Japan Immigration Work Permits and Visas
While retaining its time-honored culture, Japan rapidly absorbed Western technology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Japan has become the second most powerful economy in the world 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.
Government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) have helped Japan advance with extraordinary rapidity to the rank of second most technologically powerful economy in the world after the US and third largest economy in the world after the US and China. One notable characteristic of the economy is the working together of manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors 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.
Industry, the most important sector of the economy, is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and fuels. The much smaller 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 50% of its requirements of other grain and fodder crops. 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 1992-95 largely because of the aftereffects of overinvestment during the late 1980s and contractionary domestic policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets. Growth picked up to 3.9% in 1996, largely a reflection of stimulative fiscal and monetary policies as well as low rates of inflation.
Robotics constitutes a key long-term economic strength, with Japan possessing 410,000 of the world's 720,000 "working robots".
Japan is the subject of more gullible and misguided musings than perhaps any other place in the world: the best way to approach it is to discard your preconceptions. Somewhere between the elegant formality of Japanese manners and the candid, sometimes boisterous exchanges that take place over a few drinks, between the sanitised shopping malls and the unexpected rural festivals, everyone finds their own vision of Japan. Whether you end up taking photos of a reproduction Eiffel Tower, surfing an indoor wave, shacking up in a converted love hotel or kipping down in a capsule, you'll do best to come with an open mind and be prepared to be surprised.
Japan floats like a dismembered seahorse along the eastern rim of the Asian continent. Around 10,000 years ago, during the last big melt, sea levels rose enough to flood the land bridge connecting Japan with the mainland. Today Japan consists of a chain of islands (four major ones and some 1000 small ones) riding a 3000km (1860mi) arc of mountains, the tallest of which is the perfectly symmetrical Mt Fuji (3776m/12,385ft). Many of these mountains are volcanic, blessing the islands with numerous hot springs and spectacular scenery.
Japan's largest national park (2309 sq km/1432 sq mi) is in central Hokkaido, the northernmost and second largest of Japan's islands. The park, which consists of several mountain groups, volcanoes, lakes and forests, is spectacular hiking and skiing territory. It's almost insanely popular in summer and early autumn when you really need a few days to get away from the crowds. Sounkyo is the tourist hub of the park: there's a hot-spring resort and a gorge here, and this is a good gateway for hikes into the interior of the park. Furano is one of Japan's most famous ski resorts - its powder skiing is considered by some to be the best in the world. A short distance north-east of Furano are the remote hot-spring villages of Tokachidake Onsen and Shirogane Onsen, which make good crowd-free bases for hiking and skiiing.