoration. The period ended in 1573 when the 15th and last shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki was driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga.

The early years of 1336 to 1392 of the Muromachi period is also known as the Nanboku-chō or Northern and Southern Court period, as the Imperial court was split in two.

The later years of 1467 to the end of the Muromachi period is also known as the Sengoku period, the "Warring States period", a time of intense internal warfare, and corresponds with the period of the first contacts with the West, with the arrival of Portuguese "Nanban" traders.

In 1543, a Portuguese ship, blown off its course to China, landed on Tanegashima Island Japan. Firearms introduced by Portuguese would bring the major innovation to Sengoku period culminating in the Battle of Nagashino where reportedly 3,000 arquebuses (the actual number is believed to be around 2,000) cut down charging ranks of samurai. During the following years, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries.

The Azuchi-Momoyama period (安土桃山時代 ,Azuchi-Momoyama-jidai?) runs from approximately 1568 to 1600. The period marks the military reunification and stabilization of the country under a single political ruler, first by the campaigns of Oda Nobunaga who almost united Japan, achieved later by one of his generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The name Azuchi-Momoyama comes from the names of their respective castles, Azuchi castle and Momoyama castle.

After having united Japan, Hideyoshi invaded Korea in an attempt to conquer Korea, China, and even India. However, after two unsuccessful campaigns toward the allied forces of Korea and China and his death, his forces retreated from the Korean peninsula in 1598.

The short period of succession conflict to Hideyoshi was ended when Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the regents for Hideyoshi's young heir, emerged victorious at the Battle of Sekigahara and seized political power.

During the Edo Period (江戸時代 ?), the administration of the country was shared by over two hundred daimyo. The Tokugawa clan, leader of the victorious eastern army in the Battle of Sekigahara, was the most powerful of them, and for fifteen generations monopolized the title of Sei-i Taishōgun (often shortened to shōgun). With their headquarters at Edo (present-day Tokyo), the Tokugawa commanded the allegiance of the other daimyo, who in turn ruled their domains with a rather high degree of autonomy.

The shogunate carried out a number of significant policies. They placed the samurai class above the commoners: the agriculturists, artisans, and merchants. They enacted sumptuary laws limiting hair style, dress, and accessories. They organized commoners into groups of five, and held all responsible for the acts of each individual. To prevent daimyo from rebelling, the shoguns required them to maintain lavish residences in Edo and live at these residences on a rotating schedule; carry out expensive processions to and from their domains; contribute to the upkeep of shrines, temples, and roads; and seek permission before repairing their castles.

Many artistic developments took place during the Edo Period. Most significant among them were the ukiyo-e form of wood-block print, and the kabuki and bunraku theaters. Also, many of the most famous works for the koto and shakuhachi date from this time period.

Throughout the Edo Period, the development of commerce, the rise of the cities, and the pressure from foreign countries changed the environment in which the shoguns and daimyo ruled. In 1868, following the Boshin War, the shogunate collapsed, and a new government coalesced around the Emperor.

During the early part of the 17th century, the shogunate suspected that the traders and missionaries were actually forerunners of a military conquest by European powers. Christianity spread in Japan, especially among peasants. The shogunate suspected the loyalty of Christian peasants towards their daimyos and severely persecuted them. This led to a revolt by persecuted peasants and Christians in 1637 known as the Shimabara Rebellion which saw 30,000 Christians, samurai, and peasants facing a massive samurai army of more than 100,000 sent from Edo. The rebellion was crushed at a high cost to the shogun's army. After the eradication of the rebels at Shimabara, the shogunate placed foreigners under progressively tighter restrictions. It monopolized foreign policy, and expelled traders, missionaries, and foreigners, with the exception of the Dutch and the Chinese merchants restricted to the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay and several small trading outposts outside the country. However, during this period of isolation (Sakoku) that began in 1635, Japan was much less cut off from the rest of the world than is commonly assumed, and some acquisition of western knowledge occurred under the Rangaku system.

Russian encroachments from the north led the shogunate to extend direct rule to Hokkaidō, Sakhalin and the Kuriles in 1807, but the policy of exclusion continued.

The policy of isolation lasted for more than 200 years. In 1844, William II of the Netherlands sent a message urging Japan to open her doors, which resulted in Tokugawa shogunate's rejection. On July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy with four warships — the Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga, and Susquehanna — steamed into the bay at Edo, old Tokyo, and displayed the threatening power of his ships' cannons during a Christian burial, which the Japanese observed. He requested that Japan open to trade with the West. These ships became known as the kurofune, the Black Ships.

The following year, at the Convention of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854, Perry returned with seven ships and requested that the Shogun sign the "Treaty of Peace and Amity," establishing formal diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States. Within five years Japan had signed similar treaties with other western countries. The Harris Treaty was signed with the United States on July 29, 1858. These treaties were widely regarded by Japanese intellectuals as unequal, having been forced on Japan through gunboat diplomacy, and as a sign of the West's desire to incorporate Japan into the imperialism that had been taking hold of the rest of the Asian continent. Among other measures, they gave the Western nations unequivocal control of tariffs on imports and the right of extraterritoriality to all their visiting nationals. They would remain a sticking point in Japan's relations with the West up to the turn of the century.

Renewed contact with the West precipitated profound alteration of Japanese society. The shogun resigned and soon after the Boshin War of 1868, the emperor was restored to power. The subsequent "Meiji Restoration" initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished, the military was modernized, and numerous Western institutions were adopted, including a Western legal system and a quasi-parliamentary constitutional government, outlined in the Meiji Constitution, modelled on the constitutions of Germany, France, and the United States. While many aspects of the Meiji Restoration were adopted directly from Western institutions, others, such as the dissolution of the feudal system and removal of the shogunate, were processes that had begun long before the arrival of Perry.

Russian pressure from the north appeared again after Muraviev had gained Outer Manchuria at Aigun (1858) and Peking (1860). This led to heavy Russian pressure on Sakhalin which the Japanese eventually yielded in exchange for the Kuril islands (1875). The Ryukyu Islands were similarly secured in 1879, establishing the borders within which Japan would "enter the World". In 1898, the last of the "unequal treaties" with Western powers was removed, signalling Japan's new status among the nations of the world. In a few decades, by reforming and modernizing social, educational, economic, military, political and industrial systems, the Emperor Meiji's "controlled revolution" had transformed a feudal and isolated state into a world power.

Japanese intellectuals of the late-Meiji period espoused the concept of a "line of advantage," an idea that would help to justify Japanese foreign policy at the turn of the century. According to this principle, embodied in the slogan fukoku kyōhei (富国強兵 ?), Japan would be vulnerable to aggressive Western imperialism unless it extended a line of advantage beyond its borders which would help to repel foreign incursions and strengthen the Japanese economy. Emphasis was especially placed on Japan's "preeminent interests" in the Korean Peninsula, once famously described as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Japan." It was tensions over Korea and Manchuria, respectively, that led Japan to become involved in the first Sino-Japanese War with China in 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War with Russia in 1904-1905.

The war with China made Japan the world's first Eastern, modern imperial power, and the war with Russia proved that a Western power could be defeated by an Eastern state. The aftermath of these two wars left Japan the dominant power in the Far East, with a sphere of influence extending over southern Manchuria and Korea, which was formally annexed as part of the Japanese Empire in 1910 (see below). Japan had also gained half of Sakhalin Island from Russia.

For Japan and for the moment, it established the country's dominant interest in Korea, while giving it the Pescadores Islands, Formosa (now Taiwan), and the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria, which was eventually retroceded in the "humiliating" Triple Intervention. Over the next decade, Japan would flaunt its growing prowess, including a very significant contribution to the Eight-Nation Alliance, formed to quell China's Boxer Rebellion. Many Japanese, however, believed their new empire was still regarded as inferior by the Western powers, and they sought a means of cementing their international standing. This set the climate for growing tensions with Russia, who would continually intrude into Japan's "line of advantage" during this time.

The Anglo Japanese Alliance treaty, was signed between the United Kingdom and Japan, on January 30, 1902, and announced on February 12, 1902. It was renewed in 1905, and 1911, before its demise in 1921, and its termination in 1923. It was a military alliance, between the two countries, that threatened Russia, and Germany. Due to this alliance, Japan entered World War I on the side of Great Britain. Japan attacked German bases in China, and sent troops to the Mediterranean in 1917. Through this treaty, there was also great cultural exchange between the two countries.

In a manner perhaps reminiscent of its participation in quelling the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century, Japan entered World War I and declared war on the Central Powers. Though Japan's role in World War I was limited largely to attacking German colonial outposts in East Asia, it took advantage of the opportunity to expand its influence in Asia and its territorial holdings in the Pacific. Acting virtually independently of the civil government, the Japanese navy seized Germany's Micronesian colonies. It also attacked and occupied the German coaling port of Qingdao in the Chinese Shandong peninsula.

The post-war era brought Japan unprecedented prosperity.

Japan went to the peace conference at Versailles in 1919 as one of the great military and industrial powers of the world and received official recognition as one of the "Big Five" of the new international order. It joined the League of Nations and received a mandate over Pacific islands north of the Equator formerly held by Germany. Japan was also involved in the post-war Allied intervention in Russia, occupying Russian (Outer) Manchuria and also north Sakhalin (with its rich oil reserves). It was the last Allied power to withdraw from the interventions against Soviet Russia (doing so in 1925).

During the 1920s, Japan progressed toward a democratic system of government in a movement known as 'Taishō Democracy'. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the late 1920s and 1930s during the Depression era, and its state became increasingly militarized. This was due to the increasing powers of military leaders and was similar to the actions some European nations were taking leading up to World War II. These shifts in power were made possible by the ambiguity and imprecision of the Meiji Constitution, particularly its measure that the legislative body was answerable to the Emperor and not the people. The Kodoha, a militarist faction, even attempted a coup d'état known as the February 26 Incident, which was crushed after three days by Emperor Shōwa.

Party politics came under increasing fire because it was believed they were divisive to the nation and promoted self-interest where unity was needed. As a result, the major parties voted to dissolve themselves and were absorbed into a single party, the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA), which also absorbed many prefectural organizations such as women's clubs and neighborhood associations. However, this umbrella organization did not have a cohesive political agenda and factional in-fighting persisted throughout its existence, meaning Japan did not devolve into a totalitarian state. The IRAA has been likened to a sponge, in that it can soak everything up, but there is little one could do with it afterwards. Its creation was precipitated by a series of domestic crises, including the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the actions of extremists such as the members of the Cherry Blossom Society, who enacted the May 15 incident.

Under the pretext of the Manchurian Incident, Lieutenant Colonel Kanji Ishiwara invaded Inner (Chinese) Manchuria in 1931, an action the Japanese government ratified with the creation of the puppet state of Manchukuo under the last Chinese emperor, Pu Yi. As a result of international condemnation of the incident, Japan resigned from the League of Nations in 1933. After several more similar incidents fueled by an expansionist military, the second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937 after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.

During the first part of the Shōwa period, according to the Meiji Constitution, the Emperor had the "supreme command of the Army and the Navy" (Article 11). From 1937, Emperor Shōwa became supreme commander of the Imperial General Headquarters, by which the military decisions were made. This ad-hoc body consisted of the chief and vice chief of the Army, the minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Navy, the minister of the Navy, the inspector general of military aviation, and the inspector general of military training.

Having joined the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936, Japan formed the Axis Pact with Germany and Italy on September 27, 1940. Many Japanese politicians, believed war with the Occident to be inevitable due to inherent cultural differences and Western imperialism. Japanese imperialism, was then justified by the revival of the traditional concept of hakko ichiu, the divine right of the emperor to unite and rule the world.

Japan fought the Soviet Union in 1938 in the Battle of Lake Khasan and in 1939 in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. Comprehensive defeat of the Japanese by the Soviets led by Zhukov in the latter battle led to the signing of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact.

Tensions were mounting with the U.S. as a result of public outcry over Japanese aggression and reports of atrocities in China, such as the infamous Nanjing Massacre. In retaliation to the invasion of French Indochina the U.S. began an embargo on such goods as petroleum products and scrap iron. On July 25, 1941, all Japanese assets in the US were frozen. Because Japan's military might, especially the Navy, was dependent on their dwindling oil reserves, this action had the contrary effect of increasing Japan's dependence on and hunger for new acquisitions.

Many civil leaders of Japan, including Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro, believed a war with America would end in defeat, but felt the concessions demanded by the U.S. would almost certainly relegate Japan from the ranks of the World Powers, leaving it prey to Western collusion. Civil leaders offered political compromises in the form of the Amau Doctrine, dubbed the "Japanese Monroe Doctrine" that would have given the Japanese free rein with regards to war with China. These offers were flatly rejected by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull; the military leaders instead vied for quick military action.

Most military leaders such as Osami Nagano, Kotohito Kan'in, Hajime Sugiyama and Hideki Tojo believed that war with Occident was inevitable. They finally convinced Emperor Shōwa to sanction on November 1941 an attack plan against U.S., Great Britain and the Netherlands. However, there were dissenters in the ranks about the wisdom of that option, most notably Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku and Prince Takamatsu. They pointedly warned that at the beginning of hostilities with the US, the Empire would have the advantage for six months, after which Japan's defeat in a prolonged war would be almost certain.

The Americans were expecting an attack in the Philippines (and stationed troops appropriate to this conjecture), but on Yamamoto Isoroku's advice, Japan made the decision to attack Pearl Harbor where it would make the most damage in the least amount of time. The United States believed that Japan would never be so bold as to attack so close to its home base (Hawaii had not yet gained statehood) and was taken completely by surprise.

The attack on Pearl Harbor, sanctioned by Emperor Shōwa on December 1 1941, occurred on December 7 (December 8 in Japan) and the Japanese were successful in their surprise attack. Although the Japanese won the battle, the attack proved a long-term strategic disaster that actually did relatively little lasting damage to the U.S. military and provoked the United States to retaliate with full commitment against Japan and its allies. At the same time as the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese army attacked colonial Hong Kong and occupied it for nearly four years.

While Nazi Germany was in the middle of its Blitzkrieg through Europe, Japan was following suit in Asia. In addition to already having colonized Taiwan and Manchuria, the Japanese Army invaded and captured most of the coastal Chinese cities such as Shanghai, and had conquered French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), British Malaya (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore) as well as the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) while Thailand entered into a loose alliance with Japan. They had also conquered Burma (Myanmar) and reached the borders of India and Australia, conducting air raids on the port of Darwin, Australia. Japan had soon established an empire stretching over much of the Pacific.

As a result of its defeat at the end of World War II, Japan lost all of its overseas possessions and retained only the home islands. Manchukuo was dissolved, and Inner Manchuria was returned to the Republic of China; Japan renounced all claims to Formosa; Korea was taken under the control of the UN; southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles were occupied by the U.S.S.R.; and the United States became the sole administering authority of the Ryukyu, Bonin, and Volcano Islands. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, an international war crimes tribunal, sentenced seven Japanese military and government officials to death on November 12, 1948, including General Hideki Tōjō, for their roles in the war.

The 1972 reversion of Okinawa completed the United States' return of control of these islands to Japan. Japan continues to protest for the corresponding return of the Kuril Islands (Northern territory or 'Hoppou Ryoudo') from Russia.

Defeat came for a number of reasons. The most important is probably Japan's underestimation of the industro-military capabilities of the U.S. The U.S. recovered from its initial setback at Pearl Harbor much quicker than the Japanese expected, and their sudden counterattack came as a blow to Japanese morale. U.S. output of military products also skyrocketed past Japanese counterparts over the course of the war. Another reason was factional in-fighting between the Army and Navy, which led to poor intelligence and cooperation. This was compounded as the Japanese forces found they had overextended themselves, leaving Japan itself vulnerable to attack. Another important factor is Japan's underestimation of resistance in China, which Japan claimed would be conquered in three months. The prolonged war was both militarily and economically disastrous for Japan.

After the war, Japan was placed under international control of the American-led Allied powers in the Asia-Pacific region through General Douglas MacArthur as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. This was the first time since the unification of Japan that the island nation was successfully occupied by a foreign power. Some high officers of the Shōwa regime were prosecuted and convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. However, Emperor Shōwa, all members of the imperial family implicated in the war such as prince Asaka, prince Chichibu, prince Takeda, prince Higashikuni, prince Hiroyasu Fushimi, as well as Shiro Ishii and all members of unit 731 were exonerated from criminal prosecutions by MacArthur.

Entering the Cold War with the Korean War, Japan came to be seen as an important ally of the US government. Political, economic, and social reforms were introduced, such as an elected Japanese Diet (legislature) and expanded suffrage. The country's constitution took effect on May 3, 1947. The United States and 45 other Allied nations signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan in September 1951. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in March 20, 1952, and under the terms of the treaty, Japan regained full sovereignty on April 28, 1952.

Under the terms of the peace treaty and later agreements, the United States maintains naval bases at Sasebo, Okinawa and at Yokosuka. A portion of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, including one aircraft carrier (currently USS George Washington (CVN-73)), is based at Yokosuka. This arrangement is partially intended to provide for the defense of Japan, as the treaty and the new Japanese constitution imposed during the occupation severely restrict the size and purposes of Japanese military forces in the modern period.

After a series of realignment of political parties, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the leftist Social Democratic Party (SDP) were formed in 1955. The political map in Japan had been largely unaltered until early 1990s and LDP had been the largest political party in the national politics. LDP politicians and government bureaucrats focused on economic policy. From the 1950s to the 1980s, Japan experienced its rapid development into a major economic power, through a process often referred to as the Japanese post-war economic miracle.

Japan's biggest postwar political crisis took place in 1960 over the revision of the Japan-United States Mutual Security Assistance Pact. As the new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was concluded, which renewed the United States role as military protector of Japan, massive street protests and political upheaval occurred, and the cabinet resigned a month after the Diet's ratification of the treaty. Thereafter, political turmoil subsided. Japanese views of the United States, after years of mass protests over nuclear armaments and the mutual defense pact, improved by 1972, with the reversion of United States-occupied Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty and the winding down of the Vietnam War.

Japan had reestablished relations with the Republic of China after World War II, and cordial relations were maintained with the nationalist government when it was exiled to Taiwan, a policy that won Japan the enmity of the People's Republic of China, which was established in 1949. After the general warming of relations between China and Western countries, especially the United States, which shocked Japan with its sudden rapprochement with Beijing in 1971, Tokyo established relations with Beijing in 1972. Close cooperation in the economic sphere followed. Japan's relations with the Soviet Union continued to be problematic long after the war. The main object of dispute was the Soviet occupation of what Japan calls its Northern Territories, the two most southerly islands in the Kurils (Etorofu and Kunashiri) and Shikotan and the Habomai Islands, which were seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II.

Throughout the postwar period, Japan's economy continued to boom, with results far outstripping expectations. Given a massive boost by the Korean War, in which it acted as a major supplier to the UN force, Japan's economy embarked on a prolonged period of extremely rapid growth, led by the manufacturing sectors. Japan emerged as a significant power in many economic spheres, including steel working, car manufacture and the manufacture of electronic goods. Japan rapidly caught up with the West in foreign trade, GNP, and general quality of life. These achievements were underscored by the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and the Osaka International Exposition in 1970. The high economic growth and political tranquility of the midto late 1960s were tempered by the quadrupling of oil prices by the OPEC in 1973. Almost completely dependent on imports for petroleum, Japan experienced its first recession since World War II. Another serious problem was Japan's growing trade surplus, which reached record heights during Nakasone's first term. The United States pressured Japan to remedy the imbalance, demanding that Tokyo raise the value of the yen and open its markets further to facilitate more imports from the United States.

1989 marked one of the most rapid economic growth spurts in Japanese history. With a strong yen and a favorable exchange rate with the dollar, the Bank of Japan kept interest rates low, sparking an investment boom that drove Tokyo property values up sixty percent within the year. Shortly before New Year's Day, the Nikkei 225 reached its record high of 39,000. By 1991, it had fallen to 15,000, signifying the end of Japan's famed bubble economy. Unemployment ran reasonably high, but not at crisis levels. Rather than suffer large scale unemployment and layoffs, Japan's labor market suffered in more subtle, yet no less profound effects that were none-the-less difficult to gauge statistically. During the prosperous times, jobs were seen as long term even to the point of being life long. In contrast, Japan during the lost decade saw a marked increase in temporary and part time work which only promised employment for short periods and marginal benefits. This also created a generational gap, as those who had entered the labor market prior to the lost decade usually retained their employment and benefits, and were effectively insulated from the economic slowdown, whereas younger workers who entered the market a few years later suffered the brunt of its effects.

In a series of financial scandals of the LDP, a coalition of led by Morihiro Hosokawa took a power in 1993. Hosokawa succeeded to legislate new plurality voting election law instead of the stalemated multi-member constituency election system. However, the coalition collapsed the next year as parties had gathered to simply overthrow LDP and lacked a unified position on almost every social issue. The LDP returned to the government in 1996, when it helped to elect Social Democrat Tomiichi Murayama as prime minister.

The Great Hanshin earthquake hit Kobe on January 17, 1995. 6,000 people were killed and 44,000 were injured. 250,000 houses were destroyed or burned in a fire. The amount of damage totaled more than ten trillion yen. In March of the same year the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo attacked on the Tokyo subway system with sarin gas and killed 12 and hundreds were injured. Later the investigation revealed that the cult was responsible for dozens of murders that occurred prior to the gas attacks.

Junichiro Koizumi was elected president of the LDP and Prime Minister of Japan in April 2001. Koizumi Enjoyed high approval ratings and won some general elections. He pushed ahead with economic reforms and consolidation of the inefficient governmental organizations such as the national postal system. Koizumi also had an active involvement in the War on Terrorism, sending 1,000 soldiers of the Japan Self-Defense Forces to help in Iraq's reconstruction after the Iraq War, the biggest overseas troop deployment since World War II.

The current government was led by Prime Minister Taro Aso. The ruling coalition was formed by the conservative LDP and the New Komeito Party, a pacifist, theocratic Buddhist political party based on the Buddhist sect Soka Gakkai. The opposition was formed by the liberal Democratic Party of Japan, the largest party in the upper house. Other parties are the communist Japanese Communist Party, the leftist Social Democratic Party and the conservative People's New Party.

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Flag of Japan

Japan (日本 Nihon or Nippon?, officially 日本国 Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku) is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, People's Republic of China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south. The characters which make up Japan's name mean "sun-origin", which is why Japan is sometimes identified as the "Land of the Rising Sun".

Japan comprises over 3,000 islands making it an archipelago. The largest islands are Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku, together accounting for 97% of Japan's land area. Most of the islands are mountainous, many volcanic; for example, Japan’s highest peak, Mount Fuji, is a volcano. Japan has the world's tenth largest population, with about 128 million people. The Greater Tokyo Area, which includes the de facto capital city of Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures, is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 30 million residents.

Archaeological research indicates that people were living on the islands of Japan as early as the Upper Paleolithic period. The first written mention of Japan begins with brief appearances in Chinese history texts from the first century A.D. Influence from the outside world followed by long periods of isolation has characterized Japan's history. Since adopting its constitution in 1947, Japan has maintained a unitary constitutional monarchy with an emperor and an elected parliament, the Diet.

A major economic power, Japan has the world's second largest economy by nominal GDP and the third largest in purchasing power parity. It is a member of the United Nations, G8, OECD and APEC, with the world's fifth largest defense budget. It is also the world's fourth largest exporter and sixth largest importer. It is a developed country with high living standards (8th highest HDI), the longest life expectancy in the world (according to UN estimates); and is a world leader in technology, machinery, and robotics.

The English word Japan is an exonym. The Japanese names for Japan are Nippon (にっぽん ?) and Nihon (にほん ?). They are both written in Japanese using the kanji 日本. The Japanese name Nippon is used for most official purposes, including on Japanese money, postage stamps, and for many international sporting events. Nihon is a more casual term and the most frequently used in contemporary speech.

Both Nippon and Nihon literally mean "the sun's origin" and are often translated as the Land of the Rising Sun. This nomenclature comes from Imperial correspondence with Chinese Sui Dynasty and refers to Japan's eastward position relative to China. Before Japan had relations with China, it was known as Yamato and Hi no moto, which means "source of the sun".

The first signs of occupation on the Japanese Archipelago appeared with a Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC, followed from around 14,000 BC by the Jōmon period, a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture of pit dwelling and a rudimentary form of agriculture. Decorated clay vessels from this period, often with plaited patterns, are some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world.

The Yayoi period, starting around the third century BC, saw the introduction of many new practices, such as wet-rice farming, iron and bronze-making and a new style of pottery, brought by migrants from China or Korea.

The Japanese first appear in written history in China’s Book of Han. According to the Chinese Records of Three Kingdoms, the most powerful kingdom on the archipelago during the third century was called Yamataikoku.

Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from Baekje of the Korean Peninsula, but the subsequent development of Japanese Buddhism and Buddhist sculptures were primarily influenced by China. Despite early resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class and eventually gained growing acceptance since the Asuka period.

In 784, Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō for a brief ten-year period, before relocating it to Heian-kyō (modern day Kyoto) in 794, where it remained for more than a millennium. This marked the beginning of the Heian period, during which time a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged, noted for its art, poetry and literature. Lady Murasaki's The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of modern Japan's national anthem, Kimi ga Yo were written during this time.

Japan's feudal era was characterized by the emergence of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. In 1185, following the defeat of the rival Taira clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed Shogun and established a base of power in Kamakura. After Yoritomo's death, the Hōjō clan came to rule as regents for the shoguns. Zen Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class. The Kamakura shogunate managed to repel Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, aided by a storm that the Japanese interpreted as a kamikaze, or Divine Wind. The Kamakura shogunate was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo, who was soon himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336. The succeeding Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyo), and a civil war erupted (the Ōnin War) in 1467 which opened a century-long Sengoku period.

During the sixteenth century, traders and Jesuit missionaries from Portugal reached Japan for the first time, initiating active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West (Nanban trade).

Oda Nobunaga conquered numerous other daimyo by using European technology and firearms and had almost unified the nation when he was assassinated in 1582. Toyotomi Hideyoshi succeeded Nobunaga and united the nation in 1590. Hideyoshi invaded Korea twice, but following several defeats by Korean and Ming China forces and Hideyoshi's death, Japanese troops were withdrawn in 1598.

After Hideyoshi's death, Tokugawa Ieyasu utilized his position as regent for Hideyoshi's son Toyotomi Hideyori to gain political and military support. When open war broke out, he defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu was appointed shōgun in 1603 and established the Tokugawa shogunate at Edo (modern Tokyo). The Tokugawa shogunate enacted a variety of measures such as Buke shohatto to control the autonomous daimyo. In 1639, the shogunate began the isolationist sakoku ("closed country") policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period. The study of Western sciences, known as rangaku, continued during this period through contacts with the Dutch enclave at Dejima in Nagasaki. The Edo period also gave rise to kokugaku, or literally "national studies", the study of Japan by the Japanese themselves.

On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the "Black Ships" of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. Subsequent similar treaties with the Western countries in the Bakumatsu period brought Japan into economic and political crises. The abundance of the prerogative and the resignation of the shogunate led to the Boshin War and the establishment of a centralized state unified under the name of the Emperor (Meiji Restoration). Adopting Western political, judicial and military institutions, the Cabinet organized the Privy Council, introduced the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet. The Meiji Restoration transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that embarked on a number of military conflicts to expand the nation's sphere of influence. After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan gained control of Taiwan, Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin.

The early twentieth century saw a brief period of "Taisho democracy" overshadowed by the rise of expansionism and militarization. World War I enabled Japan, which joined the side of the victorious Allies, to expand its influence and territorial holdings. Japan continued its expansionist policy by occupying Manchuria in 1931. As a result of international condemnation for this occupation, Japan resigned from the League of Nations two years later. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, joining the Axis powers in 1941.

In 1937, Japan invaded other parts of China, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), after which the United States placed an oil embargo on Japan. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. This act brought the United States into World War II. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, along with the Soviet Union joining the war against it, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August 15 (Victory over Japan Day).

The war cost Japan and countries part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere millions of lives and left much of the country's industry and infrastructure destroyed. The Allied powers repatriated millions of ethnic Japanese from colonies throughout Asia. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, was convened by the Allies (on May 3, 1946) to prosecute some Japanese leaders for war crimes. However, all members of the bacteriological research units and members of the imperial family involved in the conduct of the war were exonerated from criminal prosecutions by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.

In 1947, Japan adopted a new pacifist constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied occupation ended by the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952 and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Japan later achieved spectacular growth to become the second largest economy in the world, with an annual growth rate averaging 10% for four decades. This ended in the mid-1990s when Japan suffered a major recession. Positive growth in the early twenty-first century has signaled a gradual recovery.

Japan is a constitutional monarchy where the power of the Emperor is very limited. As a ceremonial figurehead, he is defined by the constitution as "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people". Power is held chiefly by the Prime Minister of Japan and other elected members of the Diet, while sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people. The Emperor effectively acts as the head of state on diplomatic occasions. Akihito is the current Emperor of Japan. Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, stands as next in line to the throne.

Japan's legislative organ is the National Diet, a bicameral parliament. The Diet consists of a House of Representatives, containing 480 seats, elected by popular vote every four years or when dissolved and a House of Councillors of 242 seats, whose popularly elected members serve six-year terms. There is universal suffrage for adults over 20 years of age, with a secret ballot for all elective offices. The liberal conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been in power since 1955, except for a short-lived coalition government formed from opposition parties in 1993. The largest opposition party is the social liberal Democratic Party of Japan.

The Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government. The position is appointed by the Emperor of Japan after being designated by the Diet from among its members and must enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives to remain in office. The Prime Minister is the head of the Cabinet (the literal translation of his Japanese title is "Prime Minister of the Cabinet") and appoints and dismisses the Ministers of State, a majority of whom must be Diet members. Taro Aso currently serves as the Prime Minister of Japan.

Historically influenced by Chinese law, the Japanese legal system developed independently during the Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki. However, since the late nineteenth century, the judicial system has been largely based on the civil law of Europe, notably France and Germany. For example, in 1896, the Japanese government established a civil code based on the German model. With post-World War II modifications, the code remains in effect in present-day Japan. Statutory law originates in Japan's legislature, the National Diet of Japan, with the rubber stamp approval of the Emperor. The current constitution requires that the Emperor promulgates legislation passed by the Diet, without specifically giving him the power to oppose the passing of the legislation. Japan's court system is divided into four basic tiers: the Supreme Court and three levels of lower courts. The main body of Japanese statutory law is a collection called the Six Codes.

Japan maintains close economic and military relations with its key ally the United States, with the U.S.-Japan security alliance serving as the cornerstone of its foreign policy. A member state of the United Nations since 1956, Japan has served as a non-permanent Security Council member for a total of 18 years, most recently in 2005–2006. It is also one of the G4 nations seeking permanent membership in the Security Council. As a member of the G8, the APEC, the "ASEAN Plus Three" and a participant in the East Asia Summit, Japan actively participates in international affairs and enhances diplomatic ties with its important partners around the world. Japan signed a security pact with Australia in March 2007 and with India in October 2008. It is also the world's third largest donor of official development assistance after the United States and United Kingdom, donating US$8.86 billion in 2004. Japan contributed non-combatant troops to the Iraq War but subsequently withdrew its forces from Iraq.

Japan is engaged in several territorial disputes with its neighbors: with Russia over the South Kuril Islands, with South Korea over the Liancourt Rocks, with the People's Republic of China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands, and with the PRC over the EEZ around Okinotorishima.

Japan also faces an ongoing dispute with North Korea over its abduction of Japanese citizens and its nuclear weapons and missile program (see also Six-party talks). As a result of the Kuril Islands dispute, Japan is technically still at war with Russia since no treaty resolving the issue was ever signed.

Japan's military is restricted by the Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which renounces Japan's right to declare war or use military force as a means of settling international disputes. Japan's military is governed by the Ministry of Defense, and primarily consists of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). The forces have been recently used in peacekeeping operations and the deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq marked the first overseas use of its military since World War II.

Japan consists of forty-seven prefectures, each overseen by an elected governor, legislature and administrative bureaucracy. Each prefecture is further divided into cities, towns and villages.

The nation is currently undergoing administrative reorganization by merging many of the cities, towns and villages with each other. This process will reduce the number of sub-prefecture administrative regions and is expected to cut administrative costs.

Japan has dozens of major cities, which play an important role in Japan's culture, heritage and economy.

Japan is a country of over three thousand islands extending along the Pacific coast of Asia. The main islands, running from north to south, are Hokkaidō, Honshū (the main island), Shikoku and Kyūshū. The Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, are a chain of islands south of Kyushū. Together they are often known as the Japanese Archipelago.

About 70% to 80% of the country is forested, mountainous, and unsuitable for agricultural, industrial, or residential use. This is because of the generally steep elevations, climate and risk of landslides caused by earthquakes, soft ground and heavy rain. This has resulted in an extremely high population density in the habitable zones that are mainly located in coastal areas. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the juncture of three tectonic plates, gives Japan frequent low-intensity tremors and occasional volcanic activity. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunamis, occur several times each century. The most recent major quakes are the 2004 Chūetsu earthquake and the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Hot springs are numerous and have been developed as resorts.

The highest temperature ever measured in Japan — 40.9 degrees Celsius — was recorded on August 16, 2007.

The main rainy season begins in early May in Okinawa, and the stationary rain front responsible for this gradually works its way north until it dissipates in northern Japan before reaching Hokkaidō in late July. In most of Honshū, the rainy season begins before the middle of June and lasts about six weeks. In late summer and early autumn, typhoons often bring heavy rain.

Japan is home to nine forest ecoregions which reflect the climate and geography of the islands. They range from subtropical moist broadleaf forests in the Ryūkyū and Bonin islands, to temperate broadleaf and mixed forests in the mild climate regions of the main islands, to temperate coniferous forests in the cold, winter portions of the northern islands.

Japan's environmental history and current policies reflect a tenuous balance between economic development and environmental protection. In the rapid economic growth after World War II, environmental policies were downplayed by the government and industrial corporations. As an inevitable consequence, some crucial environmental pollution (see Pollution in Japan) occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. In the rising concern over the problem, the government introduced many environmental protection laws in 1970 and established the Ministry of the Environment in 1971. The Oil crisis in 1973 also encouraged the efficient use of energy due to Japan's lack of natural resources. Current priority environmental issues include urban air pollution (NOx, suspended particulate matter, toxics), waste management, water eutrophication, nature conservation, climate change, chemical management and international co-operation for environmental conservation.

Today Japan is one of the world's leaders in the development of new environment-friendly technologies. Honda and Toyota hybrid electric vehicles were named to have the highest fuel economy and lowest emissions. This is due to the advanced technology in hybrid systems, biofuels, use of lighter weight material and better engineering.

Japan also takes issues surrounding climate change and global warming seriously. As a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, and host of the 1997 conference which created it, Japan is under treaty obligations to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and to take other steps related to curbing climate change. The Cool Biz campaign introduced under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was targeted at reducing energy use through the reduction of air conditioning use in government offices. Japan is preparing to force industry to make big cuts in greenhouse gases, taking the lead in a country struggling to meet its Kyoto Protocol obligations.

Japan is ranked 30th best in the world in the Environmental Sustainability Index.

From 1868, Meiji period launched economic expansion. Meiji rulers embraced the concept of a free market economy and adopted British and North American forms of free enterprise capitalism. Japanese went to study overseas and Western scholars were hired to teach in Japan. Many of today's enterprises were founded at the time. Japan emerged as the most developed nation in Asia.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, overall real economic growth has been called a "Japanese miracle": a 10% average in the 1960s, a 5% average in the 1970s and a 4% average in the 1980s. Growth slowed markedly in the 1990s, largely because of the after-effects of Japanese asset price bubble and domestic policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets. Government efforts to revive economic growth met with little success and were further hampered by the global slowdown in 2000. The economy showed strong signs of recovery after 2005. GDP growth for that year was 2.8%, with an annualized fourth quarter expansion of 5.5%, surpassing the growth rates of the US and European Union during the same period.

Japan is the second largest economy in the world, after the United States, at around US$4.5 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and third after the United States and China in terms of purchasing power parity. Banking, insurance, real estate, retailing, transportation, telecommunications and construction are all major industries. Japan has a large industrial capacity and is home to some of the largest, leading and most technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronic equipment, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemicals, textiles and processed foods. The service sector accounts for three quarters of the gross domestic product.

As of 2001, Japan's shrinking labor force consisted of some 67 million workers. Japan has a low unemployment rate, around 4%. Japan's GDP per hour worked is the world's 19th highest as of 2007. Big Mac Index shows that Japanese workers get the highest salary per hour in the world. Some of the largest enterprises in Japan include Toyota Motor, NTT DoCoMo, Canon, Honda, Takeda Pharmaceutical, Sony, Nintendo, Nippon Steel, Tepco, Mitsubishi Estate, and 711. It is home to some of the world's largest banks and the Tokyo Stock Exchange, known for Nikkei 225, stands as the second largest in the world by market capitalization. Japan is home to 326 companies from the Forbes Global 2000 or 16.3% (as of 2006).

Japan ranks 12th of 178 countries in the Ease of Doing Business Index 2008 and it has one of the smallest governments in the developed world. Japanese variant of capitalism has many distinct features. Keiretsu enterprises are influential. Lifetime employment and seniority-based career advancement are relatively common in Japanese work environment. Japanese companies are known for management methods such as "The Toyota Way". Shareholder activism is rare. Recently, Japan has moved away from some of these norms. In the Index of Economic Freedom, Japan is the 5th most laissez-faire of 30 Asian countries.

Japan's exports amounted to 4,210 U.S. dollars per capita in 2005. Japan's main export markets are the United States 22.8%, the European Union 14.5%, China 14.3%, South Korea 7.8%, Taiwan 6.8% and Hong Kong 5.6% (for 2006). Japan's main exports are transportation equipment, motor vehicles, electronics, electrical machinery and chemicals. Japan's main import markets are China 20.5%, U.S. 12.0%, the European Union 10.3%, Saudi Arabia 6.4%, UAE 5.5%, Australia 4.8%, South Korea 4.7% and Indonesia 4.2% (for 2006). Japan's main imports are machinery and equipment, fossil fuels, foodstuffs (in particular beef), chemicals, textiles and raw materials for its industries. By market share measures, domestic markets are the least open of any OECD country. Junichiro Koizumi administration commenced some pro-competition reforms and foreign investment in Japan has soared recently.

Japan's business culture has many indigenous concepts such as nemawashi, nenko system, salaryman, and office lady. Japan's housing market is characterized by limited land supply in urban areas. This is particularly true for Tokyo, the world's largest urban agglomeration GDP. More than half of Japanese live in suburbs or more rural areas, where detached houses are the dominant housing type. Agricultural businesses in Japan often utilize a system of terrace farming and crop yields are high. 13% of Japan's land is cultivated. Japan accounts for nearly 15% of the global fish catch, second only to China. Japan's agricultural sector is protected at high cost.

As of 2005, one half of energy in Japan is produced from petroleum, a fifth from coal, and 14% from natural gas. Nuclear power in Japan makes a quarter of electricity production and Japan would like to double it in the next decades.

Japan's road spending has been large. The 1.2 million kilometers of paved road are the main means of transportation. Japan has left-hand traffic. A single network of high-speed, divided, limited-access toll roads connects major cities and are operated by toll-collecting enterprises. New and used cars are inexpensive. Car ownership fees and fuel levies are used to promote energy-efficiency. However, at just 50% of all distance travelled, car usage is the lowest of all G8 countries.

Dozens of Japanese railway companies compete in regional and local passenger transportation markets; for instance, 7 JR enterprises, Kintetsu Corporation, Seibu Railway, and Keio Corporation. Often, strategies of these enterprises contain real estate or department stores next to stations. Some 250 high-speed Shinkansen trains connect major cities. All trains are known for punctuality.

There are 173 airports and flying is a popular way to travel between cities. The largest domestic airport, Haneda Airport, is the Asia's busiest airport. The largest international gateways are Narita International Airport (Tokyo area), Kansai International Airport (Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto area), and Chūbu Centrair International Airport (Nagoya area). The largest ports include Port of Yokohama and Nagoya Port.

Japan is one of the leading nations in the fields of scientific research, particularly technology, machinery and biomedical research. Nearly 700,000 researchers share a US$130 billion research and development budget, the third largest in the world. For instance some of Japan's more prominent technological contributions are found in the fields of electronics, automobiles, machinery, earthquake engineering, industrial robotics, optics, chemicals, semiconductors and metals. Japan leads the world in robotics production and use, possessing more than half (402,200 of 742,500) of the world's industrial robots used for manufacturing. It also produced QRIO, ASIMO and AIBO. Japan is the world's largest producer of automobiles and home to six of the world's fifteen largest automobile manufacturers and seven of the world's twenty largest semiconductor sales leaders as of today.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is Japan's space agency that conducts space and planetary research, aviation research, and development of rockets and satellites. It is a participant in the International Space Station and the Japanese Experiment Module (Kibo) was added to the International Space Station during Space Shuttle assembly flights in 2008. It has plans in space exploration, such as launching the Venus Climate Orbiter (PLANET-C) in 2010 , developing the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter to be launched in 2013, and building a moonbase by 2030. On September 14, 2007, it launched lunar orbit explorer "SELENE" (Selenological and Engineering Explorer) on an H-IIA (Model H2A2022) carrier rocket from Tanegashima Space Center. SELENE is also known as Kaguya, the lunar princess of the ancient folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Kaguya is the largest lunar probe mission since the Apollo program. Its mission is to gather data on the moon's origin and evolution. It entered into a lunar orbit on October 4, flying in a lunar orbit at an altitude of about 100 km.

Japan's population is estimated at around 127.3 million. For the most part, Japanese society is linguistically and culturally homogeneous with small populations of foreign workers, Zainichi Koreans, Zainichi Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese Brazilians and others. The most dominant native ethnic group is the Yamato people; the primary minority groups include the indigenous Ainu and Ryukyuan, as well as social minority groups like the burakumin.

Japan has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, at 81.25 years of age as of 2006. The Japanese population is rapidly aging, the effect of a post-war baby boom followed by a decrease in births in the latter part of the twentieth century. In 2004, about 19.5% of the population was over the age of 65.

The changes in the demographic structure have created a number of social issues, particularly a potential decline in the workforce population and increases in the cost of social security benefits such as the public pension plan. Many Japanese youth are increasingly preferring not to marry or have families as adults. Japan's population is expected to drop to 100 million by 2050 and to 64 million by 2100. Demographers and government planners are currently in a heated debate over how to cope with this problem. Immigration and birth incentives are sometimes suggested as a solution to provide younger workers to support the nation's aging population.

The highest estimates for the amount of Buddhists and Shintoists in Japan is 84-96%, representing a large number of believers in a syncretism of both religions. However, these estimates are based on people with an association with a temple, rather than the number of people truly following the religion. Professor Robert Kisala (Nanzan University) suggests that only 30 percent of the population identify themselves as belonging to a religion.

Taoism and Confucianism from China have also influenced Japanese beliefs and customs. Religion in Japan tends to be syncretic in nature, and this results in a variety of practices, such as parents and children celebrating Shinto rituals, students praying before exams, couples holding a wedding at a Christian church and funerals being held at Buddhist temples. A minority (2,595,397, or 2.04%) profess to Christianity. In addition, since the mid-19th century, numerous religious sects (Shinshūkyō) have emerged in Japan, such as Tenrikyo and Aum Shinrikyo (or Aleph).

More than 99% of the population speaks Japanese as their first language. It is an agglutinative language distinguished by a system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary which indicate the relative status of speaker and listener. According to a Japanese dictionary Shinsen-kokugojiten, Chinese-based words comprise 49.1% of the total vocabulary, indigenous words are 33.8% and other loanwords are 8.8%. The writing system uses kanji (Chinese characters) and two sets of kana (syllabaries based on simplified Chinese characters), as well as the Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals. The Ryukyuan languages, also part of the Japonic language family to which Japanese belongs, are spoken in Okinawa, but few children learn these languages. The Ainu language is moribund, with only a few elderly native speakers remaining in Hokkaidō. Most public and private schools require students to take courses in both Japanese and English.

Primary, secondary schools and universities were introduced into Japan in 1872 as a result of the Meiji Restoration. Since 1947, compulsory education in Japan consists of elementary school and middle school, which lasts for nine years (from age 6 to age 15). Almost all children continue their education at a three-year senior high school, and, according to the MEXT, about 75.9% of high school graduates attend a university, junior college, trade school, or other post-secondary institution in 2005. Japan's education is very competitive, especially for entrance to institutions of higher education. The two top-ranking universities in Japan are the University of Tokyo and Keio University. The Programme for International Student Assessment coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks Japanese knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds as the 6th best in the world.

In Japan, healthcare services are provided by national and local governments. Payment for personal medical services is offered through a universal health care insurance system that provides relative equality of access, with fees set by a government committee. People without insurance through employers can participate in a national health insurance program administered by local governments. Since 1973, all elderly persons have been covered by government-sponsored insurance. Patients are free to select physicians or facilities of their choice.

Japanese culture has evolved greatly over the years, from the country's original Jōmon culture to its contemporary culture, which combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America. 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. The fusion of traditional woodblock printing and Western art led to the creation of manga, a typically 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 the 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 and the Nihon Shoki and the eighth century poetry book Man'yōshū, all written in Chinese characters. In the early days of the Heian period, the system of transcription known as kana (Hiragana and Katakana) was created as phonograms. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is considered the oldest Japanese narrative. An account of Heian court life is given by The Pillow Book written by Sei Shōnagon, while The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki is often described as the world's first novel. During the Edo period, literature became not so much the field of the samurai aristocracy as that of the chōnin, the ordinary people. Yomihon, for example, became popular and reveals this profound change in the readership and authorship. The Meiji era saw the decline of traditional literary forms, during which Japanese literature integrated Western influences. Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ōgai were the first "modern" novelists of Japan, followed by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima and, more recently, Haruki Murakami. Japan has two Nobel Prize-winning authors — Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburo Oe (1994).

Traditionally, sumo is considered Japan's national sport and it is a popular spectator sport in Japan. Martial arts such as judo, karate and kendō are also widely practiced and enjoyed by spectators in the country. After the Meiji Restoration, many Western sports were introduced in Japan and began to spread through the education system.

The professional baseball league in Japan 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 for the Seattle Mariners of North American Major League Baseball. Prior to that, Sadaharu Oh was well-known outside Japan, having hit more home runs during his career in Japan than his contemporary, Hank Aaron, did in America.

Since the establishment of the Japan Professional Football League in 1992, association football (soccer) 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. Japan is one of the most successful soccer teams in Asia, winning the Asian Cup three times.

Golf is also popular in Japan, as are forms of auto racing, such as the Super GT sports car series and Formula Nippon formula racing. Twin Ring Motegi was completed in 1997 by Honda in order to bring IndyCar racing to Japan.

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