Japan is the island country located in East Asia between the Sea of Japan and the North Pacific Ocean. The brief biophysical overview and historical characteristics create the background of its previous and current economic and political events. Much attention is paid to the international relations with various countries all over the world. This paper will show the close interrelation between biophysical factors, history, politics, economy, and demographics of Japan.
The major Japanese islands are Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Honshu. The climate is mainly temperate. However, it varies in different locations. In the northern areas, like Hokkaido, the climate is humid continental. At the same time, in the territories near the Pacific coast, the climate is humid subtropical. The country has six climatic zones: Sea of Japan, Seto Inland Sea, Hokkaido, Central Highland, Ryukyu Islands, and the Pacific Ocean. The average winter temperature is about 41 °F. The average summer temperature is about 77 °F. The rain season lasts from May to July.
The landscape of the country is rugged and mountainous (72 % of the territory). The highest mountain is Mount Fuji. It elevates on 12,388 ft above the sea level. The most obvious landscape features of Japan are the vast cultivation (caused by the lack of territories) and the great extent of coverage of mountains by forests.
More than 4,500 of native plants represent the flora of the country. Such the tremendous number of plants reflects the wide variety of Japanese climate. Significant rainfalls create the supportive environment for forests that cover about 70 % of the territory (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). The most widespread plants are Matsu (pine) and sugi (cedar). The fauna of Japan is characterized by numerous spices and relicts represented by Southeast Asian tropical animals (crested serpent eagle, variable lizard, and flying fox), temperate-zone Korean and Chinese animals (raccoon dogs, mandarin ducks, and sika deer), and Siberian subarctic animals (walrus, brown bears, common lizards, and hazel) (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). Waters nearby the islands are full of turtles, fish, and sea snakes.
The country has a long and unusual history. According to Henshall (2004) “the earliest define human fossil remains are only about 30,000 years old”. About 15,000 years ago numerous land bridges connected the country with the continental Asia (Henshall, 2004). People could easily travel from one territory to another. The first settlements of agricultural communities date back to the 3,000 BC. These settlements were generalized and controlled by clans (future aristocrats) which formed the Japanese imperial state at about 7,000 BC. The country developed in cultural and economic isolation from other countries located on the continent until the end of the 19th century (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). From 1894 till 1904 the government established its power in Asia by victories in battles with Russia, China, and Korea. The economic crisis, growing unemployment, and industrial dropout facilitated the military development of the country and more aggressive expansion of nearby territories (like China). In 1941, Japan formed the military alliance with Germany and Italy and entered the Second World War by pounding the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). However, the Japanese Army could not stand against American troops. Thus, the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). Then, the U.S. Army occupied Japanese islands to weaken the military power and imperial influence of Japan. In 1947, the government adopted the democratic constitution and became the member of the United Nations in 1956. In the last decade, the country achieved the rapid economic growth.
Japan has developed export and import relations with numerous countries all over the world. The technologically advanced vehicles and automobile tools are exported to the USA, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and European countries. Also, Japan exports integrated circuits, industrial printers and machinery having individual functions (Observatory of economic complexity, n.d.). The country imports fossil fuels, machinery and foodstuffs, manufactured goods, and chemicals from China, the USA, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea (Observatory of economic complexity, n.d.). One of the most promising fields of the future economic growth is robotics. Japan places the leading position in the world robotic designation and manufacturing. The additional attention should be paid to the considerable development of transportation services in the country. Japanese roads and railroads cover every part of the country. Also, Japan has developed a system of sea and air transportation.
Notwithstanding the considerable economic growth, at the current moment the country fell into the recession reflected in the slow growth of the GDP (only 1.5 %) (McBride, 2015). The government developed and adopted numerous initiatives for the improvement of the situation: decreasing of corporate taxes, better regulation of energy consumption, and monetary easing (McBride, 2015). Notwithstanding the existing economic issues, the unemployment rate remains at around 3.3-3.4 % (Japan macro advisors, 2015). There are more than 63 million of workers when the total population of the country is 121.1 million people (Japan macro advisors, 2015). The country has high standards of living: “the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 26,111 a year” (OECD, 2015). However, there is the considerable gap between rich and poor: “the top 20 % of the population earn more than six times as much as the bottom 20 %” (OECD, 2015).
The industrial development gives rise to the problem of the environmental pollution. The rate of urban air pollution is higher than average (24.1 micrograms per cubic meter) (OECD, 2015). It causes health problems with lungs. The additional attention should be paid to nuclear pollution caused by energy accident in Fukushima Daiichi in 2011 (Park, 2011). The disaster caused radiation poisoning and increased the risk of cancer (Park, 2011). Another health issue is alcoholism: “alcohol is glorified for being an integral part of Japanese culture” (Ito, 2014). According to the official statistics, more than 1 million people suffered from alcohol abuse. 40 – 50 million people undergo treatment at the present moment, and more than 10 million people potentially have a dependency problem (Ito, 2014). Alcohol abuse can cause various health issues, like injuries sustained in automobile accidents and cirrhosis of the liver.
High economic development of the country is also connected with the demographic problems. The population of the country declined by 106,963 people in the previous year (Worldometers, 2015). Population aging and birth rate lowering are the major domestic issues of the country. According to the official statistics, “by 2100, the population could fall below 50 million…by 2050, the over-65s will account for 38.8 % of the population” (Wharton University of Pennsylvania, 2014). The decline of the population is connected with high living standards, developed health care providing, and recent economic downfall. It can lead to the workforce decreasing.
Even the immigration cannot solve this issue because immigrants comprise only 0.06 % of the whole population (Worldometers, 2015). Moreover, their amount tends to decrease during the past several years (from 124,412 people in 2005 to 70,000 in 2015) (Worldometers, 2015). However, immigrants and globalization (especially by Asian, European and North American tendencies) have the considerable influence on the Japanese culture. Nevertheless, the country saves its cultural identity reflected in tea ceremonies, origami, unique calligraphy, performances (kubaku, dance, rakugo), and crafts (ceramics, dolls, and textiles).
At the current moment, the Japanese government has close political relationships with various countries all over the world (the USA, European and Asian countries). These relations are based on trade and facilitated by the active participation of Japan in different trade and peace-making international organizations, like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The country faced the great necessity for further cooperation with the USA because the States represent one of the major military forces in the world and in the same time it is the biggest global consumer.
The direction of the Japanese government on the proclamation of peace all over the world is also reflected in the providing of development aid to “to foreign militaries engaged in non-combat operations… such as post-conflict rebuilding and reconstruction, as well as disaster relief” (Sekiguchi, 2015). It should be mentioned that proclamation of peace and development of trade relationships is based on the intends to play down the negative impression from Japanese warship. It was formed before and during the World War II after the military occupation of the Asian territories by Japanese troops. Various initiatives, financed by the government, have the strong emphasis on Asia because Japanese politicians clearly understand that the improvement of relationships with the neighbor countries necessary for further development, support, and safety of Japan. However, Chinese politicians consider that some of the Japanese safety initiatives endanger peace in the region. At the beginning of September Japanese government voted for allowing “Japanese troops to fight overseas” (BBC, 2015). This decision is considered to be provoking. At the current moment, Japan plays the role as the peaceful trade partner in the Asian-Pacific region and all over the world. Its military role may increase in the nearest time because of its expanding of its military might and financing of foreign soldiers.
According to the Rostow's Modernization Theory, such features as stable economy, high income, considerable industrial development, trading relationships with various countries all over the world, and small families characterize Japan as the country that places the 5th stage of economic development. Japanese government ensures the country’s safety and solves welfare issues (high living standards reflect it). The island location and strict migration regulations eliminate the negative influence of immigrants. However, Japanese society suffers from such unique difficulty of developed countries as lowering of the amount of population described above. According to the personal opinion, after the period of High Mass Consumption, the society will change its orientation towards helping of backward countries, more efficient distribution and use of natural resources, development of environment-friendly technologies and robotics, maintenance of peace and security (because the new world war can destroy the whole planet), and direction of cosmic exploration.
In conclusion, the current work provides the general overview of Japan and the links between its biophysical characteristics, history, economy, and politics. This island country with a unique landscape, flora and fauna has a developed economy. The remote location stipulated the international trade and independent development of Japan. Economic downfalls formed the background of the expansion of nearby territories in the 20th century. Acquisition of foreign lands during the World War II created the necessity of friendly relationships establishment in the 21st century. In the same time, the current economic development facilitated peace maintenance. However, the involvement in the World War II forced the Japanese government to strengthen country’s security at the present. The country supports international military initiatives and fosters links with mighty warship countries (like the USA) for ensuring its safety. Also, at the current moment the country faces environmental and demographic problems caused by the economic and industrial development. However, according to the personal beliefs, further development of Japan is connected with existing issues solving, further technological development, and peaceful coexistence. This paper shows that present and future of Japan is based on its isolated location and history and depends on the rapid economic development and political directions.