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September 2004



Japan, a country of islands, extends along the eastern or Pacific coast of Asia. The four main islands, running from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu (or the mainland), Shikoku, and Kyushu. About 3,000 smaller islands are included in the archipelago including Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-gunto), Daito-shoto, Minami-jima, Okino-tori-shima, Volcano Islands (Kazan-retto), and Ryukyu Islands (Nansei-shoto) which includes Okinawa . In total land area, Japan is slightly smaller than California. As Japan is situated in a volcanic zone along the Pacific depth, frequent low intensity earth tremors and occasional volcanic activity are felt throughout the islands. Destructive earthquakes occur several times a century. Hot springs are numerous and have been developed as resorts.

Because the islands run almost directly north-south, the climate varies considerably. Sapporo, on the northernmost main island, has warm summers and long, cold winters with heavy snowfall. Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, in central and western parts of the largest island of Honshu, experience relatively mild winters with little or no snowfall and hot, humid summers. Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, has a climate similar to that of Washington, DC, with mild winters and short summers. Okinawa is subtropical.

Japan's population, currently some 128 million, is primarily an urban society with only about 6% of the labor force engaged in agriculture. About 80 million of the urban population is heavily concentrated on the Pacific shore of Honshu and in northern Kyushu. Major population centers include: Metropolitan Tokyo with approximately 14 million; Yokohama with 3.3 million; Osaka with 2.6 million; Nagoya with 2.1 million; Kyoto with 1.5 million; Sapporo with 1.6 million; Kobe with 1.4 million; and Kitakyushu, Kawasaki, and Fukuoka with 1.2 million each.

Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government with universal adult suffrage and a secret ballot for all elective offices. The executive branch is responsible to the Diet, and the judicial branch is independent. Sovereignty, previously embodied in the emperor, is vested in the Japanese people, and the Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state.

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