Japan's key facts

by Meyer Sosland
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Capital: Tokyo

Population: 127.4 million

Religions: Shinto and Buddhist 84%; other 16% (including Christian 0.7%).

Location: Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula.

Government: Constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government; head of state is Emperor Akihito, since Jan. 7, 1989; head of government is prime minister Yasuo Fukuda since Sept. 26, 2007.

Economy: Government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) helped Japan advance with extraordinary rapidity to the rank of second most technologically powerful economy in the world after the United States (U.S.) and the third-largest economy in the world after the U.S. and China, measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis. One notable characteristic of the economy has been how manufacturers, suppliers and distributors have worked together in closely-knit groups called keiretsu. A second basic feature has been the guarantee of lifetime employment for a substantial portion of the urban labor force. Both features have now eroded. Japan’s industrial sector is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and fuels. The tiny agricultural sector is highly subsidized and protected, with crop yields among the highest in the world. Usually self-sufficient in rice, Japan must import about 60% of its food on a caloric basis. For three decades, overall real economic growth had been spectacular: a 10% average in the 1960s; a 5% average in the 1970s; and a 4% average in the 1980s. Growth slowed markedly in the 1990s, averaging just 1.7%, largely because of the aftereffects of overinvestment and an asset price bubble during the late 1980s that required a protracted period of time for firms to reduce excess debt, capital, and labor. From 2000 to 2001, government efforts to revive economic growth proved short-lived and were hampered by the slowing of the U.S., European and Asian economies. In 2002-06, growth improved and the lingering fears of deflation in prices and economic activity lessened. Japan’s huge government debt, which totals 176% of GDP, and the aging of the population are two major long-term problems. Some fear that a rise in taxes could endanger the current economic recovery.

GDP per capita: $33,100 (PPP 2006 est.)

Inflation: 0.3%; unemployment 4.1% (2004 est.).

Currency: Yen; Oct. 3, 2007 exchange rate: $1 = 116.72 yen.

Exports: $590.3 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.); transport equipment, motor vehicles, semiconductors, electrical machinery, chemicals.

Imports: $524.1 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.); machinery and equipment, fuels, foodstuffs, chemicals, textiles, raw materials.

Major crops/agricultural products: Rice, sugar beets, vegetables, fruit; pork, poultry, dairy products, eggs; fish.

Agriculture: 1.6% of GDP and 4.6% of the labor force.

Internet: Code jp; 28.322 million hosts (2006) and 87.54 million users (2006).