Country of the World Japan

About the country Japan, its location, size, population, leaders and rulers.




Lay of the Land: Japan is an island nation, forming a 2,000-mi, archipelago along the coast of east Asia. Of its 3,330 islands, about 500 are inhabited; the four main islands are Hokkaido in the north, Kyushu and Shikoku in the south, and the large, heavily populated island of Honshu in the center. The terrain is generally mountainous, sprinkled with volcanoes such as the sacred, 12,000-ft. Mt. Fuji. Only one fifth of the land is suitable for cultivation or urban development.

Size: 143,750 sq. mi. (372,313

Population: 115 million.

Who Rules: Japan is a constitutional monarchy, governed by a bicameral national parliament called the Diet. The 511-member Lower House and 252-member Upper House are both elective. The Liberal Democratic party (LDP), which has been in power since W.W. II, holds bare majorities in both houses. The LDP itself formally consists of several factions, which contest for leadership of the party and thus control of the national cabinet.

Emperor Hirohito, a direct descendant of Jimmu Tenno, the first emperor of Japan, has held the throne since 1926. Under the post-W.W. II Japanese constitution he has formal responsibilities and powers similar to those of the British monarch. At the end of the war, he renounced his "divinity," the traditional claim of Tenno's Yamato dynasty.

Who REALLY Rules: The ruling Liberal Democrats are neither liberal nor particularly democratic. The LDP is quite openly part of Japan's big business establishment. In Japan, perhaps more than in any other industrial capitalist nation, the interests of the major corporations and the national government are closely integrated. Westerners call the result "Japan, Inc." Corporations adopt their own LDP candidates for the Diet. Corporate leaders participate in government policy discussions and the government works to rationalize the economy through financing, as well as close supervision, of the private sector. Members of the business elite, or Zaikai, do not take government posts as their U.S. counterparts often do. Rather, they exercise their influence through organizations such as Sanken (Industrial Problems Study Council) and Keidanren (Federation of Economic Organizations).

Japan's political leadership is from a social elite, consisting primarily of graduates from seven universities. Seven of its 12 prime ministers since W. W. II have been graduates from the Todai (Tokyo University) law department, and the top leaders of the Japanese Communist and Socialist parties are also from Todai.

Compared to Europe, Japan's economic leadership is relatively independent of the U.S., but America has residual influence, both through its well-equipped troops in Japan and through U.S. corporate domination of Japan's sources of fuel and other imported natural resources.

The U.S. operates 33 primary military bases in Japan and Okinawa and 125 support facilities. There are 45,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. Since 1973, the U.S. has home-ported the aircraft carrier Midway at Yokosuka, not far from Tokyo. Despite the antimilitary provision in the Japanese constitution, Japan maintains air, land, and sea "self-defense" forces totaling more than 238,000 men, and domestic critics have pointed out that the forces have enough officers to expand the force with ease to a much larger size.

Payoffs by America's Lockheed Aircraft Corporation led to an earthshaking scandal in 1976-1977. Lockheed channeled funds to top Japanese officials to arrange the sale of its L-1011 Tri-Star jets to All Nippon Airways. Former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei was arrested for allegedly taking bribes. Right-wing political godfather Kodama Yoshio, one of the founders of the Liberal Democrats, was charged with receiving huge payments from Lockheed. And many influential businessman--including Osano Kenji, who has extensive properties in Hawaii--have been implicated as well. The scandal is the chief reason why the LDP, after years of comfortable majorities, nearly lost its control of the Diet.

Japan's largest ethnic minority, Koreans, faces discrimination on the largely homogeneous islands, but an even larger group of ethnic Japanese faces centuries-old prejudice. There are as many as 3 million social outcasts called Burakumin, people whose backgrounds are registered in their hometowns. The Burakumin are distant descendants of beggars or butchers and hide tanners (impure tasks according to Budhism and Shintoism). Despite legal reforms intended to improve their position, Burakumin are discriminated against in employment and marriage, and many are forced to live in urban slums.

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