macrohistory & world report


Map of Japan

Japan (capital To-kyo) and neighboring states

World Factbook as of October 2014: "The new government will continue a longstanding debate on restructuring the economy and reining in Japan's huge government debt, which is exceeding 230% of GDP. To help raise government revenue and reduce public debt, Japan decided in 2013 to gradually increase the consumption tax to a total of 10% by the year 2015. Japan is making progress on ending deflation due to a weaker yen and higher energy costs, but reliance on exports to drive growth and an aging, shrinking population pose other major long-term challenges for the economy."

Japan can handle its public debt better than some other countries because the government's creditors are not foreigners but Japanese, who have been great savers.

Japan is a world leader in cradle to grave welfare, and its distribution of family income is more equitable than average.

GDP growth rate
2013: 2.0%
2012: 2.2%
2011: -0.8%
2010: 4.5%

Unemployment rate
2013: 4.1%
2012: 4.4%
2011: 4.8%
2010: 5.0%
2009: 5.6%
2008: 4.2%

Health expenditures:
2009: 9.3% of GDP

For a single worker without children, in the year 2001, including contributions to Social Security, a Japanese citizen earning an average wage paid 24.2% of his or her income for taxes. For the US this figure was 30%.

The Japanese want modest growth in productivity in keeping with technological innovation. What they want above all is economic stability – no matter that their government owes them a lot of money.

Value Added Tax: 5%

The US is Japan's biggest buyer, consuming 24% of its exports, followed by China and South Korea. Japan's imports are mainly from China, at 19.7% compared to 15.6% from the United States (2003 estimates). Japan had a favorable export/import ratio in 2004: $538.8 billion versus $401 billion, despite its huge importation of oil. This ratio is under pressure in 2005 with the rise in oil prices.

Automobiles remain Japan's major export, led by Honda and Toyota. Other exports: semi-conductions, office machinery and chemicals.

Japan's fishing fleets account for nearly 15% of world's fishing catch.

According to Jared Diamond, Japan has 5,000 persons for every square mile of farmland.

Population in agriculture
2002: 5.5% Japan protects its farmers and subsidizes agriculture – in part at least as a security measure. Farmers might otherwise be wiped out by imports at a lower price. With money from exports Japan is buying from abroad 50% of its grains and fodder crops.

Income Distribution – GINI index
Ranks 78th among 140 countries (lower rank number is less equal). Less equal than Britain, which ranks 94th.


Living in an urban area
2010: 67%

At today's birth rate, more than 30% of the population in the year 2050 will be over 60. Because of the age distribution, Japan's population is expected to shrink by 2050, maybe to less than 100 million, compared to today's 127.4 million.

The retirement age in Japan is 60.

Cultural Change
A new generation of bright young people are rejecting the way of their parents. They enter universities with no clear purpose. They acquire skills and potential but are choosing not to be regular members of the country's workforce. Instead, they work when they think it necessary and quit when they want. They are living longer with their parents and are in no hurry to start a family or career. 

Ethnic diversity
2004: Japanese 98.5%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.6%


Chain of islands east of the Asian mainland. Equivalent in land size to 616 by 616 kilometers, or roughly 384 by 384 miles. Capital: Tokyo (pronounced toh kyo, rather than toh ki oh). 

To quote the scholar Jared Diamond: "Almost 80% of Japan's area consists of sparsely populated forested mountains."

Government and Monarchy

(As of May 2014) Chief of state: Emperor Akihito, (constitutional monarch, Imperial House of Japan) since 7 January 1990. Head of government: Shinzo Abe (prime minister), since 26 December 2012, Liberal Democratic Party (conservative), Shinto.

Japan is a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. The reigning monarch is Emperor Akihito, first son of Emperor Hirohito, who died January 7, 1989. Hirohito's death was followed by crowds converging on the imperial palace, flags flying at half mast, government offices closed for six days and the public avoiding anything festive. Emperor Hirohito had been so elevated that some advisors did not look at him, and children had been told they would be blinded if they looked at his face. Belief in Hirohito's blood ties with Japan's ancient god and claimed to have ended with military defeat in 1945 – another instance of violence impacting religion – Hirohito having given it up calmly as just another forgettable official tradition. Emperor Akihito is a monarch similar to the many monarchs in Europe. He is a figurehead. And there is no longer an empire – the title is a left over from a previous age. Emperor Akihito's wife, Empress Michiko, is from a family not of the aristocracy, the first such empress. But aristocracy has little if any significance in Japan today, while Emperor Akhito and Empress Michiko represent dignity for the Japanese.

Emperor Akihito is also a cellist and studies fishes.

Recent History

Japan has been moving toward the standards in freedom of expression of mature democracies, but in recent years there has been a problem in freedom of expression regarding the Emperor. In the United States people can insult the president and people are free to be inaccurate in their criticism of Bush. In Japan, the relationship between the Emperor and Shinto is not tolerated as an academic or newsworthy subject – or so it has been reported. As late as 1988 stating that Emperor Hirohito had at least some responsibility for World War II brought death threats. That year the mayor of Nagasaki made such a claim. Paramilitary groups, some in uniform, demonstrated against him, and he was threatened with expulsion from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In Japan, as of 1991, the government was selecting and approving all school textbooks. Shintoism was a topic likely to be removed from textbooks. So too was wartime atrocities. One professor of history, Professor Ienega, challenged the powers of the Ministry of Education and lost on some points but won in reference to his right to describe an incident involving the Imperial Army over 100 years ago.  (From Information, Freedom and Censorship, a World Report, 1991.)

The Japanese are as critical of errors in their nation's past as any people.

China's Premier, Wen Jiabon, has criticized Japan, calling on Japan to take "responsibility for history." This he says while China's textbooks are no better in respecting history than Japan's. A US Asian scholar on the News Hour on April 22, 2005, described Japan's textbooks overall as better than those of China. What is happening here, according to some analysts, is concern by China's leadership that Japan is getting a seat on the UN Security Council and that could threaten China's status as Asia's leading political power.

2008: Consumer buying is weak. Incomes and wage growth have been flat. Japan needs to import energy, and the rising price of oil is a burden.

Japan suffered a recession in 2008 and 2009 with much of the rest of the world. It had a -1.2% GDP growth rate in 2008 and a -5.2% in 2009.

Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.