The leading industrial state of Eastern Asia and of the non-Western world, Japan rivals the most advanced economic powers of the West. It rose rapidly from a crushing military defeat in World War II to achieve the fastest-growing economy of any major country in the postwar period. Today only the United States out produces it, although the industrialization of China poses a strong challenge.
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 launched Japan onto the road of modernization. The Japanese skillfully developed the technological base for modern industry and built their country into a leading world power. Set back temporarily by wartime destruction and the consequences of military defeat, Japan has again become a world power. This time, however, its reputation is based not on armed mite but on the productivity of its peacetime industry.
The Japanese people enjoy an unprecedented supply of goods. Their swelling cities, paced by the giant metropolis of Tokyo, are as modern as urban centers anywhere in the world. Japanese people face the problems that most inhabitants of great cities everywhere face overcrowded housing, inadequate waste-disposal facilities, air and water pollution, and traffic congestion.
In few other places in the world do the values and traditions of the past continue to flourish so strongly alongside the ideas and practices of the present. The persisting contrast between the new and the old, the modern and the traditional, is one of the most characteristic features of present-day Japan.
Urbanization, industrialization, and modern transportation and communication rapidly changed the Japanese way of life, the effect of these developments being keenly felt not only in the cities, but also in the countryside. However, beneath Japan's "new look" lie the deep-seated customs and institutions of traditional Japanese culture, in religion, in politics, and especially in family life. The people of Japan largely continue to respect and honor their past. Their society as a whole continues to adhere to the concepts of personal loyalty and obligation that have been a tradition through the ages.
Japan ranks high in population density and eighth in population among the world's countries. Its capital, Tokyo, is one of the world's largest cities. Japan's spectacular economic growth is the greatest of any country between 1955 and 1990. It has brought the country to the forefront of the world economy. The phrase economic miracle has been used to describe the spectacular recovery from the ravages of World War II. By the early 1990s, however, that growth had slowed and was being challenged by other countries in the Far East.

For nearly 2,000 years an intimate relationship existed between Japan and China. During much of Japan's history this relationship to China was that of pupil to teacher. As early as the 1st century AD, Japanese travelers visited the Chinese imperial court. They brought back cultural treasures that enriched Japanese life is the Buddhist religion, Confucian ethics, written language, literature, art, architecture, music, and methods of government.
In the late 19th century the coming of the Industrial Revolution to Asia changed this relationship. Japan emerged from more than two centuries of self-imposed isolation, recognizing that industrialization was a means of gaining equality with the Western powers. Mastering Western techniques, it soon built factories and created a modern army and navy.
Japan has therefore modernized relatively rapidly. Yet there are still contrasts in the everyday life of the Japanese people. Especially striking are the contrasts between the more traditional countryside and the bustling urban centers. Perhaps less than five percent of the Japanese people live in small farming villages called buraku. The way of life of these people has changed, but the traditional patterns established centuries ago can still be observed.
Rural homes are generally small by Western standards, but compared to the cramped apartments and the tiny houses typical of Japanese cities, they seem spacious. The walls are made of a clay-and-straw plaster. Kitchens traditionally had earthen floors, while the floors in the other rooms were covered with wood or reed mats. The stoves used for cooking are made of clay or brick. They are heated with such materials as straw or with compressed natural gas, which has come into widespread use. The toilet facilities are separate from the house. Water is usually obtained from wells.
The villagers usually