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April 2016



On April 15, 2016, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck 1km away from Kumamoto-shi, Japan, on the island of Kyushu. Roughly 20 minutes later, a magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck approximately 20km away, north of the Kumamoto Airport. Kyushu is the third largest and most southern of the major islands of Japan. The island lies just southwest of the Korean Peninsula. Japan's largest active volcano, Aso-san (1592 m), is on Kyushu island.

Although slightly smaller than California, Japan has a coastline of 29,751 km. Its terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous, with a climate that varies from tropical in the south to cool in the north. In 1603, after decades of civil warfare, the Tokugawa shogunate (a military-led, dynastic government) ushered in a long period of relative political stability and isolation from foreign influence. For more than two centuries this policy enabled Japan to enjoy a flowering of its indigenous culture. Japan opened its ports after signing the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854 and began to intensively modernize and industrialize.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 - triggering America's entry into World War II - and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and an ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians hold actual decision-making power.

Following three decades of unprecedented growth, Japan's economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s, but the country remains an economic power. In March 2011, Japan's strongest-ever earthquake, and an accompanying tsunami, devastated the northeast part of Honshu island, killed thousands, and damaged several nuclear power plants. The catastrophe hobbled the country's economy and its energy infrastructure, and tested its ability to deal with humanitarian disasters. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was reelected to office in December 2012, and has since embarked on ambitious economic and security reforms to improve Japan's economy and bolster the country's international standing.

For more information about this and other earthquakes, visit the Earthquake Hazards Program at the US Geological Survey (USGS).

CIA World Factbook; USGS Earthquake Hazards Program; The Columbia Gazetteer, 3/2016; 4/2016; 4/2016

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