Country profile: Japan
Country profile: Japan
Japan has the world’s second-biggest economy, achieving an economic miracle in the second half of the 20th century that was the envy of the rest of the world.
Its role in the international community is considerable. It is a major aid donor and a source of global capital and credit.
For the majority, life in Japan is urban. More than three quarters of the population live in sprawling cities on the coastal fringes of Japan’s four mountainous, wooded islands.
Japan’s rapid post-war expansion – propelled by highly successful car and consumer electronics industries – ran out of steam by the 1990s.
The 1997 Asian financial crisis, and bouts of recession, precipitated major banking, public spending and private sector reforms.
Japan remains a traditional society with strong social and employment hierarchies – Japanese men have tended to work for the same employer throughout their working lives.
But this and other traditions are under pressure as a young generation more in tune with Western culture and ideas grows up.
Japan’s relations with its neighbours are still heavily influenced by the legacy of Japanese actions before and during World War II. Japan has found it difficult to accept and atone for its treatment of the citizens of countries it occupied.
A Japanese court caused outrage by overturning a compensation order for Korean women forced to work as sex slaves.
South Korea and China have also protested that Japanese school history books gloss over atrocities committed by the Japanese military. Japan has said China promotes an anti-Japanese view of history.
Following World War II, lawmakers forged a pacifist constitution.
But the deployment of Japanese troops in Iraq following the US-led invasion in 2003 divided public opinion and sparked claims that the move was unconstitutional.
Twenty percent of the world’s earthquakes take place in Japan, which sits on the boundaries of at least three tectonic plates. The government has set targets for reducing the number of deaths and the economic damage after any future, powerful quake.
Head of state: Emperor Akihito
Akihito succeeded his father, Hirohito, in 1989. Under the 1947 constitution, Japan’s emperors have a purely ceremonial role.
Prime minister: Yasuo Fukuda (resigned)
Yasuo Fukuda resigned on 1 September 2008, less than a year after taking office.
The surprise move came after he failed to turn around falling public support for his government despite reshuffling his cabinet and unveiling a major economic stimulus package.
Former foreign minister Taro Aso is the frontrunner to succeed Mr Fukuda.
Mr Fukuda was made prime minister in September 2007 after the abrupt resignation of Shinzo Abe, whose year in office was dogged by political scandals.
Since assuming the premiership, Mr Fukuda had struggled unsuccessfully to break the political deadlock created by the opposition’s dominance of the upper house.
This failure, together with rows over lost pension records and a new compulsory health insurance scheme for the elderly, caused his approval rating to fall dramatically.
He is the son of a previous prime minister, Takeo Fukuda, who was in office from 1976 to 1978. He also served as political aide to his father.
After graduating from the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo with an economics degree, Mr Fukuda worked at a Japanese oil company for 17 years, during which he spent two years in the United States.
First elected to parliament in 1990, Mr Fukuda served in the pivotal post of chief cabinet secretary under Junichiro Koizumi, the flamboyant premier whose flowing hair earned him the moniker “Lion King” and who contrasted dramatically with the grey suits who had dominated Japanese public life for generations.
The conservative LDP has ruled Japan for most of the post-war period. It was in power continuously between 1955 and 1993, when it lost elections.
But it was back in power in 1994 as part of a coalition. Almost all governments since have been LDP-led coalitions.
Japan’s broadcasting scene is advanced and vibrant, with established public and commercial outlets competing for audiences.
There are five national terrestrial TV companies, including the public broadcaster NHK which also runs national radio networks. Most of NHK’s funding comes from the licence fees paid by viewers.
Japanese broadcasting is diversifying rapidly. Many millions of viewers now watch satellite and cable pay-TV services, including those provided by NHK.
The country has spearheaded high-definition TV (HDTV), and an NHK channel is dedicated to such transmissions. Digital terrestrial TV broadcasting is being rolled out.
News, drama, variety shows and sport – especially baseball – all garner large audiences. Imported TV programmes are not staple fare on Japan’s main TV networks, but Western influences are often apparent in home-made programmes.
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. National dailies sell in their millions, boosted by afternoon and evening editions. However, circulation and advertising revenue are declining amid competition from the internet and other media.