Japan is an island country located off the eastern coast of Asia. It is bordered by the Sea of Japan to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan encompasses an archipelago of 6,852 islands; five main islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa) comprise 96% of the country's total area of 377,975 square kilometers (145,937 sq mi). Japan is officially divided into 47 prefectures and traditionally into eight regions. About three-fourths of the country's terrain is covered with mountains, with much of the remainder made up by flat coastal plains. As a result, Japan is one of the most densely populated and urbanized countries in the world. The largest urban area is the Greater Tokyo Area centered on the capital city of Tokyo, which is the most populous metropolitan area in the world and home to more than 38 million people. Japan is the eleventh most populous country in the world with a population of 126.2 million, of which 97.8% are ethnically Japanese. Japan has a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy, with the Emperor as the head of state and an elected legislature known as the National Diet.
Television and newspapers take an important role in Japanese mass media, though radio and magazines also take a part. Over the 1990s, television surpassed newspapers as Japan's main information and entertainment medium. Japanese readers have a choice of approximately 120 daily newspapers, with an average subscription rate of 1.13 newspapers per household. The main newspapers are the Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Nikkei Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun. According to a survey conducted by the Japanese Newspaper Association in 1999, 85.4 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women read a newspaper every day.
Traditional Japanese arts include crafts such as ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, swords and dolls. Japanese sculpture, largely of wood, and Japanese painting are among the oldest of the Japanese arts, with early figurative paintings dating back to at least 300 BC. The history of Japanese painting exhibits synthesis and competition between native Japanese esthetics and adaptation of imported ideas. The interaction between Japanese and European art has been significant: for example ukiyo-e prints, which began to be exported in the 19th century in the movement known as Japonism, had a significant influence on the development of modern art in the West, most notably on post-Impressionism. Japanese manga developed in the 20th century and have become popular worldwide. Japanese architecture is a combination between local and other influences. It has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs.
Japan has one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world; movies have been produced in Japan since 1897. Ishirō Honda's Godzilla became an international icon of Japan and spawned an entire subgenre of kaiju films, as well as the longest-running film franchise in history. Japan has won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film four times, more than any other Asian country. Japanese animated films and television series, known as anime, were largely influenced by Japanese manga and have been extensively popular in the West. Japan is a world-renowned powerhouse of animation.
A Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC constitutes the first known habitation of the Japanese archipelago. Japan first appears in written history in the Chinese Book of Han. Buddhism was introduced to Japan from Baekje, Korea and was promoted by Prince Shōtoku, but the subsequent development of Japanese Buddhism was primarily influenced by China. In 784, Emperor Kanmu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō, then to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto) in 794. This marked the beginning of the Heian period (794–1185), during which a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged. Japan's feudal era was characterized by the emergence and dominance of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. The Zen school of Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class. The shogunate enacted measures including buke shohatto, as a code of conduct to control the autonomous daimyōs, and in 1639 the isolationist sakoku ("closed country") policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period (1603–1868). The resignation of the shōgun led to the Boshin War and the establishment of a centralized state nominally unified under the Emperor (the Meiji Restoration). During the Meiji period, Japan expanded economically with the embrace of the market economy, and emerged as the most developed nation in Asia during a period of growth that lasted until the Great Depression. In 1937, the Empire of Japan invaded China, beginning the Second Sino-Japanese War; in 1941, it entered World War II on the side of the Axis powers. After suffering major defeats in the Pacific theater and two atomic bombings, Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, coming under a seven-year occupation and adopting a post-war constitution.
The earliest works of Japanese literature include the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki chronicles and the Man'yōshū poetry anthology, all from the 8th century and written in Chinese characters. In the early Heian period, the system of phonograms known as kana (hiragana and katakana) was developed. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is considered the oldest Japanese narrative. An account of court life is given in The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon, while The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is often described as the world's first novel. During the Edo period, the chōnin ("townspeople") overtook the samurai aristocracy as producers and consumers of literature. Bashō revivified the poetic tradition of the Kokinshū with his haikai (haiku). The Meiji era saw the decline of traditional literary forms as Japanese literature integrated Western influences. Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ōgai were the first "modern" novelists of Japan, followed by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima and, more recently, Haruki Murakami. Japan has two Nobel Prize-winning authors – Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburō Ōe (1994).
Japanese music is eclectic and diverse. Many instruments, such as the koto, were introduced in the 9th and 10th centuries. The popular folk music, with the guitar-like shamisen, dates from the sixteenth century. Western classical music, introduced in the late 19th century, now forms an integral part of Japanese culture. The imperial court ensemble Gagaku has influenced the work of some modern Western composers. Notable classical composers from Japan include Toru Takemitsu and Rentarō Taki. Popular music in post-war Japan has been heavily influenced by American and European trends, which has led to the evolution of J-pop, or Japanese popular music. Karaoke is the most widely practiced cultural activity in Japan.
Japan has 23 World Heritage Sites, including Himeji Castle, Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and Nara. Popular foreigner attractions include Tokyo and Hiroshima, Mount Fuji, ski resorts such as Niseko in Hokkaido, Okinawa, riding the shinkansen and taking advantage of Japan's hotel and hotspring network. Domestic tourism remains a vital part of the Japanese economy and Japanese culture. The extensive rail network together with domestic flights sometimes in planes with modifications to favor the relatively short distances involved in intra-Japan travel allows efficient and speedy transport. International tourism plays a smaller role in the Japanese economy compared to other developed countries. 3 out of 4 foreign tourists came from other parts of East Asia, namely South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.