A nation in east Asia composed of 4 main islands; and hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller islands. Much of the land is mountain, so people are largely restricted to limited areas to live. Current population is approximately 127 million, with a per capita GDP of $29,400 (2004 estimate). This places it as the 21st richest country per capita, just behind the Netherlands.
Japan's history is long, with a ruling family which has been in place longer than any other in the world. Japan was an isolationist country until Commodore Matthew Perry presented Japan with Fillmore's letter. Afterwards, Japan quickly modernized and militarized, and won the respect of Europe after it defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. In the following years Japan invaded Manchuria, Korea, and eventually parts of China. During this time, the Japanese came to be known and feared for being especially brutal (examples include the rape of Nanking, where the Japanese killed over 200,000 civilians and noncombatants) The United States cut off trade with Japan in response, which hurt Japan's military ambition. This led Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor, and bring the United States into World War 2. The war ended with Japan surrendering unconditionally after nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and with the Soviet Union invading Manchuria and the Sakhalin Islands. Japan was left a ruin, with its economy a shambles. However, the following four decades saw a time of tremendous reconstruction and economic growth. However, the 90's have marked a rather long-lasting recession, one which Japan has not yet fully recovered.
Japan is known today mainly for its consumer technology and its popular culture. While the Japanese did not invent many of the things they produce, they have successfully improved and marketed them. Most famous are console gaming systems, which the Japanese produced exclusively starting with the Atari and ending in recent times when Microsoft released the Xbox. Their popular culture is regarded as rather bizarre by much of the world, especially the western one. Some aspects of this include their animation (referred to as "Anime" or "Japanimation" in the western world) and their late night game shows. However, not all aspects of their popular culture are positive. For instance, the Japanese show an unhealthy sexual infatuation with underage people, going so far as to have numerous pornographic videos, pictures, etc. of oboviously underage subjects.
The western world generally regards Japan with a combination of respect (for their business techniques and such) and amusement (with their popular culture). Most Oriental countries (most notably China and Korea) have a rather negative view of Japan. This is in part due to the atrocities the Japanese committed on them during the Second World War, and in part to the behavior of Japanese tourists, which is generally viewed as snobbish.
Japan is a fascinating country. Worth a visit for those who can afford it.
Prices shown in USD.