Education About Asia: Online Archives

Map of the Populations of Japan and the United States and Commentary

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By Peter Frost

When Japan is compared to the United States in maps and graphs of this sort, the differences are both profound and surprising.

On the profound side, Japan, with a population approaching half that of the U.S., has a total land area about the size of California. Note further that roughly 80 percent of these small islands are too mountainous to be inhabitable. Also, periodic earthquakes, typhoons, and heavy snows (in the so-called “snow country” of northwest Honshu) batter the country. Geography encourages divisions both between northern and southern areas, and between the Pacific coast and the “back” of Japan (ura nihon). Add to this the fact that Japan lacks most of the raw materials needed to make an industrial society, and it is easy to see why Japanese militarists prior to World War II were convinced that Japan had to expand or die. Even today, many Japanese believe that their country is small and vulnerable.