Japan is an island country in the North Pacific Ocean. It lies off the east coast of Asia, across from Russia, Korea, and China. Four large islands and thousands of smaller ones make up Japan. Tokyo is Japan’s capital and largest city.
Japan is a land of great beauty. Mountains and hills cover most of the country. The Japanese islands are made up of the rugged upper part of a great mountain range that rises from the floor of the North Pacific Ocean.
Japan suffers from many earthquakes. The Japanese islands have about 1,500 earthquakes a year. Most of them are small, but severe earthquakes strike Japan every few years. Undersea quakes sometimes cause huge waves, called tsunami <<tsoo NAH mee>>, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. These waves can cause great damage. The Japanese islands also have more than 60 volcanoes that could erupt at any time.
The four main islands, from largest to smallest, are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Thousands of smaller islands lie near these islands. Japan’s land also includes the Ryukyu and Bonin island chains.
Honshu is Japan’s largest island. Most of the Japanese people live on this island. Japan’s tallest and most famous peak, Mount Fuji, or Fujiyama, rises on Honshu. It is a volcano, but it is no longer active, which means it does not erupt.
Hokkaido is Japan’s second largest island. Many of the people of Hokkaido work in dairy farming, fishing, and forestry.Many people visit the island for fun and relaxation.
Kyushu is the southernmost of Japan’s main islands. After Honshu, Kyushu has the most people. Parts of Kyushu have many volcanoes.
Shikoku is the smallest of the main Japanese islands. Most of the people of this island live in the north. Farmers grow rice and different kinds of fruits along the Inland Sea there.
The Ryukyu and Bonin islands belonged to Japan until after World War II (1939-1945), when the United States took control of them. The United States has since returned the islands to Japan.
Japan has one of the largest populations in the world. The Japanese people come from groups of people who came to the islands from other parts of Asia. No one knows for sure when people first arrived in Japan, but it was more than 30,000 years ago. Some historians think that a group of people in Japan called the Ainu may come from the original settlers of the Japanese islands. Today most Ainu live on Hokkaido. Some Chinese and Koreans also live in Japan.
Resources and products
Japan is one of the world’s richest countries, even though it has few natural resources. Japan earns most of its money from the many things it makes and sells. The Japanese make such things as cars, computers, steel, TV sets, and tires.Japan’s factories have some of the best equipment in the world. Japan buys many of the materials needed to make these products from other countries. Then it sells these products—for example, cars—to other countries.
Building is also a big business in Japan. This business grew quickly after World War II, when so much rebuilding was needed. Many of Japan’s cities were destroyed during the war. Today, Japanese companies build hotels and office buildings throughout the world.
Throughout most of Japan’s history, farming was its main business. As late as 1950, almost half of Japan’s workers worked on farms. But as Japan’s other companies grew, farming became less important. Japan is one of the most important fishing nations in the world today.
The early people of Japan borrowed many Chinese ideas about how to organize society and government. More than 1,000 years ago, warriors called samuri <<SAM uh ry>> became important in Japan. The head of the government was the emperor. But from the 1100′s to the mid-1800′s, real power was in the hands of a military leader called the shogun<<SHO guhn>>.
During the mid-1500′s, the first Europeans arrived in Japan. Trade began with several European countries. During the early 1600′s, however, the rulers of Japan decided to cut the country off almost entirely from the rest of the world. This lasted until 1853, when Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States sailed his warships into Tokyo Bay. A few years later, Japan agreed to trade with the United States.
During the 1870′s, the Japanese government began to work toward making the country more modern. By the early 1900′s, Japan had become a great business leader and military power.
During the 1930′s, Japan’s military leaders gained control of the government. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This brought the United States into World War II (1939-1945). In August 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in a war on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki two days later. On September 2, 1945, Japan gave up, and World War II ended.
After World War II, other countries controlled Japan. The Japanese people worked hard to reconstruct the cities and businesses that had been destroyed in the war. By the 1970′s, Japan had become a prosperous and successful nation.
Japan’s strong recovery led to economic troubles in the 1980′s and 1990′s. Manufacturers suffered as their products became too expensive to compete with those of developing nations. Banks lost money on loans as real estate values fell. Japan’s economic problems continued in the early 2000′s.
In March 2011, a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of Honshu. It was followed by a tsunami (series of powerful ocean waves). Thousands of people died in the disaster. Water from the tsunami damaged a nuclear power plant, causing dangerous amounts of radioactivity to be released over the surrounding area.