Japan is an island nation 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 6,852 islands making it an archipelago. The four 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. Japan has a significant military equipped with modern defense systems, such as AEGIS, and boasts a large fleet of destroyers. It is also the world’s fourth largest exporter and sixth largest importer. It is additionally a member of the G-8 and is the sole Asian power in that organization. It is a developed country with high living standards (8th highest HDI). Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world and the third lowest infant mortality rate (according to both UN and WHO estimates).