Japan is various things, and may be described in various ways. It is an island country, located in the Pacific Ocean some way to the east of the Eurasian land-mass. It is a mountainous country, with a mere 15 per cent of the land area reasonably flat. The population is very large. Even though Japan's total land area is 151 per cent of that of the United Kingdom, and 68 per cent of that of France, the number of people living in Japan exceeds that of the UK and France combined, and is more than twice that of either. In 2002 the population was approximately 126 million. It is also, however, a rapidly ageing population, which is expected to cease growing somewhere around 2007, and then start gradually declining. These geographic and demographic factors have led to extreme concentration of population along the Pacific coast, from the Kantō region, centred on Tokyo, in the east, through the Kansai region, centred on Osaka, to the cities of northern Kyūshū in the west. This massing of people along the coastal strip has caused problems of over-crowding and environmental pollution, but has facilitated efficient transport and other infrastructure links. It also makes it easy to centralise Government and other functions. Depending on definition, Japan's Pacific coastal strip may well be the most densely populated area of land in the world. But it functions remarkably smoothly.
Japan is a resource-poor country. Most raw materials and fuels for industry have to be imported. Food is the one essential resource that Japan has the capacity to produce in adequate quantities, but in practice a high proportion of food is now imported, the main exceptions being rice and fish. But Japan possesses one resource in great abundance: a highly educated and motivated workforce. To produce such a valuable resource has required enormous organisational effort, both to train people in the right skills and to indoctrinate them in the right attitudes. The Japanese term kin'yoku, which literally means 'forbidding desire', and may be roughly translated as 'asceticism', is relevant here.
Japan is a relatively homogeneous country, so far as its people are concerned. Perhaps more accurately, people think they are homogeneous, and some social engineering over the past century and a half has been required to bring this about. A single language predominates, and today there is no significant linguistic divide. Religious groups are many and various, old and new, but with a few exceptions (one of which is important) the idea of religious tolerance prevails [see also RELIGION AND POLITICS]. Different regions compete with each other for their share of tax revenue, Government subsidies and capital investment, but they do not threaten to fight each other. Broadly speaking, one part of urban Japan looks much like most other parts of urban Japan. For the most part people