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Nov 29, 2019 in Analysis

Japan

Biophysical Overview

Japan is one of the world’s developed nations situated between the Sea of Japan and North Pacific, Northeast Asia. It comprises four main islands, as well as many other smaller ones, that amount to almost seven thousand islands. The mainland named Honshu has an area of 231,000 km2. The other three large islands include Hokkaido with 83,000 km2, Kyushu with 42,000 km2, and Shikoku with 19,000 km2. Other topographical characteristics include huge mountains, twisted valleys, and long coastlines with a variety of scenery including rocky coastlines and sandy beaches, which attract tourists from the world over.

About three-quarters of the country is comprised of mountains that differ in length. The tallest of them all is Mount Fuji, which is about 12,390 feet tall. Japan is also well known for many volcanic and seismic activities. The climate in Japan is characterized by changing seasons just like in other places in Europe and America. Nonetheless, the average temperature can vary vastly as the Japanese islands stretch from the north to the south covering approximately 1,800 miles. For instance, summers on the Okinawa Island could be extremely hot or humid, while the cold season on Hokkaido can be a minimum of 21ºF.

 
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Historical and Settlement Characteristics

The historical aspect of many rural settlement patterns in Japan is untraceable like in many other modern civilizations. Nonetheless, there are a few notable ones that are referred to as Shinden that originated from the 16th-century-land reclamation. Currently, very few villages only can be regarded as entirely rural thanks to industrialization. Villages that are close to big cities like Tokyo often consist of huge families of industrial workers and city commuters. Some people from villages that are more remote still go on a seasonal work to towns, especially during winter. Many villages on the big islands, Hokkaido for instance, practice commercial agriculture, employing latest technology; thus, most of them have direct contacts with nearby cities and towns.

There were also fishing villages in some of the highlands back then. Originally, such fishing villages depended on rice-producing ones. Most of them were and are located in the southwestern part of the country. Barter trade has been a long-time practice in these regions. On their part, mountain villages have been rare, especially those that depended mostly on local products. Most of such villages appeared in the 17th century, a century when such products as charcoal and lumber became common trade goods. Urban settlements in Japan started to emerge relatively recently, as from the 16th and 17th century. In the past, towns only served as provincial capitals where administrators had their bases with official residences. In the 16th century, the feudal lords commenced to construct larger towns where craftsmen and merchants could start practicing their trade. It is in the 19th century that Japan experienced faster and more widespread urbanization with ports in towns, such as Nagasaki, Yokohama, and Kobe. Most of the modern Japanese cities are comprised of both the old and new cultures. Agricultural communities still practice mixed use of land.

Population Characteristics

The world over, Japan is regarded to be having the highest possible life expectancy; males can live up to 79 years, while the females can go up to 86 years. The rate of infant mortality and birth rate are relatively low with the infant mortality at 2.8 per 1,000 people and birth rate at 7.41 per 1,000 people. The death rate, however, is slightly higher than the birth rate. The Japanese population has several other characteristics: it is the tenth globally thanks to its population increase just before the Second World War; it is highly educated (the illiterate population amounts to only 1 percent); it is also highly crowded due to less space available for urban growth. Generally, it has dense population because Japan is full of many volcanoes and huge mountains that limit the living space.

Historically, Japan started to experience a considerable population growth as from the 1860s, but it started to drastically diminish after World War Two, with aspects like shortened life span and bad health care worsening the situation. The largest ethnic group in the country is the Yamato, making up 98.5 percent of the entire Japanese population. Others include the Chinese, Koreans, and the Ainu. Migration from Brazil and Peru of indigenous Japanese also contributed to this population. The Japanese culture is a unique one, practicing Buddhism and Shintoism. The two religions combine into one that is practiced countrywide. The major language is Japanese, which borrows some elements from English, Chinese and other languages, but is not necessarily related to them.

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Resources and the Economy

The country has very few natural resources if compared to other developed nations. Therefore, it is forced to import most raw materials to sustain its economy and support the society. The main crop in production is rise, but the scarcity of ample farmland means that the farmers cannot produce enough rice and other food to sustain themselves and export it to others. Nonetheless, the country has a well-established fishing industry, which makes fish a significant part of their diet. Regardless of difficult situation with raw materials and farming, Japan’s economy is considered to be amongst the most advanced when it comes to technology. Notably, its GDP comes second after the United States.

The country imports mostly oil, metal ores, lumber and food, while it exports electronic devices, computers, automobiles, office and consumer electronics, transport equipment, as well as steel. Japan’s trading partners include the United States, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Germany, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. Currently, it has a diversity of industries in construction, manufacturing, communication, services, distribution, and real estate sectors.

The country’s investment in the above sectors comes from the fact that Japan has few natural resources and not enough land for farming; therefore, it has to diversify its economy into other areas, such as technology and ship building. The economic future of Japan is considered to be largely advanced and promising; nonetheless, the country is thought to be experiencing its worst economic growth period ever since the Second World War due to the collapse of the bubble economy and natural calamities. The current government is focused on increasing the economy by tackling deflation, non-performing loans and introducing other reforms to revive the country’s economy.

Major Internal Issues

Generally, Japan is thought to be undergoing three huge internal issues: the diminishing birth rate, the ageing population, and ever increasing public debt. At the top of the list is the ageing population as mentioned earlier, with the males that can live up to 79 years and the females that can go up to 86 years. This means that people live longer, while fewer babies are being born. Since the society has placed more focus on the old people, the number of the young ones is expected to decrease significantly, which will mean fewer people in the workforce. This is expected to be a major obstacle to improving the economy or ensuring that Japan has a considerable competitive edge around the globe.

The fact that Japan’s birth rate is at its minimum means that the workforce should be expected to diminish by approximately 300,000 people every other year. Furthermore, because of this, government deficit also seems to face a serious problem in the near future. The government budget for the elderly and other social welfares keep increasing year by year. According to statistics, Japanese debt is equal to about 170 of its GDP, which can be compared to 70 percent for the West, 40 percent for South Korea, or 20 percent for its neighboring China. This rising debt will force Japan to declare bankruptcy, thus spelling disaster for the public.

International Role

Ever since the Second World War, Japan has been taking a role of an observer in international politics, thus leaving the regional roles to the likes of China. The debate about this issue continues up to the present day. Given its powerful economy, many expect the country to participate more in global affairs, while others fear that an assertive Japan can be like the one during the world wars, militaristic in nature. Historically, Japan was a considerable force in the 1850s when it interacted with the Western world. Basically, its international relations were defined by colonization and imperialism when it colonized Korea, Taiwan and China. Soon enough, Japan would join the League of Nations. However, after it was defeated in the Second World War Japan’s foreign policy has adopted to that of the United States. Nonetheless, the country continues to give significant foreign aid, though many questions on whether Japan is a responsible developed nation exist.

As it appears, Japan depicts itself as a good example of a nation that does not depend on total military power to stay an important country in the world arena, but relies on political, economic, cultural, scientific, and social cooperation. Though the country continues to face several obstacles, risks and difficulties, it can play this role quite well. If the country becomes more militarily involved, other nations and powers might become more wary, and thus, start an arms race or other unforeseen social conflicts. Whichever way Japan will take in the future, there is no denying that Japan is still significant in global politics.

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