Island nation in the northwest Pacific Ocean off the coast of east Asia, separated by the Sea of Japan from Russian Siberia, China, and Korea. The Japanese archipelago includes four major islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku) as well as many smaller islands. Its capital and largest city is Tokyo.
Note: Called the “Land of the Rising Sun,” Japan is symbolized by a red sun on a white background.
Note: Another symbol of Japan is Fujiyama, also called Mount Fuji, a volcano whose symmetrical snow-capped peak has been the object of countless pilgrimages, poems, and paintings. It has not erupted since 1707.
Note: Imperial Japan was organized on a feudal system (see feudalism), characterized by the samurai (the warrior class, which eventually became landed gentry) and the shogun (the hereditary administrative leader). The emperor, believed to be divine, was the ceremonial leader. Japan is a constitutional monarchy today.
Note: Japan's ports were first opened to Western traders in the sixteenth century but were closed in the seventeenth century. Japan remained in virtual isolation until the 1850s, when an American naval officer, Matthew C. Perry, persuaded the government to reopen trade with the West.
Note: Suffering from overcrowding, lack of natural resources, and the influence of powerful military factions, Japan pursued an aggressive policy of expansion in China during the 1930s, ultimately resulting in a military alliance with Germany and Italy to form the Axis powers in World War II. (See also Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor, and Douglas MacArthur.)
Note: Although a world leader in shipbuilding, electronics, and automobile manufacture, Japan's economy suffered a severe slump during the 1990s.