U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

Environment in Japan

Fact sheet released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
U.S. Department of State, July 31, 1997.

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An island nation, modern Japan has proven to be one of the most resource-efficient countries in the world. A population of over 125 million people live on only 145,856 square miles of land, an area smaller than the state of California.

Japan possesses no significant energy or mineral deposits. It imports virtually all of its energy supplies, primarily from the Middle East, and is one of the most efficient users of energy among the world's advanced industrial nations. However, Japan remains a major producer of greenhouse gases, which cause the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming.

Most of Japan is mountainous and thus not suitable for agriculture or commercial forestry. As the world's largest importer of timber, Japan is primarily supplied by companies that harvest as far away as Central America. Overfishing of many local commercial species and increasing levels of coastal marine pollution have forced Japan's fishing fleet, the largest in the world, far afield in search of food. There is widespread international concern about Japan's policy of continued scientific whaling in the face of the conservation program of the International Whaling Commission.

The rapid industrialization and economic development of Japan during the 1950s and 1960s was accompanied by severe air pollution and marine degradation. Several environmental disasters, such as the outbreak of the Minamata disease, caused by chemical offshore dumping, resulted in public outrage, and in 1970, the parliament created the National Environment Agency. Japan currently has some of the strictest environmental regulations of any industrialized nation in the world, and the quality of Japan's environment has improved in recent decades.

Each year, Japan provides much support to environmental protection projects around the world through their international aid programs and non-governmental organizations. As demonstrated by its role as host of the December 1997 Conference on Global Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan has taken the lead in recent years in the area of climate control. Under the 1993 Common Agenda initiative, the United States and Japan formed the "Environment Policy Dialogue," through which the two nations consult regularly on global environmental issues.

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