Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, People's Republic of China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south.
The characters which make up Japan's name mean "sun-origin", which is why Japan is sometimes identified as the "Land of the Rising Sun". Japan comprises over 3,000 islands making it an archipelago.
The four largest islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, together accounting for 97% of Japan's land area. Most of the islands are mountainous, many volcanic; for example, Japan's highest peak, Mount Fuji, is a volcano. Japan has the world's tenth largest population, with about 128 million people. The Greater Tokyo Area, which includes the de facto capital city of Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures, is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 30 million residents.
Archaeological research indicates that people were living on the islands of Japan as early as the Upper Paleolithic period. The first written mention of Japan begins with brief appearances in Chinese history texts from the first century A.D. Influence from the outside world followed by long periods of isolation has characterized Japan's history. Since adopting its constitution in 1947, Japan has maintained a unitary constitutional monarchy with an emperor and an elected parliament, the Diet. A major economic power.
Japan has the world's second largest economy by nominal GDP and the third largest in purchasing power parity. It is also the world's fourth largest exporter and sixth largest importer. It is a developed country with high living standards (8th highest HDI). Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world. When you hear the word 'Japan', what do you think of? Does your mind fill with images of ancient temples or futuristic cities? Do you see visions of mist-shrouded hills or lightning fast bullet trains? Do you think of suit-clad businessmen or kimono-clad geisha?
Whatever image you have of Japan, it's probably accurate, because it's all there. But you may also have some misconceptions about Japan. For example, many people believe that Japan is one of the world's most expensive countries. In fact, it's cheaper to travel in Japan than in much of North America, Western Europe and parts of Oceania. Others think that Japan is impenetrable or even downright difficult. The fact is, Japan is one of the easiest countries in which to travel.
It is, simply put, a place that will remind you why you started travelling in the first place. If traditional culture is your thing, you can spend weeks in cities such as Kyoto and Nara, gorging yourself on temples, shrines, kabuki, tea ceremonies and museums packed with treasures from Japan's rich artistic heritage.
If modern culture and technology is your thing, Japan's cities are an absolute wonderland an easy peek into the future of the human race, complete with trend-setting cafés and fabulous restaurants. Outside the cities, you'll find natural wonders the length and breadth of the archipelago.
From the coral reefs of Okinawa to the ski-resort of Niseko, Japan has more than enough natural wonders to compete with its cultural treasures. Then there's the food: whether it's impossibly fresh sushi in Tokyo, perfectly battered tempura in Kyoto, or a hearty bowl of râmen in Osaka, if you like eating you're going to love Japan.
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