PHYSICAL ECOLOGY OF JAPAN:
HIGH DENSITY, FEW NATURAL RESOURCES, TOUGH NEIGHBORHOOD
by A. Joseph Lynch
With 871 people per square mile, Japan is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, ranked fourth behind Bangladesh (2,840), India (999), and the Philippines (873) among nations with populations above 100 million - and for context at the other end of the spectrum are the United States (84.5), Brazil (62), and Russia (22). In addition to its issues of population density, however, Japan faces another demographic problem: an aging population. Over one quarter of Japan's population is over the age of 65 and sales of adult diapers in Japan are eclipsing those of infants.
Japan's physical geography generally orients its four main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu towards the Korean peninsula and Russia to the west and north (which taken together forms a perimeter around the Sea of Japan), and the Pacific Ocean to the east and south. Geopolitically speaking, this brings Japan into potentially confrontational contact with North Korea and Russia. While much media attention is given to North Korea, the dispute of the Kuril Islands (see map below) has kept Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty since the end of World War II. A 2012 poll of Japanese revealed that, with a 72% unfavorable view of Russia, Japan was the most Russophobic nation surveyed at the time.
|With its forested and mountainous terrain, only 12% of Japan is suitable for agriculture. Its geography also places Japan into close geopolitical proximity to Russia, the Korean peninsula, and China.|
Japan's past history with South Korea and China, particularly during the days of Imperial Japan, leave her in poor standing with both today. The rise of China, however, has led South Korea and Japan to move more closely towards military pacts (both have security agreements with the United States). Where the Japanese islands - numbering 6,852 in total - face China are in Kyushu and the Ryukyu islands (of which Okinawa forms the southernmost bastion). These islands play a key defensive role in containing any potential Chinese military aggression while also denying Chinese fleets entry into the Pacific. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to bolster Japan's armed forces, a defensive strategy such as this is one of his options.