Japan is an island country in East
Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of China, Korea
and Russia, stretching from
the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea in the south. The characters that make up Japan's name mean "sun-origin", which
is why Japan
is sometimes identified as the "Land of the Rising Sun".
Japan comprises over 3,000 islands, the largest
of which are Honshū,
Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku,
together accounting for 97% of land area. Most of the islands are mountainous,
many volcanic. Japan
has the world's tenth largest population, with about 128 million people.
In the latter half of the 19th
century, Japan Adopted Western political, judicial and military institutions, introduced
the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet. The Meiji Restoration
transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that
embarked on a number of military conflicts to expand the nation's sphere of
influence. After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese
War (1904–1905), Japan
gained control of Taiwan, Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin.
The early twentieth century saw a
brief period of "Taisho democracy" overshadowed by the rise of expansionism
and militarization. World War I enabled Japan, which joined the side of the
victorious Allies, to expand its influence and territorial holdings. Japan continued
its expansionist policy by occupying Manchuria of China in 1931. In 1936, Japan signed
the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, joining
the Axis powers in 1941.
In 1937, Japan invaded other parts of China,
precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United
States naval base in Pearl Harbor and declared war on the
United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
This act brought the United
States into World War II. After the atomic
bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
in 1945, along with the Soviet Union joining the war against it, Japan agreed to
an unconditional surrender on August 15. The war cost Japan millions of lives and left
much of the country's industry and infrastructure destroyed.
In 1947, Japan adopted a
new pacifist constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied
occupation ended in 1952 and Japan
was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Japan later
achieved spectacular growth to become the second largest economy in the world,
with an annual growth rate averaging 10% for four decades. This ended in the
mid-1990s when Japan
suffered a major recession.