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Japan, officially Nippon-koku (日本国 ?) is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of China, Korea and Russia. The characters that make up Japan's name mean "sun-origin", which is why Japan is sometimes identified as the "Land of the Rising Sun".

Japan comprises over 3,000 islands, the largest of which are Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku. Most of the islands are mountainous, many volcanic; for example, Japan’s highest peak, Mount Fuji, is a volcano. Japan has the world's tenth largest population, with about 128 million people. The Greater Tokyo Area, which includes the capital city of Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures, is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 30 million residents.

Influence from the outside world followed by long periods of isolation has characterized Japan's history. Since adopting its constitution in 1947, Japan has maintained a unitary constitutional monarchy with an emperor and an elected parliament, the Diet.

A major economic power, Japan has the world's second largest economy by nominal GDP. It is a member of the United Nations, G8, G4, OECD and APEC, with the world's fifth largest defense budget. It is also the world's fourth largest exporter and sixth largest importer and a world leader in technology and machinery.

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Satellite image of Sakurajima volcano
Sakurajima is an active volcano and a former island (now connected to the mainland) of the same name in Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyūshū, Japan. It is a stratovolcano with the summit split into three peaks, Kitadake (northern peak), Nakadake (central peak) and Minamidake (southern peak) which is active now. The surface of the island is about 77 km². Its North Peak is Sakurajima's highest peak, rising to 1,117 metres above sea level. The mountain is located in a part of Kagoshima Bay known as Kinkō Bay. The former island is part of the city of Kagoshima. In 1914, a great eruption occurred, burying the straits with lava, thus connecting the former island to the Osumi Peninsula, so that Sakurajima is no longer an island. The volcanic activity still continues, dropping large amounts of volcanic ash on the surroundings. Earlier eruptions built the white sands highlands in the region. Sakurajima is located in the Aira caldera, formed in an enormous eruption 22,000 years ago. Several hundred cubic kilometres of ash and pumice were ejected, causing the magma chamber underneath the erupting vents to collapse. The resulting caldera is over 20 kilometers across. Tephra fell as far as 1000 km from the volcano. Sakurajima was formed by later activity within the caldera, beginning about 13,000 years ago. It lies about 8 kilometers south of the centre of the caldera. Its first eruption in recorded history occurred in 963 AD. Most of its eruptions are strombolian, affecting only the summit areas, but larger plinian eruptions have occurred in 1471-1476, 1779-1782 and 1914.

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Japanese squirrel
Credit: Ma2bara

The Japanese Squirrel (Sciurus lis) is a species of rodent that is endemic to Japan. They are reddish grey and have tufted ears and bushy tails.

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We have successfully built up our national strength and prestige, accepting and adding to our civilization the art and science of the West. Now, I believe, the time has come for us to carry our art and culture to other countries.
Kōki Hirota, diplomat, politician and the 32nd Prime Minister

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Hasekura's portrait during his mission in Rome in 1615, by Claude Deruet, Coll. Borghese, Rome
Hasekura Tsunenaga was a Japanese samurai and retainer of Date Masamune, the daimyo of Sendai. In the years 1613 through 1620, Hasekura headed a diplomatic mission to the Vatican in Rome, traveling through New Spain and visiting various ports-of-call in Europe. This historic mission is called the Keichō Embassy. On the return trip, Hasekura and his companions re-traced their route across Mexico in 1619, sailing from Acapulco for Manilla, and then sailing north to Japan in 1620. This is conventionally considered the first Japanese ambassador in the Americas and in Europe. Although Hasekura's embassy was cordially received in Europe, it happened at a time when Japan was moving toward the suppression of Christianity. European monarchs such as the King of Spain thus refused the trade agreements Hasekura had been seeking. Hasekura returned to Japan in 1620 and died of illness a year later, his embassy seemingly ending with few results in an increasingly isolationist Japan.

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Seiden (main hall) of Shuri Castle

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Coordinates: 36°30′N 139°00′E / 36.5°N 139°E / 36.5; 139

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