Country Profiles


September 2003


Japan is an island country which forms an arc in the Pacific Ocean to the east of continental Asia. It consists of mostly mountainous islands that stretch from northeast to southwest about 2,800 km long or 377,837 sq. km large. The four major islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.


General Information


  • 127,435,000 (estimation as of 1 October 2002 based on the 2000 Population Census)


  • Japanese


84% Shinto (the indigenous religion, which has continued as a part of the lives of the people from the earliest days of an organized Japanese state up to modern times) and Buddhism
0.7% Christianity
9% Others


  • Yen


  • Tokyo
The Sources and Links for More Information:

Japan Access


The World Factbook 2003



From Past to Present

  The Meiji Era (1868-1912)
1868 Meiji Restoration began. The Emperor Meiji and his government pursued a number of reforms to modernise the nation.
1889 Meiji Constitution was promulgated.
1890 Parliamentary Government began.
1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. Japan defeated China and acquired Taiwan from China.
1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance was made.
1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. Japan again emerged victorious. It acquired South Sakhalin, which had been ceded to Russia in 1875 in exchange for the Kurile Islands, and had its special interests in Manchuria recognised.
1905 After excluding other powers from exercising any influence over Korea, Japan first made Korea its protectorate.
1910 Annexation of Korea.
1912 Death of Emperor Meiji.
  The Taisho Era (1912-26)
1914-18 Japan joined allied forces in the First World War.
1918 First party government formed and “Taisho democracy” began.
  The Showa Era (1926-89)
1931 Manchurian Incident.
1937 Second Sino-Japanese War started and the Nanking Massacre occurred.
1941 Pacific War started. Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and the Malay peninsula; United States enters the war.
1945 Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. Japan surrendered and Allied Occupation began. Various social and political reforms were carried out under the Occupation authorities.
1947 Enactment of a Liberal New Constitution.
1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed. It signified Japan’s return to the community of nations as a reformed state. By this treaty, Japan regained its right to conduct foreign affairs, which had been suspended under the Occupation.
  US-Japan Security Pact was signed.
1952 End of the Allied Occupation of Japan.
1954 Self-Defence Forces was established.
1956 Diplomatic relations restored with Soviet Union.
  Japan was admitted into the United Nations. Japan became an increasingly active participant in international political as well as economic and social forums.
1960 The security arrangements with the United States were revised, which led to mass protests.
1964 Tokyo Olympics were held. It symbolised the new confidence of the Japanese and the country's reintegration into the international community.
1965 Japan-Korea Basic Treaty was signed. Formal relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea were established after a prolonged series of negotiations.
1972 Normalization of relations to China.
1989 Emperor Hirohito died.
  The Heisei Era (1989- )
1992 Government passed a controversial peace-keeping law that allowed Japanese armed forces to participate in UN peace-keeping in Cambodia. This was their first return to the region since the Second World War and their first overseas duty since the re-establishment of the military.
1993 Prime Minister Hosokawa made a specific apology to South Korea about abuses during colonial rule.
1995 Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth Sect) staged a Sarin Gas attack in the Tokyo subway.
1997 Asian financial crisis made an adverse impact on the economy of Japan.
The Sources and Links for More Information:

Kingston, Jeffrey (2001). Japan in Transformation, 1952-2000. Harlow, England; New York: Longman. 190-194.

McCargo, Duncan (2000). Contemporary Japan. Basingstoke : Macmillan Press. 16-17.

Kidsweb Japan

The Japan of Today


The Constitutional Monarchy

The Constitution

came into effect on 3 May 1947.  It is the primary protection for Japanese democracy.

Read about it

 The Emperor

is ‘the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People’ (Article 1). Without any powers related to government, the Emperor performs only those acts in matters of state that are stipulated in the Constitution, or that are advised and approved by the cabinet.

The Diet

is ‘the highest organ of state power’, and ‘the sole law-making organ of the State’ (Article 41). All members are chosen by election, serving as representative of all the people. It is composed of :

1.       House of Representatives (Lower House)

with members elected by districts for four-year terms; and

2.       House of Councillors (Upper House)

with members elected for six-year terms by two different methods, district election and national election.

The Prime Minister

is designated by the Diet and then appointed by the Emperor.

Official Web Site

The Cabinet

is where the executive power is vested. It is headed by the Prime Minister and consists of the Ministers of the State. The Ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister while at least half of them must be members of the Diet. As provided in the Constitution, the Cabinet is ‘collectively responsible to the Diet’ (Article 66).

An Independent Judiciary

is specified in the constitution. In theory the Supreme Court, which is vested with the whole judicial power, plays an important role in the interpretation of legislation and making interventions over controversial matters.

Local Self-Government

was introduced by the post-war Occupation authority. It is a system of prefectural and municipal governments based on the principle of local autonomy, which is insured by Chapter 8 of the Constitution and set forth in the Local Autonomy Law (Chiho Jichi Ho). As of July 1996, Japan has 47 prefectures; each of them is headed by an elected governor (chiji) and administered by an assembly with elected membership. There are various forms of municipalities, which are headed by elected mayors who are elected with executive powers.


The Sources and Links for More Information:

McCargo, Duncan (2000). Contemporary Japan. Basingstoke : Macmillan Press. 79-97.

Japan Access


Japan is an island country, with limited natural resources and a large population.

Historically the Japanese economy has experienced several periods of expansion and recession. Initially assisted by rehabilitation aid from the United States, Japan rebuilt its war-devastated economy in the decade after 1945. Powered by the high rates of personal savings and private-sector facilities investment, a labour force with strong work ethic, an ample supply of cheap oil, innovative technology, and an effective government intervention in private-sector industries, Japan successfully achieved high economic growth and quickly moved from "less-developed" to "developed" status between mid-1950s and 1970s.  The economy became mature and the growth rate slowed down in the 1970-80s.

The so-called "bubble economy" swelled in Japan in 1988 and 1989, with dramatic rises in stock and land prices. To counter this phenomenon and prevent the inflation potentially resulted from the Gulf crisis in August 1990, the Government and the Bank of Japan adopted a belt-tightening policy. The bubble then burst. Stock prices tumbled and the economy slumped from around the middle of 1991.

The economic structure of Japan is a complex of industry, commerce, finance, agriculture, and all the other elements of a modern economic structure. The primary sector, agriculture, forestry, and fishing, now employ a relatively minor share (5.8% as of 1994) of the work force compared with 32.6% in 1960.

The secondary sector, including steel, aluminium, petrochemicals, cement, and other heavy industries, registered spectacular growth in the 1960s by introducing the latest technologies and adopting mass production methods. Because of their high consumption of energy and resources, these industries were hit by rising costs and shrinking demand after the oil crises of the 1970s. They therefore have been making determined efforts to improve energy conservation, produce higher-value-added goods, and diversify.

While the manufacturing industries declined after the two oil crises, the rise in national income and leisure time, urbanization, and the strong yen led to the growth of tertiary industries. The contribution of distribution, services, finance and insurance, transport and telecommunications, electricity, gas, water supply, and other branches of the tertiary sector to GDP rose from 51.0% in 1970 to 61.9% in 1993, and their share of the employed population grew from 47.4% in 1970 to 59.9% in 1993.

The employment system was widely believed to play a key role in Japan's high economic growth before 1990s. The three elements, lifetime employment, seniority-based wages, and enterprise-based unionism, were believed to be associated with the development of a stable and vigorous society. This system, however, is slowly changing after the collapse of economic bubble at the start of the 1990s. The prolonged recession and low growth forced Japanese business and industry to make changes to stimulate a recovery. While making efforts to avoid employee layoffs, companies used other measures, such as reduced hiring of new graduates, relocation, and restrictions on wage levels and employment conditions. Major corporations are also in the process of modifying the lifetime employment system. They are inclined to dismiss employees much earlier than age 60 or to employ skilled newcomers. Some companies have introduced annual salary conditions.In fact, the way of thinking among employees, in particular the younger ones, is also changing. Increasingly, employees are showing reluctance towards the idea of loyalty to their company. It is no longer uncommon for people to change jobs.

The high saving rate in Japan provides another support for economic development. This is usually explained by Confucian thriftiness, deficiencies in the social security system, the bonus system, tax incentives, the high costs of living, and the desire to pass on inheritances to relatives. Recently the ageing population and falling birth rate become other factors encouraging high levels of saving (Duncan, 2000: 40).

The Sources and Links for More Information:

McCargo, Duncan (2000). Contemporary Japan. Basingstoke : Macmillan Press. 79-97.

Japan Access

The Japan of Today

Bank of Japan

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Ministry of Finance

Some Justice and Peace Concerns

(Draft) Human Rights Protection Bill

was submitted to the Diet on 8 March 2002 by the government to prohibit human rights violations and establish a Human Rights Commission in Japan. While such a measure would usually be welcomed in a society without a general or comprehensive law providing remedies for human rights violations, opposition has been expressed by members of the legislature, law and human rights sectors, and the media. Criticisms by the Human Rights Forum 21, a network of human rights organisations in Japan focusing primarily on the establishment of national human rights institution, include:

  • the definition of "human rights" in the draft is unclear;

  • the draft lacks the viewpoint of the victimised (vulnerable, affected) parties;

  • the proposed Commission lacks independence;

  • the proposed Commission is overly centralized;

  • the harms of vertical sectionalism in the administration are reflected in the draft;

  • the draft minimises in relative terms the seriousness of human rights violations by public authority; and

  • the draft Bill may threaten the freedoms of expression and the press.

Concern groups in Japan have commented that unless the flaws and problems in the Bill are corrected, the legislation will fail to genuinely contribute to providing remedies for human rights violations.

Discrimination against Minorities and Non-Japanese

remains strong in Japan. There are several significant minority groups in the country.

Burakumin are a caste-like minority among the ethnic Japanese. They are generally descendants of outcaste populations who performed low-class occupations in the feudal days. There are roughly three million Buraku people living in isolated areas with poor health and living conditions. They have fewer job opportunities than the rest of the population because of discriminatory practices in many companies

Ethnic Koreans are the descendants of Koreans who were brought to Japan to provide low-cost labour during Japan's occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Most of them are denied Japanese nationality and remain in Japan under a permanent-resident visa status with limited civil rights and access to employment.

Ainus are the first inhabitants of Japan's northernmost islands and they are now mainly resident in Hokkaido. Ethnically and culturally distinct from the majority Japanese, they have faced discrimination and loss of lands.

Okinawans are the indigenous people of the Ryukyu Islands. They suffer from cultural and political isolation, with their land rights being infringed by the American military presence in Okinawa

Death Penalty

is practised in Japan and is widely accepted by the Japanese public as an appropriate punishment for crimes involving murder. According to Amnesty International, there were 57 people waiting to be executed by hanging at the end of 2002. Japan’s use of death penalty has come under extensive international criticism, especially because of the inhumane and degrading treatment of the death-row inmates. For instance, they are completely isolated and strictly restricted in their communications with people from outside. These death-row inmates are not informed of their fate until the morning of their execution day and all executions are conducted secretly. A 122-member multiparty parliamentary league, the Japan Parliamentary League Against the Death Penalty has been formed to seek the abolition of death penalty. (South China Morning Post, 1 June 2003; Human Rights Features, 75/03)

Peace-Related Issues

are still matters of great concern and debate six decades after the Second World War. Though the Japanese government maintains that all war-related claims were settled in the San Francisco Peace Treaty, there are still disputes and individual cases, especially those of wartime sexual violence (Comfort Women) and chemical weapons, that remain unresolved. Korean and Chinese groups have been protesting against the Japanese government’s attempt to create a “collective amnesia” through re-writing history in school textbooks [UA 010515(7)] and the centralised education policies (Jeffrey Kingston, 2001: 47-51). There are always diplomatic tensions whenever the Japanese Prime Minister visits the Yasukuni Shrine, where the Japan’s World War II dead and war criminals are honoured.

In the name of defence, there are about 52,000 US troops in Japan after disarmament. Their presence, however, fails to bring security and peace to the residents on the island of Okinawa, where US military bases are concentrated and about 25,000 US troops are hosted. The Okinawans not only suffer from the noise and dangers of training missions, they are also complain of criminal activities by soldiers, especially rape cases. Okinawans say that they are treated as second-class citizens (South China Morning Post, 29 February 2002).

Concerns over security have increased after the September 11 attack on New York and the US-led retaliation attack against Afghanistan. Immediately after the Second World War, Japan adopted a Constitution declaring, in Article 9, that the Japanese people forever renounce war, belligerency, and arms. However, the Japanese government now intends to reform the constitution and enact “Crisis Legislation”, which will “give the prime minister authority over government ministries and local government in the event of an attack, and would put limits on individual rights to allow for smoother military operations” (South China Morning Post, 16 May 2003). Opponents criticise this as a law to prepare for war, and also a potential threat to civil rights and to the media.

The Sources and Links for More Information:

Kingston, Jeffrey (2001). Japan in Transformation, 1952-2000. Harlow, England; New York: Longman. 190-194.

Amnesty International (Japanese Only)

Human Rights Features

Human Rights Forum 21,

Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace

South China Morning Post

Human Rights, Justice and Peace Groups:

Buraku Liberation and HRs Research Institute

Citizens' Nuclear Information Center


International Movement Against Forms of Discrimination & Racism

Japan Civil Liberties Union

Japan Lawyers International Solidarity Association


Pacific Asia Resource Center

Peace Resources Cooperative

Ecumenical Groups with Concern for Justice and Peace:

Caritas Japan

Jesuit Social Center


The National Council of YMCAs of Japan

Young Christian Workers - Japan