• Japan is made up of around 6800 islands – in descending order of size, the main five are Honshū, the mainland; Hokkaidō, way up north; Kyūshū, down south; Shikoku, sitting under Honshū; and Okinawa, part of an archipelago way out southwest, towards the tropics.

Despite many Japanese telling you what a small country they live in, Japan is in fact twice the size of the UK. This sense of smallness lays in the fact that much of the country is covered by densely forested mountains; some 127.6 million people are thus squished into the flat quarter of Japan’s land surface, making the southern coastal plain of Honshū from Tokyo down to Osaka one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

The population is 98.5 percent Japanese, making this one of the world’s most ethnically homogeneous societies. The most significant non-Japanese group living in the country are Koreans, numbering around 900,000. Indigenous people officially account for no more than 100,000 people, though more than double that number are said to have native blood. Japan is also a rapidly ageing society, with a very low birth rate and long life expectancy.

Japan’s economy is the third largest in the world, after that of the US and China, though it has been moribund for over twenty years – the prices of certain goods have barely changed in all that time.

• Emperor Akihito is the head of state. It’s a ceremonial position but one that is still greatly respected – even if a fair number of locals struggle to remember his name.

Japan is famed for its many post-war inventions, several of which have had major impacts on global society. These include: instant noodles (1958); high-speed rail travel (1964); quartz wristwatches (1967); the pocket calculator (1970); the Walkman (1979); and a certain moustachioed plumber named Mario (1981).


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