éiAPAN. The leading industrial nation of Asia and the non-Western world, Japan also rivals the most advanced economic powers of the West. It rose rapidly from a crushing military defeat in World War II to achieve the fastest-growing economy of any major nation in the postwar period. Today only the United States outproduces it.
The Meiji Restoration of the 1860s launched Japan onto the road of modernization. The Japanese skillfully developed the technological base for modern industry and built their nation into a leading world power. Set back temporarily by wartime destruction and the consequences of military defeat, Japan has again become a world power. This time, however, its reputation is based not on armed might but on the productivity of its peacetime industry.
The Japanese people enjoy an unprecedented supply of goods, though their living standards are still behind those of the United States and Western Europe. Their swelling cities, paced by the giant metropolis of Tokyo, are as modern as urban centers anywhere in the world. And Japanese people face the problems that most inhabitants of great cities everywhere face overcrowded housing, inadequate waste-disposal facilities, air and water pollution, and traffic congestion.
In few other places in the world do the values and traditions of the past continue to flourish so strongly alongside the ideas and practices of the present. The persisting contrast between the new and the old, the modern and the traditional, is one of the most characteristic features of present-day Japan.
Urbanization, industrialization, and modern transportation and communication are rapidly changing the Japanese way of life. The impact of these developments is being keenly felt not only in the cities but in the countryside as well. However, beneath Japan's "new look" lie the deep-seated customs and institutions of traditional Japanese culture in religion, in politics, and especially in family life. The people of Japan largely continue to respect and honor their past. Their society as a whole continues to adhere to the concepts of personal loyalty and obligation that have been a tradition through the ages.
Japan comprises an island chain along mainland Asia's east coast. The four main islands Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu stretch some 1,200 miles from northeast to southwest. Including the more than 3,900 smaller islands, Japan is about 1,800 miles long. Its maximum width is about 200 miles.
Japan has no land border with any other nation. Across the Sea of Japan to the west are North and South Korea; across the Sea of Japan to the northwest and the Sea of Okhotsk to the north is Russia; across the East China Sea to the west is China; along the Ryukyu Islands of Japan to the southwest are Taiwan and the Philippines. The open waters of the vast Pacific Ocean wash Japan's eastern and southeastern shores. Across the Pacific, more than 4,000 miles away, is the United States mainland.
Japan is 145,842 square miles in area. The Japanese landscape is rugged, with more than 80 percent of the land surface consisting of mountains. Its largest island by far is Honshu, with about three fifths of the total area. On Honshu are most of Japan's principal cities and about four fifths of the country's more than 123 million inhabitants.
Japan ranks high in population density and seventh in population among the world's nations. Its capital, Tokyo, is one of the world's largest cities (see Tokyo). Japan's spectacular economic growth the greatest of any nation since the 1940s has brought the country to the forefront of the world economy. It is one of the world's major shipbuilders and is a major producer and exporter of manufactured goods.


Japan is the world's seventh most populous nation. In 1982, Japan had an estimated population of 118,830,000. Its population went beyond the 100 million mark in 1967 and at the 1980 census it had reached 117,060,396. Yet Japan has one of the lowest population growth rates in the world about 1 percent per year.
Japanese population data is incomplete for the period before 1868, when the nation's modern era began. However, the population of Japan is believed to have reached 5 million in the 7th century and 10 million in the 14th century. Official estimates placed the number of Japanese in the mid-19th century at over 30 million. In 1920, when Japan's first census was taken, it had a population of 55,963,000. In 1940 its population was 73,114,000.
Japan experienced a brief baby boom after World War II, but then the nation's birthrate dropped from a high of 34 per 1,000 in 1947 to about 10 per 1,000 in the early 1990s. This is one of the fastest declines that has ever been experienced by any nation. Japan's death rate has also fallen to about seven per 1,000 largely because of improvements in public health measures, advances in medicine, and the greater availability of modern medical facilities. Average life expectancy in Japan reached about 76 years for men and 82 years for women in the early 1990s. In 1890 it was 43 years for men and 44 years for women.
The proportion of young people in Japan has been decreasing. Average family size has also been shrinking: It dropped from about five members in 1955 to about three members per family in 1980. This drop occurred in part because a growing number of young married couples were establishing their own households instead of living with their parents in the traditional fashion.
Another reason for this drop in family size was that young couples in Japan were having fewer children. In Japan, abortion is an accepted and widely used means of controlling family size. It is permitted under a 1952 law. Contraception, however, is not popular.
The Japanese are a fairly homogeneous people both culturally and racially. They have a single language, and almost all are of Mongoloid racial stock. Koreans, the largest alien group in Japan, number about 667,000. The Ainu, a native people of northern Japan, have been almost completely assimilated into the general population of the country.
Japan is one of the world's most thickly populated nations. In 1991 the population density of the country as a whole was about 849 persons per square mile, but if only the urban land area is considered, the density becomes several times greater than it is for the entire land area. The bulk of Japan's people live in the coastal lowlands, which comprise a relatively small part of the nation's total area. The mountainous interior is sparsely populated.
Japan is one of the most urbanized major nations in Asia. In 1920, more than four fifths of its people still lived in rural areas. In 1990, however, more than three out of every four Japanese lived in cities.
Japan's greatest concentration of population is in a 350-mile-long belt that extends from Tokyo and the Kanto Plain westward along the Pacific coast through Nagoya and Kyoto to Osaka and Kobe on the eastern edge of the Inland Sea. Within this belt, called the Tokaido Megalopolis, live about 42 percent of Japan's people. The belt comprises the six largest cities and a large percentage of the 180-odd cities with more than 100,000 population. A western extension of the Tokaido Megalopolis has been developing along the Inland Sea and as far as the city of Kagoshima at the southern tip of Kyushu.
The Tokaido Megalopolis includes the metropolitan clusters of Tokyo-Kawasaki-Yokohama, Nagoya, and Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto. The largest and fastest growing of these is around Tokyo. Population growth within the city limits of Tokyo has slowed, but in its suburbs where open land is available for the construction of new homes and apartments the number of people is increasing rapidly.
The Tokaido Megalopolis comprises the principal Japanese centers of industry, business, and finance and Japan's major international ports. It provides most of the job opportunities for migrants from the farms and small towns of Japan. For this reason, perhaps, Japan's difficulties in providing adequate housing, transportation, and social services of all kinds are greatest in the Tokaido Megalopolis.
Many prefectures outside the Tokaido Megalopolis and the few other large metropolitan centers have been losing population through out-migration, especially since 1950. The heaviest losses have occurred along the Sea of Japan coast and in rural areas north and west of Tokyo, in Honshu, in western and eastern Kyushu, and on Shikoku. Hokkaido, the northernmost island, was an area of pioneer settlement until the 1930s. It has the lowest population density of any Japanese prefecture.
Four fifths of Japan's people 99,254,000 in 1990 were living on the island of Honshu. Three other major islands of Japan Kyushu, Hokkaido, and Shikoku had populations of 13,296,000, 5,644,000, and 4,195,000, respectively.


Japan has been modernizing rapidly. Yet there are still great contrasts in the everyday life of the Japanese people. Especially striking are the contrasts between the tradition-bound countryside and the bustling urban centers.
About one fourth of the Japanese people live in small farming villages called buraku. The way of life of these people is changing, but the traditional patterns established centuries ago are still widespread.
Rural homes are generally small. The walls are made of clay. Some rooms have earthen floors, while the floors of others are covered with wood or straw mats. The stoves used for cooking are made of clay or brick. They are heated with such materials as straw or with compressed gas, which has come into widespread use. The toilet facilities are separate from the house. Water is usually obtained from wells.
The villagers usually live in households that include grandparents and grown sons with their families, as well as the farmer, his wife, and his younger children. When a farmer dies or grows old, his land is passed on to a son, traditionally the eldest. His other sons may inherit money and may stay on the farm. However, most enter occupations in the village or a city.
Each member of a farm family has certain responsibilities. The most important involve work in the fields. The men spend long days planting, tilling, and harvesting their crops. During the time in each growing season when the paddies are flooded, the men work knee-deep in water. Most farmers tend and harvest their crops by hand, but modern farm machinery is also being used. Rice is the principal food crop.
The women often help in the fields after they have finished their usual household tasks of cooking, cleaning, weaving straw mats, and gardening. Although older children go to school, they also work in the fields or take care of younger brothers and sisters. Grandparents no longer able to do field work weave mats and look after their grandchildren.
After a hard day's work, the entire family enjoys an evening bath. The large earthen or cedar bathtub stands in a bathhouse or in the kitchen near the stove. A fire kindled beneath the tub keeps the water hot. Then each family member in turn beginning with the father washes and rinses thoroughly before getting into the tub. The water in the tub is used only for soaking since it is shared by all members of the family. On winter days the hot bath gives the farm family its first chance to get really warm.
Japanese villagers are neighborly. The whole village may partake in a wedding or a funeral. All the women prepare food for a village celebration, and every family brings its share. Most village business is handled through social and economic cooperatives. The farmers sell their produce in a common market.

Life in the Cities

Japanese city life is much more Westernized than that of the countryside. The cities have modern housing and modern transportation systems. Many city dwellers live in high-rise apartment buildings and take subways or buses to their jobs. The daily lives of city dwellers have been transformed by modern conveniences, such as automobiles, electric household appliances, and central heating. Yet many traditional practices survive. Bath facilities even in modern apartment houses may be much like those in the villages, and many city dwellers still use public bathhouses.
In the cities, fewer marriages are arranged by parents and fewer young people live with their parents after marriage. Since more of the young men and women attend universities or work away from home, they have more opportunities to meet socially and to choose their own husbands and wives.
Entertainment in the cities is not as dependent upon family activity as is that of the villages. Women enjoy shopping in markets and department stores. Men are attracted by teahouses and beer halls. Wealthy men may banquet friends and business associates in geisha restaurants. Here they are entertained by geisha, highly trained women who dance, sing, recite poetry, play a banjolike instrument called the samisen, and chat with the guests. The geisha are gowned richly in silk costumes, and their hair is elaborately styled. City dwellers can also attend a wide variety of theatrical performances and sports events.

Growing Up in Japan

When a baby is about seven days old, the father places a paper bearing the child's name before a household shrine. He does this to inform the ancestors of the family that another member has been added to it. Friends and relatives attend, bringing gifts for the child. At the age of about one month, the child is taken to the nearest Shinto shrine. There the priest may record the name and birthday, and the child formally becomes a member of the community.
A Japanese baby is often carried on the back of his or her mother, grandmother, or sister, safely fastened with broad sashes. From early infancy a child is trained in obedience. Spankings are rarely used, but a child may be ridiculed and shamed for acting badly.
After World War II, the status of Japanese men and women began to be equalized. Prior to that time, boys and girls were treated very differently. Parents thought it so important to have sons to carry on the family name that boys were preferred and pampered. They could "boss" their older sisters and even their mothers. Girls, on the other hand, had to defer not only to their elders but even to younger brothers. However, a father expected his sons to achieve more than his daughters, and boys were brought up with the obligation to do nothing to harm the family's reputation. Japanese boys are still often favored above their sisters and more is still expected of them, but the disparities in the treatment of boys and girls are not as great as they used to be.
When a boy is about 21, his family may take steps to find a suitable wife for him. When friends have recommended a young lady with a similar family background, the prospective couple are introduced. If neither the boy nor the girl objects strongly to the proposed marriage, the boy's family chooses a go-between to carry on discussions with the girl's parents and make arrangements for the exchange of presents.
There are religious and regional variations in the forms of the marriage ceremony in Japan. In the Shinto ceremony, for example, the bride and groom take three sips of sake, a rice wine, from three cups. The bride wears the elaborate clothing and the complicated hairstyle that are traditional on this occasion. The marriage ceremony may be followed by feasting and dancing.
The Japanese mark a man's entry into old age with a special ceremony which occurs between his 59th and 60th birthdays. At that time he dons a red kimono, a color not usually worn by adult males, to signify that he has shed the responsibilities of maturity.
Most Japanese funerals are marked by Buddhist or Shinto rites. The body is borne in a procession to a crematory or a cemetery. The period of mourning may last as long as 50 days.

Inside a Japanese Home

Japanese homes are rather small by Western standards. They generally have a kitchen and three or four rooms that serve as living and sleeping quarters. The walls are lined with thin bamboo strips. The floors are covered with tatami, woven straw mats six feet by three feet in size. A room's size is stated in terms of the number of tatami required to cover the floor. Among the most common sizes are 6-, 8-, and 12-tatami rooms. To keep the tatami clean, the Japanese remove their shoes when entering a house.
Most houses perch on two-foot-high posts set on rock foundations. A narrow porch on the sunny side serves as a hall onto which the rooms open. Permanent partitions are rare. Fusuma, or sliding screens made of paper-covered frames, may be closed to create separate rooms or opened to convert the entire house into a single room. Shoji, or sliding outer doors, are pushed back on summer days to let in air and are shut for protection at night.
The light, open construction of such Japanese houses is well suited to a warm climate and to a region where earthquakes destroy heavier structures. However, these houses do not keep out the damp chill of winter. A hibachi (charcoal brazier) gives some warmth. Sometimes a kotatsu (burner) is set into the floor and a table draped with quilts is placed over it. The family gathers around the table to warm their feet.
Furniture in the Japanese home generally consists only of storage chests and low tables. In most homes the family sits on zabuton (low cushions) and sleeps on futon (cotton-filled mattresses about four inches thick). However, many city families have replaced the futon with beds. Both the zabuton and the futon are stored in wall closets when they are not being used.
The most important spot in the house is the tokonoma, an alcove containing a low platform which holds a flower arrangement. Above the platform hangs a painted scroll. When callers come, the most honored guest is seated near the tokonoma. Except for the embellished parchment doors between rooms, scrolls and flower arrangements are usually the only decoration found in Japanese homes.
Carefully tended gardens demonstrate the Japanese love of nature. The rooms of a home often open onto a garden through a sliding door. Many Japanese gardens are actually miniature landscapes, with small trees, flowering bushes, pools, streams, and bridges.

Food for the Japanese Family

Most Japanese eat three meals a day. Rice, the mainstay of the Japanese diet for centuries, is eaten at almost every meal. At breakfast it is usually supplemented by misoshiru (a bean-paste soup) and tsukemono (pickled vegetables). In the cities, some Japanese have replaced these dishes with bread, butter, and eggs. Lunch is a light meal and may consist of salted fish, tsukemono, and tsukudani (seafood or vegetables cooked and preserved in soy sauce), in addition to rice or noodles. Supper is the most important meal of the day. In most homes it includes fish, beef, pork, or chicken with vegetables and rice. Meat is usually cut into thin strips and fried. It is not as important in the Japanese diet as in that of Western nations. Until the late 19th century, Buddhist practice discouraged eating the flesh of four-legged animals. Fish is often served raw. When served this way it is called sushi.
The two most popular beverages in Japan are tea and sake. Tea is drunk during and after meals. It is also served to guests with such snacks as soba (buckwheat noodles) and udan (wheat noodles). Sake is served with meals, at dinner parties, and especially at celebrations such as weddings or holiday feasts.
Chopsticks are the only eating utensils knives, forks, and spoons are not used. Food is served in china or lacquer bowls and in dishes. On important occasions, individual trays are provided. Usually a Japanese family sits around a low table for meals.

Japanese Clothing Styles

Modern Japanese dress incorporates both Eastern and Western styles. Western clothes, worn by both men and women, are seen most frequently on city streets. The traditional kimono, a loose-fitting garment with wide sleeves, is now worn principally at home. Men's kimonos differ from women's primarily in color and fabric. Women wear their kimonos at ankle length, bound with a sash called an obi. Men's kimonos are shorter and on formal occasions are worn with a wide, divided skirt called a hakama. A kimono-shaped cloak called a haori may be worn over a kimono by both sexes. The clothes Japanese children wear are much like those worn by children in the United States. Boys wear short or long pants and shirts or sweaters. Girls wear skirts with blouses or sweaters. Japanese girls still wear kimono for festivals, however.
The Japanese usually wear shoes like those worn in Western nations. However, geta (wooden clogs) and zori (rubber or straw sandals) are still worn with kimono. Socks called tabi are worn with geta and zori. The tabi have a separate place for the big toe the geta or zori strap is held between it and the other toes. Japanese now wear Western hairstyles. The elaborate hairstyles Japanese women formerly wore are now used only at weddings or by entertainers in the theater and hostesses at geisha houses.


Nearly all of Japan's school-age children attend school regularly. Attendance is compulsory through the lower level of secondary school. Children begin nursery school when they are about 3. At 6, they begin elementary school; at 12, lower-secondary school. Any student who has completed lower-secondary school may enroll in an upper-secondary school. The Japanese upper-secondary school is comparable to the United States high school. It offers either a technical or a college preparatory course of instruction.
Japanese students, especially those who plan to attend college, strongly compete with each other for grades and honors. In school competitions, however, all participants usually receive some sort of recognition. All students are promoted at the end of each term. To go beyond high school, Japanese boys and girls must pass difficult college entrance examinations. There are junior colleges, four-year universities, and graduate schools. Before World War II Japanese colleges and universities stressed technical education. Today they give greater emphasis to the liberal arts.


Japanese recreational activities take place indoors and outdoors. Young children fly kites, spin tops, play baseball, watch television, and build plastic models. In the summer they watch fireworks, a pastime the Japanese have enjoyed for centuries.
With higher incomes and more leisure time, the Japanese have adopted a number of new outdoor sports. Blessed with high mountains and heavy snows, Japan has become one of the world's most popular ski areas. Most of the nation's major cities have indoor skating rinks. At Sapporo, outdoor ice-sculpture festivals attract many entrants each year. The 1972 winter Olympics were held in Sapporo.
Competitive sports have a wide following among the Japanese. Baseball with two professional leagues is one of Japan's most popular spectator sports. Other sports enjoyed by the Japanese include basketball, lawn and table tennis, volleyball, bicycling, hockey, and swimming. Sumo, judo, kendo, karate, and other traditional Japanese martial arts are now regarded primarily as competitive sports.
The Japanese go on frequent family outings. Parents take their children to shrines and temples and to parks and zoos or on excursions into the country to view the spring cherry blossoms or the autumn foliage.

Religious Practices

Most Japanese people follow either the Buddhist or the Shinto religion. There are fewer than one million Christians in Japan. Many families combine Buddhist and Shinto practices. These families have two separate altars in their homes, one for the family ancestors, in accordance with Buddhist teachings, another for the Shinto gods. Upon awakening, members of the family burn incense in honor of the dead and clap their hands in tribute to the Shinto gods.
Shinto is the only religion that originated in Japan. Buddhism was introduced into Japan from Korea in the 6th century, and Portuguese and Spanish missionaries brought Christianity to Japan in the 16th century. Shinto received the support of the Japanese government until 1947, when the emperor disclaimed his divinity. The present Japanese constitution guarantees complete freedom of religion.

Health and Welfare Services

Japanese medicine is administered by the Ministry of Health and Welfare at health centers throughout the nation. At these centers doctors examine patients and, when necessary, refer them to hospitals for treatment. The health centers are also responsible for dealing with sanitation and public health problems.
Most of the citizens of Japan are protected by a form of health insurance that is available on an occupational or a regional basis. The insured person pays a monthly premium. He is charged a small consulting fee for the treatment of each illness. The rest of his medical care is either furnished without charge or for only a fraction of its actual value. Members of the family other than the insured person are entitled to receive medical care for half the fees usually charged.


The present, Showa, constitution of Japan became law on May 3, 1947, as an amendment to the Meiji constitution of 1889. It is based on a draft prepared in English by the Allied occupation forces after World War II. A Japanese version was debated and approved by the Japanese National Diet, or parliament. In some quarters, the constitution has been regarded as an American-imposed document, untrue to Japanese traditions and political realities. However, moves to revise it have made little headway.
Under the constitution the emperor is the "symbol of the State and of the unity of the people." His duties are largely ceremonial, such as opening the Diet or receiving ambassadors. The emperor acts only on the initiative of responsible government officials. His appearances in public are carefully directed by the Kunaicho, or Imperial Household Agency.
The two-house Diet has the sole constitutional power to make laws in Japan. The upper house, also called the House of Councillors, has 252 members elected for six-year terms, with the terms of half of the members expiring every three years. Of these, 100 are elected by the nation at large and 152 by prefectural constituencies. The lower house, or House of Representatives, has 512 members elected for four-year terms. They represent districts that return from one to five members each.
All bills approved by both houses of the Diet become law. On the contrary, a bill rejected in the upper house can become law if it is approved by a two-thirds majority in the lower house on a second vote. A simple majority in the lower house is sufficient to ensure such decisions as the selection of a prime minister or the ratification of a treaty even over the opposition of the upper house. In practice, however, the two houses are usually in agreement. The budget, furthermore, originates in the lower house.
The principal executive body is the cabinet. It is headed by the prime minister, who is chosen by the Diet. Ministers heading the major administrative agencies are named by the prime minister. They must all be civilians, and a majority of them must be members of the Diet. The cabinet is responsible to the Diet. If the House of Representatives passes a no-confidence resolution or rejects a confidence resolution, the cabinet must resign or the prime minister must dissolve the Diet and call a new election.
The judiciary is separate from both the legislative and executive branches. The 14 associate justices of the Japanese Supreme Court are appointed by the cabinet, and the emperor appoints the chief justice designated by the cabinet. An appointee to the Supreme Court is reviewed by the voters at the next general election for the House of Representatives. A Supreme Court justice is again reviewed at the elections following each of the ten-year periods that he remains on the bench. The Supreme Court has complete administrative control over lower courts. It is the court of last resort, with power to decide the constitutionality of laws, cabinet orders, regulations, and official acts.
Voters in each of Japan's 47 prefectures elect a governor and a one-house legislature. Voters in each city, town, and village elect a mayor and a one-house legislature. They have the powers of initiative, referendum, and recall. The governors and mayors can dissolve their legislatures, and the legislatures can, in turn, pass votes of no-confidence in their executives. Local governments adopt budgets and levy taxes. Routine national and local government business is handled by a professional civil service.


Throughout most of the post-World War II era, Japanese politics and government have been dominated by the Liberal-Democratic party. In general elections it regularly won about half of the vote and a majority of seats in both houses of the Diet. In the late 1980s, however, the party suffered a major setback when several of its high-ranking members were involved in a series of scandals. In the 1989 upper-house elections the Liberal-Democrats lost their majority, and the Japan Socialist party under the leadership of the first woman to lead a major Japanese party, Takako Doi (born 1929) was able to form a loose coalition of opposition parties. Other members of the opposition include the left-wing Democratic Socialist and Communist parties and the Komeito, or Clean Government, party.
Japanese political parties are mostly combinations of habatsu, or small factions centered on strong individual leaders. Local political organizations usually consist of small support groups for local Diet members. However, the Komeito party has a mass membership and an extensive organizational structure.
Japan has universal, equal, and direct suffrage. All Japanese citizens who are 20 years of age and over have the right to vote. In Japan, especially in rural areas, voting is regarded as a duty, and participation in elections is high. In local elections voter participation may reach 90 percent. Candidates for office receive some financial aid from the government, but governmental attempts to limit campaign spending have been unsuccessful.
Special-interest groups play a major role in Japanese politics. National federations of labor unions are closely linked to the left-wing parties. Large industrial concerns, national federations of farm cooperatives, businessmen's associations, and professional groups have close links with the Liberal-Democrats. The relations between special-interest groups and government officials or political parties sometimes lead to bribery and corruption.
Demo, or mass demonstrations, are another means of influencing government policy. They are usually employed by the left-wing parties, which are able to mobilize the support of students and union members. Frequently, large delegations of workers demonstrate in front of the Diet building or government ministries.
The expression of public opinion is protected by the constitution. Japanese citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and association. Newspapers and magazines are uncensored and are often critical of the government and of its policies.
The nationalist ideology of Japan's military-imperial system was known as kokutai, or "national essence." It was based on deep devotion to the emperor and submission to authority. Although the ideology was discredited when the emperor lost his divine status, right-wing groups condemned any criticism of the emperor. After the death of Emperor Hirohito in January 1989, a regional official blamed the emperor for leading the country into world war in the 1940s. An attempt was made on the official's life.

Defense and Foreign Relations

The Japanese constitution renounces "war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes." Nevertheless, since 1950 Japan has developed its own land, naval, and air personnel into a voluntary National Self-Defense Force. In the late 1980s it had a strength of about 246,000.
Foreign affairs and the negotiation of treaties are handled by the cabinet. The prime minister reports on foreign relations to the Diet and must obtain its approval of treaties. Routine administrative business with foreign nations, such as granting visas, is handled by a professional diplomatic corps.
Japan is a member of the United Nations. Since regaining full sovereignty in 1952, its foreign policy has been based on close ties with the United States. A mutual security treaty between the two countries affords Japan the protection of the United States.


The growth of the Japanese economy is one of the most remarkable success stories of recent decades. Though Japan was already a modern industrial nation in the 1930s, its economy was shattered by its defeat in World War II. Japan emerged from the war shorn of its colonial empire, shunned by its former trading partners, and occupied by foreign troops. Much of its industrial plant had been destroyed. Yet by the late 1960s Japan ranked third among the industrially advanced nations of the world, surpassed only by the United States and the Soviet Union.
Japan's gross national product soared to almost 700 billion dollars about $6,000 per capita in 1977. For the seven-year period 1970-77 its annual economic growth rate averaged more than 18 percent. By the late 1970s the Japanese labor force totaled more than 53 million. The number employed in the primary industries (agriculture, fishing, forestry, and mining) fell from more than 14 million in 1962 to about 6.5 million in 1977. However, the number employed in the secondary industries (manufacturing and construction) and the tertiary industries (trades and services) rose from more than 31 million in 1962 to nearly 47 million in 1977. Despite the rapid growth of the Japanese labor force, however, the nation suffered from a labor shortage throughout that seven-year period.
The Japanese economic miracle was based primarily on the application of modern technology and business methods and on a large, skilled, and hardworking labor force. In addition, the Japanese government encouraged new industry with subsidies, and more money was available for investments in industry and education because very little was being spent on defense. Japan's achievement was also spurred by a resurgence of national pride.


Japan has one of the world's most productive agricultural systems. Yet only 15 percent of the nation's total land area is under cultivation. A shift from subsistence to commercial farming has been taking place. Large crop surpluses in Hokkaido, northern and western Honshu, and central Kyushu are now shipped to the heavily populated, urbanized belt that stretches from Tokyo westward to northern Kyushu.
Rice, the staple food in Japan, is by far the largest crop in acreage, tonnage, and value. Irrigated rice fields, or paddies, occupy more than half the cultivated area of Japan. Most rice fields in Hokkaido and northern Honshu bear only one crop a year. To the south, where the winter is milder and the growing season longer, multiple cropping is used. Under this system, paddies produce a summer rice crop and a winter crop of dry grains or vegetables. As a result of government price supports and the use of modern farming methods, rice production rose steeply in the 1960s. With bumper harvests in the late 1960s, when 14 to 15 million tons were raised yearly, the Japanese produced more rice than they consumed. Production fell in the 1970s.
Leading Japanese crops in addition to rice include wheat, barley, soybeans, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, sugar beets, and vegetables. Mandarin oranges are a major Japanese fruit crop. Sericulture the production of silk from silkworms provides income to only 5 percent of all Japanese farm households, a sharp drop from the 50 percent of the 1930s. A small but growing number of cattle and hogs are raised. Farm mechanization, however, has brought a decline in the number of horses and draft cattle. Large market-gardening belts lie outside the main cities, and many agricultural districts specialize in industrial crops, such as tea, tobacco, pyrethrum, hops, and reeds.
The average size of Japanese farms is only about 2.5 acres. About two fifths of all farms are less than 1.2 acres in size; less than one tenth, 5 acres or more in size. Average farm size increases from southwest to northeast. Only in Hokkaido, with its short growing season and relatively low productivity, does farm size average about 12 acres or more. The typical Japanese farm consists of several small fields located at some distance from the farmhouse. Farmhouses are usually clustered in hamlets surrounded by the fields of their inhabitants.
The percentage of the total labor force engaged in farming has been falling sharply. Before World War II, Japan's farmers comprised more than half of the total working population. Their proportion had declined to less than one fourth by 1965 and to less than one seventh by the late 1970s.
A large number of farm households are more dependent for a living on jobs in nearby cities than they are on farming. But many farmers who have taken city jobs are holding onto their farms because they regard them as a hedge against unemployment and inflation. The outflow of young men to the cities has been particularly great. This has led to an increase in the proportion of women and older men in the farm labor force. By 1976, women constituted 52 percent of all farm workers, and 22 percent of the men who worked on farms were at least 60 years old.
Prior to 1947, more than half of the farm families did not own the land they farmed. Under the Allied occupation, a Japanese government land reform abolished absentee ownership and transferred many farms to the tenant farmers who had been cultivating them. As a result, tenant-operated land was reduced to only 13 percent of the total cultivated area.
Farming was done mainly by manual labor before World War II, but since the 1950s mechanization has made spectacular headway. Most farm households now use power tillers or tractors; and power pumps, threshing machines, and other farm machinery have become commonplace. Mechanization has helped boost farm output despite the decline in the farm labor supply.
The amount of fertilizer used per acre by Japanese farmers is among the world's largest. Organic fertilizers including night soil, or human waste have been largely replaced by low-priced chemical fertilizers. Insecticides have reduced crop damage from insect pests such as the rice borer.
Funds needed by farmers to modernize their operations are provided by government agencies and by farm cooperatives. The cooperatives also help market the farmers' produce.

Fishing and Forestry

By the 1970s Japan had become the world's largest fishing nation. Its annual fish catch is more than 10 million tons. Japan also leads the world in the value of its fish catch, estimated at more than 12 billion dollars a year, and is second in tonnage.
Most Japanese fishermen work in shallow coastal waters. The typical coastal fishing craft have a capacity of less than ten tons. "Sea farming" the culture in shallow coastal bays of prawns, sea bream, edible seaweed, oysters, pearls, and other marine products has grown rapidly in recent years. The value of the coastal catch is about one fourth that of Japan's total catch. Offshore fishing, for which somewhat larger boats are used, also accounts for about one fourth of the value of Japan's catch.
Pelagic, or deep-sea, fishing, which accounts for the balance, is done in waters far from Japan by large modern fleets. Mother ships serve the fleets as floating processing and canning plants. The Japanese government is a party to international treaties and conventions regulating the use of international waters for fishing.
The Japanese have traditionally depended on the sea for much of the protein in their diet. Though labor shortages are severe in the fishing industry, enough fish are caught to satisfy most domestic needs and to permit some exports. Many of the fish products used for fertilizer and animal feed are imported.
Forests occupy about two thirds of Japan's land area. Nearly three fifths of the forested land is privately owned, mostly in small plots of less than ten acres. These are usually a part of normal farming operations and a source of household fuel.
Planted forests, many of them publicly owned, occupy about one third of the total forested area. Cedar, cypress, and pine are the leading species. Sawlogs are obtained mainly from Hokkaido, the mountains of northern and central Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Both conifers and broadleaf trees are harvested for pulpwood. Charcoal was formerly an important source of income for mountain villagers, but it has been largely replaced by gas and electricity as the main household fuel.
Lumber production has fallen below the peak years of the early 1960s. Since the demand for lumber continues to rise, Japan has relied increasingly on imports. The government has been trying to increase domestic production by opening roads to remote forest stands, securing top-grade tree seeds, promoting tree planting by private owners of woodland, and mechanizing tree-felling equipment.

Minerals and Energy

Japan's mineral and energy base is small compared with that of other major industrial nations. Its mineral deposits are limited both in quality and in quantity. The supply of ordinary coal, limestone, chromite, magnesium, pyrites, sulfur, lead, and zinc is nearly adequate, but large amounts of such minerals as iron ore, coking coal, petroleum, tin, nickel, nitrate, and phosphate must be imported.
In both volume and value, coal is the main domestic mineral resource. Northern Kyushu, Hokkaido, the east coast of central Honshu, and extreme southwestern Honshu account for most of Japan's coal output. Because of high production costs, however, Japan's total coal production declined more than 60 percent from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The production of coking coal also declined, and by the mid-1970s nearly three fourths of the coking coal used by the nation's rapidly expanding iron and steel industry had to be imported. The small, scattered deposits of iron ore in Hokkaido and northern Honshu also met only a small part of the nation's needs.
The consumption of petroleum increased greatly during the 1960s. Japan's domestic reserves, largely in northwestern Honshu, are meager and must be supplemented with enormous imports from the Persian Gulf and other areas. Near Tokyo and on the central Sea of Japan coast are natural-gas deposits.
The availability of large supplies of electric power has been a key to Japan's industrial growth and rising living standards. Japan ranks third in the world both in electric power output and in installed capacity. Hydroelectric power made up almost two thirds of the total electric supply in the early 1950s, and hydroelectric dams have continued to be built, mostly in central Honshu. However, there has been a much greater emphasis on the construction of coal- and oil-burning thermal power plants. Giant thermal power plants have been built along the coasts, near urban and industrial markets. Tokyo Bay has the largest concentrations of such plants. The first Japanese nuclear-powered thermal electric plant, situated at Tokai, went into full production in 1967. By the late 1970s thermal power plants were contributing about four fifths of the total electric power generated in Japan.


More than one fourth of Japan's labor force is employed in manufacturing. Most Japanese manufacturing units are small workshops employing only up to three workers. These enterprises tend to be inefficient, to pay low wages, and to turn out goods of uncertain quality. But factories employing more than 300 workers less than one percent of the total number account for about 50 percent of Japan's industrial production. Prior to the 1950s, Japan had a reputation for low-priced, shoddy goods. In recent years, however, the quality of Japanese merchandise has met the highest standards in world markets.
Many large manufacturing firms have merged into zaibatsu (giant business combines). In many cases in the manufacture of machinery, for example large factories subcontract to small workshops.
Manufacturing is heavily concentrated in the Tokaido Megalopolis the heavily populated urban-industrial belt extending westward from Tokyo and the Kanto Plain along the Pacific coast and the Inland Sea to northern Kyushu. The megalopolis comprises 80 percent of Japan's workers and manufacturing plants and contributes 85 percent of the value of its manufactured goods. Japan's major international ports, its best overland transportation facilities, and the headquarters of its leading banks and trading companies are in the megalopolis. Most of the industrial complexes are on the coast where they have access to ocean shipping and imported fuel and raw materials.
Within the Tokaido Megalopolis are several major clusters of manufacturing activity. The largest the Keihin industrial area is centered upon the urban core of Tokyo, Kawasaki, and Yokohama, on the Kanto Plain. Within the Keihin area, large-scale heavy industry lines the western and northern shores of Tokyo Bay. The area is also a center for printing and publishing and for the manufacture of machinery. Yokohama provides international port services.
The Nagoya cluster the Chukyo industrial area is noted for its production of textiles, ceramics, and machinery. The postwar expansion of local automobile plants and the port of Nagoya, new steelworks, and a small-scale revival of the aircraft industry have provided a base for further growth. Here also, in the Kuwana-Yokkaichi area, is one of Japan's largest oil-refining and petrochemical centers.
The Hanshin industrial area includes the cities of Osaka and Kobe. It led the nation in industrial output until the 1930s and now ranks second. Osaka has chemical and textile plants and an electronics industry. Kobe is a major international port and produces ships and railway rolling stock.
Another industrial area is centered on Kitakyushu, in northern Kyushu. It developed around Japan's first steel mill, established in 1901, at Yawata. The Kitakyushu area specializes in the manufacture of iron and steel and has other heavy industries.
The Japanese government is encouraging the growth of industrial centers outside the Tokaido Megalopolis. Its aim is to diversify the economy of predominantly agricultural regions and to reduce the concentration of people and manufacturing capacity in the megalopolis.
Japanese industrial production increased more than threefold between 1967 and 1976. Heavy industry, led by machinery, scored the biggest gains. In the late 1960s machinery electrical and nonelectrical accounted for one third of manufacturing output. The growing purchasing power of the Japanese people has led to a great increase in the production of consumer goods, such as electrical appliances and automobiles. The output of ceramics, glass, rubber, and petroleum products has also increased greatly. However, the output of textiles and food products has not, reflecting the shift from light to heavy industry.
The Japanese iron and steel industry, vital to the development of all manufacturing, has grown spectacularly since the 1950s. Crude-steel output surpassed the prewar high of 7.6 million tons in 1953 and reached 62 million tons in 1967; 93 million tons in 1970; and 102 million tons in 1977. The industry's modern equipment helps make it a strong competitor in international trade. Its plants are among the largest and most efficient in the world. In 1977, 80 percent of Japan's steel was made in oxygen furnaces, 19 percent in electric. Specially designed ships deliver imported iron ore and coking coal to coastal steel mills.
Five corporations account for more than four fifths of Japan's steel output. The largest plants are in the Tokyo and Osaka areas of the main manufacturing belt; in Kamaishi in northern Honshu; and in Muroran in Hokkaido. The output of copper, aluminum, and titanium has also expanded. Aluminum output, which reached 1,200,000 tons in 1977, still fell short of domestic demand, however.
Great advances have been made in the manufacture of machinery, electrical goods, and transportation equipment. New factories use the latest assembly-line techniques for the mass production of high-quality goods. A home-electrification boom has resulted in a great demand for radios, televisions, rice cookers, washing machines, electric fans, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and other household appliances. Also widely used are stereophonic equipment, tape recorders, home freezers, hot-water heaters, air conditioners, and cameras. There is a large output of telephones, watches and clocks, sewing machines, fluorescent lamps; textile and other machinery; construction equipment; computers and copying machines; and electrical equipment.
The shipbuilding industry has thrived upon both the postwar worldwide demand for super oil tankers and specialty ships and government-sponsored programs for expanding the Japanese merchant fleet. Since the 1950s Japan has led the world in ship tonnage launched in many years building fully one half of the world total. Japanese ships are noted for their advanced design, automation, and high speeds. Japanese shipbuilders have won foreign contracts because of their worldwide reputation for high quality, rapidity of sturdy construction, and relatively easy terms of payment.
It was not until the 1960s that Japan, already a major producer of trucks and buses, turned to the mass production of motorcycles and automobiles. American technology, styling, and selling methods were so successfully applied that in 1980 Japan for the first time surpassed the United States in the production of automobiles.
Japan is a leading producer of industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, chemical fertilizer, and petrochemical products, such as plastics, synthetic fibers, and synthetic rubber. Japanese oil-refining capacity has grown to third largest in the world. Japan is also a leading world producer of cement. Large amounts of Japanese-made plate glass, firebrick, asbestos products, fiberboard, and other construction materials find ready markets in the nation's fast-growing cities.
Textile manufacturing was Japan's first modern industry. As recently as the 1930s the textile industry employed one fourth of the Japanese industrial labor force. Outpaced by other industries, its relative position has slipped since then. Yet the textile industry remains one of Japan's leading employers. Cotton textiles, an early specialty, have lost ground to synthetics. Japan's output of synthetics is second only to that of the United States and comprises nearly four fifths of all Japanese textile production.


Modern transportation facilities link all parts of Japan and facilitate the swift, efficient movement of people and goods. Railways are the main form of land transportation. Railway stations are the hubs of mass-transportation systems which also include buses, taxis, subways, and the vanishing trolleys.
The first Japanese railway was laid in 1872 between Tokyo and Yokohama. By 1930 a rail network covered the four main islands. Most private lines were nationalized in 1906 and passed to a public corporation, the Japan National Railways (JNR), in 1949. The JNR operates about four fifths of Japan's 17,000 miles of railway lines, including all long-distance trunk lines. It owns about 90 percent of all rolling stock. The private railways operate commuter lines in the metropolitan areas. Japanese railways use narrow-gauge track 3 feet 6 inches and relatively small and light rolling stock. About three fifths of the JNR lines are double-tracked or electrified. Diesel and electric units have replaced coal-burning locomotives.
Postwar population and economic growth, most marked in the Tokyo-Osaka axis, has placed an enormous strain on the carrying capacity of Japan's railways. The high-speed, broad-gauge New Tokaido Line went into operation in 1964. Its fastest express trains make the 320-mile run from Tokyo to Osaka in a little more than three hours. An extension known as the New Sanyo Line was completed from Osaka to Okayama in 1972. The railways of Honshu are linked to Kyushu by undersea tunnel and to Hokkaido and Shikoku by ferry service. Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, Sapporo, and Yokohama have subways.
Modern highway construction has lagged badly behind the needs of automobile and truck traffic. Only one tenth of the total mileage of national, prefectural, and local roads is paved. The government's roadbuilding program has been relying upon expressways to ease intercity traffic. The Meishin Expressway (1964) from Kobe to Nagoya, the Tomei Expressway (1969) from Nagoya to Tokyo, and other superhighways provide for uninterrupted high-speed movement through Japan's most densely settled areas. City traffic is speeded by street widening and the construction of elevated expressways.
Domestic air service links all major cities. Japan Air Lines (JAL), the Japanese international flag carrier, operates round-the-world service. The new Tokyo International Airport at Narita, more than 40 miles from downtown Tokyo, was completed in 1973. Its opening was delayed until 1978 because of protests by opponents of the facility.

Retail Trade

About four fifths of Japan's retail stores have fewer than four employees each. These small stores, many of which have a small stock and make little profit, are usually operated by an owner and members of his family. They generally live in quarters to the rear of or over the store. In good weather, storefronts are open and goods are within easy reach from the street. Merchandise is also sold by peddlers who circulate in residential neighborhoods.
Western-style stores with plate-glass windows and window displays are becoming common in the cities. Supermarkets based on American models have also sprung up. Japanese department stores are among the largest in the world. They have prime locations in the downtown areas and near key railway terminals. The typical department store has a wide selection of goods and offers many services, including a children's playground on the roof, cultural events, beauty parlors, dining facilities, and delivery services.

Foreign Trade

Japan is one of the world's leading trading nations. The value of its annual exports and imports reached more than 140 billion dollars by the late 1970s. Japan imports a huge volume of fuels and raw materials, upon which its manufacturing industries are greatly dependent. It exports great quantities of manufactured goods. Japan's domestic market is too small to absorb its entire output of manufactured goods.
Manufactured items account for more than 95 percent of Japan's exports. Textiles made up half of its exports before World War II but less than 6 percent in the late 1970s. Machinery, transportation equipment, and metals especially steel now make up about four fifths of Japan's exports. Raw materials, such as iron ore, coking coal, and scrap metal account for about half the value of Japanese imports; foodstuffs, such as wheat and meat, for about 15 percent; manufactured goods, including textiles, machinery, metals, and chemicals, for about 20 percent. Japan has had a favorable trade balance since 1964, exports having consistently exceeded imports.
Japan's principal trading partner is the United States, the supplier of about 18 percent of its imports and the market for about 25 percent of its exports. In this exchange, Japan's most important imports include foodstuffs, machinery, and coal; its most important exports, steel, metal products, and machinery. Nearly 30 percent of Japan's exports, largely machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, and textiles, go to the countries of southern and eastern Asia. Petroleum and petroleum products, foodstuffs, sawlogs, and other products and raw materials from this region constitute about 20 percent of its imports. Japan's trade with Western Europe is also strong and includes the export of ships and the import of machinery. The Middle East is a major source of oil.
Most of Japan's foreign trade is handled by large firms that are part of the zaibatsu. Shipping is channeled through seven main international ports: Chiba, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe, Kawasaki, Osaka, and Tokyo. The deepwater ports of Chiba, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe, and Kawasaki handle four fifths of Japan's exports and one third of its imports.
To guarantee its supply of raw materials, Japan has invested heavily in overseas developments. Its interests abroad include oil fields in Alaska and on Sakhalin and Sumatra; pulp mills in Alaska and British Columbia; copper mines in Peru, Canada, and South Africa; iron mines in Australia, Brazil, and India; and coking coal and bauxite mines in Australia. Japan gives other countries economic aid either directly or through the Asian Development Bank. It belongs to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and other international economic organizations.

Communications and Information Media

Japan has one of the world's most advanced mass-communications systems. The Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK), or Japan Broadcasting Corporation, operates the nation's sole public broadcasting system. The NHK radio and television programs reach all parts of Japan through two television networks, three radio networks, and thousands of local television and radio outlets. Television programs are financed through monthly license fees paid by each household owning a set 85 percent of all Japanese households. The NHK broadcasts emphasize cultural and educational topics. The more than 700 commercial broadcasting stations in Japan receive advertising revenue and stress entertainment in their programming. In most areas, viewers can watch television on three or more channels.
The Japanese are among the world's most ardent newspaper readers. The nation has more than 180 newspapers, nearly two fifths of which publish both morning and evening editions. Magazines, books, and other reading matter are printed and sold in huge quantities.
Japan's government-owned telephone system is second only to that of the United States in size. Almost one fifth of its 48 million telephones are in the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area. The government also operates the postal and telegraph services.

Finance, Labor, and Technology

The Bank of Japan is the core of Japan's banking system. The bank's purpose is to stabilize the value of the country's currency and to foster credit. The bank issues yen notes; the government mints coins. The country's commercial banks receive savings deposits and provide funds for private industry.
The Japanese government stimulates industry and foreign trade by providing funds through such agencies as the Japan Import-Export Bank, the Housing Finance Bank, and the Finance Bank for Small and Medium Enterprises. Credit associations, cooperatives, and the postal savings system are widely patronized. There are large stock exchanges in Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Hiroshima, and Nagoya.
The Japanese labor movement flourished in the postwar period. About one fourth of all Japanese workers 12.4 million are union members. Most unions are organized by single enterprises rather than by industry or craft. However, local unions have combined to form nationwide federations. The largest are Sohyo (the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan) and Domei (the Japanese Confederation of Labor). Management is organized in Nikkeiren (the Japan Federation of Employers' Association).
Japanese businesses take a keen interest in their employees. They provide many benefits, including low-cost housing, medical care, insurance, paid vacations, and huge year-end bonuses. There is a rigid system of promotions and salary increases in Japanese industry. Employees are traditionally very loyal to their companies, and job turnover is low. A Japanese is likely to spend his entire working life on the job he takes when just out of school.
Japan's success in economic development is based in part upon its many highly trained scientists, engineers, and technicians. The Japanese keep abreast of scientific advances in other countries through professional journals, foreign study and inspection tours, and international conferences. Many large Japanese firms share technical information with companies in the United States and Europe particularly in the chemical, communications, electronics, synthetic fiber, machinery, steel, and rubber industries.
Japan's investment in basic and applied research has lagged behind that of the leading Western nations despite governmental efforts to promote technological innovation. Japan has been playing a growing role, however, in transmitting modern technology to other Asian nations, especially in Southeast Asia. Many Japanese technicians go abroad to teach or to help assemble Japanese-made plants. Groups of Asians attend Japanese universities and receive advanced scientific and technical training from Japanese firms.


The number of foreign visitors to Japan especially from the United States has been increasing steadily. Japan abounds in natural scenic beauty, offers a charming combination of traditional and modern facilities, and has a great variety of cultural attractions. Tourism is well organized. There are many modern high-rise hotels, especially in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) may be found throughout the country. Special events have attracted many visitors to Japan. The most well received of these were the summer Olympics at Tokyo in 1964; Expo '70, Japan's first world's fair, near Osaka in 1970; and the winter Olympics at Sapporo in 1972.
Japan has a large number of national and prefectural parks. Mountaintops can be reached by ropeways, cable cars, and automobile toll roads. Other tourist attractions in Japan include the many ancient temples and shrines, the Japanese theater and festivals, and the restaurants and night life of the big cities.