Twenty percent of the world's earthquakes take place in Japan, which sits on the boundaries of at least three tectonic plates. Schools and office workers regularly take part in earthquake drills, and waiting for "the big one" is deeply engrained in the national psyche.
Due to their proximity to the Asian landmass, the major islands of Japan are subjected to seasonal winds. These winds and the mountainous backbone divide the major landmasses into two typical climatic zones: the Pacific coast climatic zone and the Sea of Japan climatic zone, which have different seasonal distributions of precipitation. The difference in climate between the two zones is caused by the summer monsoon, which blows from the Pacific Ocean bringing warmer temperatures and rain, and the winter monsoon from the Asian landmass, which brings freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls to areas on the Sea of Japan side.
Japan's governmental structure has three tiers: national, prefectural and local. There are 47 prefectures and 1788 local municipalities. Each tier is governed by elected assemblies. Japan does not have a federal system and the two lower tiers of government remain to a large extent fiscally dependent on the national government. The implementation of the Koizumi-era 'Trinity Reforms' – which promoted decentralisation and greater autonomy for prefectural and local governments particularly over their operational finances – still has some way to go.
Japan is a democratic, constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government headed by a Prime Minister. Japan maintains an Imperial Family, headed by the Emperor, currently Emperor Akihito. Universal suffrage is limited to citizens of Japan aged 20 years or older; voting is voluntary and actual voting rates vary widely.
Executive power is vested in the Cabinet which is comprised of the prime minister and ministers of state. There is a House of Representatives (also known as the Lower House) and a House of Councillors (also known as the Upper House). The prime minister is selected from among members of parliament by a vote by both houses of the Diet (parliament). The Prime Minister submits bills to the Diet, reports to the Diet on domestic and foreign issues, and supervises and controls administration.
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.
World War II became a truly global war of survival from Axis aggression. By the end of 1942, the Axis powers together now subjugated over a quarter of the world's population and directly threatened half of the world's people.
Only eleven days after occupying northern Indochina, Japan signed on to the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Tripartite (Axis) Pact after having negotiated with Germany for two years and then witnessing Germany's triumphs.
According to the Agency's annual yearbook, 107 million persons identify themselves as Shinto, 89 million as Buddhist, 3 million as Christian, and 10 million follow "other" religions, including Tenrikyo, Seichounoie, Sekai Kyusei Kyo, and Perfect Liberty. There are an estimated 100,000 Muslims in Japan, of whom an estimated 10 percent are Japanese citizens. The Israeli Embassy estimates that there are approximately 2,000 Jews, most of them foreign-born.
Each year since 1990 the Human Development Report has published the Human Development Index (HDI) which was introduced as an alternative to conventional measures of national development, such as level of income and the rate of economic growth. The HDI represents a push for a broader definition of well-being and provides a composite measure of three basic dimensions of human development: health, education and income. Japan's HDI is 0.901, which gives the country a rank of 12 out of 187 countries with comparable data. The HDI of OECD as a region increased from 0.749 in 1980 to 0.873 today, placing Japan above the regional average.
In recent years, the changing structure of the farm household, together with a shift towards farm management by individuals, has led to increasing responsibility and participation in farm management of women and decreased the number of women working as unpaid labourers
Japan has the world's third-largest economy, having achieved remarkable growth in the second half of the 20th Century after the devastation of World War II.
Its role in the international community is considerable. It is a major aid donor and a source of global capital and credit.