Japan has the world’s third-largest economy, having achieved remarkable growth in the second half of the 20th Century after the devastation of the Second World War.
Its role in the international community is considerable. It is a major aid donor, and a source of global capital and credit.
More than three quarters of the population live in sprawling cities on the coastal fringes of Japan’s four mountainous, heavily-wooded islands.
Japan’s rapid post-war expansion – propelled by highly successful car and consumer electronics industries – ran out of steam by the 1990s under a mounting debt burden that successive governments have failed to address.
Japan’s relations with its neighbours are still heavily influenced by the legacy of Japanese actions before and during the Second World War. Japan has found it difficult to accept and atone for its treatment of the citizens of countries it occupied.
Head of State: Emperor Akihito
Akihito, who has been emperor since 1989, has no political powers but he has played an important role in working to heal the wounds of a war waged across Asia in his own father’s name.
His father Emperor Hirohito, who reigned between 1926 and 1989, was once revered as divine but transformed after Japan’s defeat to promote peace and democracy.
Prime minister: Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe became Japan’s prime minister in 2012 after his Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) landslide election win.
Under him, a raft of measures has been introduced aimed at boosting Japan’s struggling economy. Ties with China, however, have been tense over territorial and historic disputes.
He served as prime minister in 2006 and 2007 but quit after a series of scandals involving his ministers.
Japan was years ahead of the US and Europe in pioneering reality TV, in which ordinary people are placed in extraordinary situations.
Newspaper readership is very high, with some 80% of Japanese reading a paper every day.
Some 110 million people – or about 86% of the population – were online by mid-2014 (InternetWorldStats).
Some key dates in Japan’s history:
1853 – US fleet forces Japan to open up to foreign influence after over 200 years of self-imposed isolation.
1868 – Empire of Japan proclaimed, and country enters period of rapid industrialisation and imperial expansion.
1910 – Japan annexes Korea, becoming one of the world’s leading powers.
1914 – Japan joins First World War on the side of Britain and her allies, gaining some Pacific islands from Germany.
1925 – Universal male suffrage is instituted.
1930s – Seizes Chinese province of Manchu, Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing amid atrocities such as the “Rape of Nanjing”.
1939-45 – Second World War sees Japan occupying several Asian countries. It is defeated when US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
1945 – US occupation of devastated country; post-war recovery and political reform. Economy recovers, eventually flourishes.
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