Japan is an island state in the Far East. The name in the local language (Nippon-koku in the classical form; Nihon-koku in the common language) derives from the Japanese reading of the Chinese name of Japan, Jih Pen Kuo (” the country of the origin of the sun”). Japan, together with the homologous forms in the other Western languages, comes from the Zipangu corruption of the same name, introduced in Europe by Marco Polo.
According to shoefrantics, the archipelagos that form the Japan count over 3000 islands, constituting two arches with concavity facing the Siberian, Korean and Chinese coasts; arches that connect, to the North with the Russian islands of Sahalin (Japanese Karafuto) and the Kuril Islands (Japanese Chishima, of which the four southernmost still claimed by Japan), and to the South with the island of Formosa (Taiwan) , for an extension of about 2400 km. Proceeding from N, the first arc, formed by the main four Japanese islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu), delimits the Sea of Japan, while the second, formed by the Ryukyu, delimits the East China Sea.
According to a calculation made in 610 AD, the population of the Japanese archipelago amounted to about 5 million residents, which grew slowly to 6 million in the 12th century. Subsequently the increase continued at a faster pace: already in the mid-18th century. there were 30 million people, a figure that remained stable for a long time, above all due to the poor living conditions of the rural population, so much so that the first modern census (1872) revealed a slightly higher number (less than 35 million). From then on, however, the growth continued very fast: 45 million in 1900; 65 in 1950, almost 127 (with a density of about 336 residents / km 2) in the first decade of the new millennium. The demographic dynamic has gone through a phase of strong growth since the early twentieth century, due to the reduction in mortality, followed by crises connected with migratory flows (especially towards the Americas) and above all with the Second World War., and a new phase of growth for the return of 6 million people from lost external territories and, even more, for a marked recovery in the post-war birth rate. Thanks also to the policies to contain births, the demographic increase soon slowed down to the ‘demographic maturity’ values (about 0.2% per year) of the early 2000s, values that go hand in hand with an increase in life expectancy between the highest in the world (85 for women, 78 for men). The traditional lack of openness to immigration has kept the number of foreigners under 2 million, despite the constant increase.
The distribution of the population has never been homogeneous, characterized as it is by large concentrations in temperate and subtropical areas: 450 residents /km 2in Honshu, against about 70 in Hokkaido, colonized for less than a century and a half, and formerly sparsely populated by only a few thousand Ainu. Considerable differences are then found within the individual islands, with the few flat areas (less than 25% of the total area of the country) crowded by over four fifths of the population, very high densities, very high urbanization rate, less than 10% of rural population and many large cities, the largest of which are: the capital, Tokyo, in first place in the world for the demographic size of its huge agglomeration (33.4 million residents in 2007, including Yokohama and Kawasaki); Osaka (16.6 million in the agglomeration, which also incorporated Kobe and Kyoto); Nagoya (8.2). The heart of Japanese urbanization is the island of Honshu and in particular the elongated axis between the two largest agglomerations, along which an urban system with the characteristics of a megalopolis has been identified. Moreover, starting from the last decade of the 20th century. we are witnessing a consistent process of population reflux from the major cities and agglomerations to surrounding areas, external to the mother cities but always strictly interconnected thanks to their network of infrastructures.
The religion professed by the vast majority of Japanese is a syncretic form of Shinto and Buddhism.