Japan is a country in East Europe. It comprises four main islands to the east of the Sea of Japan, namely Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, and with over six thousand smaller islands and islets within an archipelago. Countries neighboring Japan includes South Korea, North Korea, China and Russia. The name Japan means “origin of the sun”, which is why the country is often called “Land of the Rising Sun”.

Japan covers an area of 377,944 sq km (145,925 sq mi). The country has a population of 127 million people concentrated mostly in the densely populated Kanto and Kansai plains. Its capital, Tokyo, is a metropolis with a population exceeding 35million people, making it one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world.

The modern English name for Japan differs from the official Japanese name of the country, Nippon/Nihon. This is due to influence from early trade routes. Chinese traders of Fujian descent called the country Jit Pun, which became Jepun in Malay, Jepang in Indonesian, and eventually Japan in English.

Japan comprises 47 administrative regions known as prefectures. The prefectures include one metropolis (Tokyo), one “circuit” (Hokkaido), two urban prefectures (Osaka and Kyoto), and 43 “ken” (regional prefectures).

The metropolis of Tokyo is subdivided into administrative divisions called ward, of which there are 15. Hokkaido is divided into 14 subprefectures, each with a branch office (“shicho”) of the prefecture. The regional prefectures are subdivided into cities (“shi”) and districts (“gun”).

Japan is today the world’s second largest economy, and third largest in terms of purchasing power parity. It is also the world’s fourth largest exporter and fifth largest importer. It is a developed nation with a very high standard of living, with the 10th highest Human Development Index. It also has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world, and the third lowest infant mortality rate.

Visiting Japan

Japan is often perceived as an extremely expensive destination. While it is certainly more expensive than many others in Asia, visitors are still able to enjoy a visit to Japan on a limited budget. It is certain not any more expensive than visiting countries in Western Europe or North America.

Many people come to Japan to enjoy an exotic destination which has managed to preserve its heritage while remaining at the cutting edge of science and technology. There is much to see in Japan that can be considered unique, and hence, exotic to foreign visitors. The people has preserved and developed their culture to a degree that few has achieved, free from excessive interference from outsiders. The country “borrows” heavily from its neighbors as well as from the West, readapting the borrow and turning it into a hybrid which is their own.

The majority of overseas visitors arrive in Japan at either Narita Airport near Tokyo, or Kansai Airport near Osaka. A smaller number also uses the Chubu International Airport near Nagoya. Find out from the Japanese embassy nearest you whether you would need a visa for entry to Japan. Citizens of 61 countries and territories don’t, but to curb the influx of illegal immigrants into the country, Japan has placed visa requirements on most nationals of Asian countries. Upon arriving, you are required to undergo electronic fingerprinting, refusal of which is ground to deny you entry.

Japan has one of the best train network in the world. It can be exceedingly complex, but if you know exactly where you are going, you will have little problem getting there. Traveling in Japan is very expensive compared to other countries in Asia. However, whether you are using road or rail, you can expect everything to be maintained at tip-top condition.

The fastest way to go from one big city to another is to take the famous bullet train, called the Shinkansen, operated by Japan Railways Group, JR, which was once a single entity, but now broken into seven different companies, six servicing different regions of Japan, and one for freight. JR does not have an exclusive monopoly on all the railway lines in the country, but it pretty much covers the needs of most. If you intend to travel by train extensively, you should get the Japan Rail Pass, allowing you unlimited travel on (almost all) JR trains, including the Shinkansen for fixed periods of 7, 14 and 21 days. It can only be purchased outside Japan, but is a true money saver (a round trip between Tokyo and Osaka costs almost ¥29,000 alone, compared to the price of the 7-day Rail Pass of ¥28,300.)

An alternative to the Japan Rail Pass is the Shinkansen Tour. It is exclusive to foreigners only, but can be bought in Japan itself, allowing you excellent discounts plus accommodation to visit selected destinations in the country.

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