Officially, Japan has 16 national, government-recognized holidays. Public holidays in Japan are regulated by the Public Holiday Law (国民の祝日に関する法律 Kokumin no Shukujitsu ni Kansuru Hōritsu) of 1948. Beginning in 2000, Japan implemented the Happy Monday System, which moved a number of national holidays to Monday in order to obtain a long weekend. In 2006, the country decided to add Shōwa Day, a new national holiday, in place of Greenery Day on April 29, and to move Greenery Day to May 4. These changes took effect in 2007. In 2014, the House of Councillors decided to add Mountain Day (山の日 Yama no Hi) to the Japanese calendar on August 11, after lobbying by the Japanese Alpine Club. It is intended to coincide with the Bon Festival vacation time, giving Japanese people an opportunity to appreciate Japan’s mountains.
The national holidays in Japan are New Year’s Day on January 1, Coming of Age Day on Second Monday of January, National Foundation Day on February 11, Vernal Equinox Day on March 20 or 21, Shōwa Day on April 29, Constitution Memorial Day on May 3, Greenery Day on May 4, Children’s Day on May 5, Marine Day on Third Monday of July, Mountain Day on August 11, Respect for the Aged Day on Third Monday of September, Autumnal Equinox on September 23 or 24, Health and Sports Day on Second Monday of October, Culture Day on November 3, Labour Thanksgiving Day on November 23, and The Emperor’s Birthday on December 23.
Japan maintains one of the largest military budgets of any country in the world. The country’s military (the Japan Self-Defense Forces – JSDF) is restricted by Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which renounces Japan’s right to declare war or use military force in international disputes. Accordingly, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces is an unusual military that has never fired shots outside Japan. Japan is the highest-ranked Asian country in the Global Peace Index. The military is governed by the Ministry of Defense, and primarily consists of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is a regular participant in RIMPAC maritime exercises. The forces have been recently used in peacekeeping operations; the deployment of troops to Iraq marked the first overseas use of Japan’s military since World War II. Japan Business Federation has called on the government to lift the ban on arms exports so that Japan can join multinational projects such as the Joint Strike Fighter.
The 21st century is witnessing a rapid change in global power balance along with globalization. The security environment around Japan has become increasingly severe as represented by nuclear and missile development by North Korea. Transnational threats grounded on technological progress including international terrorism and cyber attacks are also increasing their significance. Japan, including its Self-Defense Forces, has contributed to the maximum extent possible to the efforts to maintain and restore international peace and security, such as UN peacekeeping operations. Building on the ongoing efforts as a peaceful state, the Government of Japan has been making various efforts on its security policy which include: the establishment of the National Security Council (NSC), the adoption of the National Security Strategy (NSS), and the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG). These efforts are made based on the belief that Japan, as a “Proactive Contributor to Peace”, needs to contribute more actively to the peace and stability of the region and the international community, while coordinating with other countries including its ally, the United States.
Japan has close economic and military relations with the United States; the US-Japan security alliance acts as the cornerstone of the nation’s foreign policy. A member state of the United Nations since 1956, Japan has served as a non-permanent Security Council member for a total of 20 years, most recently for 2009 and 2010. It is one of the G4 nations seeking permanent membership in the Security Council.
In May 2014, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe said Japan wanted to shed the passiveness it has maintained since the end of World War II and take more responsibility for regional security. He said Japan wanted to play a key role and offered neighboring countries Japan’s support. In recent years, they have been engaged in international peacekeeping operations including the UN peacekeeping. Recent tensions, particularly with North Korea, have reignited the debate over the status of the JSDF and its relation to Japanese society. New military guidelines, announced in December 2010, will direct the JSDF away from its Cold War focus on the former Soviet Union to a focus on China, especially regarding the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands.
The climate of Japan is predominantly temperate, but varies greatly from north to south. Japan’s geographical features divide it into six principal climatic zones: Hokkaido, Sea of Japan, Central Highland, Seto Inland Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Ryukyu Islands. The northernmost zone, Hokkaido, has a humid continental climate with long, cold winters and very warm to cool summers. Precipitation is not heavy, but the islands usually develop deep snowbanks in the winter.
In the Sea of Japan zone on Honshu’s west coast, northwest winter winds bring heavy snowfall. In the summer, the region is cooler than the Pacific area, though it sometimes experiences extremely hot temperatures because of the foehn. The Central Highland has a typical inland humid continental climate, with large temperature differences between summer and winter seasons, as well as large diurnal variation; precipitation is light, though winters are usually snowy. The mountains of the Chūgoku and Shikoku regions shelter the Seto Inland Sea from seasonal winds, bringing mild weather year-round.]
The Pacific coast features a humid subtropical climate that experiences milder winters with occasional snowfall and hot, humid summers because of the southeast seasonal wind. The Ryukyu Islands have a subtropical climate, with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very heavy, especially during the rainy season.
The average winter temperature in Japan is 5.1 °C (41.2 °F) and the average summer temperature is 25.2 °C (77.4 °F). The highest temperature ever measured in Japan 41.0 °C (105.8 °F) was recorded on August 12, 2013. The main rainy season begins in early May in Okinawa, and the rain front gradually moves north until reaching Hokkaido in late July. In most of Honshu, the rainy season begins before the middle of June and lasts about six weeks. In late summer and early autumn, typhoons often bring heavy rain.