Cruising to Japan


In 1603, a Tokugawa shogunate (military dictatorship) ushered in a long period of isolation from foreign influence in order to secure its power. For 250 years this policy enabled Japan to enjoy stability and a flowering of its indigenous culture. Following the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854, Japan opened its ports and began to intensively modernize and industrialize. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia.

It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1933 Japan occupied Manchuria, and in 1937 it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 - triggering America's entry into World War II - and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and a staunch ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, actual power rests in networks of powerful politicians, bureaucrats, and business executives.

The economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s following three decades of unprecedented growth, but Japan still remains a major economic power, both in Asia and globally. In 2005, Japan began a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.


Location: Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula
Geographic coordinates: 36 00 N, 138 00 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 377,835 sq km; includes Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-gunto), Daito-shoto, Minami-jima, Okino-tori-shima, Ryukyu Islands (Nansei-shoto), and Volcano Islands (Kazan-retto)


29,751 km

Maritime claims

Territorial sea: 12 nm; between 3 nm and 12 nm in the international straits - La Perouse or Soya, Tsugaru, Osumi, and Eastern and Western Channels of the Korea or Tsushima Strait
Contiguous zone: 24 nm
Exclusive economic zone: 200 nm


Varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north


Mostly rugged and mountainous

Elevation extremes

Lowest point: Hachiro-gata -4 m
Highest point: Mount Fuji 3,776 m


Government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) helped Japan advance with extraordinary rapidity to the rank of second most technologically powerful economy in the world after the US and the third-largest economy in the world after the US and China, measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis. One notable characteristic of the economy is how manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors work together in closely-knit groups called keiretsu.

A second basic feature has been the guarantee of lifetime employment for a substantial portion of the urban labor force. Both features are now eroding. Japan's industrial sector is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and fuels. The tiny agricultural sector is highly subsidized and protected, with crop yields among the highest in the world. Usually self sufficient in rice, Japan must import about 60% of its food on a caloric basis. Japan maintains one of the world's largest fishing fleets and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch. For three decades, overall real economic growth had been spectacular - a 10% average in the 1960s, a 5% average in the 1970s, and a 4% average in the 1980s.

Growth slowed markedly in the 1990s, averaging just 1.7%, largely because of the after effects of overinvestment during the late 1980s and contractionary domestic policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets and to force a restructuring of the economy. From 2000 to 2003, government efforts to revive economic growth met with little success and were further hampered by the slowing of the US, European, and Asian economies.

In 2004 and 2005, growth improved and the lingering fears of deflation in prices and economic activity lessened. Japan's huge government debt, which totals 170% of GDP, and the aging of the population are two major long-run problems. Some fear that a rise in taxes could endanger the current economic recovery. Internal conflict over the proper way to reform the financial system will continue as Japan Post's banking, insurance, and delivery services undergo privatization between 2007 and 2017.


Airports: 173 (2005)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 142
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 31
Heliports: 15 (2005)
Pipelines: gas 2,719 km; oil 170 km; oil/gas/water 60 km (2004)
Railways: total: 23,577 km (16,519 km electrified)
Roadways: total: 1,177,278 km


1,770 km (seagoing vessels use inland seas) (2006)

Merchant marine

Total: 683 ships (1000 GRT or over) 10,468,077 GRT/12,050,990 DWT
By type: barge carrier 5, bulk carrier 127, cargo 30, chemical tanker 21, container 12, liquefied gas 53, passenger 14, passenger/cargo 154, petroleum tanker 157, refrigerated cargo 4, roll on/roll off 50, vehicle carrier 56
Registered in other countries: 2,351 (Australia 1, The Bahamas 51, Belize 5, Burma 4, Cambodia 2, China 2, Cyprus 17, French Southern and Antarctic Lands 4, Honduras 4, Hong Kong 64, Indonesia 4, Isle of Man 4, Liberia 100, Malaysia 1, Malta 1, Marshall Islands 5, Norway 1, Panama 1,921, Philippines 25, Portugal 9, Singapore 93, Sweden 2, Thailand 4, Vanuatu 26, unknown 1) (2005)

Sailing Specifics: Ports and terminals

Chiba, Kawasaki, Kiire, Kisarazu, Kobe, Mizushima, Nagoya, Osaka, Tokyo, Yohohama


The sovereignty dispute over the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, and Shikotan, and the Habomai group, known in Japan as the "Northern Territories" and in Russia as the "Southern Kuril Islands," occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945, now administered by Russia and claimed by Japan, remains the primary sticking point to signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II hostilities.

Japan and South Korea claim Liancourt Rocks (Take-shima/Tok-do) occupied by South Korea since 1954; China and Taiwan dispute both Japan's claims to the uninhabited islands of the Senkaku-shoto (Diaoyu Tai) and Japan's unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea, the site of intensive hydrocarbon prospecting.   

Other Sailing Destinations in the Region

Brunei - Burma - Cambodia - China - East Timor - Hong Kong - Indonesia - Japan - Macau - Malaysia - North Korea -Philippines - Russia - Singapore - South Korea - Taiwan - Thailand - Vietnam

Further Reading

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