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Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Its four main islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. There are more than 6,000 smaller islands, about 430 of which are inhabited.

Japan is separated from South Korea by the Korea Strait, and from North Korea and Russia by the Sea of Japan. Its southernmost islands are just east of Taiwan.

Not an ethnically diverse nation, more than 98% of its population is ethnic Japanese, with small populations of Chinese, Koreans, and Filipinos. Immigrants to Japan are usually of Japanese descent. More than 99% of the Japanese people speak Japanese as their first language, although there are several dialects. Public and private schools in Japan usually require English language courses.

Japan is one of the top performing countries in the world in reading literacy, mathematics, and science. Its labor force is among the highest educated, as is the population at large. More than 75% of high school graduates pursue higher education.

Japan's constitution provides for full religious freedom. From 80-95% of the Japanese people adhere to Shinto as a religion, although many of them incorporate aspects of Buddhism, although only about 30% of Japanese consider themselves to be religious. The majority participate in the Shinto festivals and attend the shrines, but are otherwise under-involved.

Better than 90% of the Japanese people reside in densely populated urban areas, with a fourth of its population living in Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama, and the commuter towns. The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Region is the most heavily populated in the world. Its population has been shrinking dramatically over the past decade, however.

Traditionally, most Japanese lived in rural agricultural communities, in which life was based around the family. Today, fewer than a tenth of Japanese live in the small farming or fishing villages that can still be found in the mountains and along the coast. From the 1950s until recently, life for most Japanese has revolved around the corporations that provided lifetime employment for white-collared workers. Typically, the husband provided the income, the wife took care of the house and the children, and the children studied hard to earn a place at one of Japan's universities.

This has changed in recent years, as Japan has been transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. Hard-working Japanese can no longer depend on lifetime employment or age-based promotions. Today, jobs tend to be part-time, and both spouses have to work in order to pay the bills. Japanese children still perform well in school, but opportunities are scarce. Not only does Japan have a very low birthrate, but young adults are more likely to emigrate to other countries. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Japanese under the age of thirty.

Japan is a constitutional monarchy, in which the Emperor is largely a figurehead, and his role ceremonial in nature. Executive power is in the hands of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. The legislative body of government is the National Diet, which is a bicameral body made up of a lower House of Representatives and an upper House of Councilors.

Since Japan was defeated by the United States and other Allied forces during World War II, the two countries have enjoyed a close relationship. The United States is a major trading partner with Japan, and plays a significant role in its defense, maintaining military bases in Japan to that end.

Japan disputes Russia's claims to the Southern Kuril Islands, which were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945. Japan claims these islands, referring to them as its Northern Territories. Although Japan agreed to relinquish its claim to the Kuril Islands in 1951, the treaty does not recognize Russia's claim over them.

Japan has been inhabited for at least 30,000 years, possibly longer. Until the end of the last Ice Age, it is believed that Japan was linked to the continent by a number of land bridges.

For most of its history, Japan has been isolated, with some influences from China. Two Mongol invasions were repelled in 1274 and in 1281, in part aided by storms that damaged Mongol ships. From the 12th century to 1868, Japan was ruled by feudal military shoguns who governed in the name of the Emperor. The Empire of Japan was established in 1868 after the United States pressured Japan into opening itself to the West.

With victories in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War I, Japan became increasingly military. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937 expanded into World War II, in which Japan was defeated following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Since its defeat, Japan adopted its current form of government, and its constitution prohibits its involvement in foreign wars, although it does maintain a defensive military.



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