Japan Country Guide

by Jose Marc Castro on August 5, 2009

movingtojapanIMAGE200Situated in the Pacific Ocean, Japan consists of an amazing three thousand separate islands, although not all are inhabited – many being the result of volcanic activity over the years.  The country is surrounded by China, Korea and Russia and is often referred to as the corridor between the East and the West.

Japan has a population in the region of 128 million, although it is a mass of contradictions with the capital city of Tokyo boasting a population of some 30 million – the worlds largest metropolitan area.  Once a fairly secretive and private society, expanding trade links with the west have resulted in an interesting mix of old and new cultures influenced by Expats living in Japan .

Along with the US, Japan has a major influence on the worldwide economy, and is a member of NATO, the G8 and a host of other vital worldwide organizations.  Japan is a major economic power, with the world’s second largest economy in terms of nominal GDP and the third largest in purchasing power parity. It is also the fourth largest exporter and sixth largest importer in the world. It has the highest life expectancy in the world and ranks tenth worldwide in the Human Development Index and has the third lowest infant mortality rate.

Contents: Economy in JapanProspects in JapanJapan Facts

Economy in Japan

The Japanese economy is one of the power houses of the world, ranked number two behind the United States.  For many years the country has thrived on a very successful partnership between the government and industry, an ability to embrace and develop new technology as well as one of the strongest work ethics in the world.

The economy is dominated by a vast array of major industries including Banking, Insurance, Real Estate, Transport and Telecoms not to mention the historical hot spots of motor vehicles, electronic equipment and machine tools to name but a few.  There is no doubt that this is one of the boom economies of the world, although there was a slight dip in productivity in the 1990s, due in the main to an investment boom and the subsequent actions of the authorities to slow the run away economy. The Japanese service sector accounts for three quarters of the country’s gross domestic product.

The rate of unemployment is 4 % which may surprise some, bearing in mind the strength of the economy, but this is the lowest for nearly a year.  There are an array of personal taxes which average out at between 20% and 24% of income. The country has a high welfare estate due to the famous family culture of the country.

While Japan is a leader in the likes of Finance and Electronics, Agriculture is a weak point with only 15% of Japanese land suitable for agricultural use.  This has resulted in the country importing the majority of agricultural requirements, which has focused the economy even more towards technology and finance as a way of balancing the trade deficit.

The country has benefited from the government’s often ruthless approach to sorting out problems areas, with numerous tax initiatives used to cool down an often booming economy.  The property market also receives specific assistance as prime land is scarce in Japan, although the authorities have never been averse to intervening to ward off speculators trying to make a quick buck. Even the private sector has become part of this trend, instituting their own processes and methods to increase productivity at lowered cost, in such methods well known as “The Toyota Way” and other business habits.

Prospects in Japan

The long term prospects of Japan are very positive, despite the fact that many market observers have highlighted the intervention of the government in many areas. There is also growing concern as to its extensive links to the United States, which is now in the midst of a recession. The adage often used is that “when the United States sneezes, Japan gets the flu.”  While this is not necessarily the way in which Western governments react and intervene, it has proved very successful for Japan.

They have managed to both embrace a variety of Western cultures. The country has also influenced Western cultures while also being able to retain their historical identity.  The country is fast becoming the employment area of choice for professionals in a number of vital areas of business, including finance.  The country also houses some of the largest multi-national companies in the world, expanding the Japanese work ethic overseas.

Japan will always continue to attract a vast array of professionals due to the working environment, remuneration and standard of living, not to mention the employment prospects for the future.

This prospect of employment was reflected in a post at the Japan Expat Forum last June 22, 2008:

I have been to Japan several times. The city centers tend to be full of “beautiful people.” One has to wonder where those less blessed spend their time. As stated, it appears to be somewhere out of sight.

I am not an expert. However, modern Japan comes across to me as a dichotomy. It is a beautiful, clean and efficient place – however, it also comes across as cold, even cruel at times. As I said in another post, if you offer value to those around you, they can be the greatest hosts in the world. The food and service are fabulous and one can start to feel like a movie star in short order.

Key Facts of Japan:

Bordered by China, Korea and Russia

Food: Rice and Seafood

Temperature: Sub Zero to Tropical

Industries: Finance, Transport and Electronics

Education: 70% – 80% of Japanese Students go on to further eduation

Health: Life expectancy 82 years

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