Japan has the world's third-largest economy, having achieved remarkable growth in the second half of the 20th Century after the devastation of the Second World War.
Its role in the international community is considerable. It is a major aid donor, and a source of global capital and credit.
More than three quarters of the population live in sprawling cities on the coastal fringes of Japan's four mountainous, heavily-wooded islands.
Japan's rapid post-war expansion - propelled by highly successful car and consumer electronics industries - ran out of steam by the 1990s under a mounting debt burden that successive governments have failed to address.
Japan's relations with its neighbours are still heavily influenced by the legacy of Japanese actions before and during the Second World War. Japan has found it difficult to accept and atone for its treatment of the citizens of countries it occupied.