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Japan Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look at Japan, a country of islands located off the eastern coast of mainland Asia.

About Japan

(from the CIA World Fact Book)
Area: 377,915 sq km

Population: 124,214,766 (2022 est.)

Median age: 48.6 years (2020 est.)

Capital: Tokyo

Ethnic groups: Japanese 97.9%, Chinese 0.6%, Korean 0.4%, other 1.1%

Religion: Shintoism 70.5%, Buddhism 67.2%, Christianity 1.5%, other 5.9% (Many practice both Shintoism and Buddhism)

Unemployment: 2.36% (2019 est.)

Other Facts

Japan is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. The prime minister is the head of government, and the emperor is the head of state.

Four large islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, account for about 98% of the country’s land area.

Japanese society dates back to the Jomon period circa 300 BC.

Following an economic boom after World War II, Japan has been stuck in stagnation and deflation since the 1990s.

Modern Timeline

July 1931 – Japan invades Manchuria for its natural resources. By 1937, Japan controls much of China.

December 7, 1941 – Japan enters World War II, by attacking Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, hoping to destroy the US Pacific fleet.

August 6, 1945 – The first atomic bomb used in warfare is dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima by the United States, killing up to 140,000 people.

August 9, 1945 – After getting no response from the Japanese government, the United States drops a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing up to 80,000 people.

August 14, 1945 – Japan unconditionally agrees to accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration and end the war. Victory over Japan (V-J) Day is declared.

September 2, 1945 – Japan signs the formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

1945-1952 – The Occupation of Japan. The country is under the control of the Allied nations, the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union. The occupation ends when a treaty signed by 49 nations at a peace conference goes into effect.

1956 – Joins the United Nations.

1964 – Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics.

1972 – The Olympic Winter Games take place in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture, Japan.

January 7, 1989 – Akihito becomes emperor after the death of Hirohito, who had been emperor since 1926.

1993 – Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issues a statement that accepts Japan’s responsibility for recruiting comfort women before and during World War II and extends “its sincere apologies and remorse.”

January 1995 – The 6.9 magnitude Kobe earthquake occurs, where 5,502 people were killed and 36,896 people were injured.

March 1995 – A religious cult spreads sarin, a nerve gas, in the Tokyo subway. Twelve people are killed and more than 5,000 become sick.

1998 – Nagano hosts the Winter Olympics.

2002 – Co-hosts the World Cup with South Korea.

2006 – The first defense ministry since World War II is approved by the parliament.

March 11, 2011 – A 9.1 magnitude earthquake takes place 231 miles northeast of Tokyo. The earthquake causes a tsunami with 30 ft. waves that damage several nuclear reactors in the area. The combined total of confirmed deaths and missing is more than 22,000 (nearly 20,000 deaths and 2,500 missing). (Source: Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency)

September 7, 2013 – Tokyo is chosen by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2020 Summer Games.

July 1, 2014 – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces that his Cabinet has approved a defense policy that takes a liberal view of the constitution, allowing for Japanese involvement in the defense of its allies. Previously, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) could only act if Japan itself was directly threatened.

December 14, 2014 – In Japan’s snap parliamentary elections, exit polls show Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party winning by a landslide. The win gives Abe four more years to institute his policies aimed at reviving Japan’s economy by flooding the market with cash, encouraging corporations to create more jobs and increasing government spending.

September 19, 2015 – Japan’s upper chamber of Parliament approves controversial bills allowing the country’s military to engage in overseas combat in limited circumstances — a major shift after seven decades of pacifism. The 148-90 vote is the final hurdle for the measures, which will go into effect within roughly the next six months.

December 28, 2015 – Japan and South Korea announce that an agreement has been reached over the long-standing issue of “comfort women,” a term that describes sex slaves used by the Japanese military during World War II. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida says his government will give 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund to help those who suffered.

June 9, 2017 – Japan’s parliament passes a historic bill that will allow Emperor Akihito to become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in 200 years.

December 1, 2017 – Abe announces that Emperor Akihito will stand down on April 30, 2019. Crown Prince Naruhito, who has already assumed some of his father’s duties, will take on the role on May 1, 2019, becoming the 126th Emperor to ascend to Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne.

July 2018 – At least 220 people are killed when heavy rain causes flooding and landslides throughout southwest Japan (source: Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency). It is one of the deadliest natural disasters to hit the country since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

April 30, 2019 – Emperor Akihito formally abdicates during a ceremony in Tokyo. He will now be known as Emperor Emeritus Akihito. The following day, Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Naruhito’s ascension signals the start of the “Reiwa” era.

July 18, 2019 – At least 34 people are killed after a man burns down a renowned animation studio in Kyoto. The suspect, Shinji Aoba, is injured in the attack. This is the country’s worst mass killing in almost 20 years.

July 22, 2019 – Abe declares victory in Japan’s national elections after polls indicate his party has won a majority of seats in the upper house of Parliament.

November 23, 2019 – Pope Francis begins a four-day tour of Japan. This trip is only the second papal visit to Japan and is the first in nearly four decades.

March 24, 2020 – Abe and the IOC agree to postpone the Olympics until 2021, due to the coronavirus outbreak. It is also announced that the event will still be called Tokyo 2020 despite the date change.

July 29, 2020 – A Japanese court recognizes dozens of victims of radioactive “black rain” as survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, clearing the way for them to receive medical benefits just days before the 75th anniversary of the attack.

August 28, 2020 – Abe resigns as prime minister, citing health reasons.

September 16, 2020 Yoshihide Suga is elected prime minister following a vote in the country’s parliament.

October 4, 2021 – Kishida, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), takes office as the country’s new prime minister.

July 8, 2022 – Abe dies after being shot during a campaign speech in Nara.

September 22. 2022 – Marking a major policy shift, Kishida announces Japan is dissolving its Covid-19 travel restrictions and is opening the door back up to mass tourism. “We will lift the ceiling of the number of entrants into Japan, lift the ban on individual travel and lift the ban over visa-less travel.”

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