Fact sheet released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
Japan is an archipelago consisting of more than 3,000 islands. The four principal islands, running from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu (the largest), Shikoku and Kyushu. Further south are the Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. In terms of total land area, Japan is slightly smaller than California, though the country is divided into 47 prefectures, each governed by a popularly elected governor and legislature.
Japan's population is currently about 125 million, and the population growth rate is well under one percent. Education is compulsory through the ninth grade, and the literacy rate is estimated at 99 percent. Life expectancy is about 76 years for males, and 82 years for females.
Japan is a parliamentary democracy based on a 1947 constitution. Under this constitution, the Emperor is the symbol of state and has no executive authority. Executive power is exercised by a cabinet, composed of a prime minister and ministers of state, which is responsible to the Diet, Japan's bicameral parliament. Members of the Diet, elected by universal suffrage and secret ballot, designate the Prime Minister, who must be a member of that body. The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches of government.
Japan's industrialized free market economy is the world's second largest. Japan is the world's largest foreign aid donor, a major source of world capital, and a technology leader in many fields. The economy is highly efficient and competitive in areas linked to international trade, and provides the Japanese with a high standard of living. After achieving one of the highest economic growth rates in the world during the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the economy slowed dramatically in the early 1990s. In recent years, the United States' economy has grown faster than Japan's.
Japan is the second largest trading partner of the United States, after Canada, and the largest market for U.S. agricultural products. However, Japan continues to have a large global current account surplus and a large trade surplus with the United States. U.S.-Japan relations have been complicated in recent years by Japan's slowness to remove barriers to the import of highly-competitive goods and services, although important progress has been made.
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