U.S. Department of State Background Note
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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. Okinawa Island is about 380 miles southwest of Kyushu. About 3,000 smaller islands are included in the archipelago. In total land area, Japan is slightly smaller than California. About 73% of the country is mountainous, with a chain running through each of the main islands. Japan's highest mountain is the world famous Mt. Fuji (12,385 feet). Since so little flat area exists, many hills and mountainsides are cultivated all the way to the summits. 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.
Temperature extremes are less pronounced than in the United States, but 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.
Japanese legend maintains that Japan was founded in 600 BC by the Emperor Jimmu, a direct descendant of the sun goddess and ancestor of the present ruling imperial family. About AD 405, the Japanese court officially adopted the Chinese writing system. Together with the introduction of Buddhism in the sixth century, these two events revolutionized Japanese culture and marked the beginning of a long period of Chinese cultural influence. From the establishment of the first fixed capital at Nara in 710 until 1867, the emperors of the Yamato dynasty were the nominal rulers, but actual power was usually held by powerful court nobles, regents, or "shoguns" (military governors).
Contact With the West
Within several years, renewed contact with the West profoundly altered Japanese society. The shogunate resigned, and the emperor was restored to power. The "Meiji restoration" of 1868 initiated many reforms. The feudal system was abolished, and numerous Western institutions were adopted, including a Western legal and educational system and constitutional government along parliamentary lines.
In 1898, the last of the "unequal treaties" with Western powers was removed, signaling Japan's new status among the nations of the world. In a few decades, by creating modern social, educational, economic, military, and industrial systems, the Emperor Meiji's "controlled revolution" had transformed a feudal and isolated state into a world power.
Wars With China and Russia
World War I to 1952
During the 1920s, Japan progressed toward a democratic system of government. However, parliamentary government was not rooted deeply enough to withstand the economic and political pressures of the 1930s, during which military leaders became increasingly influential.
Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo. In 1933, Japan resigned from the League of Nations. The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 followed Japan's signing of the "anti-Comintern pact" with Nazi Germany the previous year and was part of a chain of developments culminating in the Japanese attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.
After years of war, resulting in the loss of 3 million Japanese lives and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan signed an instrument of surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945. As a result of World War II, Japan lost all of its overseas possessions and retained only the home islands. Manchukuo was dissolved, and Manchuria was returned to China; Japan renounced all claims to Formosa; Korea was occupied and divided by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.; southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles were occupied by the U.S.S.R.; and the U.S. became the sole administering authority of the Ryukyu, Bonin, and Volcano Islands. The 1972 reversion of Okinawa completed the U.S. return of control of these islands to Japan.
After the war, Japan was placed under international control of the Allies through the Supreme Commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur. U.S. objectives were to ensure that Japan would become a peaceful nation and to establish democratic self-government supported by the freely expressed will of the people. Political, economic, and social reforms were introduced, such as a freely elected Japanese Diet (legislature) and universal adult suffrage. The country's constitution took effect on May 3, 1947. The United States and 45 other Allied nations signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan in September 1951. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in March 1952, and under the terms of the treaty, Japan regained full sovereignty on April 28, 1952.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. There is universal adult suffrage with a secret ballot for all elective offices. Sovereignty, previously embodied in the emperor, is vested in the Japanese people, and the Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state.
Japan's Government is a parliamentary democracy, with a House of Representatives and a House of Councillors. Executive power is vested in a cabinet composed of a prime minister and ministers of state, all of whom must be civilians. The prime minister must be a member of the Diet and is designated by his colleagues. The prime minister has the power to appoint and remove ministers, a majority of whom must be Diet members. The judiciary is independent.
The five major political parties represented in the National Diet are the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the New Clean Government Party (Komeito), the Japan Communist Party (JCP), and the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Japan's judicial system, drawn from customary law, civil law, and Anglo-American common law, consists of several levels of courts, with the Supreme Court as the final judicial authority. The Japanese constitution includes a bill of rights similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has the right of judicial review. Japanese courts do not use a jury system, and there are no administrative courts or claims courts. Because of the judicial system's basis, court decisions are made in accordance with legal statutes. Only Supreme Court decisions have any direct effect on later interpretation of the law.
Japan does not have a federal system, and its 47 prefectures are not sovereign entities in the sense that U.S. states are. Most depend on the central government for subsidies. Governors of prefectures, mayors of municipalities, and prefectural and municipal assembly members are popularly elected to 4-year terms.
Recent Political Developments
Shinzo Abe was elected Prime Minister in a Diet vote in September 2006. Abe was the first prime minister to be born after World War II and the youngest prime minister since the war. However, Abe resigned abruptly on September 12, 2007, not long after the LDP lost control of the upper house in the July 2007 elections in which the LDP's handing of domestic issues was a leading issue. Yasuo Fukuda of the LDP was elected Prime Minister by the Diet on September 25, 2007 to replace Abe. Fukuda, whose father served as Prime Minister in the late 1970s, is known as a moderate and for his experience building consensus behind the scenes.
Principal Government Officials
Japan maintains an embassy in the United States at 2520 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-238-6700; fax: 202-328-2187).
Japan's industrialized, free market economy is the second-largest in the world. Its economy is highly efficient and competitive in areas linked to international trade, but productivity is far lower in protected areas such as agriculture, distribution, and services. After achieving one of the highest economic growth rates in the world from the 1960s through the 1980s, the Japanese economy slowed dramatically in the early 1990s, when the "bubble economy" collapsed, marked by plummeting stock and real estate prices.
Japan's reservoir of industrial leadership and technicians, well-educated and industrious work force, high savings and investment rates, and intensive promotion of industrial development and foreign trade produced a mature industrial economy. Japan has few natural resources, and trade helps it earn the foreign exchange needed to purchase raw materials for its economy.
Japan's long-term economic prospects are considered good, and it has largely recovered from its worst period of economic stagnation since World War II. Real GDP in Japan grew at an average of roughly 1% yearly in the 1990s, compared to growth in the 1980s of about 4% per year. The Japanese economy is now in its longest postwar expansion after more than a decade of stagnation. Real growth in 2005 was 2.7% and was 2.2% in 2006.
Agriculture, Energy, and Minerals
Given its heavy dependence on imported energy, Japan has aimed to diversify its sources. Since the oil shocks of the 1970s, Japan has reduced dependence on petroleum as a source of energy from more than 75% in 1973 to about 57% at present. Other important energy sources are coal, liquefied natural gas, nuclear power, and hydropower.
Deposits of gold, magnesium, and silver meet current industrial demands, but Japan is dependent on foreign sources for many of the minerals essential to modern industry. Iron ore, coke, copper, and bauxite must be imported, as must many forest products.
Japan is the world's second-largest economy and a major economic power both in Asia and globally. Japan has diplomatic relations with nearly all independent nations and has been an active member of the United Nations since 1956. Japanese foreign policy has aimed to promote peace and prosperity for the Japanese people by working closely with the West and supporting the United Nations.
In recent years, the Japanese public has shown a substantially greater awareness of security issues and increasing support for the Self Defense Forces. This is in part due to the Self Defense Forces' success in disaster relief efforts at home, and its participation in peacekeeping operations such as in Cambodia in the early 1990s and Iraq in 2005-2006. However, there are still significant political and psychological constraints on strengthening Japan's security profile. Although a military role for Japan in international affairs is highly constrained by its constitution and government policy, Japanese cooperation with the United States through the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty has been important to the peace and stability of East Asia. Currently, there are domestic discussions about possible reinterpretation or revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. Prime Minister Abe made revising or reinterpreting the Japanese constitution a priority of his administration. All postwar Japanese governments have relied on a close relationship with the United States as the foundation of their foreign policy and have depended on the Mutual Security Treaty for strategic protection.
While maintaining its relationship with the United States, Japan has diversified and expanded its ties with other nations. Good relations with its neighbors continue to be of vital interest. After the signing of a peace and friendship treaty with China in 1978, ties between the two countries developed rapidly. Japan extended significant economic assistance to the Chinese in various modernization projects and supported Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Japan's economic assistance to China is now declining. In recent years, however, Chinese exploitation of gas fields in the East China Sea has raised Japanese concerns given disagreement over the demarcation of their maritime boundary. Prime Minister Abe's October 2006 visits to Beijing and Seoul helped improve relations with China and South Korea that had been strained following Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine. At the same time, Japan maintains economic and cultural but not diplomatic relations with Taiwan, with which a strong bilateral trade relationship thrives.
Territorial disputes and historical animosities continue to strain Japan's political relations with South Korea despite growing economic and cultural ties. Japan has limited economic and commercial ties with North Korea. A surprise visit by Prime Minister Koizumi to Pyongyang on September 17, 2002, resulted in renewed discussions on contentious bilateral issues--especially that of abductions to North Korea of Japanese citizens--and Japan's agreement to resume normalization talks in the near future. In October 2002, five abductees returned to Japan, but soon after negotiations reached a stalemate over the fate of abductees' families in North Korea. Japan strongly supported the United States in its efforts to encourage Pyongyang to abide by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Japan responded to North Korea's missile launches and nuclear tests by imposing sanctions and working with the United Nations Security Council. The U.S., Japan, and South Korea closely coordinate and consult trilaterally on policy toward North Korea, and Japan participates in the Six-Party Talks to end North Korea's nuclear arms ambitions.
Japan's relations with Russia are hampered by the two sides' inability to resolve their territorial dispute over the islands that make up the Northern Territories (Southern Kuriles) seized by the U.S.S.R. at the end of World War II. In August 2006, a Russian patrol shot at a Japanese fishing vessel, claiming the vessel was in Russian waters, killing one crewmember and taking three seamen into custody. The stalemate over territorial issues has prevented conclusion of a peace treaty formally ending the war between Japan and Russia. The United States supports Japan on the Northern Territories issue and recognizes Japanese sovereignty over the islands. Despite the lack of progress in resolving the Northern Territories dispute, however, Japan and Russia have made progress in developing other aspects of the relationship.
Japan has pursued a more active foreign policy in recent years, recognizing the responsibility that accompanies its economic strength. It has expanded ties with the Middle East, which provides most of its oil, and has been the second-largest assistance donor (behind the U.S.) to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006, Japan's Ground Self Defense Force completed a successful two-year mission in Iraq, and the Diet extended the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law which allowed for Japan's Maritime Self Defense Force refueling activities in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in the Indian Ocean. On July 10, 2007 the Japanese Government decided to extend the Air Self-Defense Force's (ASDF) airlift support mission in Iraq to July 31, 2008. Under the Iraq Special Measures Law a wing of the ASDF's C-130 transport planes, based in Kuwait, will continue to carry personnel and supplies for the U.S.-led multinational forces and the United Nations in Iraq. The law has been extended to July 31, 2009 and will be voted on again in 2008.
Japan increasingly is active in Africa and Latin America--recently concluding negotiations with Mexico and Chile on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)--and has extended significant support to development projects in both regions. A Japanese-conceived peace plan became the foundation for nationwide elections in Cambodia in 1998. Japan's economic engagement with its neighbors is increasing, as evidenced by the conclusion of an EPA with Singapore and the Philippines, and its ongoing negotiations for EPAs with Thailand and Malaysia.
In May 2007, just prior to the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Prime Minister Abe announced an initiative to address greenhouse gas emissions and seek to mitigate the impact of energy consumption on climate. Japan will host the G8 Summit in 2008.
The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of U.S. security interests in Asia and is fundamental to regional stability and prosperity. Despite the changes in the post-Cold War strategic landscape, the U.S.-Japan alliance continues to be based on shared vital interests and values. These include stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the preservation and promotion of political and economic freedoms, support for human rights and democratic institutions, and securing of prosperity for the people of both countries and the international community as a whole.
Japan provides bases and financial and material support to U.S. forward-deployed forces, which are essential for maintaining stability in the region. Under the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, Japan hosts a carrier battle group, the III Marine Expeditionary Force, the 5th Air Force, and elements of the Army's I Corps. The United States currently maintains approximately 50,000 troops in Japan, about half of whom are stationed in Okinawa.
Over the past decade the alliance has been strengthened through revised Defense Guidelines, which expand Japan's noncombatant role in a regional contingency, the renewal of our agreement on Host Nation Support of U.S. forces stationed in Japan, and an ongoing process called the Defense Policy Review Initiative (DPRI). The DPRI redefines roles, missions, and capabilities of alliance forces and outlines key realignment and transformation initiatives, including reducing the number of troops stationed in Okinawa, enhancing interoperability and communication between our respective commands, and broadening our cooperation in the area of ballistic missile defense.
Implementation of these agreements will strengthen our capabilities and make our alliance more sustainable. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Japan has participated significantly with the global war on terrorism by providing major logistical support for U.S. and coalition forces in the Indian Ocean.
Because of the two countries' combined economic and technological impact on the world, the U.S.-Japan relationship has become global in scope. The United States and Japan cooperate on a broad range of global issues, including development assistance, combating communicable disease such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and avian influenza, and protecting the environment and natural resources. Both countries also collaborate in science and technology in such areas as mapping the human genome, research on aging, and international space exploration. As one of Asia's most successful democracies and its largest economy, Japan contributes irreplaceable political, financial, and moral support to U.S.-Japan diplomatic efforts. The United States consults closely with Japan and the Republic of Korea on policy regarding North Korea. In Southeast Asia, U.S.-Japan cooperation is vital for stability and for political and economic reform. Outside Asia, Japanese political and financial support has substantially strengthened the U.S. position on a variety of global geopolitical problems, including the Gulf, Middle East peace efforts, and the Balkans. Japan is an indispensable partner on UN reform and the second largest contributor to the UN budget. Japan broadly supports the United States on nonproliferation and nuclear issues. The U.S. supports Japan's aspiration to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Japan is a major market for many U.S. products, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, films and music, commercial aircraft, nonferrous metals, plastics, and medical and scientific supplies. Japan also is the largest foreign market for U.S. agricultural products, with total agricultural exports valued at $9.7 billion, excluding forestry products. Revenues from Japanese tourism to the United States reached nearly $13 billion in 2005.
Trade between the United States and Japan remained strong in 2006. Total trade grew about 7.3% year-on-year. U.S. exports to Japan reached $59.6 billion in 2006, up from $55.4 billion in 2005. U.S. imports from Japan totaled $148.1 billion in 2006 ($138.1 billion in 2005).
U.S. foreign direct investment in Japan reached $78 billion in 2004, up from $73 billion in 2003. New U.S. investment was especially significant in financial services, Internet services, and software, generating new export opportunities for U.S. firms and employment for U.S. workers.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
The street address and the international mailing address of the U.S. Embassy in Japan is 10-5 Akasaka 1-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo (107); tel. 81-3-3224-5000; fax 81-3-3505-1862. The APO mailing address is American Embassy Tokyo, Unit 45004, Box 258, APO AP 96337-5004. U.S. Consulates General are in Osaka, Sapporo, and Naha, and Consulates are in Fukuoka and Nagoya. The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan is at 7th floor, Fukide No. 2 Bldg., 1-21 Toranomon 4-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo (105). Additional information is available on the U.S. Embassy's Internet home page: http://tokyo.usembassy.gov.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Oct. 2007