Japan has the world's third-largest economy, having achieved remarkable growth in the second half of the 20th Century after the devastation of the Second World War.
Its role in the international community is considerable. It is a major aid donor, and a source of global capital and credit.
More than three quarters of the population live in sprawling cities on the coastal fringes of Japan's four mountainous, heavily-wooded islands.
Japan's rapid post-war expansion - propelled by highly successful car and consumer electronics industries - ran out of steam by the 1990s under a mounting debt burden that successive governments have failed to address.
Japan's relations with its neighbours are still heavily influenced by the legacy of Japanese actions before and during the Second World War. Japan has found it difficult to accept and atone for its treatment of the citizens of countries it occupied.
Head of State: Emperor Naruhito
Crown Prince Naruhito succeeded to the throne as emperor when his father Akihito abdicated on the last day of April 2019, after a reign of 30 years.
Akihito had no political power, but played an important role in working to heal the wounds of a war waged across Asia in the name of his own father, the Emperor Hirohito.
He also promoted a more approachable image of the imperial family among the Japanese public, a style that the new emperor is expected to continue.
Emperor Naruhito, who studied at Oxford University, has said that his reign will bear the name Reiwa, which "beautiful harmony".
Prime minister: Yoshihide Suga
The veteran chief secretary to the cabinet became prime minister in September 2020, on the resignation of Shinzo Abe on health grounds.
He also took over as leader of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated politics since 1945.
Mr Suga, 71, comes from a farming family, served as Mr Abe's deputy for years, and is expected to continue his policies.Shinzo Abe became prime minister for the second time in 2012 with the Liberal Democratic Party's landslide election win, going on to serve as Japan's longest serving post-war head of government.
His focus was on boosting the struggling economy and asserting Japan as a regional power, after the post-war decades of avoiding strategic commitments.
Japan's broadcasting scene is competitive and technologically-advanced.
While the use of online media and social platforms is ubiquitous, the printed press has a very high readership and is highly trusted.
Some key dates in Japan's history:
1853 - US fleet forces Japan to open up to foreign influence after over 200 years of self-imposed isolation.
1868 - Empire of Japan proclaimed, and country enters period of rapid industrialisation and imperial expansion.
1910 - Japan annexes Korea, becoming one of the world's leading powers.
1914 - Japan joins First World War on the side of Britain and her allies, gaining some Pacific islands from Germany.
1925 - Universal male suffrage is instituted.
1930s - Seizes Chinese province of Manchu, Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing amid atrocities such as the "Rape of Nanjing".
1939-45 - Second World War sees Japan occupying several Asian countries. It is defeated when US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
1945 - US occupation of devastated country; post-war recovery and political reform. Economy recovers, eventually flourishes.