South Asia

South Asia

South Asia
South Asia (orthographic projection).svg
Area 5,134,641 km2 (1,982,496 sq mi)
Population 1,814,014,121 (2018) (1st)[1][2]
Population density 362.3/km2 (938/sq mi)
GDP (nominal) $3.461 trillion (2018)[3]
GDP (PPP) $12.752 trillion (2018)[3]
GDP per capita $1,908 (nominal)[3]
$7,029 (PPP)[3]
HDI Increase0.638 (medium)
Ethnic groups Indo-AryanDravidianSino-TibetanAustroasiaticIranian, etc.
Religions BuddhismChristianityHinduismIslamJainismSikhismZoroastrianism, Other
Demonym South Asian
Time zones
Internet TLD .af.bd.bt.in,
Calling code Zone 8 & 9
Largest cities

[note 1]

UN M49 code 034 – Southern Asia
142 – Asia
001 – World

South Asia, or Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan SAARC countries and, for some authorities, adjoining countries to the west and east. Topographically, it is dominated by the Indian Plate, which rises above sea level as Nepal and northern parts of India situated south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush. South Asia is bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean and on land (clockwise, from west) by West AsiaCentral AsiaEast Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The current territories of AfghanistanBangladeshBhutanMaldivesNepalIndiaPakistan, and Sri Lanka form South Asia.[4] The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic cooperation organisation in the region which was established in 1985 and includes all eight nations comprising South Asia.[5]

South Asia covers about 5.2 million km2 (2 million mi2), which is 11.71% of the Asian continent or 3.5% of the world’s land surface area.[4] The population of South Asia is about 1.891 billion or about one fourth of the world’s population, making it both the most populous and the most densely populated geographical region in the world.[6] Overall, it accounts for about 39.49% of Asia’s population, over 24% of the world’s population, and is home to a vast array of people.[7][8][9]

In 2010, South Asia had the world’s largest population of HindusJains and Sikhs. It alone accounted for 98.47% population of global Hindus and 90.5% of global Sikhs. It also has the largest population of Muslims in the Asia-Pacific region which forms one third global Muslim population[10][11] as well as over 35 million Christians and 25 million Buddhists.[12]


United Nations cartographic map of South Asia.[13] However, the United Nations does not endorse any definitions or area boundaries.[note 2]

The total area of South Asia and its geographical extent is not clear cut as systemic and foreign policy orientations of its constituents are quite asymmetrical.[14] Aside from the central region of South Asia, formerly part of the British Empire, there is a high degree of variation as to which other countries are included in South Asia.[15][16][17][18]

Modern definitions of South Asia are consistent in including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives as the constituent countries.[19][20][21][22][23][24] Myanmar is included by some scholars in South Asia, but in Southeast Asia by others.[16][25] Some do not include Afghanistan,[16] others question whether Afghanistan should be considered a part of South Asia or the Middle East.[26][27]

The current territories of BangladeshIndia, and Pakistan, which were the core of the British Empire from 1857 to 1947, form the central region of South Asia, in addition to Afghanistan,[19][20][21][22][23][24] which was a British protectorate until 1919, after the Second Anglo-Afghan war. The mountain countries of Nepal and Bhutan, and the island countries of Sri Lanka and Maldives are generally included as well. Myanmar (formerly Burma) is often added, and by various deviating definitions based on often substantially different reasons, the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Tibet Autonomous Region are included as well.[14][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35]

The common concept of South Asia is largely inherited from the administrative boundaries of the British Raj,[36] with several exceptions. The Aden ColonyBritish Somaliland and Singapore, though administered at various times under the Raj, have not been proposed as any part of South Asia.[37] Additionally Burma was administered as part of the Raj until 1937, but is now considered a part of Southeast Asia and is a member state of ASEAN. The 562 princely states that were protected by but not directly ruled by the Raj became administrative parts of South Asia upon joining Union of India or Dominion of Pakistan.[38][39][40] Geopolitically, it had formed the whole territory of Greater India,[25][41]

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a contiguous block of countries, started in 1985 with seven countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and added Afghanistan as an eighth member in 2007.[42][43] China and Myanmar have also applied for the status of full members of SAARC.[44][45] This bloc of countries include two independent countries that were not part of the British Raj – Nepal, and Bhutan. Afghanistan was a British protectorate from 1878 until 1919, after the Afghans lost to the British in the Second Anglo-Afghan war. The World Factbook, based on geo-politics, people, and economy defines South Asia as comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, British Indian Ocean Territory, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.[46] The South Asia Free Trade Agreement incorporated Afghanistan in 2011, and the World Bank grouping of countries in the region also includes all eight members comprising South Asia and SAARC as well,[47][48] and the same goes for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).[49][50]

Definition by South Asian Studies programs

When the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge was established, in 1964, it promoted the study of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, BangladeshAfghanistan,[51][52][53][54] the Himalayan Kingdoms (NepalBhutan, and Sikkim[55]), and Burma (now Myanmar). It has since included ThailandMalaysiaSingaporeVietnamCambodiaLaosIndonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong.[56]The Centres for South Asian Studies at both the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia include Tibet along with the eight members of SAARC in their research programs, but exclude the Maldives.[57][58] The South Asian Studies Program of Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley Centre for South Asia Studies also include the Maldives.[59][60]

The South Asian Studies Program of Brandeis University defines the region as comprising “India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and in certain contexts Afghanistan, Burma, Maldives and Tibet”.[61] The similar program of Columbia University includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in their study and excludes Burma.[62]

The United Nations Statistics Division’s scheme of sub-regions include all eight members of the SAARC as part of Southern Asia, along with Iran[63] only for statistical purposes.[64] Population Information Network (POPIN) includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as part of South Asia. Maldives, in view of its characteristics, was admitted as a member Pacific POPIN subregional network only in principle.[65] The Hirschman–Herfindahl index of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the region includes only the original seven signatories of SAARC.[66]

The British Indian Ocean Territory is connected to the region by a publication of Jane’s for security considerations.[67] The region may also include the disputed territory of Aksai Chin, which was part of the British Indian princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, but is now administered as part of the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang.[68]

The inclusion of Myanmar in South Asia is without consensus, with many considering it a part of Southeast Asia and others including it within South Asia.[16][25] Afghanistan was of importance to the British colonial empire, especially after the Second Anglo-Afghan War over 1878–1880. Afghanistan remained a British protectorate until 1919, when a treaty with Vladimir Lenin included the granting of independence to Afghanistan. Following India’s partition, Afghanistan has generally been included in South Asia, with some considering it a part of Southwest Asia.[14] During the Soviet–Afghan War (1979–1989) American foreign policy considered Pakistan and Afghanistan in Southwest Asia, while others included it as a part of South Asia.[4] There is no universal agreement among scholars on which countries should be included within South Asia.[16]

In the past, a lack of a coherent definition for South Asia resulted in not only a lack of academic studies, but also in a lack interest for such studies.[69] The confusion existed also because of the lack of a clear boundary – geographically, geopolitical, socio-culturally, economically or historically – between South Asia and other parts of Asia, especially the Middle East and Southeast Asia.[70] Identification with a South Asian identity was also found to be significantly low among respondents in an older two-year survey across Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.[71] However, modern definitions of South Asia are very consistent in including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives as the constituent countries.[19][20][21][22][23][24]

Indian subcontinent[edit]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “subcontinent” signifies a “subdivision of a continent which has a distinct geographical, political, or cultural identity” and also a “large land mass somewhat smaller than a continent”.[72][73] Historians Catherine Asher and Cynthia Talbot state that the term “Indian subcontinent” describes a natural physical landmass in South Asia that has been relatively isolated from the rest of Eurasia.[74] The Indian subcontinent is also a geological term referring to the land mass that drifted northeastwards from ancient Gondwana, colliding with the Eurasian plate nearly 55 million years ago, towards the end of Palaeocene. This geological region largely includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.[75]

The use of the term Indian subcontinent began in the British Empire, and has been a term particularly common in its successors.[76] This region has also been labelled as “India” (in its classical and pre-modern sense), “Greater India”, or as South Asia.[25][41]

According to anthropologist John R. Lukacs, “the Indian Subcontinent occupies the major landmass of South Asia”,[77] while the political science professor Tatu Vanhanen states, “the seven countries of South Asia constitute geographically a compact region around the Indian Subcontinent”.[78] According to Chris Brewster, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan constitute the Indian subcontinent; with Afghanistan and Maldives included it is more commonly referred to as South Asia.[79] The geopolitical boundaries of Indian subcontinent, according to Dhavendra Kumar, include “India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and other small islands of the Indian Ocean”.[80] Maldives, the country consisting of a small archipelago southwest of the peninsula, is considered part of the Indian subcontinent.[81]

The terms “Indian subcontinent” and “South Asia” are sometimes used interchangeably.[28][76] The South Asia term is particularly common when scholars or officials seek to differentiate this region from East Asia.[82] According to historians Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, the Indian subcontinent has come to be known as South Asia “in more recent and neutral parlance.”[83] This “neutral” notion refers to the concerns of Pakistan and Bangladesh, particularly given the recurring conflicts between India and Pakistan, wherein the dominant placement of “India” as a prefix before the subcontinent might offend some political sentiments.[25]

There is no globally accepted definition on which countries are a part of South Asia or Indian subcontinent.[16][17][18] While Afghanistan is not considered as a part of the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan is often included in South Asia.[18] Similarly, Myanmar is included by some scholars in South Asia but not in Indian subcontinent.[25]


Ancient era[edit]

The history of core South Asia begins with evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens, as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago.[84] The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of South Asia from c. 3300 to 1300 BCE in present-day Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, was the first major civilization in South Asia.[85] A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the Mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 BCE.[86]

The earliest prehistoric culture have roots in the mesolithic sites as evidenced by the rock paintings of Bhimbetka rock shelters dating to a period of 30,000 BCE or older,[note 3] as well as neolithic times.[note 4] According to anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization provides a logical, if somewhat arbitrary, starting point for South Asian religions, but these links from the Indus religion to later-day South Asian traditions are subject to scholarly dispute.[87]

The Trimurti is the trinity of supreme divinity in Hinduism, typically Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer

The Vedic period, named after the Vedic religion of the Indo-Aryans,[note 5] lasted from c. 1900 to 500 BCE.[89][90] The Indo-Aryans were pastoralists[91] who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization,[88][92] Linguistic and archaeological data show a cultural change after 1500 BCE,[88] with the linguistic and religious data clearly showing links with Indo-European languages and religion.[93] By about 1200 BCE, the Vedic culture and agrarian lifestyle was established in the northwest and northern Gangetic plain of South Asia.[91][94][95] Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-Pañcāla union was the most influential.[96][97] The first recorded state-level society in South Asia existed around 1000 BCE.[91] In this period, states Samuel, emerged the Brahmana and Aranyaka layers of Vedic texts, which merged into the earliest Upanishads.[98] These texts began to ask the meaning of a ritual, adding increasing levels of philosophical and metaphysical speculation,[98] or “Hindu synthesis”.[99]

Increasing urbanisation of India between 800 and 400 BCE, and possibly the spread of urban diseases, contributed to the rise of ascetic movements and of new ideas which challenged the orthodox Brahmanism.[100] These ideas led to Sramana movements, of which Mahavira (c. 549–477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563-483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons.[101]

The Greek army led by Alexander the Great stayed in the Hindu Kush region of South Asia for several years and then later moved into the Indus valley region. Later, the Maurya Empire extended over much of South Asia in the 3rd century BCE. Buddhism spread beyond south Asia, through northwest into Central Asia. The Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan and the edicts of Aśoka suggest that the Buddhist monks spread Buddhism (Dharma) in eastern provinces of the Seleucid Empire, and possibly even farther into West Asia.[102][103][104] The Theravada school spread south from India in the 3rd century BCE, to Sri Lanka, later to Southeast Asia.[105] Buddhism, by the last centuries of the 1st millennium BCE, was prominent in the Himalayan region, Gandhara, Hindu Kush region and Bactria.[106][107][108]

From about 500 BCE through about 300 CE, the Vedic-Brahmanic synthesis or “Hindu synthesis” continued.[99] Classical Hindu and Sramanic (particularly Buddhist) ideas spread within South Asia, as well outside South Asia.[109][110][111] The Gupta Empire ruled over a large part of the region between 4th and 7th centuries, a period that saw the construction of major temples, monasteries and universities such as the Nalanda.[112][113][114] During this era, and through the 10th century, numerous cave monasteries and temples such as the Ajanta CavesBadami cave temples and Ellora Caves were built in South Asia.[115][116][117]

Medieval era[edit]

Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur defeats the Sultan of Delhi, Nasir-u Din Mehmud, in the winter of 1397–1398

Islam came as a political power in the fringe of South Asia in 8th century CE when the Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Multan in southern Punjab in modern-day Pakistan.[118] By 962 CE, Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in South Asia were under a wave of raids from Muslim armies from Central Asia.[119] Among them was Mahmud of Ghazni, who raided and plundered kingdoms in north India from east of the Indus river to west of Yamuna river seventeen times between 997 and 1030.[120] Mahmud of Ghazni raided the treasuries but retracted each time, only extending Islamic rule into western Punjab.[121][122]

The wave of raids on north Indian and western Indian kingdoms by Muslim warlords continued after Mahmud of Ghazni, plundering and looting these kingdoms.[123] The raids did not establish or extend permanent boundaries of their Islamic kingdoms. The Ghurid Sultan Mu’izz al-Din Muhammad began a systematic war of expansion into North India in 1173.[124] He sought to carve out a principality for himself by expanding the Islamic world.[120][125] Mu’izz sought a Sunni Islamic kingdom of his own extending east of the Indus river, and he thus laid the foundation for the Muslim kingdom that became the Delhi Sultanate.[120] Some historians chronicle the Delhi Sultanate from 1192 due to the presence and geographical claims of Mu’izz al-Din in South Asia by that time.[126] The Delhi Sultanate covered varying parts of South Asia, and was ruled by a series of dynasties, called Mamluk, Khalji, Tughlaq, Sayyid and Lodi dynasties. Muhammad bin Tughlaq came to power in 1325, launched a war of expansion and the Delhi Sultanate reached it largest geographical reach over the South Asian region during his 26-year rule.[127] A Sunni Sultan, Muhammad bin Tughlaq persecuted non-Muslims such as Hindus, as well as non-Sunni Muslims such as Shia and Mahdi sects.[128][129][130]

Revolts against the Delhi Sultanate sprang up in many parts of South Asia during the 14th century. After the death of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the Bengal Sultanate came to power in 1352 CE, as the Delhi Sultanate began disintegrating. The Bengal Sultanate remained in power through the early 16th century. It was reconquered by the armies of the Mughal Empire. The state religion of the Bengal Sultanate was Islam, and the region under its rule, a region that ultimately emerged as the modern nation of Bangladesh, saw a growth of a syncretic form of Islam.[131][132] In the Deccan region, the Hindu kingdom Vijayanagara Empire came to power in 1336 and remained in power through the 16th century, after which it too was reconquered and absorbed into the Mughal Empire.[133][134]

About 1526, the Punjab governor Dawlat Khan Lodī reached out to the Mughal Babur and invited him to attack Delhi Sultanate. Babur defeated and killed Ibrahim Lodi in the Battle of Panipat in 1526. The death of Ibrahim Lodi ended the Delhi Sultanate, and the Mughal Empire replaced it.[135]

Modern era[edit]

Emperor Shah Jahan and Prince Aurangzeb in Mughal Court, 1650

The modern history period of South Asia, that is 16th-century onwards, witnessed the start of the Central Asian dynasty named the Mughals, with Turkish-Mongol roots and Sunni Islam theology. The first ruler was Babur, whose empire extended the northwest and Indo-Gangetic Plain regions of South Asia. The Deccan and northeastern region of the South Asia was largely under Hindu kings such as those of Vijayanagara Empire and Ahom kingdom,[136] with some regions such as parts of modern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh under local Sultanates such as the Shia Islamic rulers of Golconda Sultanate.[137]

British Indian Empire in 1909. British India is shaded pink, the princely states yellow.

The Mughal Empire continued its wars of expansion after Babur’s death. With the fall of the Rajput kingdoms and Vijayanagara, its boundaries encompassed almost the entirety of the Indian subcontinent.[138] The Mughal Empire was marked by a period of artistic exchanges and a Central Asian and South Asian architecture synthesis, with remarkable buildings such as the Taj Mahal.[139] At its height, the empire was the world’s largest economy, worth almost 25% of global GDP, more than the entirety of Western Europe.[140][141]

However, this time also marked an extended period of religious persecution.[142] Two of the religious leaders of SikhismGuru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur were arrested under orders of the Mughal emperors, asked to convert to Islam, and executed when they refused.[143][144][145] Religious taxes on non-Muslims called jizya were imposed. Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples were desecrated. However, not all Muslim rulers persecuted non-Muslims. Akbar, a Mughal ruler for example, sought religious tolerance and abolished jizya.[146][147][148][149]

In Aurangzeb’s time, almost all of South Asia was claimed by the Mughal Empire. Through Aurangzeb‘s Islamic Sharia based rule, South Asia reached its zenith, becoming the world’s largest economy and biggest manufacturing power, estimated over 25% of world GDP, a value higher than China’s and the entire Western Europe’s one.[140][141]

The economic developments on South Asia waved the period of proto-industrialization.[150]

After the death of Aurangzeb and the collapse of the Mughal Empire, which marks the beginning of modern India, in the early 18th century, it provided opportunities for the MarathasSikhsMysoreans and Nawabs of Bengal to exercise control over large regions of the Indian subcontinent.[151][152]

Maritime trading between South Asia and European merchants began after the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama returned to Europe. British, French, Portuguese colonial interests struck treaties with these rulers, and established their trading ports. In northwest South Asia, a large region was consolidated into the Sikh Empire by Ranjit Singh.[153][154] After the defeat of the Nawab of Bengal and Tipu Sultan and his French allies, the British Empire expanded their interests till the Hindu Kush region. In the east, the Bengal region was split into Muslim East Bengal and Hindu West Bengal, by the colonial British empire, in early 1900s, a split that was reversed. However, after the World War II, at the eve of India’s independence, the region was split again into East Pakistan and West Bengal. East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971.[155][156]


The Indian peninsula, and the Himalayas on the northeast, is the result of the collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate through tectonic activity between 20 and 50 million years ago.

According to Saul Cohen, early colonial era strategists treated South Asia with East Asia, but in reality the South Asia region excluding Afghanistan is a distinct geopolitical region separated from other nearby geostrategic realms, one that is geographically diverse.[157] The region is home to a variety of geographical features, such as glaciersrainforestsvalleysdeserts, and grasslands that are typical of much larger continents. It is surrounded by three water bodies – the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea – and has acutely varied climate zones. The tip of the Indian Peninsula had the highest quality pearls.[158]


While South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity

The boundaries of South Asia vary based on how the region is defined. South Asia’s northern, eastern, and western boundaries vary based on definitions used, while the Indian Ocean is the southern periphery. Most of this region rests on the Indian Plate and is isolated from the rest of Asia by mountain barriers.[159][160] Much of the region consists of a peninsula in south-central Asia, rather resembling a diamond which is delineated by the Himalayas on the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east,[161] and which extends southward into the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea to the southwest and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast.[28][30]

According to Robert M. Cutler – a scholar of Political Science at Carleton University,[162] the terms South Asia, Southwest Asia and Central Asia are distinct, but the confusion and disagreements have arisen due to the geopolitical movement to enlarge these regions into Greater South Asia, Greater Southwest Asia and Greater Central Asia. The frontier of Greater South Asia, states Cutler, between 2001–2006 has been geopolitically extended to eastern Iran and western Afghanistan in the west, and in the north to northeastern Iran, northern Afghanistan, and southern Uzbekistan.[162]

Indian plate[edit]

Most of this region is resting on the Indian Plate, the northerly portion of the Indo-Australian Plate, separated from the rest of the Eurasian Plate. The Indian Plate includes most of South Asia, forming a land mass which extends from the Himalayas into a portion of the basin under the Indian Ocean, including parts of South China and Eastern Indonesia, as well as Kunlun and Karakoram ranges,[163][164] and extending up to but not including LadakhKohistan, the Hindu Kush range and Balochistan.[165][166][167] It may be noted that geophysically the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet is situated at the outside of the border of the regional structure, while the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are situated inside that border.[168]

It was once a small continent before colliding with the Eurasian Plate about 50–55 million years ago and giving birth to the Himalayan range and the Tibetan plateau. It is the peninsular region south of the Himalayas and Kuen Lun mountain ranges and east of the Indus River and the Iranian Plateau, extending southward into the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Sea (to the southwest) and the Bay of Bengal (to the southeast).


The climate of this vast region varies considerably from area to area from tropical monsoon in the south to temperate in the north. The variety is influenced by not only the altitude, but also by factors such as proximity to the sea coast and the seasonal impact of the monsoons. Southern parts are mostly hot in summers and receive rain during monsoon periods. The northern belt of Indo-Gangetic plains also is hot in summer, but cooler in winter. The mountainous north is colder and receives snowfall at higher altitudes of Himalayan ranges.

As the Himalayas block the north-Asian bitter cold winds, the temperatures are considerably moderate in the plains down below. For most part, the climate of the region is called the Monsoon climate, which keeps the region humid during summer and dry during winter, and favours the cultivation of jutetearice, and various vegetables in this region.

South Asia is largely divided into four broad climate zones:[170]

Maximum relative humidity of over 80% has been recorded in Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Sri Lanka, while the area adjustment to Pakistan and western India records lower than 20%–30%.[170] Climate of South Asia is largely characterized by monsoons. South Asia depends critically on monsoon rainfall.[171] Two monsoon systems exist in the region:[172]

  • The summer monsoon: Wind blows from southwest to most of parts of the region. It accounts for 70%–90% of the annual precipitation.
  • The winter monsoon: Wind blows from northeast. Dominant in Sri Lanka and Maldives.

The warmest period of the year precedes the monsoon season (March to mid June). In the summer the low pressures are centered over the Indus-Gangetic Plain and high wind from the Indian Ocean blows towards the center. The monsoons are second coolest season of the year because of high humidity and cloud covering. But, at the beginning of June the jetstreams vanish above the Tibetan Plateau, low pressure over the Indus Valley deepens and the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) moves in. The change is violent. Moderately vigorous monsoon depressions form in the Bay of Bengal and make landfall from June to September.[170]

Land and water area[edit]

This list includes dependent territories within their sovereign states (including uninhabited territories), but does not include claims on Antarctica. EEZ+TIA is exclusive economic zone (EEZ) plus total internal area (TIA) which includes land and internal waters.

Rank Country Area EEZ Shelf EEZ+TIA
1  India 3,287,263 2,305,143 402,996 5,592,406
2  Pakistan 881,913 290,000 51,383 1,117,911
3  Afghanistan 652,864 0 0 652,864
4  Bangladesh 147,570 86,392 66,438 230,390
5    Nepal 147,181 0 0 147,181
6  Sri Lanka 65,610 532,619 32,453 598,229
7  Bhutan 38,394 0 0 38,394
8  Maldives 298 923,322 34,538 923,622
Total 5,221,093 4,137,476 587,808 9,300,997

Regional groups of countries[edit]

Name of country/region, with flag Area
Population Population density
(per km2)
Capital or Secretariat Currency Countries included Official languages Coat of Arms
Core Definition (above) of South Asia 5,220,460 1,726,907,000 330.79 N/A N/A AfghanistanBangladeshBhutanIndiaMaldivesNepalPakistanSri Lanka N/A N/A
UNSD of South Asia 6,778,083 1,702,000,000 270.77 N/A N/A AfghanistanBangladeshBhutanIndiaIranMaldivesNepalPakistanSri Lanka N/A N/A
SAARC 4,637,469 1,626,000,000 350.6 Kathmandu N/A AfghanistanBangladeshBhutanIndiaMaldivesNepalPakistanSri Lanka English N/A
BBIN 3,499,559 1,465,236,000 418.69 N/A N/A BangladeshBhutanIndiaNepal N/A N/A
SASEC 3,565,467 1,485,909,931 416.75 N/A N/A BangladeshBhutanIndiaNepalSri LankaMaldives N/A N/A

Demographics and population projections[edit]

The population of South Asia is about 1.749 billion which makes it the most populated region in the world.[173] It is socially very mixed, consisting of many language groups and religions, and social practices in one region that are vastly different from those in another.[174]

Largest urban areas[edit]

South Asia is home to some of the most populated cities in the world. DhakaDelhiMumbai and Karachi are four of the world’s largest megacities.

Rank City State/Province Country Population[175] Area (km2)[175] Density (/km2)[175] Classification
1 Delhi National Capital Region  India 29,399,141 2,072 12,100 Capital region
2 Dhaka Dhaka Division  Bangladesh 20,283,552 360 43,500 Capital city
3 Mumbai Maharashtra  India 20,185,064 546 32,400 Megacity
4 Karachi Sindh  Pakistan 20,431,848 945 23,400 Metropolis
5 Kolkata West Bengal  India 14,667,000 1,204 12,200 Megacity
6 Lahore Punjab  Pakistan 12,414,000 790 12,700 Megacity
7 Bengaluru Karnataka  India 10,248,000 1,116 8,400 Megacity
8 Chennai Tamil Nadu  India 9,714,000 375 25,900 Metropolis
9 Hyderabad Telangana  India 8,754,000 971 10,000 Metropolis
10 Ahmedabad Gujarat  India 7,186,000 464 20,600 Metropolis


Ethno-linguistic distribution map of South Asia

There are numerous languages in South Asia. The spoken languages of the region are largely based on geography and shared across religious boundaries, but the written script is sharply divided by religious boundaries. In particular, Muslims of South Asia such as in Afghanistan and Pakistan use the Arabic alphabet and Persian Nastaliq. Till 1971, Muslim Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan) too mandated only the Nastaliq script, but thereafter has adopted regional scripts and particularly Bengali. Non-Muslims of South Asia, and some Muslims in India, on the other hand use their traditional ancient heritage scripts such as those derived from Brahmi script for Indo-European languages and non-Brahmi scripts for Dravidian languages and others.[176]

The Nagari script has been the primus inter pares of the traditional South Asian scripts.[177] The Devanagari script is used for over 120 South Asian languages,[178] including Hindi,[179] MarathiNepaliPaliKonkaniBodoSindhi and Maithili among other languages and dialects, making it one of the most used and adopted writing systems in the world.[180] The Devanagari script is also used for classical Sanskrit texts.[178]

The largest spoken language in this region is Hindi, followed by Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi.[176] In the modern era, new syncretic languages developed in the region such as Urdu that is used by Muslim community of northern south Asia (particularly Pakistan and northern states of India).[181] The Punjabi language spans three religions: Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism. The spoken language is similar, but it is written in three scripts. The Sikh use Gurmukhi alphabetMuslim Punjabis in Pakistan use the Nastaliq script, while Hindu Punjabis in India use the Gurmukhi or Nāgarī script. The Gurmukhi and Nagari scripts are distinct but close in their structure, but the Persian Nastaliq script is very different.[182]

English, with British spelling, is commonly used in urban areas and is a major economic lingua franca of South Asia.[183]


In 2010, South Asia had the world’s largest population of HindusJains and Sikhs,[10] about 510 million Muslims,[10] as well as over 25 million Buddhists and 35 million Christians.[12] Hindus make up about 68 percent or about 900 million and Muslims at 31 percent or 510 million of the overall South Asia population,[184] while Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Sikhs constitute most of the rest. The Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Christians are concentrated in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, while the Muslims are concentrated in Afghanistan (99%), Bangladesh (90%), Pakistan (96%) and Maldives (100%).[10]

Indian religions are the religions that originated in the India; namely HinduismJainismBuddhism and Sikhism.[185] The Indian religions are distinct yet share terminology, concepts, goals and ideas, and from South Asia spread into East Asia and southeast Asia.[185] Early Christianity and Islam were introduced into coastal regions of South Asia by merchants who settled among the local populations. Later SindhBalochistan, and parts of the Punjab region saw conquest by the Arab caliphates along with an influx of Muslims from Persia and Central Asia, which resulted in spread of both Shia and Sunni Islam in parts of northwestern region of South Asia. Subsequently, under the influence of Muslim rulers of the Islamic sultanates and the Mughal Empire, Islam spread in South Asia.[186][187] About one-third of the Muslims are from South Asia.[188][189][190]

Country State religion Religious population as a percentage of total population
Ahmadiyya Budhhism Christianity by country Hinduism Islam Kiratism Sikhism by country Others Year reported
Afghanistan Afghanistan Islam 99.7% 0.3% 2019[191]
Bangladesh Bangladesh Islam 0.06% 0.6% 0.4% 9.5% 89.5% ~0.0% 2011[192]
Bhutan Bhutan Budhhism 74.8% 0.5% 22.6% 0.1% 2% 2010[193][194]
India India None 0.7% 2.3% 79.8% 14.2% 1.7% 1.3% 2011[195][196]
Maldives Maldives Sunni Islam 100% [197][198][199]
Nepal Nepal None 9% 1.3% 81.3% 4.4% 3% 0.8% 2013[200]
Pakistan Pakistan Islam 0.22% 1.59% 1.85% 96.28% 0.07% 2010[201]
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka None 70.2% 6.2% 12.6% 9.7% 1.4% 2011[202]

Population projections[edit]

Urban map of South Asia

Population of South Asian countries in 1950, 1975, 2000, 2025, 2050, 2075 and 2100 projection from the United Nations has been displayed in table. The given population projections are based on medium fertility index. With India and Bangladesh approaching replacement rates fast, population growth in South Asia is facing steep decline and may turn negative in mid 21st century.[1][2]

Rank Country Population (in thousands)
1950 1975 2000 2025 2050 2075 2100
1  India 376,325 623,103 1,056,576 1,445,012 1,639,176 1,609,041 1,450,421
2  Pakistan 37,542 66,817 142,344 242,234 338,013 394,265 403,103
3  Bangladesh 37,895 70,066 127,658 170,937 192,568 181,282 151,393
5    Nepal 8,483 13,420 23,941 31,757 35,324 31,818 23,708
6  Sri Lanka 7,971 13,755 18,778 21,780 21,814 19,194 15,275
7  Bhutan 177 348 591 811 905 845 686
8  Maldives 74 136 279 522 586 564 490
Total 476,220 800,335 1,390,946 1,958,046 2,293,069 2,313,27 2,120,014


Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area

India is the largest and fastest growing economy in the region (US$2.957 trillion) and makes up almost 80% of the South Asian economy; it is the world’s 6th largest in nominal terms and 3rd largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates (US$10.385 trillion).[3] India is the only member of powerful G-20 major economies and BRICS from the region. It is the fastest growing major economy in the world and one of the world’s fastest registering a growth of 7.3% in FY 2014–15.

Followed by Bangladesh, which has a GDP of ($314.656 billion) and a GDP per capita of $1888 which is 4th in the region. It has the fastest GDP growth rate in Asia. It is one of the emerging and growth-leading economies of the world and It is also listed among the Next Eleven countries. It is also one of the fastest growing middle-income countries. It has the world’s 39th largest GDP in nominal terms and is the 29th largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates ($829.272 billion). Bangladesh’s economic growth crossed 7% in fiscal 2015–2016 after almost a decade in the region of 6%, It’s expected to grow by 8.13% in 2019–2020.

Followed by Pakistan, It has an economy of ($314 billion) and ranks 5th in GDP per capita in the region.[203]

Then by Sri Lanka which has the 2nd highest per capita and is the 4th largest economy in the region. According to a World Bank report in 2015, driven by a strong expansion in India, coupled with favorable oil prices, from the last quarter of 2014 South Asia become the fastest-growing region in the world[204]

The Major Market stock exchanges in the region are Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) with market Capitalization of $2.298 trillion (11th largest in the world), National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) with market capitalization of $2.273 trillion (12th largest in the world), Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) with market capitalization of $72 billion.[205] Economic data is sourced from the International Monetary Fund, current as of April 2017, and is given in US dollars.[206]

Currency Population
Nominal GDP
GDP per capita(2017)[212] GDP growth(2017)[213] Inflation(2017)[214]
 Afghanistan ؋ Afghani 34,656,032 $21.657 billion $601 3% 6%
 Bangladesh  Bangladeshi Taka 162,951,560 $314.656 billion $1,888 7.7% 5.44%
 Bhutan Nu. Ngultrum 797,765 $2.31 billion $3,215 5.9% 4.1%
 India  Indian Rupee 1,324,171,354 $2.971 trillion $2,198 7.0% 4.8%
 Maldives ރ Rufiyaa 427,756 $4.825 billion $14,501 4.1% 2.5%
   Nepal रु Rupee 28,982,771 $27 billion $919 7.7% 6.2%
 Pakistan  Pakistani Rupee 193,203,476 $278.019 billion $1,357 5.2% 4.3%
 Sri Lanka රු/ரூ Rupee 20,798,492 $92.504 billion $4,265 3.0% 5.8%

Health and nutrition[edit]

Afghanistan Bangladesh Bhutan India Maldives Nepal Pakistan Sri Lanka
Population undernourished (2015)[215] 26.8% 16.4% N/A 15.2% 5.2% 7.8% 22% 22%
Population below poverty line (CIA Factbook)[216] 35.8% 7.5% 12% 21.2% 16% 25.2% 24.3% 8.9%

According to WHO, South Asia is home to two out of the three countries in the world still affected by polio, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with 306 & 28 polio cases registered in 2014 respectively.[217] Attempts to eradicate polio have been badly hit by opposition from militants in both countries, who say the program is cover to spy on their operations. Their attacks on immunization teams have claimed 78 lives since December 2012.[218]

According to the World Bank’s 2011 report, based on 2005 ICP PPP, about 24.6% of the South Asian population falls below the international poverty line of $1.25/day.[219] Afghanistan and Bangladesh rank the highest, with 30.6% and 43.3% of their respective populations below the poverty line. Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka have the lowest number of people below the poverty line, with 2.4%, 1.5% and 4.1% respectively. India has lifted the most people in the region above the poverty line between 2008 and 2011, around 140 million. As of 2011, 21.9% of India’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to 41.6% in 2005.[220][221]

The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth.[222]

According to the World Bank, 70% of the South Asian population and about 75% of South Asia’s poor live in rural areas and most rely on agriculture for their livelihood[223] according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation. In 2015, approximately 281 million people in the region were malnourished. The report says that Nepal reached both the WFS target as well as MDG and is moving towards bringing down the number of undernourished people to less than 5% of the population.[215] Bangladesh reached the MDG target with the National Food Policy framework – with only 16.5% of the population undernourished. In India, the malnourished comprise just over 15 percent of the population. While the number of malnourished people in neighborhood has shown a decline over the last 25 years, the number of under-nourished in Pakistan displays an upward trend. There were 28.7 million hungry in Pakistan in the 1990s – a number that has steadily increased to 41.3 million in 2015 with 22% of the population malnourished. Approximately 194.6 million people are undernourished in India, which accounts for the highest number of people suffering from hunger in any single country.[215][224]

The 2006 report stated “the low status of women in South Asian countries and their lack of nutritional knowledge are important determinants of high prevalence of underweight children in the region”. Corruption and the lack of initiative on the part of the government has been one of the major problems associated with nutrition in India. Illiteracy in villages has been found to be one of the major issues that need more government attention. The report mentioned that although there has been a reduction in malnutrition due to the Green Revolution in South Asia, there is concern that South Asia has “inadequate feeding and caring practices for young children”.[225]

General statistical data[edit]

Below is the latest general statistical data for South Asian nations. Their total population, area and GDPs have been cited along with their shares of percentage of this attribute of total South Asia in bracket. Republic of India accounts for most of landmass, population and GDP and hence, heavily influences average of South Asian development attributes. Sri Lanka and Maldives are leaders in the region in terms of Human Development Index and GDP per capita while Afghanistan scores lowest in terms of both the attributes in the region.

(km2) (%Share)
Population in thousands
(2019) (%Share)[1][2]
(per km2)
Nominal GDP
(in millions) (2019) (%Share)[211][229][230]
GDP per capita(2019)[212] GDP (PPP)
(in millions) (2019) (%Share)
GDP (PPP) per capita (2019) HDI(2017)[231]
 Afghanistan Kabul 652,230 (12.7%) 38,042 (2.07%) 58.3 $19,990 (0.54%) $577 $76,714 (0.55%) $2,101 Increase0.498 (low)
 Bangladesh Dhaka 147,570 (2.87%) 163,046 (8.88%) 1,104.9 $314,656 (8.49%) $1,925 $829,270 (5.92%) $4,992 Increase0.608 (medium)
 Bhutan Thimphu 38,394 (0.75%) 763 (0.04%) 19.8 $2,840 (0.07%) $3,672 $9,310 (0.066%) $10,193 Increase0.612 (medium)
 India New Delhi 3,287,263 (64.02%) 1,366,418 (74.45%) 415.6 $2,971,996 (80.19%) $2,198 $11436,697 (81.68%) $8,484 Increase0.640 (medium)
 Maldives Malé 298 (0.006%) 531 (0.03%) 1,781.8 $5,749 (0.16%) $13,875 $6,708 (0.048%) $21,320 Increase0.717 (high)
   Nepal Kathmandu 147,181 (2.87%) 28,609 (1.56%) 194.3 $28,922 (0.78%) $934 $87,472 (0.62%) $2,984 Increase0.574 (medium)
 Pakistan Islamabad 796,095 (15.5%) 216,565 (11.8%) 245.8 $278,019 (7.74%) $1,357 $1,235,663 (8.82%) $5,839 Increase0.562 (medium)
 Sri Lanka Colombo 65,610 (1.28%) 21,324 (1.62%) 325 $84,164 (2.27%) $4,336 $319,791 (2.28%) $14,680 Increase0.770 (high)
South Asia 5,134,641 (100%) 1,835,297 (100%) 357.4 $3,706,337 (100%) $2,019 $14,001, 625 (100%) $7,629 Increase0.638 (medium)

Governance and politics[edit]

Systems of government[edit]

Country Capital Forms of government Head of state Head of government Legislature Official language Coat of arms / National Emblems
 Afghanistan Kabul Unitary presidential Islamic republic
House of Elders,
House of the People
PashtoDari Emblem of Afghanistan
 Bangladesh Dhaka Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic President Prime Minister Jatiya Sangsad Bengali, English Coat of arms of Bangladesh
 Bhutan Thimphu Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy King Prime Minister National Council,
National Assembly
Dzongkha Emblem of Bhutan
 India New Delhi Federal parliamentary constitutional republic President Prime Minister Rajya Sabha,
Lok Sabha
Hindi, English Emblem of India
 Maldives Malé Unitary presidential constitutional republic
People’s Majlis Maldivian Emblem of Maldives
   Nepal Kathmandu Federal parliamentary constitutional republic President Prime Minister National Assembly,
House of Representatives
Nepali Coat of arms of Nepal
 Pakistan Islamabad Federal parliamentary Islamic republic President Prime Minister Senate,
National Assembly
Urdu, English Coat of arms of Pakistan
 Sri Lanka Colombo Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic President Prime Minister Parliament SinhalaTamil, English Coat of arms of Sri Lanka
Countries and territories from extended definitions
Country or region Capital Administrative division type Head of government Area (km2) Population Official language Coat of arms
British Indian Ocean Territory British Indian Ocean Territory Diego Garcia British Overseas Territory Commissioner 54,400 2,500 English Coat of arms of the British Indian Ocean Territory (Shield).svg
 Myanmar Naypyidaw Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic State Counsellor 676,578 51,486,253 Burmese State seal of Myanmar.svg
China Tibet Autonomous Region Lhasa Autonomous Region of China Chairman 1,228,400 3,180,000 TibetanMandarin National Emblem of the People's Republic of China.svg

India is a secular federative parliamentary republic with premier as head of government. With most populous functional democracy in world[232] and world’s longest written constitution[233][234][235], India has been stably sustaining the political system it adopted in 1950 with no regime change except that by a democratic election. India’s sustained democratic freedoms are unique among the world’s newer establishments. Since the formation of its republic abolishing British law, it has remained a democracy with civil liberties, an active Supreme Court, and a largely independent press.[236] India leads region in democracy index. It has a multi-party system in its internal regional politics[237] whereas alternative transfer of powers to alliances of Indian left-wing and right-wing political parties in national government provide it with characteristics of a two-party state.[238] India has been facing notable internal religious conflicts and separatism however consistently becoming more and more stable with time.

Foundation of Pakistan lies in Pakistan movement started in colonial India based on Islamic nationalism. Pakistan is a federal parliamentary Islamic republic and was world’s first country to adopt Islamic republic system to modify its republican status under its otherwise secular constitution in 1956. Pakistan’s governance is one of the most conflicted in the world. The military rule and the unstable government in Pakistan has become a concern for the South Asian region. Out of 22 appointed Pakistani Prime ministers, none has been able to complete a full term in office.[239] The nature of Pakistani politics can be characterized as a multi-party system.

Bangladesh is a unitary parliamentary republic. Law of Bangladesh defines it as both Islamic[240] as well as secular.[241] The nature of Bangladeshi politics can be characterized as a multi-party system.

Afghanistan has been a unitary presidential Islamic republic since 2004. Afghanistan has been suffering from one of most unstable regimes on earth as a result of multiple foreign invasions, civil wars, revolutions and terrorist groups. Persisting instability for decades have left country’s economy stagnated and torn and Afghanistan remains one of most poor and least developed countries on planet.[191]

The unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic of Sri Lanka is oldest sustained democracy in Asia. Tensions between Sinhalese and Tamils led to Sri Lankan civil war that undermined country’s stability for more than two and a half decade.[242] Sri Lanka however, has been leading region in HDI with per capita GDP well ahead of India and Bangladesh. Nepal was last Hindu state in world before becoming a secular democratic republic in 2008. The country has been ranked among world’s poorest in terms of GDP per capita but has made considerable progress in development indicators outpacing many other South Asian states. Bhutan is a Buddhist state with a constitutional monarchy. The country has been ranked as least corrupt and peaceful with most economic freedom in the region in 2016. Myanmar‘s politics is dominated by a military Junta, which has sidelined the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu KyiMaldives is a unitary presidential republic with Sunni Islam strictly as state religion.

Populism is a general characteristic of internal politics of South Asian nations.[243]

Regional politics[edit]

Multiateral organizations

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC has been the primary regional supranational body comprising all current South Asian nations. The idea of cooperation among South Asian countries was first discussed in New Delhi in April 1947.[244] In 1970s, South Asian countries agreed upon forming a trade bloc within the region. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 accelerated efforts to form a union to restrengthen deteriorating regional security.[245] After agreements, the union was finally established in Dhaka in December 1985.[246] However, deterioration of India-Pakistan ties have led India to emphasize more on sub-regional groups SASEC and BBIN. Due to 2016 Uri terror attack on Indian security forces, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives pulled out of 19th summit of SAARC that was supposed to be held in Pakistan which led to its ultimate cancellation.[247][248] South Asia continues to remain least integrated region in the world. Meanwhile in East Asia, regional trade accounts for 50% of total trade, it accounts for only a little more than 5% in South Asia.[249]

By country

India,[250][251][252] Pakistan,[253][254] and Bangladesh are the dominant political powers in the region. India is by far the largest country in the area covering around three-fourths the land area of the South Asian region.[citation needed] India has the largest population of around three times the combined population of the 6 other countries in the region.[255] India is also the world’s largest democracy . India’s defense budget is $66.5 billion which exceeds to the whole Pakistan’s Federal budget of $42 billion for 2018-19 greatly.[256]

Bangladesh is a unitary state and parliamentary democracy.[257] Bangladesh also stands out as one of the few Muslim-majority democracies. “It is a moderate and generally secular and tolerant — though sometimes this is getting stretched at the moment — alternative to violent extremism in a very troubled part of the world”, said Dan Mozena, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh. Although Bangladesh’s legal code is secular, more citizens are embracing a conservative version of Islam, with some pushing for sharia law, analysts say. Experts say that the rise in conservatism reflects the influence of foreign-financed Islamic charities and the more austere version of Islam brought home by migrant workers in Persian Gulf countries.[258]

Diplomacy among the countries of South Asia has been mainly driven by populist politics, with the centre-stage taken by IndiaPakistan conflict ever since their independence in 1947, and then the creation of Bangladesh under tense circumstances in 1971. During the height of Cold war, the elite political leaders of Pakistan aligned with the US, while India played crucial role in forming the Non-Aligned Movement and while maintaining goodwill relations with the USSR.

Pakistan’s governance is one of the most conflicted in the region. The military rule and the unstable government in Pakistan has become a concern for the South Asian region. In Nepal, the governance has struggled to come in the side of democracy and it only showed signs in the recent past, basically in the 21st century, to support the democratic system. The political situation in Sri Lanka has been dominated by an increasingly assertive Sinhalese nationalism, and the emergence of a Tamil separatist movement under LTTE, which was suppressed in May 2009. Myanmar‘s politics is dominated by a military Junta, which has sidelined the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Governance and education index rankings of South Asian countries
Afghanistan Bangladesh Bhutan India Maldives Nepal Pakistan Sri Lanka
Inequality-adjusted HDI (2016)[259] (global ranking of 187) 166 141 135 127 114 142 149 65
Corruption Perception Index (2016)[260] (global ranking of 168) 169 145 27 79 95 131 116 95
The Worldwide Governance
Indicators (2015)[261]
Government Effectiveness 8% 24% 68% 56% 41% 13% 27% 53%
Political stability and absence
of violence/terrorism
1% 11% 89% 17% 61% 16% 1% 47%
Rule of law 2% 27% 70% 56% 35% 27% 24% 60%
Voice and accountability 16% 31% 46% 61% 30% 33% 27% 36%
Population below poverty line (2011)[262] 35.8% 31.5% 23.7% 21.9% 16% 25.2% 21.4% 8.9%
Primary School Enrollment[263] 29% 90% 85% 92% 94% 96% 73% 98%
Secondary School Enrollment[264] 49% 54% 78% 68% N/A 72% 38% 96%




Hindus (Hindustani: [ˈɦɪndu] (About this soundlisten)) are persons who regard themselves as culturally, ethnically, or religiously adhering to aspects of Hinduism. Historically, the term has also been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for people living in the Indian subcontinent.

The historical meaning of the term Hindu has evolved with time. Starting with the Persian and Greek references to the land of the Indus in the 1st millennium BCE through the texts of the medieval era, the term Hindu implied a geographic, ethnic or cultural identifier for people living in the Indian subcontinent around or beyond the Sindhu (Indus) river. By the 16th century, the term began to refer to residents of the subcontinent who were not Turkic or Muslims.[6][a][b]

The historical development of Hindu self-identity within the local South Asian population, in a religious or cultural sense, is unclear. Competing theories state that Hindu identity developed in the British colonial era, or that it may have developed post-8th century CE after the Islamic invasion and medieval Hindu-Muslim wars. A sense of Hindu identity and the term Hindu appears in some texts dated between the 13th and 18th century in Sanskrit and regional languages. The 14th- and 18th-century Indian poets such as VidyapatiKabir and Eknath used the phrase Hindu dharma (Hinduism) and contrasted it with Turaka dharma (Islam). The Christian friar Sebastiao Manrique used the term ‘Hindu’ in religious context in 1649.[12] In the 18th century, the European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus, in contrast to Mohamedans for Mughals and Arabs following Islam.[3][6] By the mid-19th century, colonial orientalist texts further distinguished Hindus from Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains,[3] but the colonial laws continued to consider all of them to be within the scope of the term Hindu until about mid-20th century.[13] Scholars state that the custom of distinguishing between Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs is a modern phenomenon.[14][15] Hindoo is an archaic spelling variant, whose use today may be considered derogatory.

At more than 1.03 billion,[18] Hindus are the world’s third largest group after Christians and Muslims. The vast majority of Hindus, approximately 966 million, live in India, according to India’s 2011 census.[19] After India, the next 9 countries with the largest Hindu populations are, in decreasing order: NepalBangladeshIndonesiaPakistanSri LankaUnited StatesMalaysiaUnited Kingdom and Myanmar.[20] These together accounted for 99% of the world’s Hindu population, and the remaining nations of the world together had about 6 million Hindus in 2010.[20]


A Hindu wedding ritual in India

The word Hindu is derived from the Indo-Aryan[21] and Sanskrit[21][5] word Sindhu, which means “a large body of water”, covering “river, ocean”.[22][c] It was used as the name of the Indus river and also referred to its tributaries. The actual term ‘hindu’ first occurs, states Gavin Flood, as “a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)”,[5] more specifically in the 6th-century BCE inscription of Darius I.[23] The Punjab region, called Sapta Sindhu in the Vedas, is called Hapta Hindu in Zend Avesta. The 6th-century BCE inscription of Darius I mentions the province of Hi[n]dush, referring to northwestern India.[23][24][25] The people of India were referred to as Hinduvān (Hindus) and hindavī was used as the adjective for Indian in the 8th century text Chachnama.[25] The term ‘Hindu’ in these ancient records is an ethno-geographical term and did not refer to a religion.[5][26] The Arabic equivalent Al-Hind likewise referred to the country of India.[27][23]

Hindu culture in Bali, Indonesia. The Krishna-Arjuna sculpture inspired by the Bhagavad Gita in Denpasar (top), and Hindu dancers in traditional dress.

Among the earliest known records of ‘Hindu’ with connotations of religion may be in the 7th-century CE Chinese text Record of the Western Regions by the Buddhist scholar Xuanzang. Xuanzang uses the transliterated term In-tu whose “connotation overflows in the religious” according to Arvind Sharma.[23] While Xuanzang suggested that the term refers to the country named after the moon, another Buddhist scholar I-tsing contradicted the conclusion saying that In-tu was not a common name for the country.[25]

Al-Biruni‘s 11th-century text Tarikh Al-Hind, and the texts of the Delhi Sultanate period use the term ‘Hindu’, where it includes all non-Islamic people such as Buddhists, and retains the ambiguity of being “a region or a religion”.[23] The ‘Hindu’ community occurs as the amorphous ‘Other’ of the Muslim community in the court chronicles, according to Romila Thapar.[28] Wilfred Cantwell Smith notes that ‘Hindu’ retained its geographical reference initially: ‘Indian’, ‘indigenous, local’, virtually ‘native’. Slowly, the Indian groups themselves started using the term, differentiating themselves and their “traditional ways” from those of the invaders.[29]

The text Prithviraj Raso, by Chanda Baradai, about the 1192 CE defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan at the hands of Muhammad Ghori, is full of references to “Hindus” and “Turks”, and at one stage, says “both the religions have drawn their curved swords;” however, the date of this text is unclear and considered by most scholars to be more recent.[30] In Islamic literature, ‘Abd al-Malik Isami‘s Persian work, Futuhu’s-salatin, composed in the Deccan in 1350, uses the word hindi’ to mean Indian in the ethno-geographical sense and the word hindu’ to mean ‘Hindu’ in the sense of a follower of the Hindu religion”.[30] The poet Vidyapati‘s poem Kirtilata contrasts the cultures of Hindus and Turks (Muslims) in a city and concludes “The Hindus and the Turks live close together; Each makes fun of the other’s religion (dhamme).”[31] One of the earliest uses of word ‘Hindu’ in religious context in a European language (Spanish), was the publication in 1649 by Sebastiao Manrique.[12]

Other prominent mentions of ‘Hindu’ include the epigraphical inscriptions from Andhra Pradesh kingdoms who battled military expansion of Muslim dynasties in the 14th century, where the word ‘Hindu’ partly implies a religious identity in contrast to ‘Turks’ or Islamic religious identity.[32] The term Hindu was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450) and some 16th- to 18th-century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts, including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata. These texts used it to contrast Hindus from Muslims who are called Yavanas (foreigners) or Mlecchas (barbarians), with the 16th-century Chaitanya Charitamrita text and the 17th-century Bhakta Mala text using the phrase “Hindu dharma“.[10]


Hindus at Har Ki PauriHaridwar near river Ganges in Uttarakhand state of India.

Medieval-era usage (8th to 18th century)

One of the earliest but ambiguous uses of the word Hindu is, states Arvind Sharma, in the ‘Brahmanabad settlement’ which Muhammad ibn Qasim made with non-Muslims after the Arab invasion of northwestern Sindh region of India, in 712 CE. The term ‘Hindu’ meant people who were non-Muslims, and it included Buddhists of the region.[33] In the 11th-century text of Al Biruni, Hindus are referred to as “religious antagonists” to Islam, as those who believe in rebirth, presents them to hold a diversity of beliefs, and seems to oscillate between Hindus holding a centralist and pluralist religious views.[33] In the texts of Delhi Sultanate era, states Sharma, the term Hindu remains ambiguous on whether it means people of a region or religion, giving the example of Ibn Battuta’s explanation of the name “Hindu Kush” for a mountain range in Afghanistan. It was so called, wrote Ibn Battuta, because many Indian slaves died there of snow cold, as they were marched across that mountain range. The term Hindu there is ambivalent and could mean geographical region or religion.[34]

The term Hindu appears in the texts from the Mughal Empire era. It broadly refers to non-Muslims. Pashaura Singh states, “in Persian writings, Sikhs were regarded as Hindu in the sense of non-Muslim Indians”.[35] Jahangir, for example, called the Sikh Guru Arjan a Hindu:[36]

There was a Hindu named Arjan in Gobindwal on the banks of the Beas River. Pretending to be a spiritual guide, he had won over as devotees many simple-minded Indians and even some ignorant, stupid Muslims by broadcasting his claims to be a saint. […] When Khusraw stopped at his residence, [Arjan] came out and had an interview with [Khusraw]. Giving him some elementary spiritual precepts picked up here and there, he made a mark with saffron on his forehead, which is called qashqa in the idiom of the Hindus and which they consider lucky. […]

— Emperor Jahangir, Jahangirnama, 27b-28a (Translated by Wheeler Thackston)[37][d]

Colonial-era usage (18th to 20th century)

The distribution of Indian religions in British India (1909). The upper map shows distribution of Hindus, the lower of Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs.

During the colonial era, the term Hindu had connotations of native religions of India, that is religions other than Christianity and Islam.[38] In early colonial era Anglo-Hindu laws and British India court system, the term Hindu referred to people of all Indian religions as well as two non-Indian religions: Judaism and Zoroastrianism.[38] In the 20th-century, personal laws were formulated for Hindus, and the term ‘Hindu’ in these colonial ‘Hindu laws’ applied to Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs in addition to denominational Hindus.[13][e]

Beyond the stipulations of British law, colonial orientalists and particularly the influential Asiatick Researches founded in the 18th century, later called The Asiatic Society, initially identified just two religions in India – Islam, and Hinduism. These orientalists included all Indian religions such as Buddhism as a subgroup of Hinduism in the 18th century.[3] These texts called followers of Islam as Mohamedans, and all others as Hindus. The text, by the early 19th century, began dividing Hindus into separate groups, for chronology studies of the various beliefs. Among the earliest terms to emerge were Seeks and their College (later spelled Sikhs by Charles Wilkins), Boudhism (later spelled Buddhism), and in the 9th volume of Asiatick Researches report on religions in India, the term Jainism received notice.[3]

According to Pennington, the terms Hindu and Hinduism were thus constructed for colonial studies of India. The various sub-divisions and separation of subgroup terms were assumed to be result of “communal conflict”, and Hindu was constructed by these orientalists to imply people who adhered to “ancient default oppressive religious substratum of India”, states Pennington.[3] Followers of other Indian religions so identified were later referred Buddhists, Sikhs or Jains and distinguished from Hindus, in an antagonistic two-dimensional manner, with Hindus and Hinduism stereotyped as irrational traditional and others as rational reform religions. However, these mid-19th-century reports offered no indication of doctrinal or ritual differences between Hindu and Buddhist, or other newly constructed religious identities.[3] These colonial studies, states Pennigton, “puzzled endlessly about the Hindus and intensely scrutinized them, but did not interrogate and avoided reporting the practices and religion of Mughal and Arabs in South Asia”, and often relied on Muslim scholars to characterise Hindus.[3]

Contemporary usage

A young Nepali Hindu devotee during a traditional prayer ceremony at Kathmandu‘s Durbar Square

In contemporary era, the term Hindus are individuals who identify with one or more aspects of Hinduism, whether they are practising or non-practicing or Laissez-faire.[41] The term does not include those who identify with other Indian religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism or various animist tribal religions found in India such as Sarnaism.[42][43] The term Hindu, in contemporary parlance, includes people who accept themselves as culturally or ethnically Hindu rather than with a fixed set of religious beliefs within Hinduism.[1] One need not be religious in the minimal sense, states Julius Lipner, to be accepted as Hindu by Hindus, or to describe oneself as Hindu.[44]

Hindus subscribe to a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but have no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, nor a single founding prophet; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist.[45][46][47] Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term Hinduism, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult.[5] The religion “defies our desire to define and categorize it”.[48] A Hindu may, by his or her choice, draw upon ideas of other Indian or non-Indian religious thought as a resource, follow or evolve his or her personal beliefs, and still identify as a Hindu.[1]

In 1995, Chief Justice P. B. Gajendragadkar was quoted in an Indian Supreme Court ruling:[49][50]

When we think of the Hindu religion, unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one god; it does not subscribe to any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.

Although Hinduism contains a broad range of philosophies, Hindus share philosophical concepts, such as but not limiting to dharmakarmakamaarthamoksha and samsara, even if each subscribes to a diversity of views.[51] Hindus also have shared texts such as the Vedas with embedded Upanishads, and common ritual grammar (Sanskara (rite of passage)) such as rituals during a wedding or when a baby is born or cremation rituals.[52][53] Some Hindus go on pilgrimage to shared sites they consider spiritually significant, practice one or more forms of bhakti or puja, celebrate mythology and epics, major festivals, love and respect for guru and family, and other cultural traditions.[51][54] A Hindu could:

  • follow any of the Hindu schools of philosophy, such as Advaita (non-dualism), Vishishtadvaita (non-dualism of the qualified whole), Dvaita (dualism), Dvaitadvaita (dualism with non-dualism), etc.[55][56]
  • follow a tradition centred on any particular form of the Divine, such as ShaivismVaishnavismShaktism, etc.[57]
  • practice any one of the various forms of yoga systems in order to achieve moksha – that is freedom in current life (jivanmukti) or salvation in after-life (videhamukti);[58]
  • practice bhakti or puja for spiritual reasons, which may be directed to one’s guru or to a divine image.[59] A visible public form of this practice is worship before an idol or statue. Jeaneane Fowler states that non-Hindu observers often confuse this practice as “stone or idol-worship and nothing beyond it”, while for many Hindus, it is an image which represents or is symbolic manifestation of a spiritual Absolute (Brahman).[59] This practice may focus on a metal or stone statue, or a photographic image, or a linga, or any object or tree (pipal) or animal (cow) or tools of one’s profession, or sunrise or expression of nature or to nothing at all, and the practice may involve meditation, japa, offerings or songs.[59][60] Inden states that this practice means different things to different Hindus, and has been misunderstood, misrepresented as idolatry, and various rationalisations have been constructed by both Western and native Indologists.[61]


In the Constitution of India, the word “Hindu” has been used in some places to denote persons professing any of these religions: HinduismJainismBuddhism or Sikhism.[62] This however has been challenged by the Sikhs[42][63] and by neo-Buddhists who were formerly Hindus.[64] According to Sheen and Boyle, Jains have not objected to being covered by personal laws termed under ‘Hindu’,[64] but Indian courts have acknowledged that Jainism is a distinct religion.[65]

The Republic of India is in the peculiar situation that the Supreme Court of India has repeatedly been called upon to define “Hinduism” because the Constitution of India, while it prohibits “discrimination of any citizen” on grounds of religion in article 15, article 30 foresees special rights for “All minorities, whether based on religion or language”. As a consequence, religious groups have an interest in being recognised as distinct from the Hindu majority in order to qualify as a “religious minority”. Thus, the Supreme Court was forced to consider the question whether Jainism is part of Hinduism in 2005 and 2006.

History of Hindu identity

Starting after the 10th century and particularly after the 12th century Islamic invasion, states Sheldon Pollock, the political response fused with the Indic religious culture and doctrines.[8] Temples dedicated to deity Rama were built from north to south India, and textual records as well as hagiographic inscriptions began comparing the Hindu epic of Ramayana to regional kings and their response to Islamic attacks. The Yadava king of Devagiri named Ramacandra, for example states Pollock, is described in a 13th-century record as, “How is this Rama to be described.. who freed Varanasi from the mleccha (barbarian, Turk Muslim) horde, and built there a golden temple of Sarngadhara”.[8] Pollock notes that the Yadava king Ramacandra is described as a devotee of deity Shiva (Shaivism), yet his political achievements and temple construction sponsorship in Varanasi, far from his kingdom’s location in the Deccan region, is described in the historical records in Vaishnavism terms of Rama, a deity Vishnu avatar.[8] Pollock presents many such examples and suggests an emerging Hindu political identity that was grounded in the Hindu religious text of Ramayana, one that has continued into the modern times, and suggests that this historic process began with the arrival of Islam in India.[66]

Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya has questioned the Pollock theory and presented textual and inscriptional evidence.[67] According to Chattopadhyaya, the Hindu identity and religious response to Islamic invasion and wars developed in different kingdoms, such as wars between Islamic Sultanates and the Vijayanagara kingdom (Karnataka), and Islamic raids on the kingdoms in Tamil Nadu. These wars were described not just using the mythical story of Rama from Ramayana, states Chattopadhyaya, the medieval records used a wide range of religious symbolism and myths that are now considered as part of Hindu literature.[9][67] This emergence of religious with political terminology began with the first Muslim invasion of Sindh in the 8th century CE, and intensified 13th century onwards. The 14th-century Sanskrit text, Madhuravijayam, a memoir written by Gangadevi, the wife of Vijayanagara prince, for example describes the consequences of war using religious terms,[68]

I very much lament for what happened to the groves in Madhura,
The coconut trees have all been cut and in their place are to be seen,
rows of iron spikes with human skulls dangling at the points,
In the highways which were once charming with anklets sound of beautiful women,
are now heard ear-piercing noises of Brahmins being dragged, bound in iron-fetters,
The waters of Tambraparni, which were once white with sandal paste,
are now flowing red with the blood of cows slaughtered by miscreants,
Earth is no longer the producer of wealth, nor does Indra give timely rains,
The God of death takes his undue toll of what are left lives if undestroyed by the Yavanas [Muslims],[69]
The Kali age now deserves deepest congratulations for being at the zenith of its power,
gone is the sacred learning, hidden is refinement, hushed is the voice of Dharma.

— Madhuravijayam, Translated by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya[68]

The historiographic writings in Telugu language from the 13th- and 14th-century Kakatiya dynasty period presents a similar “alien other (Turk)” and “self-identity (Hindu)” contrast.[70] Chattopadhyaya, and other scholars,[71] state that the military and political campaign during the medieval era wars in Deccan peninsula of India, and in the north India, were no longer a quest for sovereignty, they embodied a political and religious animosity against the “otherness of Islam”, and this began the historical process of Hindu identity formation.[9][f]

Andrew Nicholson, in his review of scholarship on Hindu identity history, states that the vernacular literature of Bhakti movement sants from 15th to 17th century, such as Kabir, Anantadas, Eknath, Vidyapati, suggests that distinct religious identities, between Hindus and Turks (Muslims), had formed during these centuries.[72] The poetry of this period contrasts Hindu and Islamic identities, states Nicholson, and the literature vilifies the Muslims coupled with a “distinct sense of a Hindu religious identity”.[72]

Hindu identity amidst other Indian religions

Hindus celebrating their major festivals, Holi (top) and Diwali.

Scholars state that Hindu, Buddhist and Jain identities are retrospectively-introduced modern constructions.[15] Inscriptional evidence from the 8th century onwards, in regions such as South India, suggests that medieval era India, at both elite and folk religious practices level, likely had a “shared religious culture”,[15] and their collective identities were “multiple, layered and fuzzy”.[73] Even among Hinduism denominations such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism, the Hindu identities, states Leslie Orr, lacked “firm definitions and clear boundaries”.[73]

Overlaps in Jain-Hindu identities have included Jains worshipping Hindu deities, intermarriages between Jains and Hindus, and medieval era Jain temples featuring Hindu religious icons and sculpture.[74][75][76] Beyond India, on Java island of Indonesia, historical records attest to marriages between Hindus and Buddhists, medieval era temple architecture and sculptures that simultaneously incorporate Hindu and Buddhist themes,[77] where Hinduism and Buddhism merged and functioned as “two separate paths within one overall system”, according to Ann Kenney and other scholars.[78] Similarly, there is an organic relation of Sikhs to Hindus, states Zaehner, both in religious thought and their communities, and virtually all Sikhs’ ancestors were Hindus.[79] Marriages between Sikhs and Hindus, particularly among Khatris, were frequent.[79] Some Hindu families brought up a son as a Sikh, and some Hindus view Sikhism as a tradition within Hinduism, even though the Sikh faith is a distinct religion.[79]

Julius Lipner states that the custom of distinguishing between Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs is a modern phenomena, but one that is a convenient abstraction.[14] Distinguishing Indian traditions is a fairly recent practice, states Lipner, and is the result of “not only Western preconceptions about the nature of religion in general and of religion in India in particular, but also with the political awareness that has arisen in India” in its people and a result of Western influence during its colonial history.[14]

Sacred geography

Scholars such as Fleming and Eck state that the post-Epic era literature from the 1st millennium CE amply demonstrate that there was a historic concept of the Indian subcontinent as a sacred geography, where the sacredness was a shared set of religious ideas. For example, the twelve Jyotirlingas of Shaivism and fifty-one Shaktipithas of Shaktism are described in the early medieval era Puranas as pilgrimage sites around a theme.[80][81][82] This sacred geography and Shaiva temples with same iconography, shared themes, motifs and embedded legends are found across India, from the Himalayas to hills of South India, from Ellora Caves to Varanasi by about the middle of 1st millennium.[80][83] Shakti temples, dated to a few centuries later, are verifiable across the subcontinent. Varanasi as a sacred pilgrimage site is documented in the Varanasimahatmya text embedded inside the Skanda Purana, and the oldest versions of this text are dated to 6th to 8th-century CE.[84][85]

The idea of twelve sacred sites in Shiva Hindu tradition spread across the Indian subcontinent appears not only in the medieval era temples but also in copper plate inscriptions and temple seals discovered in different sites.[86] According to Bhardwaj, non-Hindu texts such as the memoirs of Chinese Buddhist and Persian Muslim travellers attest to the existence and significance of the pilgrimage to sacred geography among Hindus by later 1st millennium CE.[87]

According to Fleming, those who question whether the term Hindu and Hinduism are a modern construction in a religious context present their arguments based on some texts that have survived into the modern era, either of Islamic courts or of literature published by Western missionaries or colonial-era Indologists aiming for a reasonable construction of history. However, the existence of non-textual evidence such as cave temples separated by thousands of kilometers, as well as lists of medieval era pilgrimage sites, is evidence of a shared sacred geography and existence of a community that was self-aware of shared religious premises and landscape.[88][85] Further, it is a norm in evolving cultures that there is a gap between the “lived and historical realities” of a religious tradition and the emergence of related “textual authorities”.[86] The tradition and temples likely existed well before the medieval era Hindu manuscripts appeared that describe them and the sacred geography. This, states Fleming, is apparent given the sophistication of the architecture and the sacred sites along with the variance in the versions of the Puranic literature.[88][89] According to Diana L. Eck and other Indologists such as André Wink, Muslim invaders were aware of Hindu sacred geography such as Mathura, Ujjain, and Varanasi by the 11th-century. These sites became a target of their serial attacks in the centuries that followed.[85]

Hindu persecution

The Hindus have been persecuted during the medieval and modern era. The medieval persecution included waves of plunder, killing, destruction of temples and enslavement by Turk-Mongol Muslim armies from central Asia. This is documented in Islamic literature such as those relating to 8th century Muhammad bin-Qasim,[90] 11th century Mahmud of Ghazni,[91][92] the Persian traveler Al Biruni,[93] the 14th century Islamic army invasion led by Timur,[94] and various Sunni Islamic rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire.[95][96][97] There were occasional exceptions such as Akbar who stopped the persecution of Hindus,[97] and occasional severe persecution such as under Aurangzeb,[98][100][g] who destroyed temples, forcibly converted non-Muslims to Islam and banned the celebration of Hindu festivals such as Holi and Diwali.[101]

Other recorded persecution of Hindus include those under the reign of 18th century Tipu Sultan in south India,[102] and during the colonial era.[103][104][105] In the modern era, religious persecution of Hindus have been reported outside India.[106][107][108]

Hindu nationalism

Christophe Jaffrelot states that modern Hindu nationalism was born in Maharashtra, in the 1920s, as a reaction to the Islamic Khilafat Movement wherein Indian Muslims championed and took the cause of the Turkish Ottoman sultan as the Caliph of all Muslims, at the end of the World War I.[109][110] Hindus viewed this development as one of divided loyalties of Indian Muslim population, of pan-Islamic hegemony, and questioned whether Indian Muslims were a part of an inclusive anti-colonial Indian nationalism.[110] The Hindu nationalism ideology that emerged, states Jeffrelot, was codified by Savarkar while he was a political prisoner of the British colonial empire.[109][111]

Chris Bayly traces the roots of Hindu nationalism to the Hindu identity and political independence achieved by the Maratha confederacy, that overthrew the Islamic Mughal empire in large parts of India, allowing Hindus the freedom to pursue any of their diverse religious beliefs and restored Hindu holy places such as Varanasi.[112] A few scholars view Hindu mobilisation and consequent nationalism to have emerged in the 19th century as a response to British colonialism by Indian nationalists and neo-Hinduism gurus.[113][114][115] Jaffrelot states that the efforts of Christian missionaries and Islamic proselytizers, during the British colonial era, each of whom tried to gain new converts to their own religion, by stereotyping and stigmatising Hindus to an identity of being inferior and superstitious, contributed to Hindus re-asserting their spiritual heritage and counter cross examining Islam and Christianity, forming organisations such as the Hindu Sabhas (Hindu associations), and ultimately a Hindu-identity driven nationalism in the 1920s.[116]

The colonial era Hindu revivalism and mobilisation, along with Hindu nationalism, states Peter van der Veer, was primarily a reaction to and competition with Muslim separatism and Muslim nationalism.[117] The successes of each side fed the fears of the other, leading to the growth of Hindu nationalism and Muslim nationalism in the Indian subcontinent.[117] In the 20th century, the sense of religious nationalism grew in India, states van der Veer, but only Muslim nationalism succeeded with the formation of the West and East Pakistan (later split into Pakistan and Bangladesh), as “an Islamic state” upon independence.[118][119][120] Religious riots and social trauma followed as millions of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs moved out of the newly created Islamic states and resettled into the Hindu-majority post-British India.[121] After the separation of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Hindu nationalism movement developed the concept of Hindutva in second half of the 20th century.[122]

The Hindu nationalism movement has sought to reform Indian laws, that critics say attempts to impose Hindu values on India’s Islamic minority. Gerald Larson states, for example, that Hindu nationalists have sought a uniform civil code, where all citizens are subject to the same laws, everyone has equal civil rights, and individual rights do not depend on the individual’s religion.[123] In contrast, opponents of Hindu nationalists remark that eliminating religious law from India poses a threat to the cultural identity and religious rights of Muslims, and people of Islamic faith have a constitutional right to Islamic shariah-based personal laws.[123][124] A specific law, contentious between Hindu nationalists and their opponents in India, relates to the legal age of marriage for girls.[125] Hindu nationalists seek that the legal age for marriage be eighteen that is universally applied to all girls regardless of their religion and that marriages be registered with local government to verify the age of marriage. Muslim clerics consider this proposal as unacceptable because under the shariah-derived personal law, a Muslim girl can be married at any age after she reaches puberty.[125]

Hindu nationalism in India, states Katharine Adeney, is a controversial political subject, with no consensus about what it means or implies in terms of the form of government and religious rights of the minorities.[126]


Hinduism by country, worldmap (estimate 2010).[127]

Total population
Regions with significant populations
 India 1,040,000,000[130]
   Nepal 23,500,000[131][132]
 Bangladesh 12,680,000–14,487,500[133][134]
 Indonesia 10,000,000[135]
 Pakistan 4,880,000[136]
 United States 3,230,000[137]
 Sri Lanka 2,554,606[138]
 Malaysia 1,949,850[139][140]
 United Kingdom 835,394[141]
 Myanmar 820,000[142]
 Mauritius 600,327[143]
 South Africa 551,669[144]
 Canada 497,965[145]
 Australia 440,300[146]
 Fiji 261,097
 Trinidad and Tobago 240,100[147]
 Netherlands 200,000[148]
 Guyana 190,966[149]
 Bhutan 185,700[150][151]
 Italy 177,200[152]
 Singapore 162,600[153]
 Russia 140,000[154]
 Suriname 128,995[155]
 Germany 120,000[156][157]
 New Zealand 90,018[158]
 France 63,718[159][160]
 Kenya 60,000[161]
 Réunion 55,409[162]
 Thailand 52,631[163]
 Cambodia 41,988[164][165]

According to Pew Research, there are over 1 billion Hindus worldwide (15% of world’s population).[166] Along with Christians (31.5%), Muslims (23.2%) and Buddhists (7.1%), Hindus are one of the four major religious groups of the world.[167]

Most Hindus are found in Asian countries. The countries with most Hindu residents and citizens include (in decreasing order) are IndiaNepalBangladeshIndonesiaPakistanSri LankaUnited StatesMalaysiaUnited KingdomMyanmarCanadaMauritiusGuyanaSouth AfricaTrinidad and TobagoFijiSuriname.[20][166]

The fertility rate, that is children per woman, for Hindus is 2.4, which is less than the world average of 2.5.[168] Pew Research projects that there will be 1.161 billion Hindus by 2020.[169]

Hindus in the World (2010)
Region Total Population Hindus % total
Africa 885,103,542 2,013,705 0.23%
Asia 3,903,418,706 1,014,348,412 26.01%
Europe 728,571,703 2,030,904 0.28%
Americas 883,197,750 6,481,937 0.28%
Oceania 36,659,000 616,000 1.78%

In more ancient times, Hindu kingdoms arose and spread the religion and traditions across Southeast Asia, particularly ThailandNepalBurmaMalaysiaIndonesiaCambodia,[170] Laos,[170] Philippines,[171] and what is now central Vietnam.[172]

Over 3 million Hindus are found in Bali Indonesia, a culture whose origins trace back to ideas brought by Tamil Hindu traders to Indonesian islands in the 1st millennium CE. Their sacred texts are also the Vedas and the Upanishads.[173] The Puranas and the Itihasa (mainly Ramayana and the Mahabharata) are enduring traditions among Indonesian Hindus, expressed in community dances and shadow puppet (wayang) performances. As in India, Indonesian Hindus recognises four paths of spirituality, calling it Catur Marga.[174] Similarly, like Hindus in India, Balinese Hindu believe that there are four proper goals of human life, calling it Catur Purusartha – dharma (pursuit of moral and ethical living), artha (pursuit of wealth and creative activity), kama (pursuit of joy and love) and moksha (pursuit of self-knowledge and liberation).[175][176]

See also




Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal
  • सङ्घीय लोकतान्त्रिक गणतन्त्र नेपाल (Nepali)
  • Saṅghīya Lokatāntrik Gaṇatantra Nepāl
Anthem: सयौं थुँगा फूलका (Nepali)
Made of hundreds of flowers (English)
Location of Nepal
Location of Nepal
and largest city
28°10′N 84°15′ECoordinates28°10′N 84°15′E
Official languages Nepali
Recognised national languages All languages used in Nepal
Ethnic groups
81.3% Hinduism
9% Buddhism
4.4% Islam
3% Kirant
1.4% Christianity
0.4% Animism
0.5% Irreligion
Demonym(s) Nepali (official), Nepalese
Government Federal parliamentary republic
Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Nanda Kishor Pun
Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli
Cholendra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana
Ganesh Prasad Timilsina
Legislature Federal Parliament
National Assembly
House of Representatives
25 September 1768
18 May 2006
28 May 2008
20 September 2015
• Total
147,181 km2 (56,827 sq mi) (93rd)
• Water (%)
• 2016 estimate
28,982,771 (48th)
• 2011 census
• Density
180/km2 (466.2/sq mi) (62nd)
GDP (PPP) 2018 estimate
• Total
$84 billion
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2018 estimate
• Total
$27 billion
• Per capita
Gini (2010) Negative increase 32.8
HDI (2017) Increase 0.574
medium · 149th
Currency Nepalese rupee Rs (Nepaliरू) (NPR)
Time zone UTC+05:45 (Nepal Standard Time)
DST not observed
Driving side left
Calling code +977
ISO 3166 code NP
Internet TLD .np

Nepal (Nepaliनेपाल [neˈpal]), officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked country in South Asia. It is located mainly in the Himalayas, but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. With an estimated population of 26.4 million, it is 48th largest country by population and 93rd largest country by area. It borders China in the north and India in the south, east and west while Bangladesh is located within only 27 km (17 mi) of its southeastern tip and Bhutan is separated from it by the Indian state of Sikkim. Nepal has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Kathmandu is the capital and the largest city. Nepal is a multiethnic country with Nepali as the official language.

The name “Nepal” is first recorded in texts from the Vedic period of the Indian subcontinent, the era in ancient India when Hinduism was founded, the predominant religion of the country. In the middle of the first millennium BCE, Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal. Parts of northern Nepal were intertwined with the culture of Tibet. The centrally located Kathmandu Valley is intertwined with the culture of Indo-Aryans, and was the seat of the prosperous Newar confederacy known as Nepal Mandala. The Himalayan branch of the ancient Silk Road was dominated by the valley’s traders. The cosmopolitan region developed distinct traditional art and architecture. By the 18th century, the Gorkha Kingdom achieved the unification of Nepal. The Shah dynasty established the Kingdom of Nepal and later formed an alliance with the British Empire, under its Rajput Rana dynasty of premiers. The country was never colonized but served as a buffer state between Imperial China and British India. Parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1951, but was twice suspended by Nepalese monarchs, in 1960 and 2005. The Nepalese Civil War in the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the proclamation of a secular republic in 2008, ending the world’s last Hindu monarchy.

The Constitution of Nepal, adopted in 2015, affirms Nepal as a secular federal parliamentary republic divided into seven provinces. Nepal was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, and friendship treaties were signed with India in 1950 and the People’s Republic of China in 1960. Nepal hosts the permanent secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which it is a founding member. Nepal is also a member of the Non Aligned Movement and the Bay of Bengal Initiative. The military of Nepal is the fifth largest in South Asia; it is notable for its Gurkha history, particularly during the world wars, and has been a significant contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations.


Before the unification of Nepal, the Kathmandu valley was known as Nepal Rajya. The precise origin of the term Nepāl is uncertain. A number of plausible theories are found in religious as well as academic texts. Nepal appears in ancient Indian literary texts dated as far back as the fourth century BC. However, an absolute chronology can not be established, as even the oldest texts may contain anonymous contributions dating as late as the early modern period. On the other hand, academic attempts to provide a plausible theory suffer from lack of a complete picture of history, and insufficient understanding of linguistics or of relevant Indo-European and Tibeto-Burman languages.

According to Hindu mythology, Nepal derives its name from an ancient Hindu sage called Ne, referred to variously as Ne Muni or Nemi. According to Pashupati Purana, as a place protected by Ne, the country in the heart of the Himalayas came to be known as Nepal. According to Nepal Mahatmya, Nemi was charged with protection of the country by Pashupati. According to Buddhist mythologyManjushri Bodhisattva drained a primordial lake of serpents to create the Nepal valley and proclaimed that Adi-Buddha Ne would take care of the community that would settle it. As the cherished of Ne, the valley would be called Nepal. According to Gopalarajvamshavali, the genealogy of ancient Gopala dynasty compiled circa 1380s, Nepal is named after Nepa the cowherd, the founder of the Nepali scion of the Abhiras. In this account, the cow that issued milk to the spot, at which Nepa discovered the Jyotirlinga of Pashupatinath upon investigation, was also named Ne.

Norwegian Indologist Christian Lassen proposed that Nepala was a compound of Nipa (foot of a mountain) and -ala (short suffix for alaya which means abode), and therefore, Nepala meant “abode at the foot of the mountain”. He considered Ne Muni to be a fabrication. Indologist Sylvain Levi found Lassen’s theory untenable but had no theories of his own, only suggesting that either Newara is a vulgarism of sanskritic Nepala, or Nepala is Sanskritisation of the local ethnic. Levi’s view has some support in later works. The idea that Nepal is a polished form of Newar, the name of the indigenous people of Kathmandu valley, may be gaining support, but it leaves the question of etymology unanswered. One theory proposes that Nepa is a Tibeto-Burman stem consisting of Ne (cattle) and Pa (keeper), which alludes to the fact that early inhabitants of the valley were Gopalas (cowherds) and Mahispalas (buffalo-herds). Suniti Kumar Chatterji thought that ‘Nepal’ originated from Tibeto-Burman roots- Ne, of uncertain meaning (as multiple possibilities exist), and pala or bal, whose meaning is lost entirely.


Lumbini, listed as the birthplace of Gautama Buddha by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention

Ancient Nepal

Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least eleven thousand years.

Nepal is mentioned in the late Vedic Atharvaveda Pariśiṣṭa and in the post-Vedic Atharvashirsha Upanishad. Nepal is also mentioned in Hindu texts such as the Narayana Puja and the regional text “Nepal Mahatmya” which claims to be a part of Skanda Purana. The Gopal Bansa were likely one of the earliest inhabitants of Kathmandu valley. The earliest rulers of Nepal were the Kiratas (Kirata Kingdom), peoples often mentioned in Hindu texts, who ruled Nepal for many centuries. Various sources mention up to 32 Kirati kings ruling over 16 centuries.

Around 500 BCE, small kingdoms and confederations of clans arose in the southern regions of Nepal. From one of these, the Shakya polity, arose a prince who later renounced his status to lead an ascetic life, founded Buddhism, and came to be known as Gautama Buddha (traditionally dated 563–483 BCE). By 250 BCE, the southern regions had come under the influence of the Maurya Empire of North India and later became a vassal state under the Gupta Empire in the 4th century CE. In Samudragupta‘s Allahabad Pillar it is mentioned as a border country.

The kings of the Lichhavi dynasty have been found to have ruled Nepal after the Kirat monarchical dynasty. The context that “Suryavansi Kshetriyas had established a new regime by defeating the Kirats” can be found in some genealogies and Puranas. It is not clear yet when the Lichhavi dynasty was established in Nepal. According to the opinion of Baburam Acharya, the prominent historian of Nepal, Lichhavies established their independent rule by abolishing the Kirati state that prevailed in Nepal around 250 CE.

The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late 8th century, and was followed by a Newar or Thakuri era. Thakuri kings ruled over the country up to the middle of the 12th century CE; King Raghav Dev is said to have founded the ruling dynasty in October 869 CE. King Raghav Dev also started the Nepal Sambat.

Medieval Nepal

In the early 12th century, leaders emerged in far western Nepal whose names ended with the Sanskrit suffix malla (“wrestler”). These kings consolidated their power and ruled over the next 200 years, until the kingdom splintered into two dozen petty states. Another Malla dynasty beginning with Jayasthiti emerged in the Kathmandu valley in the late 14th century, and much of central Nepal again came under a unified rule. In 1482, the realm was divided into three kingdoms: KathmanduPatan, and Bhaktapur.

Unification of Nepal

King Tribhuvan giving an audience to British general Claude Auchinleck at the royal palace in Kathmandu, 1945

In the mid-18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha king, set out to put together what would become present-day Nepal. He embarked on his mission by securing the neutrality of the bordering mountain kingdoms. After several bloody battles and sieges, notably the Battle of Kirtipur, he managed to conquer the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. A detailed account of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s victory was written by Father Giuseppe, an eyewitness to the war.

The Gorkha control reached its height when the North Indian territories of the Kumaon and Garhwal Kingdoms in the west to Sikkim in the east came under Nepalese control. A dispute with Tibet over the control of mountain passes and inner Tingri valleys of Tibet forced the Qing Emperor of China to start the Sino-Nepali War compelling the Nepali to retreat and pay heavy reparations to Peking.

Rivalry between the Kingdom of Nepal and the East India Company over the control of states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepali War (1815–16). At first, the British underestimated the Nepali and were soundly defeated until committing more military resources than they had anticipated needing. Thus began the reputation of Gurkhas as fierce and ruthless soldiers. The war ended in the Sugauli Treaty, under which Nepal ceded recently captured lands as well as the right to recruit soldiers. Madhesis, having supported the East India Company during the war, had their lands gifted to Nepal.

Rana autocratic regime

Factionalism inside the royal family led to a period of instability. In 1846, a plot was discovered revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Kunwar, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country. Jung Bahadur Kunwar emerged victorious and founded the Rana dynasty, later known as Jung Bahadur Rana. The king was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted them during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (and later in both World Wars). Some parts of the Terai region populated with non-Nepali peoples were gifted to Nepal by the British as a friendly gesture because of her military help to sustain British control in India during the rebellion. In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship that superseded the Sugauli Treaty of 1816.

Legalized slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924. Rana rule was marked by tyranny, debauchery, economic exploitation and religious persecution.

Democratic Nepal

In the late 1940s, newly emerging pro-democracy movements and political parties in Nepal were critical of the Rana autocracy. Meanwhile, with the invasion of Tibet by China in the 1950s, India sought to counterbalance the perceived military threat from its northern neighbour by taking pre-emptive steps to assert more influence in Nepal. India sponsored both King Tribhuvan (ruled 1911–55) as Nepal’s new ruler in 1951 and a new government, mostly comprising the Nepali Congress, thus terminating Rana hegemony in the kingdom.

After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, King Mahendra (ruled 1955–72) scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a “partyless” Panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989, when the “Jan Andolan” (People’s Movement) forced King Birendra (ruled 1972–2001) to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament that took seat in May 1991. In 1991–92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent, most of whom have been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal ever since.

In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal started a violent bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people’s republic. This led to the long Nepali Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths. On 1 June 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palaceKing BirendraQueen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family were killed. The alleged perpetrator Crown Prince Dipendra, who allegedly committed suicide shortly thereafter, was briefly declared king for three days while he was in coma. Following the carnage, King Birendra’s brother Gyanendra inherited the throne. On 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed the elected government and legislature,assuming full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement. But this initiative was unsuccessful because a stalemate had developed in which the Maoists were firmly entrenched in large expanses of countryside but could not yet dislodge the military from numerous towns and the largest cities. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate.

In response to the 2006 democracy movement, King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people. On 24 April 2006 the dissolved House of Representatives was reinstated. Using its newly acquired sovereign authority, on 18 May 2006 the House of Representatives unanimously voted to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, ending its time-honoured official status as a Hindu Kingdom. On 28 December 2007, a bill was passed in parliament to amend Article 159 of the constitution – replacing “Provisions regarding the King” by “Provisions of the Head of the State” – declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy. The bill came into force on 28 May 2008.

Following the declaration of the federal republic, an election was held for the Constituent Assembly that would draft a new constitution. A period of instability followed; with changing governments, and various nationalist movements and popular protests demanding for ethnic autonomy; the political deadlock meant the constituent assembly failed to adopt a constitution within the stipulated time. The Constituent Assembly was dissolved in May 2012. A second election for a new Constituent Assembly was held in 2013 under a non-partisan government led by former Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi. On 25 April 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal followed by a 7.3 magnitude aftershock two weeks later, causing a combined death toll of 8,500, about 21,000 injuries and material loss amounting to a third of the country’s annual Gross Domestic Product. The Constitution of Nepal, passed with a 90% majority was announced in 20 September 2015 making Nepal a federal democratic republic divided into seven unnamed provinces. It was, however, rejected by the Madhesi nationalist parties, who intensified their protests, leading to an unofficial economic blockade by the Government of India. By February 2016, an amendment had been agreed between India and Nepal, and the Madhesis slowly backed down after it was passed by parliament. The elections for the localprovincial and federal levels of government were held in 2017 and Nepal Communist Party emerged as the ruling party with a strong majority at the federal level, as well as six of the seven provinces.


A topographic map of Nepal.

Mount Everest, the highest peak on earth, lies on the Nepal-China border.

Nepal is of roughly trapezoidal shape, about 800 kilometres (500 mi) long and 200 kilometres (120 mi) wide, with an area of 147,181 km2 (56,827 sq mi). It lies between latitudes 26° and 31°N, and longitudes 80° and 89°E. Nepal’s defining geological processes began 75 million years ago when the Indian plate, then part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana, began a north-eastward drift caused by seafloor spreading to its south-west, and later, south and south-east. Simultaneously, the vast Tethyn oceanic crust, to its northeast, began to subduct under the Eurasian plate. These dual processes, driven by convection in the Earth’s mantle, both created the Indian Ocean and caused the Indian continental crust eventually to under-thrust Eurasia and to uplift the Himalayas.[59] Immediately south of the emerging Himalayas, plate movement created a vast trough that rapidly filled with river-borne sediment and now constitutes the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Nepal lies almost completely within this collision zone, occupying the central sector of the Himalayan arc, nearly one third of the 2,400 km (1,500 mi)-long Himalayas, with a small strip of southernmost Nepal stretching into the Indo-Gangetic plain and two districts in the northwest stretching up to the Tibetan plateau.

Nepal is divided into three principal physiographic belts known as HimalPahadTerai. Himal is the mountain region containing snow and situated in the Great Himalayan Range; it makes up the northern part of Nepal. It contains the highest elevations in the world including 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) height Mount Everest (Sagarmāthā in Nepali) on the border with China. Seven other of the world’s “eight-thousanders” are in Nepal or on its border with China: LhotseMakaluCho OyuKangchenjungaDhaulagiriAnnapurna and Manaslu. Pahad is a mountain region that does not generally contain snow. The mountains vary from 800 to 4,000 metres (2,600 to 13,100 ft) in altitude with progression from subtropical climates below 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) to alpine climates above 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). The Lower Himalayan Range, reaching 1,500 to 3,000 metres (4,900 to 9,800 ft), is the southern limit of this region, with subtropical river valleys and “hills” alternating to the north of this range. Population density is high in valleys but notably less above 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) and very low above 2,500 metres (8,200 ft), where snow occasionally falls in winter. The southern lowland plains or Terai bordering India are part of the northern rim of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Terai is a lowland region containing some hill ranges. The plains were formed and are fed by three major Himalayan rivers: the Koshi, the Narayani, and the Karnali as well as smaller rivers rising below the permanent snowline. This region has a subtropical to tropical climate. The outermost range of foothills called Sivalik Hills or Churia Range, cresting at 700 to 1,000 metres (2,300 to 3,280 ft), marks the limit of the Gangetic Plain; however broad, low valleys called Inner Tarai Valleys (Bhitri Tarai Uptyaka) lie north of these foothills in several places.

The Indian plate continues to move north relative to Asia at about 50 mm (2.0 in) per year. This makes Nepal an earthquake prone zone, and periodic earthquakes that have devastating consequences present a significant hurdle to the development of Nepal. Erosion of the Himalayas is a very important source of sediment, which flows to the Indian Ocean. Saptakoshi, in particular, carries huge amount of silt out of Nepal but sees extreme drop in Gradient in Bihar, causing severe floods and course changes, and is therefore, known as the sorrow of Bihar. Severe flooding and landslides cause deaths and disease, destroy farmlands and cripple the transport infrastructure of the country, during the monsoon season each year.

Nepal has five climatic zones, broadly corresponding to the altitudes. The tropical and subtropical zones lie below 1,200 metres (3,900 ft), the temperate zone 1,200 to 2,400 metres (3,900 to 7,900 ft), the cold zone 2,400 to 3,600 metres (7,900 to 11,800 ft), the subarctic zone 3,600 to 4,400 metres (11,800 to 14,400 ft), and the Arctic zone above 4,400 metres (14,400 ft). Nepal experiences five seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. The Himalaya blocks cold winds from Central Asia in the winter and forms the northern limit of the monsoon wind patterns. In a land once thickly forested, deforestation is a major problem in all regions, with resulting erosion and degradation of ecosystems.


Land cover map of 2010

This land cover map of Nepal using Landsat 30 m (2010) data shows forest cover is the dominant type of land cover in Nepal

The greater one-horned rhinoceros roams the sub-tropical grasslands of the Terai plains.

Nepal contains a disproportionately large diversity of plants and animals, relative to its size. Nepal, in its entirety, forms the western portion of the eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, with notable biocultural diversity. The dramatic differences in elevation found in Nepal (60 m from sea level in the Terai plains, to 8,848 m Mount Everest) result in a variety of biomes. Eastern half of Nepal is richer in biodiversity as it receives more rain, compared to western parts, where arctic desert-type conditions are more common at higher elevations. Nepal is a habitat for 4.0% of all mammal species, 8.9% of bird species, 1.0% of reptile species, 2.5% of amphibian species, 1.9% of fish species, 3.7% of butterfly species, 0.5% of moth species and 0.4% of spider species. In its 35 forest-types and 118 ecosystems, Nepal harbours 2% of the flowering plant species, 3% of pteridophytes and 6% of bryophytes.

Nepal’s forest cover is 59,624 km2 (23,021 sq mi), 40.36% of the country’s total land area, with an additional 4.38% of scrubland, for a total forested area of 44.74%, an increase of 5% from two decades ago. In the southern plains, Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands ecoregion contains some of the world’s tallest grasses, Sal forests, tropical evergreen forests and tropical riverine deciduous forests. In the lower hills (700 m – 2,000 m), subtropical and temperate deciduous mixed forests containing mostly Sal (in the lower altitudes), Chilaune and Katus, as well as subtropical pine forest dominated by Chir pine are common. The middle hills (2,000 m – 3,000 m) are dominated by Oak and RhododendronSubalpine coniferous forests cover the 3,000 m to 3,500 m range, dominated by Oak (particularly in the west), Eastern Himalayan firHimalyan pine and Himalayan hemlock; Rhododendron is common as well. Above 3,500 m in the west and 4,000 m in the east, coniferous trees give way to Rhododendron-dominated alpine shrubs and meadows.

Among the notable trees that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, are the astringent Azadirachta indica, or neem, which is widely used in traditional herbal medicine, and the luxuriant Ficus religiosa, or peepal, which is displayed on the ancient seals of Mohenjo-daro, and under which Gautam Buddha is recorded in the Pali canon to have sought enlightenment. Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal.

Most of the subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest of the lower himalayan region is descended from the tethyan tertiary flora. As the Indian plate collided with Eurasia forming and raising the Himalayas, the arid and semi-arid mediterranean flora was pushed up and adapted to the more alpine climate over the next 40–50 million years. The Himalayan biodiversity hotspot was the site of mass exchange and intermingling of the Indian and Eurasian species in the neogene. One mammal species (Himalayan field mouse), two each of bird and reptile species, nine amphibian, eight fish and 29 butterfly species are endemic to Nepal.

Himalayan monal (Danphe), the national bird of Nepal, nests high in the himalayas

Nepal contains 107 IUCN-designated threatened species, 88 of them animal species, 18 plant species and one species of “fungi or protist” group. These include the endangered Bengal tiger, the Red panda, the Asiatic elephant, the Himalayan musk deer, the Wild water buffalo and the South Asian river dolphin, and the critically endangered Gharial, the Bengal florican, and the White-rumped Vulture, which has become nearly extinct by having ingested the carrion of diclofenac-treated cattle. The pervasive and ecologically devastating human encroachment of recent decades has critically endangered Nepali wildlife. In response, the system of national parks and protected areas, first established in 1973 with the enactment of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, was substantially expanded. Vulture restaurants coupled with a ban on veterinary usage of diclofenac has seen a rise in the number of white-rumped vultures. The community forestry program which has seen a third of the country’s population directly participate in managing a quarter of the total forested area in Nepal, has helped the local economy while reducing human-wildlife conflict. The breeding programs coupled with community-assisted military patrols, and a crackdown on poaching and smuggling, has seen poaching of critically endangered tigers and elephants as well as vulnerable rhinos, among others, go down to effectively zero, and their numbers have steadily increased. Nepal has ten national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, three conservation areas and eleven buffer zones, covering a total area of 28,959.67 km2 (11,181.39 sq mi), or 19.67% of the total land area, while ten wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention.

Politics and government


Main office holders
Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Bidhya Devi BhandariPresident of Nepal since 29 October 2015
Khadga Prasad Oli
Khadga Prasad OliPrime Minister since 15 February 2018

Nepal is a parliamentary republic with a multi-party system. It has four political parties recognised in the federal parliament: Nepal Communist Party (NCP)Nepali Congress (NC),[100] Samajbadi Party Nepal (SPN) and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN).[100] While all the major parties officially espouse democratic socialism, NCP is considered leftist while Nepali Congress is considered centrist, with most considering it center-left and some center-right. The minor party SPN is leftist and RJPN is center-right to right-wing. During most of the brief periods of democratic exercise between 1950 and 1960 as well as between 1990 and 2001, Nepali Congress held a majority in parliament. Following the entry of the Maoists into the political process, Maoists were the largest party in the first constituent assembly and Nepali Congress were the largest in the second, with no party winning a majority. In the aftermath of the 2017 elections, the first one according to the new constitution, NCP has become the ruling party at the federal level as well as six out of seven provinces. While Nepali Congress has a significantly reduced representation, it is the only major opposition to the ruling communist party in all levels of government.

Early politics in the Kingdom of Nepal was characterised by factionalism, conspiracies and murders, including two major massacres. After almost a century of power-wrangling among the prominent BasnyatPande and Thapa families, a fast-rising military leader Janga Bahadur Rana emerged on top in the aftermath of the Kot massacre and established the Rana autocratic regime which consolidated powers of the King as well as prime minister and reigned for another century, with a policy of oppression and isolationism. By the 1930s, Nepali expatriates in India had started smuggling in writings on political philosophies, which gave birth to a vibrant underground political movement in the capital, birthing Nepal Praja Parishad in 1939, which was dissolved only two years later following the execution of the four great martyrs. Around the same time, Nepalis involved in the Indian Independence Movement started organising into political parties, leading to the birth of Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal. Following Indian Independence, Nepali Congress was successful in overthrowing the Rana regime with support from the Indian government and cooperation from the king. While communism was still trying to find its footing, Nepali Congress enjoyed overwhelming support of the electorate. Following a brief ten-year exercise in democracy, another partyless autocracy was initiated, this time by the King, who deposed the democratically elected government of Nepali Congress, imposed or exiled prominent leaders and issued a ban on party politics.

Many political parties and their leaders remained underground or in exile for the next 30 years of partyless politics in Nepal. BP Koirala was released from prison in 1968 and went into exile in Benaras. Although an armed insurgency launched by the major communist faction called the Jhapa movement had failed comprehensively by 1971, it formed the foundation of the dominant communist power CPN ML that was officially launched in 1978. After the accession of King Birendra generally considered more sympathetic to the wishes of the public, in 1972, the pro-democracy movements picked up steam. BP Koirala returned from exile in 1976, and was immediately put into house arrest. A general referendum was held in 1980, which saw the CPN ML campaign for the option of multi-party democracy, along with Nepali Congress, but the Panchayat System was declared the winner to significant controversy. The Panchayat rule saw governments led by a group of monarchy loyalists taking turns, with Surya Bahadur Thapa, Tulsi Giri and Kirti Nidhi Bista becoming prime minister three times each, among others. The Panchayat system introduced a number of reforms, built infrastructures and modernised the country, while significantly curtailing political freedom, imposing the Nepali language and khas culture to the oppression of all others and spreading Indophobic propaganda the effects of which are experienced up to the present day.

Prachanda speaking at a rally in Pokhara.

In 1990, the joint civil resistance launched by the United left front (an alliance of two major communist parties) and Nepali Congress with pressures created from the economic blockade imposed by India was successful in overthrowing the Panchayat and the country became a constitutional monarchy. The United Left Front became CPN UML. The Panchayat loyalists formed National Democratic Party which emerged as the third major party. While Nepali Congress ran the government for most of the next ten years of democracy that followed, democracy was mostly a disappointment owing to the immature democratic culture and political infighting in the capital, as well as the civil war that followed the guerrilla insurgency launched by the Maoist Party. Following a four-year autocratic rule by Gyanendra that failed to defeat the Maoists, a mass civil protest was launched by a coalition of the maoists and the political parties in 2006, which forced the king to stepped down, brought the maoists to the peace process, and established a democratic republic by 2008.

Following the political consensus to draft the new constitution of the republic via a constituent assembly, Nepali politics saw a marked increase in forces/ideas of nationalism. While the political power-wrangling caused continuous instability, maintaining the established average of nine months per government, this period saw two constituent assembly elections and the rise of Madhesi nationalist parties, especially in the Eastern Terai region. By 2015, the new constitution had been promulgated and Nepal became “a federal democratic republic striving towards democratic socialism”. In 2017, a series of elections were held according to the new constitution, which established Nepal Communist Party (formally united after the election) as the ruling party at the federal level as well as six of the seven provinces, Nepali Congress as the only significant opposition party in federal and provincial levels and the Madhesi coalition formed the provincial government in Province No. 2, but boasts negligible presence in the rest of the country.


Entrance to Singha Durbar, the seat of the Nepali government in Kathmandu

Nepal is governed according to the Constitution of Nepal, which came into effect on 20 September 2015. It defines Nepal as having multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-cultural characteristics with common aspirations of people living in diverse geographical regions, and being committed to and united by a bond of allegiance to the national independence, territorial integrity, national interest, and prosperity of Nepal. All Nepali people collectively constitute the state.

The Government of Nepal comprises three branches:

  • Executive: The form of governance of Nepal is a multi-party, competitive, federal democratic republican parliamentary system based on plurality. The executive power of Nepal rests with the Council of Ministers in accordance with the Constitution and Nepali law. The President appoints the parliamentary party leader of the political party with the majority in the House of Representatives as a Prime Minister, and a Council of Ministers is formed in his/her chairmanship. The executive power of the provinces, pursuant to the Constitution and laws, is vested in the Council of Ministers of the province. The executive power of the province shall be exercised by the province Head in case of absence of the province Executive in a State of Emergency or enforcement of Federal rule. Every province has a ceremonial Head as the representative of the Federal government. The President appoints a Governor for every province. The Governor exercises the rights and duties as specified in the constitution or laws. The Governor appoints the leader of the parliamentary party with the majority in the Provincial Assembly as the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers are formed under the chairpersonship of the Chief Minister.
  • Legislature: The Legislature of Nepal, called Federal Parliament, consists of two Houses, namely the House of Representatives and the National Assembly. The term of House of Representatives is five years. The House of Representatives consists of 275 members: 165 members elected through the first-past-the-post electoral system consisting of one member from each of the one hundred and sixty five electoral constituencies; 110 elected from proportional representation electoral system where voters vote for parties, while treating the whole country as a single electoral constituency. The National Assembly is a permanent house. The tenure of members of National Assembly is six years. The National Assembly consists of 59 members: 56 members elected from an Electoral College, comprising members of provincial Assembly and chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of Village councils and Mayors and Deputy Mayors of Municipal councils, with different weights of votes for each, with eight members from each province, including at least three women, one Dalit, and one person with a disability or a member of a minority. Three members, including at least one woman, are to be nominated by the President on the recommendation of the Government of Nepal. A Provincial Assembly is the unicameral legislative assembly for a federated province.[124] The term for the Provincial Assembly is five years.
  • Judiciary: Powers relating to justice in Nepal are exercised by courts and other judicial institutions in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, other laws, and recognised principles of justice. Nepal has a unitary three-tier independent judiciary that comprises the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of Nepal, 7 High Courts, and a large number of trial courts. The supreme court is the highest court in the land. The high court is the highest court in each province. There are district courts, one in each district below the high courts. The local governments may convene local judicial bodies to resolve disputes and render non-binding verdicts on cases not involving actionable crime. The actions and proceedings of the local judicial bodies may be guided and countermanded by the district courts.[19]

Administrative divisions

Nepal is a federal republic comprising 7 provinces. Each province is composed of 8 to 14 districts. The districts, in turn, comprise local units known as urban and rural municipalities.[19] There is a total of 753 local units which includes 6 metropolitan municipalities, 11 sub-metropolitan municipalities and 276 municipalities for a total of 293 urban municipalities, and 460 rural municipalities.[125] Each local unit is composed of wards. There are 6,743 wards in total.

The local governments enjoy executive and legislative as well as limited judicial powers in their local jurisdiction. The provinces have unicameral parliamentary westminster system of governance. The local and provincial governments exercise some absolute powers and some powers shared with provincial and federal governments as applicable, as listed in the constitution of Nepal. The laws enacted by local governments may not contradict existing laws at the provincial and federal levels or the national constitution. Similarly, provincial legislature may not enact laws contradicting federal laws or the national constitution. The powers not listed in the constitution are exercised by the federal government. The district coordination committee, a committee composed of all elected officials from the local governments in the district, has a very limited role.[19][125]

No. Provinces Capital Districts Area
1 Province No. 1 Biratnagar 14 25,905 km2 4,534,943 175
2 Province No. 2 Janakpur 8 9,661 km2 5,404,145 559
3 Province No. 3 Hetauda 13 20,300 km2 5,529,452 272
4 Gandaki Pradesh Pokhara 11 21,504 km2 2,413,907 112
5 Province No. 5 Butwal 12 22,288 km2 4,891,025 219
6 Karnali Pradesh Birendranagar 10 27,984 km2 1,168,515 41
7 Sudurpashchim Pradesh Godavari 9 19,539 km2 2,552,517 130
Total Nepal Kathmandu 77 147,181 km2 26,494,504 180

Laws, law enforcement and crime

The Constitution of Nepal is the supreme law of the land, and any other laws contradicting it are automatically invalid to the extent of the contradiction.[126] The specific legal provisions are codified as Civil Code and Criminal Code, accompanied by Civil Procedure Code and Criminal Procedure Code respectively.[127] Other laws may be enacted by the parliament at all levels of government to supplement but not supersede these laws and other laws enacted by the higher level parliaments, as applicable. The Supreme Court is the highest authority in the interpretation of laws and it can direct the parliament to amend or enact new laws as required. Nepali laws are considered generally more progressive compared to other third world countries, and in some instances, some countries of the first world as well. Nepal has abolished the death penalty. It also has made progress in LGBT rights and gender equality. It recognises marital rape and supports abortion rights; however because of the rise in sex-selective abortion, constraints have been introduced. Nepal is a signatory to the Geneva ConventionConventions/Treaties on the prohibition of BiologicalChemical and Nuclear weapons, International Labour Organisation Fundamental ConventionsTreaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as the Paris climate accord. Some legal provisions that are guided by socio-economic, cultural and religious sensibilities remain discriminatory. There is gender based discrimination against the foreign nationals married to a Nepali citizen. Paternal lineage of a person is valued and required in legal documents. In addition, many laws remain unenforced in practice.

Nepal Police is the primary law enforcement agency of Nepal. It is an independent organisation under the command of the Inspector General of Police, who is appointed by and reports to the Home ministry. Nepal police is responsible for maintaining law and order in the country, which includes police protection and providing security to important public institutions, landmarks and events, prevention of crime and security patrols, search and seizure of contrabands and smuggled goods, investigation and arrest of suspects, maintenance of prison facilities, maintenance of border checkpoints, and carrying out operations and investigations in cooperation with InterPol and police delegates from friendly countries when required. In addition, Nepal Police is also responsible for traffic management in the country, which is done by the special subdivision, the Nepal traffic police force. Nepal Armed Police Force, a separate paramilitary police organisation works in cooperation with Nepal police, assisting the latter in maintaining checkpoints, border security, patrols, crowd control in case of violent protests, security of vital assets, counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism actions, as well as any other internal security matter that requires use of force. The Crime Investigation Department is the special branch of Nepal Police that specialises in criminal investigation and forensic analysis, which maintains an investigative team in every district of the country and is called in when normal police procedures and investigations prove insufficient in resolving a case. The National Investigation Department of Nepal is an independent intelligence organisation which gathers intelligence relevant to internal security and law enforcement, as part of its mandate. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority is an independent investigative agency that investigates and prosecutes cases related to corruption and bribery, in addition to the abuse of authority by government officials and officeholders.

A 2010 survey estimated about 46,000 hard drug users in the country, with 70% of the users to be within the age group of 15 to 29. There has been a sharp increase in the seizure of drugs such as hashish, heroin and opium in the past few years; and there are indications that drug traffickers are trying to establish Nepal as a transit point. Human trafficking and child labour are major problems in Nepal. Nepali victims are trafficked within Nepal, to India, the Middle East, and other areas such as Malaysia and forced to become prostitutes, domestic servants, beggars, factory workers, mine workers, circus performers, child soldiers, and others. Sex trafficking is particularly rampant within Nepal and to India, with as many as 5,000 to 10,000 women and girls trafficked to India alone each year.

Foreign economic and strategic relations

Gurkha Memorial, London

Nepal pursues a policy of “balanced relations” with the two giant immediate neighbours, India and China,[143][144] although Nepal shares an unparalleled socio-cultural ties with India[145][146] and the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Nepal and India provides for a much closer relationship between the two countries.[147] Nepal and India share an open border with free movement of people, religious, cultural and marital ties, and each boasts Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimages widely visited by citizens of the other. Nepal’s currency is permanently pegged to the Indian currency, most of the third-country trade of Nepal is carried out via Indian ports, and millions of people from Nepal reside in India for education and work, and vice versa. India is Nepal’s largest trading partner, and Nepal imports all of its oil and gas, and almost all of a number of other essential supplies including medicine, from India. Nepalis, prominently, participated in the Indian Independence Movement, and India closely monitors and seeks to influence Nepal’s internal politics, which has led to India playing indispensable roles in all of Nepal’s democratic movements, and on some occasions, India’s unwelcome interventions in Nepal’s politics has given rise to a significant skepticism regarding India’s intentions and strengthened anti-India sentiment in Nepal. Nepalis serve in the Gurkha battalions of the Indian army and have fought in India’s wars. Nepalis can own property in India, while Indians are free to live and work in Nepal.[148] While Nepal votes independently in international forums, and India and Nepal often disagree in such votes, Nepal has made a commitment to seek India’s approval on any purchase of military weapons from third countries,[149] while India unilaterally considers smaller countries in South Asia including Nepal as under its security sphere, requiring military protection.[150][151] Nepal’s long-term grievances against India stem from India’s interference in Nepal’s internal politics, the 1950 treaty that is seen as unfair to Nepal,[147] alleged border encroachment and harassment by Indian border security force, flooding caused by river dams controlled by India, and India’s willingness to blockade Nepal to force its agenda. India has expressed concern with Nepal’s apathy toward alleged cross-border terrorism carried out by Pakistani terrorists based in Nepal, Nepal’s refusal to acknowledge support for India during India-China conflict and Nepal’s recognition of Chinese claim over Tibet, and the alleged use of anti-India propaganda by Nepali political players for political gain, among others.

Nepal is one of the major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions.

Nepal established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China on 1 August 1955, and relations since have been based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Nepal has always maintained neutrality in conflicts between China and India. It remains firmly committed to the One China Policy, and is known to curb anti-China activities from the Tibetan refugees in Nepal.[152][153] Citizens of both countries can cross the border and travel as far as 30 km without a visa.[154] China is viewed favorably in Nepal because of its assistance in infrastructure development, absence of any border disputes or serious interference in internal politics, aid during natural disasters, and favorability has only increased since China helped Nepal during the economic blockade imposed by India in 2015.[155] Since then, Nepal and China have moved closer on trade and connectivity with China granting Nepal access to its ports for third country trade, and Nepal joining China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative with plans for expansive road and railway projects.[156]

Nepal emphasizes greater cooperation in the South Asia region and actively pushed for the establishment of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the permanent secretariat of which, is hosted in Kathmandu.[157] Nepal was one of the first countries to recognise an independent Bangladesh, and the two countries seek to enhance greater cooperation, on trade and water management; seaports in Bangladesh which are closer to Nepal, are seen as viable alternatives to India’s monopoly on Nepal’s third country trade.[158] Nepal’s relationship with Bhutan has become acrimonious since Bhutan carried out an ethnic cleansing against its citizens of Nepali origin, in the early 1990s[159] most of the whom have been resettled in third countries after decades of efforts to repatriate them failed.[160] Nepal was the first South Asian country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and the countries enjoy a strong relationship.[161] However, Nepal also recognises the rights of the Palestinians, and has voted in favor of recognising Palestine at the UN and against the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.[162] Other countries that Nepal maintains a close relationship with includes countries that are the most generous donors and development partners of Nepal, namely, the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Japan and Norway, among others.[163]

The multipurpose Kukri knife (top) is the signature weapon of Nepali armed forces, and is used by Indian and British Gurkhas, Nepal army, police and even Nepalese security guards.

Nepal’s military expenditure for 2018 was $398.5 million,[164] around 1.4% of its GDP.[165] The age of qualification for the military service which is voluntary, is 18 years,[166] The Nepal Army is an almost exclusively ground infantry force, and numbers at less than one hundred thousand,[167][168][169] but also has a few aircraft, mainly helicopters, primarily used for transport, patrol and search and rescue.[170] Directorate of Military Intelligence is the military intelligence agency under Nepal Army,[171] while National Investigation Department is the independent intelligence agency tasked with national and international intelligence gathering.[167] As the military of an underdeveloped small country sandwiched between two superpowers, Nepal Army is not maintained as a national defence force against foreign aggression, but rather for routine security of critical assets, anti-poaching activities in national parks, internal security in times of crisis, like civil war, terrorism, etc. and for search and rescue during natural disasters.[172] Nepal Army also undertakes construction projects. While there are no officially sanctioned discriminatory policies on recruitment to army, except on the basis of physical or mental fitness and age, but rather reservations for marginalised groups, the army is dominated by the elite Pahari warrior castes, women form an abysmal minority[175] and there are allegations of discrimination against sexual minorities,[176] in practice. Nepal mainly depends on diplomacy for national defence. Nepal has always maintained a policy of neutrality between its neighbours, has amicable relations with other countries in the region, and has pursued a policy of non-alignment in the global stage. In addition to the SAARC and the UN, Nepal is also a member of WTOBIMSTEC and ACD, among others. It conducts joint military exercises with China, India and the United States. Nepal has bilateral diplomatic relations with 167 countries and the EU,[177] has embassies in 30 countries[178] and six consulates,[179] while 25 countries maintain their embassies in Nepal, and more than 80 other countries maintain non-residential diplomatic missions.[180] Nepal is also one of the major contributors to the UN Peacekeeping Missions having contributed more than 119,000 personnel to 42 missions since 1958.[181] Nepali people have a reputation for honesty, loyalty and bravery, which has led to Nepalese citizens serving as the legendary Gurkha warriors in the Indian and British armies for the last 200 years, and have fought in both world wars, India-Pakistan wars as well as being deployed in both Afghanistan and Iraq,[182] even though Nepal wasn’t directly involved in any of those conflicts, and have won the highest military awards including the Victoria Cross and the Param Vir Chakra.[183][184] Nepali migrant workers also serve as security guards, and Singapore Police Force also maintains a Gurkha contingent of Nepali recruits, owing to the same legendary reputation of the Nepali people.


A proportional representation of Nepal’s exports.

Terraced rice farming in Nepal

Kathmandu street vendors

Nepalese silver currency, 1695

Nepal’s gross domestic product (GDP) for 2018 was estimated at $28.8 billion.[188] With an annual growth rate of 6.3% in 2018, Nepal is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.[189] In the economic year 2018/19, agriculture accounted for 27.59%, services 57.81%, and industry 14.6% of Nepal’s GDP.[190]

Agriculture employs 76% of the workforce, services 18% and manufacturing and craft-based industry 6%. Agricultural produce – mostly grown in the Terai region bordering India – includes tea, rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, root crops, milk, and water buffalo meat. Industry mainly involves the processing of agricultural produce, including jute, sugarcane, tobacco, and grain. Its workforce of about 10 million suffers from a severe shortage of skilled labour.

Nepal’s economic growth continues to be adversely affected by the political uncertainty. Nevertheless, real GDP growth was estimated to increase to almost 5 percent for 2011–2012. This is an improvement from the 3.5 percent GDP growth in 2010–2011 and would be the second-highest growth rate in the post-conflict era.[191] Sources of growth include agriculture, construction, financial and other services. The contribution of growth by consumption fuelled by remittances has declined since 2010/2011. While remittance growth slowed to 11 percent (in Nepali Rupee terms) in 2010/2011, it has since increased to 37 percent. Remittances are estimated to be equivalent to 25–30 percent of GDP. Inflation has been reduced to a three-year low of 7 percent.[191]

The proportion of poor people has declined substantially since 2003. The percentage of people living below the international poverty line (people earning less than US$1.25 per day) has halved in seven years.[191] At this measure of poverty the percentage of poor people declined from 53.1% in 2003/2004 to 24.8% in 2010/2011.[191] With a higher poverty line of US$2 per-capita per day, poverty declined by one-quarter to 57.3%.[191] However, the income distribution remains grossly uneven.[192]

In a recent survey, Nepal has performed extremely well in reducing poverty along with Rwanda and Bangladesh as the percentage of poor dropped to 44.2 percent of the population in 2011 from 64.7 percent in 2006—4.1 percentage points per year, which means that Nepal has made improvement in sectors like nutrition, child mortality, electricity, improved flooring and assets. If the progress of reducing poverty continues at this rate, then it is predicted that Nepal will halve the current poverty rate and eradicate it within the next 20 years.[193][194]

Nepal is popular for mountaineering, having some of the highest and most challenging mountains in the world, including Mount Everest. Technically, the southeast ridge on the Nepali side of the mountain is easier to climb, so most climbers prefer to trek to Everest through Nepal. The spectacular landscape and diverse, exotic cultures of Nepal represent considerable potential for tourism, but growth in the industry has been stifled by political instability and poor infrastructure. Despite these problems, in 2012 the number of international tourists visiting Nepal was 598,204, a 10% increase on the previous year.[195] The tourism sector contributed nearly 3% of national GDP in 2012 and is the second-biggest foreign income earner after remittances.[196]

The rate of unemployment and underemployment approaches half of the working-age population. Thus many Nepali citizens move to other countries in search of work. Destinations include India, Qatar, the United States, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Brunei Darussalam, Australia, and Canada.[197][198] Nepal receives $50 million a year through the Gurkha soldiers who serve in the Indian and British armies and are highly esteemed for their skill and bravery. As of 2010, the total remittance value is around $3.5 billion.[198] In 2009 alone, the remittance contributed to 22.9% of the country’s GDP.[198]

A long-standing economic agreement underpins a close relationship with India. The country receives foreign aid from the UK,[199][200] India, Japan, the US, the EU, China, Switzerland, and Scandinavian countries. Poverty is acute; per-capita income is around $1,000.[201] The distribution of wealth among the Nepali is consistent with that in many developed and developing countries: the highest 10% of households control 39.1% of the national wealth and the lowest 10% control only 2.6%.

The government’s budget is about $1.153 billion, with an expenditure of $1.789 billion (FY 20005/06). The Nepali rupee has been tied to the Indian rupee at an exchange rate of 1.6 for many years. Since the loosening of exchange rate controls in the early 1990s, the black market for foreign exchange has all but disappeared. The inflation rate has dropped to 2.9% after a period of higher inflation during the 1990s.

Nepal’s exports of mainly carpets, clothing, hemp, leather goods, jute goods and grain total $822 million. Import commodities of mainly gold, machinery and equipment, petroleum products and fertilizer total US$2 billion. European Union (EU) (46.13%), the US (17.4%), and Germany (7.1%) are its main export partners. The European Union has emerged the largest buyer of Nepali ready-made garments (RMG). Exports to the EU accounted for “46.13 percent of the country’s total garment exports”.[202] Nepal’s import partners include India (47.5%), the United Arab Emirates (11.2%), China (10.7%), Saudi Arabia (4.9%), and Singapore (4%).

Besides having landlocked, rugged geography, few tangible natural resources and poor infrastructure, the ineffective post-1950 government and the long-running civil war are also factors in stunting the country’s economic growth and development.[203][204][205] Nevertheless, an estimated 234,600 people are enslaved in modern-day Nepal, or 0.82% of the population.[206] Debt bondage even involving debtors’ children has been a persistent social problem in the Terai.



Middle Marshyandi Hydroelectricity Dam. Nepal has significant potential to generate hydropower, which it plans to export across South Asia

The bulk of the energy in Nepal comes from fuel wood (68%), agricultural waste (15%), animal dung (8%), and imported fossil fuels (8%).[207][208] Except for some lignite deposits, Nepal has no known oil, gas or coal deposits. All commercial fossil fuels (mainly oil and coal) are either imported from India or from international markets routed through India and China. Fuel imports absorb over one-fourth of Nepal’s foreign exchange earnings.[208] Only about 1% energy need is fulfilled by electricity. The perennial nature of Nepali rivers and the steep gradient of the country’s topography provide ideal conditions for the development of hydroelectric projects. Current estimates put Nepal’s economically feasible hydropower potential to be approximately 83,000 MW from 66 hydropower project sites.[208][209] However, currently Nepal has been able to exploit only about 600 MW from 20 medium to large hydropower plants and a number of small and micro hydropower plants.[207] There are 9 major hydropower plants under construction, and additional 27 sites considered for potential development.[207] Only about 40% of Nepal’s population has access to electricity.[207] There is a great disparity between urban and rural areas. The electrification rate in urban areas is 90%, whereas the rate for rural areas is only 5%.[208] The peak electricity demand is almost double the capability or dependable capacity in winter season.[210] The position of the power sector remains unsatisfactory because of high tariffs, high system losses, high generation costs, high overheads, over staffing, and lower domestic demand.[208]


Means of transport in mountainous area

Nepal remains isolated from the world’s major land, air and sea transport routes although, within the country, aviation is in a better state, with 47 airports, 11 of them with paved runways;[211] flights are frequent and support a sizeable traffic. The hilly and mountainous terrain in the northern two-thirds of the country has made the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and expensive. In 2007 there were just over 10,142 km (6,302 mi) of paved roads, and 7,140 km (4,437 mi) of unpaved road, and one 59 km (37 mi) railway line in the south.[211]

More than one-third of its people live at least a two hours walk from the nearest all-season road. Only recently all district headquarters (except for Simikot and Dunai) became reachable by road from Kathmandu. In addition, around 60% of the road network and most rural roads are not operable during the rainy season.[212] The only practical seaport of entry for goods bound for Kathmandu is Kolkata in West Bengal state of India. Internally, the poor state of development of the road system makes access to markets, schools, and health clinics a challenge.[203]


The overall literacy rate (for population age 5 years and above) increased from 54.1% in 2001 to 65.9% in 2011. The male literacy rate was 75.1% compared to the female literacy rate of 57.4%. The highest literacy rate was reported in Kathmandu district (86.3%) and lowest in Rautahat (41.7%).[7] While the net primary enrolment rate was 74% in 2005;[213] in 2009, that enrolment rate was 90%.[214]

However, increasing access to secondary education (grade 9–12) remains a major challenge, as evidenced by the low net enrolment rate of 24% at this level. More than half of primary students do not enter secondary schools, and only one-half of them complete secondary schooling. In addition, fewer girls than boys join secondary schools and, among those who do, fewer complete the 10th grade.[215] On the other hand, citing poor university education at home, tens of thousands of Nepali students leave the country every year, with half of them never returning.[216][217]

Nepal has seven universities: Tribhuvan UniversityKathmandu UniversityPokhara UniversityPurbanchal UniversityMahendra Sanskrit UniversityFar-western University, and Agriculture and Forestry University.[218] Some newly proposed universities are Lumbini Bouddha University, and Mid-Western University. Some fine scholarship has emerged in the post-1990 era.[219]


Kunde Hospital in remote Himalayan region

Public health and health care services in Nepal are provided by both the public and private sectors. According to 2011 census, more than one-third (38.17%) of the total households do not have a toilet.[7] Tap water is the main source of drinking water for 47.78% of households, tube well/hand pump is the main source of drinking water for about 35% of households, while spout, uncovered well/kuwa, and covered well/kuwa are the main source for 5.74%, 4.71%, and 2.45% respectively.[7] Based on 2010 World Health Organization (WHO) data, Nepal ranked 139th in life expectancy in 2010 with the average Nepali living to 65.8 years.[220][221] Leading sicknesses include gastrointestinal diseases (especially diarrhea and intestinal parasites), goiterleprosyvisceral leishmaniasis and tuberculosis.[222] About 4 out of 1,000 adults aged 15 to 49 had human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and the HIV prevalence rate was 0.5%.[223][224] Malnutrition also remains very high: about 47% of children under five are stunted, 15 percent wasted, and 36 percent underweight, although there has been a declining trend for these rates over the past five years, they remain alarmingly high.[225] In spite of these figures, improvements in health care have been made, most notably in maternal-child health. In 2012, the under-five infant mortality was estimated to be 41 out of every 1000 children.[226][227] Overall Nepal’s Human Development Index (HDI) for health was 0.77 in 2011, ranking Nepal 126 out of 194 countries, up from 0.444 in 1980.[228][229]

Telecommunications and mass media

According to the Nepal Telecommunication Authority MIS May 2012 report,[230] there are seven operators and the total voice telephony subscribers including fixed and mobile are 16,350,946, which gives a penetration rate of 61.42%. The fixed telephone service account for 9.37%, mobile for 64.63%, and other services (LM, GMPCS) for 3.76% of the total penetration rate. Similarly, the numbers of subscribers to data/internet services are 4,667,536, which represents 17.53% penetration rate. Most of the data service is accounted by GPRS users. Twelve months earlier the data/internet penetration was 10.05%, thus this represents a growth rate of 74.77%.[230]

Not only has there been strong subscriber growth, especially in the mobile sector, but there was evidence of a clear vision in the sector, including putting a reform process in place and planning for the building of necessary telecommunications infrastructure. Most importantly, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) and the telecom regulator, the National Telecommunications Authority (NTA), have both been very active in the performance of their respective roles.[231]

Despite all the effort, there remained a significant disparity between the high coverage levels in the cities and the coverage available in the underdeveloped rural regions. Progress on providing some minimum access had been good. Of a total of 3,914 village development committees across the country, 306 were unserved by December 2009.[231] In order to meet future demand, it was estimated that Nepal needed to invest around US$135 million annually in its telecom sector.[231] In 2009, the telecommunication sector alone contributed to 1% of the country’s GDP.[232] As of 30 September 2012, Nepal has 1,828,700 Facebook users.

As of 2007, the state operates two television stations as well as national and regional radio stations. There are roughly 30 independent TV channels registered, with only about half in regular operation. Nearly 400 FM radio stations are licensed with roughly 300 operational. According to the 2011 census, the percentage of households possessing radio was 50.82%, television 36.45%, cable TV 19.33%, computer 7.23%. According to the Press Council Nepal, as of 2012 there are 2,038 registered newspapers in Nepal, among which 514 are in publication.[234] In 2013, Reporters Without Borders ranked Nepal at 118th place in the world in terms of press freedom.


Comparison of Nepal Population

According to the 2011 census, Nepal’s population grew from 9 million people in 1950 to 26.5 million. From 2001 to 2011, the average family size declined from 5.44 to 4.9. The census also noted some 1.9 million absentee people, over a million more than in 2001; most are male labourers employed overseas, predominantly in South Asia and the Middle East. This correlated with the drop in sex ratio from 94.41 as compared to 99.80 for 2001. The annual population growth rate is 1.35%.

The citizens of Nepal are known as Nepali or Nepalese. The country is home to people of many different national origins. As a result, Nepalese do not equate their nationality with ethnicity, but with citizenship and allegiance. Although citizens make up the majority of Nepalese, non-citizen residents, dual citizens, and expatriates may also claim a Nepalese identity. Nepal is multicultural and multiethnic country. The Nepali are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and North Burma and the Chinese province of Yunnan via Assam. Among the earliest inhabitants were the Kirat of east mid-region, Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, aboriginal Tharus of the Terai plains.

Population density map of Nepal

Despite the migration of a significant section of the population to the Terai in recent years, the majority of Nepalese still live in the central highlands; the northern mountains are sparsely populated. Kathmandu is the largest city in the country and the cultural and economic heart.

According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Nepal hosted a population of refugees and asylum seekers in 2007 numbering approximately 130,000. Of this population, approximately 109,200 persons were from Bhutan and 20,500 from People’s Republic of China. The government of Nepal restricted Bhutanese refugees to seven camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts, and refugees were not permitted to work in most professions. At present, the United States is working towards resettling more than 60,000 of these refugees in the US.

Nepalese women dancing for Teej

Population Structure
Data Size
Population 26,494,504 (2011)
Growth rate 1.35%
Population below 14 Years old 34.19%
Population of age 15 to 59 54.15%
Population above 60 8.13%
Median age (average) 20.07
Median age (male) 19.91
Median age (females) 20.24
Ratio (male:female) 100:94.16
Life expectancy (average) (reference:) 66.16 Years
Life expectancy (male) 64.94
Life expectancy (female) 67.44
Literacy rate (average) 65.9%
Literacy rate (male) 75.1%
Literacy rate (female) 57.4%


A Nepalese Tibetan monk

Nepal’s diverse linguistic heritage stems from three major language groups: Indo-AryanTibeto-Burman, and various indigenous language isolates. The major languages of Nepal (percent spoken as native language) according to the 2011 census are Nepali (44.6%), Maithili (11.7%), Bhojpuri (6.0%), Tharu (5.8%), Tamang (5.1%), Nepal Bhasa (3.2%), Bajjika (3%) and Magar (3.0%), Doteli (3.0%), Urdu (2.6%), Awadhi (1.89%), and Sunwar. Nepal is home to at least four indigenous sign languages.

Descendent of SanskritNepali is written in Devanagari script. It is the official language and serves as lingua franca among Nepali of different ethnolinguistic groups. The regional languages MaithiliAwadhi and Bhojpuri are spoken in the southern Terai region; Urdu is common among Nepali MuslimsVarieties of Tibetan are spoken in and north of the higher Himalaya where standard literary Tibetan is widely understood by those with religious education. Local dialects in the Terai and hills are mostly unwritten with efforts underway to develop systems for writing many in Devanagari or the Roman alphabet.


The 2011 census reported that the religion with the largest number of followers in Nepal was Hinduism (81.3% of the population), followed by Buddhism (9%); the remaining were Islam (4.4%), Kirant (3%), Christianity (1.3%) and other folk religions (0.4%). The prevalence of irrelegion was reported to be at 0.5%. By percentage of population, Nepal has the largest population of Hindus in the world. Nepal was officially a Hindu Kingdom until recently, and Shiva was considered the guardian deity of the country. Differences between Hindus and Buddhists have been minimal in Nepal due to the cultural and historical intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Important pilgrimages in Nepal include, Pashupatinath Temple, Lumbini (the birthplace of Gautam Buddha) and Janakpurdham (the site of the ancient capital of Videha, home to goddess Sita), among others.


As Nepal is one of the developing countries, its cities, like other aspects, are growing. More than 20% of the population live in urban areas. The capital, Kathmandu, is the largest city and is called the “City of Temples” for its numerous temples of Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddess. One of the oldest cities of South Asia, Katmandu has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, palaces and historically important sites such as Singha Durbar. The other large cities of Nepal are PokharaBiratnagarLalitpurBharatpurBirgunjDharanHetauda and Nepalgunj.


Magar couple in their ethnic dress.

Folklore is an integral part of Nepali society. Traditional stories are rooted in the reality of day-to-day life, tales of love, affection and battles as well as demons and ghosts and thus reflect local lifestyles, culture, and beliefs. Many Nepali folktales are enacted through the medium of dance and music.

Most houses in the rural lowlands of Nepal are made up of a tight bamboo framework and walls of a mud and cow-dung mix. These dwellings remain cool in summer and retain warmth in winter. Houses in the hills are usually made of unbaked bricks with thatch or tile roofing. At high elevations construction changes to stone masonry and slate may be used on roofs.

Nepal’s flag is the only national flag in the world that is not rectangular in shape. The constitution of Nepal contains instructions for a geometric construction of the flag. According to its official description, the red in the flag stands for victory in war or courage, and is also the colour of the rhododendron, the national flower of Nepal. Red also stands for aggression. The flag’s blue border signifies peace. The curved moon on the flag is a symbol of the peaceful and calm nature of Nepali, while the sun represents the aggressiveness of Nepali warriors.


Nyatapola was erected by King Bhupatindra Malla in 1702 and is a major tourist attraction in the historical city of Bhaktapur.

Historical kingdoms that existed in the Kathmandu valley are found to have made use of some clever technologies in numerous areas such as architecture, agriculture, civil engineering, water management, etc. The Gopals and Abhirs, who ruled the valley up until c. 1000 BC, used temporary materials for construction such as bamboo, hay, timber, etc. The Kirat period (700 BC – 110 AD) employed the technology of brick firing as well as produced quality woolen shawls. Similarly, stupas, idols, canals, self-recharging ponds, reservoirs, etc. constructed during the Lichhavi era (110–879 AD) are intact to this day, which manifests the ingenuity of traditional architecture. Moreover, the Malla period (1200–1768 AD) saw an impressive growth in architecture, on par with its advanced contemporaries. An archetypal example of Malla architecture is Nyatapola, a five-storied, 30-metre tall temple in Bhaktapur, which has strangely survived at least four major earthquakes, including the April 2015 Nepal earthquake.

Holidays and festivals

With 15 days a year, Nepal is the country that enjoys the least number of public holidays in the world. The Nepali year begins in 1st of Baisakh in official Hindu Calendar of the country, the Bikram Sambat, which falls in mid-April and is divided into 12 months. Saturday is the official weekly holiday. Main annual holidays include the Martyr’s Day (18 February), and a mix of Hindu and Buddhist festivals such as Dashain in autumn, Tihar in mid-autumn and Chhath in late autumn. During Swanti, the Newars perform the Mha Puja ceremony to celebrate New Year’s Day of the lunar calendar Nepal Sambat. Being a Secular country Nepal has holiday on main festivals of minority religions too.


The national cuisine of Nepal is Dhindo and Gundruk. The staple Nepali meal is dal bhatDal is a lentil soup, and is served over bhat (boiled rice), with tarkari (curried vegetables) together with achar (pickles) or chutni (spicy condiment made from fresh ingredients). It consists of non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian items. Mustard oil is a common cooking medium and a host of spices, including cumin, coriander, black pepper, sesame seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, methi (fenugreek), bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, chilies and mustard seeds are used in cooking. Momo is a type of steamed dumpling with meat or vegetable fillings, and is a popular fast food in many regions of Nepal.


Nepali children playing a variant of knucklebones with pebbles.

Nepali indigenous sports, like dandi biyo and kabaddi which were considered the unofficial national sports until recently, are still popular in rural areas. Despite various efforts, standardisation and development of dandi biyo has not been achieved, while Kabaddi, as a professional sport, is still in its infancy in Nepal. Bagh-chal, an ancient board game that’s thought to have originated in Nepal, can be played on chalk-drawn boards, with pebbles, and is still popular today. Ludosnakes and ladders and carrom are popular pastimes. Chess is also played.[248] Volleyball was declared as the national sport of Nepal in 2017. Popular children’s games include versions of tag, knucklebones, hopscotch, Duck, duck, goose and lagori, while marbles, top, hoop rolling and gully cricket are also popular among boys. Rubber bands, or ranger bands cut from bike tyres, make a multi-purpose sporting equipment for Nepali children, which may be bunched or chained together, and used to play dodgeballcat’s cradlejianzi and a variety of skipping rope games.


Nepali cricket fans are renowned for an exceptionally enthusiastic support of their national team.

Football and cricket are popular professional sports. Nepal is competitive in football in the South Asia region but has never won the SAFF championships, the regional tournament. It usually ranks in the bottom quarter in the FIFA world rankings. Nepal has had success in cricket and holds the elite ODI status, consistently ranking in the Top 20 in the ICC ODI and T20I rankings. Nepal has had some success in athletics and martial arts, having won many medals at the South Asian Games and some at the Asian games. Nepal has never won an olympic medal. Sports like basketball, volleyball, futsalwrestling, competitive bodybuilding and badminton are also gaining in popularity. Women in football, cricket, athletics, martial arts, badminton and swimming have found some success. Nepal also fields players and national teams in several tournaments for the differently abled, most notably in men’s as well as women’s blind cricket.

The only international stadium in the country is the multi-purpose Dasarath Stadium where the men and women national football teams play their home matches. Since the formation of the national team, Nepal has played its home matches of cricket at Tribhuvan University International Cricket Ground. Nepal police, Armed police force and Nepal army are the most prolific producers of national players, and aspiring players are known to join armed forces, for the better sporting opportunities they can provide. Nepali sports is hindered by a lack of infrastructure, funding, corruption, nepotism and political interference. Very few players are able to make a living as professional sportspeople.




  • 日本
  • Nippon or Nihon
Anthem: Kimigayo “君が代”
“His Imperial Majesty’s Reign”

Government Seal of Japan

Seal of the Office of the Prime Minister and the Government of Japan

Go-Shichi no Kiri

Projection of Asia with Japan's Area coloured green
Japanese territory in dark green; claimed, but uncontrolled land shown in light green
and largest city
35°41′N 139°46′E
National language Japanese
Ethnic groups
Demonym(s) Japanese
Government Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
• Emperor
Shinzō Abe
Tadamori Oshima
Akiko Santō
Naoto Ōtani
Legislature National Diet
House of Councillors
House of Representatives
February 11, 660 BC
November 29, 1890
May 3, 1947
April 28, 1952
• Total
377,973 km2 (145,936 sq mi)[10] (61st)
• Water (%)
• January 2019 census
126,317,000[11] (11th)
• Density
334/km2 (865.1/sq mi) (41st)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
$5.749 trillion[12] (4th)
• Per capita
$45,565[12] (31st)
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
$5.176 trillion[12] (3rd)
• Per capita
$41,021[12] (26th)
Gini (2011) 37.9[13]
medium · 76th
HDI (2017) Increase 0.909[14]
very high · 19th
Currency Yen (¥) / En  (JPY)
Time zone UTC+09:00 (JST)
Date format
  • yyyy-mm-dd
  • yyyy年m月d日
  • Era yy年m月d日 (CE−2018)
Mains electricity 100 V–50 and 60 Hz
Driving side left
Calling code +81
ISO 3166 code JP
Internet TLD .jp
Japanese name
Kanji 日本国
Hiragana にっぽんこく
Katakana ニッポンコク
Kyūjitai 日本國

Japan (Japanese日本Nippon [ɲippoꜜɴ] (About this soundlisten) or Nihon [ɲihoꜜɴ] (About this soundlisten); formally 日本国About this soundNippon-koku or Nihon-kokulit. ’State of Japan’) is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.

The kanji that make up Japan’s name mean ‘sun origin’, and it is often called the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Japan is the world’s 4th largest island country and encompasses about 6,852 islands. The stratovolcanic archipelago has five main islandsHonshuHokkaidoKyushuShikoku and Okinawa which make up about 97% percent of Japan’s land area.[15] The country is divided into 47 prefectures and unofficially into eight regions, with Hokkaido being the northernmost prefecture and Okinawa being the southernmost prefecture. Japan is the 2nd most populous island country. The population of approximately 126 million is the world’s eleventh largest, of which 98.5% are ethnic Japanese. 90.7% of people live in cities, while 9.3% live in the countryside.[16] About 13.8 million people live in Tokyo,[17] the capital of Japan. The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world with over 38 million people.[18]

Archaeological research indicates that Japan was inhabited as early as the Upper Paleolithic period. The first written mention of Japan is in Chinese history texts from the 1st century AD. Influence from other regions, mainly China, followed by periods of isolation, particularly from Western Europe, has characterized Japan’s history.

From the 12th century until 1868, Japan was ruled in the name of the Emperor by successive feudal military shōguns. Japan entered into a long period of isolation in the early 17th century, which was ended in 1853 when a United States fleet pressured Japan to open to the West. After nearly two decades of internal conflict and insurrection, the Imperial Court regained its political power in 1868 through the help of several clans from Chōshū and Satsuma – and the Empire of Japan was established. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, victories in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War and World War I allowed Japan to expand its empire during a period of increasing militarism. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937 expanded into part of World War II in 1941, which came to an end in 1945 following the Japanese surrender. Since adopting its revised constitution on May 3, 1947, during the occupation led by SCAP, the sovereign state of Japan has maintained a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with an Emperor and an elected legislature called the National Diet.

Japan is a member of the ASEAN Plus mechanismUN, the OECD, the G7, the G8, and the G20, and is considered a great power.[19][20][21] Its economy is the world’s third-largest by nominal GDP and the fourth-largest by purchasing power parity. It is also the world’s fourth-largest exporter and fourth-largest importer.

Japan benefits from a highly skilled and educated workforce; it has among the world’s largest proportion of citizens holding a tertiary education degree.[22] Although it has officially renounced its right to declare war, Japan maintains a modern military with the world’s eighth-largest military budget,[23] used for self-defense and peacekeeping roles; it ranked as the world’s fourth-most powerful military in 2015.[24] Japan is a highly developed country with a very high standard of living and Human Development Index. Its population enjoys one of the highest life expectancy and the third lowest infant mortality rate in the world, but is experiencing issues due to an aging population and low birthrate. As of 2019, Japanese citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 189 countries and territories, ranking the Japanese passport 1st in the world, tied with Singapore.[25] Japan is renowned for its striking art, historical and extensive cinema, influential music industry, mangaanimevideo gaming, rich cuisine and its major contributions to science and modern technology.[26][27]



The Japanese word for Japan is 日本, which is pronounced Nihon or Nippon and literally means “the origin of the sun”. The character nichi () means “sun” or “day”; hon () means “base” or “origin”.[28] The compound therefore means “origin of the sun” and is the source of the popular Western epithet “Land of the Rising Sun”.[29]

The earliest record of the name Nihon appears in the Chinese historical records of the Tang dynasty, the Old Book of Tang. At the end of the seventh century, a delegation from Japan requested that Nihon be used as the name of their country. This name may have its origin in a letter sent in 607 and recorded in the official history of the Sui dynastyPrince Shōtoku, the Regent of Japan, sent a mission to China with a letter in which he called himself “the Emperor of the Land where the Sun rises” (日出處天子). The message said: “Here, I, the emperor of the country where the sun rises, send a letter to the emperor of the country where the sun sets. How are you[?]”.[30]

The “King of Na gold seal“, said to have been granted to Na king of Wa (Japan) by Emperor Guangwu of Han in 57 CE. The seal reads “漢委奴國王“. Tokyo National Museum

Prior to the adoption of Nihon, other terms such as Yamato (大和, or “Great Wa”) and Wakoku (倭国) were used. The term Wa () is a homophone of Wo  (pronounced “Wa” by the Japanese), which has been used by the Chinese as a designation for the Japanese as early as the third century Three Kingdoms period. Another form of Wa (), Wei in Chinese) was used for an early state in Japan called Nakoku during the Han dynasty.[31] However, the Japanese disliked some connotation of Wa  (which has been associated in China with concepts like “dwarf” or “pygmy”), and it was therefore replaced with the substitute character Wa (), meaning “togetherness, harmony”.[30][32]

The English word Japan possibly derives from the historical Chinese pronunciation of 日本. Japan was recorded by Marco Polo as Cipangu.[33] In modern Shanghainese, a Wu dialect, the pronunciation of characters 日本 Japan is Zeppen [zəʔpən]. The old Malay word for Japan, Japun or Japang, was borrowed from a southern coastal Chinese dialect, probably Fukienese or Ningpo[34] – and this Malay word was encountered by Portuguese traders in Southeast Asia in the 16th century.[35] These Early Portuguese traders then brought the word to Europe.[36] The first record of this name in English is in a book published in 1577 and spelled Giapan, in a translation of a 1565 letter written by a Portuguese Jesuit Luís Fróis.[37][38]

From the Meiji Restoration until the end of World War II, the full title of Japan was Dai Nippon Teikoku (大日本帝國), meaning “the Empire of Great Japan“.[39] Today, the name Nihon-koku/Nippon-koku (日本国) is used as a formal modern-day equivalent with the meaning of “the State of Japan”. Countries like Japan whose long form does not contain a descriptive designation are generally given a name appended by the character koku (), meaning “country”, “nation” or “state”.


Prehistoric and ancient history

Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇 Jinmu-tennō), the first Emperor of Japan dated as 660 BCE[40][41][42] – in modern Japan his accession is marked as National Foundation Day on February 11.

Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC constitutes the first known habitation of the Japanese archipelago. This was followed from around 14,000 BC (the start of the Jōmon period) by a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture characterized by pit dwelling and rudimentary agriculture,[43] including by ancestors of contemporary Ainu people and Yamato people.[44][45] The Jōmon pottery and decorated clay vessels from this period are some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world.[46][47] Around 300 BC, the Yayoi people began to enter the Japanese islands, intermingling with the Jōmon.[48] The Yayoi period, starting around 500 BC, saw the introduction of practices like wet-rice farming,[49] a new style of pottery[50] and metallurgy, introduced from China and Korea.[51]

Japan first appears in written history in the Chinese Book of Han.[52] According to the Records of the Three Kingdoms, the most powerful kingdom on the archipelago during the third century was called Yamataikoku.

Classical era

Buddhism was introduced to Japan from BaekjeKorea and was promoted by Prince Shōtoku, but the subsequent development of Japanese Buddhism was primarily influenced by China.[53] Despite early resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class and gained widespread acceptance beginning in the Asuka period (592–710).[54] Due to the defeat in Battle of Baekgang by Chinese Tang empire, the Japanese government devised and implemented the far-reaching Taika Reforms. The Reform began with land reform, based on Confucian ideas and philosophies from China. It nationalized all land in Japan, to be distributed equally among cultivators, and ordered the compilation of a household registry as the basis for a new system of taxation.[55] The true aim of the reforms was to bring about greater centralization and to enhance the power of the imperial court, which was also based on the governmental structure of China. Envoys and students were dispatched to China to learn seemingly everything from the Chinese writing system, literature, religion, and architecture, to even dietary habits at this time. Even today, the impact of the reforms can still be seen in Japanese cultural life. After the reforms, the Jinshin War of 672, a bloody conflict between Prince Ōama and his nephew Prince Ōtomo, two rivals to the throne, became a major catalyst for further administrative reforms.[56] These reforms culminated with the promulgation of the Taihō Code, which consolidated existing statutes and established the structure of the central government and its subordinate local governments.[55] These legal reforms created the ritsuryō state, a system of Chinese-style centralized government that remained in place for half a millennium.[56]

The Nara period (710–784) marked an emergence of the centralized Japanese state centered on the Imperial Court in Heijō-kyō (modern Nara). The Nara period is characterized by the appearance of a nascent literature as well as the development of Buddhist-inspired art and architecture.[57] The smallpox epidemic of 735–737 is believed to have killed as much as one-third of Japan’s population.[58] In 784, Emperor Kanmu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō, then to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto) in 794.

This marked the beginning of the Heian period (794–1185), during which a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged, noted for its artpoetry and prose. Murasaki Shikibu‘s The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of Japan’s national anthem “Kimigayo” were written during this time.[59]

Buddhism began to spread during the Heian era chiefly through two major sects, Tendai by Saichō and Shingon by KūkaiPure Land Buddhism (Jōdo-shūJōdo Shinshū) became greatly popular in the latter half of the 11th century.

Feudal era

Samurai warriors facing Mongols during the Mongol invasions of JapanSuenaga, 1293

Japan’s feudal era was characterized by the emergence and dominance of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. In 1185, following the defeat of the Taira clan in the Genpei War, sung in the epic Tale of Heike, samurai Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed shōgun by Emperor Go-Toba. In 1192, the shōgun Yoritomo and the Minamoto clan established a feudal military government in Kamakura.[60] What distinguishes Japan from other countries is that Japan was near continuously ruled by the military class with the shōgun and the samurai in the top of the Japanese social structure for 676 years (from 1192 till 1868 CE). The Emperor was above the shōgun and revered as the sovereign, but merely a figurehead. The Imperial Court nobility was a nominal ruling court with little influence. The actual ruling class were Japanese military figures: the shōgun (military dictator), daimyo (feudal lords) and the samurai (military nobility and officers).[61][62] After Yoritomo’s death, the Hōjō clan came to power as regents for the shōguns.

The Zen school of Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class.[63] The Kamakura shogunate repelled Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, but was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-DaigoEmperor Go-Daigo was himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336.

Ashikaga Takauji established the shogunate in Muromachi, Kyoto. This was the start of the Muromachi period (1336–1573). The Ashikaga shogunate achieved glory at the age of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and the culture based on Zen Buddhism (the art of Miyabi) prospered. This evolved to Higashiyama Culture, and prospered until the 16th century. On the other hand, the succeeding Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyōs) and a civil war (the Ōnin War) began in 1467, opening the century-long Sengoku period (“Warring States”).[64]

During the 16th century, Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries like the Spaniard Francis Xavier[65] reached Japan for the first time, initiating direct commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West. This allowed Oda Nobunaga to obtain European technology and firearms, which he used to conquer many other daimyōs. His consolidation of power began what was known as the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1573–1603). After Nobunaga was assassinated in 1582 by Akechi Mitsuhide, his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the nation in 1590 and launched two unsuccessful invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597.

Tokugawa Ieyasu served as regent for Hideyoshi’s son and used his position to gain political and military support. When open war broke out, Ieyasu defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Tokugawa Ieyasu was appointed shōgun by Emperor Go-Yōzei in 1603 and established the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo (modern Tokyo).[66] The shogunate enacted measures including buke shohatto, as a code of conduct to control the autonomous daimyōs;[67] and in 1639 the isolationist sakoku (“closed country”) policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period (1603–1868).[68] The study of Western sciences, known as rangaku, continued through contact with the Dutch enclave at Dejima in Nagasaki. The Edo period also gave rise to kokugaku (“national studies”), the study of Japan by the Japanese.[69]

Modern era

Emperor Meiji (1868–1912), in whose name imperial rule was restored at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate

On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the “Black Ships” of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. Subsequent similar treaties with Western countries in the Bakumatsu period brought economic and political crises. The resignation of the shōgun led to the Boshin War and the establishment of a centralized state nominally unified under the Emperor (the Meiji Restoration).[70]

Plunging itself through an active process of Westernization during the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan adopted Western political, judicial and military institutions and Western cultural influences integrated with its traditional culture for modern industrialization. The Cabinet organized the Privy Council, introduced the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet. The Meiji Restoration transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that pursued military conflict to expand its sphere of influence. Although France and Britain showed some interest, the European powers largely ignored Japan and instead concentrated on the much greater attractions of China. France was also set back by its failures in Mexico and defeat by the Germans.[71] After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan gained control of Taiwan, Korea and the southern half of Sakhalin.[72] In addition to imperialistic success, Japan also invested much more heavily in its own economic growth, leading to a period of economic flourishing in the country which lasted until the Great Depression.[73] Japan’s population grew from 35 million in 1873 to 70 million by 1935.[74]

The Japanese Empire in 1939

In World War I, Japan joined the Allies and captured German possessions, and made advances into China. The early 20th century saw a period of Taishō democracy (1912–1926), but the 1920s saw a fragile democracy buckle under a political shift towards statism, the passing of laws against political dissent and a series of attempted coups. This process accelerated during the 1930s, spawning a number of new Radical Nationalist groups which shared a hostility to liberal democracy and a dedication to expansion in Asia. Japanese expansionism and militarization along with the totalitarianism and ultranationalism reshaped the country. In 1931 Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria and following international condemnation of this occupation, it quit the League of Nations in 1933. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and the 1940 Tripartite Pact made it one of the Axis Powers.

Japanese officials surrendering to the Allies on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, ending World War II

The Empire of Japan invaded other parts of China in 1937, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). The Imperial Japanese Army swiftly captured the capital Nanjing and conducted the Nanjing Massacre.[75] In 1940, the Empire invaded French Indochina, after which the United States placed an oil embargo on Japan.[76] On December 7–8, 1941, Japanese forces carried out surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, British forces in MalayaSingapore and Hong Kong and declared war on the United States and the British Empire, bringing the United States and the United Kingdom into World War II in the Pacific. After Allied victories across the Pacific during the next four years, which culminated in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August 15.[77] The war cost Japan, its colonies, China and the war’s other combatants tens of millions of lives and left much of Japan’s industry and infrastructure destroyed. The Allies (led by the United States) repatriated millions of ethnic Japanese from colonies and military camps throughout Asia, largely eliminating the Japanese empire and its influence over its conquered territories.[78] The Allies also convened the International Military Tribunal for the Far East on May 3, 1946, to prosecute some senior generals for war crimes.

In 1947, during the post-war Shōwa period, Japan adopted a new constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied occupation ended with the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952[79] and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Japan later achieved rapid growth to become the second-largest economy in the world, until surpassed by China in 2010. This ended in the mid-1990s when Japan suffered a major recession. In the beginning of the 21st century, positive growth has signaled a gradual economic recovery.[80] On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered one of the largest earthquakes in its recorded history; this triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, one of the worst disasters in the history of nuclear power.[81] On May 1, 2019, after the historic abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30 and the first since 1817, his son Naruhito became the new Emperor. In addition to the new Emperor, Japan changed its Imperial Era from Heisei to Reiwa.[82]


The Japanese archipelago as seen from satellite

Japan has a total of 6,852 islands extending along the Pacific coast. It is over 3,000 km (1,900 mi) long from the Sea of Okhotsk to the Philippine Sea in the Pacific Ocean.[83] The country, including all of the islands it controls, lies between latitudes 24° and 46°N, and longitudes 122° and 146°E. The five main islands, from north to south, are HokkaidoHonshuShikokuKyushu and Okinawa.[15] The Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa, are a chain to the south of Kyushu. The Nanpō Islands are south and east of the main islands of Japan. Together they are often known as the Japanese archipelago.[84] As of 2018, Japan’s territory is 377,973.89 km2 (145,936.53 sq mi).[9] Japan is the 4th largest island country in the world and the largest island country in East Asia.[85] Japan has the sixth longest coastline in the world (29,751 km (18,486 mi)). It does not have land borders. Due to its many far-flung outlying islands, Japan has the eighth largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world covering 4,470,000 km2 (1,730,000 sq mi).[86]

About 73 percent of Japan is forested, mountainous and unsuitable for agriculturalindustrial or residential use.[6][87] As a result, the habitable zones, mainly located in coastal areas, have extremely high population densities. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.[88]

Approximately 0.5% of Japan’s total area is reclaimed land (umetatechi). It began in the 12th century. Late 20th and early 21st century projects include artificial islands such as Chubu Centrair International Airport in Ise BayKansai International Airport in the middle of Osaka BayYokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise and Wakayama Marina City.[89] The village of Ogata in Akita, Japan, was established on land reclaimed from Lake Hachirōgata starting in 1957. By 1977, the amount of land reclaimed totaled 172.03 km2 (66.42 sq mi).[90] The Isahaya Bay reclamation project (諫早湾干拓事業) in Isahaya, Nagasaki started in 1989 and a total of 35 km2 (14 sq mi) has been reclaimed as of 2018.

The islands of Japan are located in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire. They are primarily the result of large oceanic movements occurring over hundreds of millions of years from the mid-Silurian to the Pleistocene as a result of the subduction of the Philippine Sea Plate beneath the continental Amurian Plate and Okinawa Plate to the south, and subduction of the Pacific Plate under the Okhotsk Plate to the north. The Boso Triple Junction off the coast of Japan is a triple junction where the North American Plate, the Pacific Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate meets. Japan was originally attached to the eastern coast of the Eurasian continent. The subducting plates pulled Japan eastward, opening the Sea of Japan around 15 million years ago.[91]

Japan has 108 active volcanoes. During the twentieth century several new volcanoes emerged, including Shōwa-shinzan on Hokkaido and Myōjin-shō off the Bayonnaise Rocks in the Pacific. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunami, occur several times each century.[92] The 1923 Tokyo earthquake killed over 140,000 people.[93] More recent major quakes are the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, a 9.1-magnitude[94] quake which hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and triggered a large tsunami.[81] Japan is substantially prone to earthquakes, tsunami and volcanoes due to its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire.[95] It has the 15th highest natural disaster risk as measured in the 2013 World Risk Index.[96]


Cherry blossoms of Mount Yoshino have been the subject of many plays and waka poetry.

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: HokkaidoSea of JapanCentral HighlandSeto 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.[97]

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.[97]

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 and Nanpō Islands have a subtropical climate, with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very heavy, especially during the rainy season.[97]

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).[98] The highest temperature ever measured in Japan 41.1 °C (106.0 °F) was recorded on July 23, 2018.[99] 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.[98]


The Japanese macaques at Jigokudani hot spring are notable for visiting the spa in the winter.

Japan has nine forest ecoregions which reflect the climate and geography of the islands. They range from subtropical moist broadleaf forests in the Ryūkyū and Bonin Islands, to temperate broadleaf and mixed forests in the mild climate regions of the main islands, to temperate coniferous forests in the cold, winter portions of the northern islands.[100] Japan has over 90,000 species of wildlife, including the brown bear, the Japanese macaque, the Japanese raccoon dog, the large Japanese field mouse, and the Japanese giant salamander.[101] A large network of national parks has been established to protect important areas of flora and fauna as well as thirty-seven Ramsar wetland sites.[102][103] Four sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their outstanding natural value.[104]


In the period of rapid economic growth after World War II, environmental policies were downplayed by the government and industrial corporations; as a result, environmental pollution was widespread in the 1950s and 1960s. Responding to rising concern about the problem, the government introduced several environmental protection laws in 1970.[105] The oil crisis in 1973 also encouraged the efficient use of energy because of Japan’s lack of natural resources.[106]

As of 2015, more than 40 coal-fired power plants are planned or under construction in Japan, following the switching-off of Japan’s nuclear fleet following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Prior to this incident, Japan’s emissions had been on the decline, largely due to nuclear power plants creating no emissions. The NGO Climate Action Network announced Japan as the winner of its “Fossil of the Day” award for “doing the most to block progress on climate action”.[107]

Japan ranks 20th in the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, which measures a nation’s commitment to environmental sustainability.[108] As the host and signatory of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Japan is under treaty obligation to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and to take other steps to curb climate change.[109] Current environmental issues include urban air pollution (NOx, suspended particulate matter, and toxics), waste management, water eutrophicationnature conservation, climate change, chemical management and international co-operation for conservation.[110]



Emperor since 2019

Japan is a constitutional monarchy and sovereign state whereby the power of the Emperor is very limited. As a ceremonial figurehead, he is defined by the constitution to be “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people”. Executive power is wielded chiefly by the Prime Minister and his cabinet, while sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people.[111] The Constitution of Japan is the oldest unamended constitution in the world. It has not changed since its adoption on 3 May 1947.[112]

Japan’s legislative body is the National Diet, seated in Chiyoda, Tokyo. The Diet is a bicameral body, comprising the lower House of Representatives with 465 seats, elected by popular vote every four years or when dissolved; and the upper House of Councillors with 242 seats, whose popularly elected members serve six-year terms. There is universal suffrage for adults over 18 years of age,[113] with a secret ballot for all elected offices.[111] The Diet is currently dominated by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with the largest opposition party being the social-liberal Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP). The LDP has enjoyed near-continuous electoral success since 1955, except for brief periods between 1993 and 1994 and from 2009 to 2012. As of July 2019, it holds 285 seats in the lower house and 113 seats in the upper house.

The National Diet Building, seat of both houses of the National Diet of Japan.

The Prime Minister of Japan is the head of government and is appointed by the Emperor after being designated by the Diet from among its members. The Prime Minister is the head of the Cabinet, and appoints and dismisses the Ministers of State. Following the LDP’s landslide victory in the 2012 general electionShinzō Abe replaced Yoshihiko Noda as the Prime Minister on December 26, 2012.[114]

Historically influenced by Chinese law, the Japanese legal system developed independently during the Edo period through texts such as Kujikata Osadamegaki.[115] However, since the late 19th century the judicial system has been largely based on the civil law of Europe, notably Germany. For example, in 1896, the Japanese government established a civil code based on a draft of the German Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch; with the code remaining in effect with post–World War II modifications.[116] Statutory law originates in Japan’s legislature and has the rubber stamp of the Emperor. Japan’s court system is divided into four basic tiers: the Supreme Court and three levels of lower courts.[117] The main body of Japanese statutory law is called the Six Codes.[118]

Administrative divisions

Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, each overseen by an elected governor, legislature and administrative bureaucracy.[119] Each prefecture is further divided into cities, towns and villages.[120] The nation is currently undergoing administrative reorganization by merging many of the cities, towns and villages with each other. This process will reduce the number of sub-prefecture administrative regions and is expected to cut administrative costs.[121]

Hokkaido Aomori Prefecture Akita Prefecture Iwate Prefecture Yamagata Prefecture Miyagi Prefecture Fukushima Prefecture Niigata Prefecture Tochigi Prefecture Gunma Prefecture Ibaraki Prefecture Nagano Prefecture Saitama Prefecture Chiba Prefecture Tōkyō Metropolis Kanagawa Prefecture Toyama Prefecture Ishikawa Prefecture Gifu Prefecture Fukui Prefecture Yamanashi Prefecture Shizuoka Prefecture Aichi Prefecture Shiga Prefecture Kyoto Prefecture Mie Prefecture Nara Prefecture Hyōgo Prefecture Ōsaka Prefecture Wakayama Prefecture Tottori Prefecture Okayama Prefecture Shimane Prefecture Hiroshima Prefecture Yamaguchi Prefecture Kagawa Prefecture Tokushima Prefecture Ehime Prefecture Kōchi Prefecture Fukuoka Prefecture Ōita Prefecture Saga Prefecture Nagasaki Prefecture Kumamoto Prefecture Miyazaki Prefecture Kagoshima Prefecture Okinawa Prefecture Tōkyō Metropolis Kanagawa Prefecture Ōsaka Prefecture Wakayama Prefecture

Regions and Prefectures of Japan 2.svg

About this image

Foreign relations

Japan has diplomatic relations with nearly all independent nations and has been an active member of the United Nations since December 1956. Japan is a member of the G7APEC, and “ASEAN Plus Three“, and is a participant in the East Asia Summit. Japan signed a security pact with Australia in March 2007[122] and with India in October 2008.[123] It is the world’s fifth largest donor of official development assistance, donating US$9.2 billion in 2014.[124] In 2017, Japan had the fifth largest diplomatic network in the world.[125]

Japan has close ties to the United States. Since Japan’s defeat by the United States and allies in World War II, the two countries have maintained close economic and defense relations. The United States is a major market for Japanese exports and the primary source of Japanese imports, and is committed to defending the country, having military bases in Japan for partially that purpose.[126] After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Japanese-ruled Northern Mariana Islands came under control of the United States.[127]

Japan contests Russia’s control of the Southern Kuril Islands (including Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai group) which were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945.[128] South Korea‘s control of Liancourt Rocks (Japanese: Takeshima, Korean: Dokdo) are acknowledged, but not accepted and are claimed by Japan.[129] Japan has strained relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) over the Senkaku Islands;[130] and with the People’s Republic of China over the status of Okinotorishima.

Japan’s relationship with South Korea has been strained due to Japan’s treatment of Koreans during Japanese colonial rule, particularly over the issue of comfort women.[131] These women were essentially sex slaves, and although there is no exact number on how many women were subjected to this treatment, experts believe it could be in the tens or hundreds of thousands. Between 1910 and 1945, the Japanese government rebuilt Korean infrastructure. Despite this, modernization in Korea was always linked to Japanese interests and therefore did not imply a “revolutionization” of social structures. For instance, Japan kept Korea’s primitive feudalistic agriculture because it served Japanese interests.[132] Further developments on Japan’s imperialism in Korea included establishing a slew of police stations all over the country, replacing taxes in kind with taxes in fixed money, and taking much of the communal land which had belonged to villages to give them to private companies in Japan[133] (causing many peasants to lose their land.[134]) Japan also introduced over 800,000 Japanese immigrants onto the peninsula and carried out a campaign of cultural suppression through efforts to ban the Korean language in schools and force Koreans to adopt Japanese names.[135]

Japan is a member of both the G7 and the G20

The Korean Peninsula once again became independent with the surrender of Japan and the Axis at the end of WWII in 1945. Despite their historical tensions, in December 2015, Japan agreed to settle the comfort women dispute with South Korea by issuing a formal apology, taking responsibility for the issue and paying money to the surviving comfort women. Today, South Korea and Japan have a stronger and more economically-driven relationship. Since the 1990s, the Korean Wave has created a large fanbase in East Asia. Japan is the number one importer of Korean music (K-pop), television (K-dramas), and films, but this was only made possible after the South Korean government lifted the 30-year ban on cultural exchange with Japan that had been in place since 1948.[136]

Korean pop cultural products’ success in the Japanese market is partially explained by the borrowing of Japanese ideas such as the star-marketing system and heavy promotion of new television shows and music. Korean dramas such as Winter Sonata and Coffee Prince, as well as K-pop artists such as BIGBANG and SHINee are very popular with Japanese consumers. Most recently, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the 2017 G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany to discuss the future of their relationship and specifically how to cooperate on finding solutions for North Korean aggression in the region. Both leaders restated their commitment to solving the comfort women dispute, building positive relations in the region, and pressuring China to be more assertive with North Korea as it continues to test nuclear weapons and isolate themselves further form the international community.[137]



Japan maintains one of the largest military budgets of any country in the world.[138] 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.[139] Japan is the highest-ranked Asian country in the Global Peace Index.[140] A Credit Suisse survey published in 2015 ranked Japan as the world’s fourth most-powerful military behind the United States, Russia and China.[24]

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.[141] 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.[142] 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.[143]

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.[144] 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).[144] 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.[144]

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.[145] 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.[146]

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.[147] In recent years, they have been engaged in international peacekeeping operations including the UN peacekeeping.[148] Recent tensions, particularly with North Korea,[149] have reignited the debate over the status of the JSDF and its relation to Japanese society.[150] 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.[151]

Domestic law enforcement

Map of the division of jurisdiction between the 11 Coast Guard regions

Domestic security in Japan is provided mainly by the Prefectural Police Departments, under the oversight of the National Police Agency,[152] and supervised by the Criminal Affairs Bureau of the National Police Agency.[153] As the central coordinating body for the Prefectural Police Departments, the National Police Agency is itself administered by the National Public Safety Commission.[154]

The Special Assault Team comprises national-level counter-terrorism tactical units that cooperate with territorial-level Anti-Firearms Squads and Counter-NBC Terrorism Squads.[155]

Additionally, there is the Japan Coast Guard which guards territorial waters in accordance with international law and domestic law. The coast guard patrols the sea surrounding Japan and uses surveillance and control countermeasures against smuggling, marine environmental crime, poaching, piracy, spy ships, unauthorized foreign fishing vessels, illegal immigration, etc.[156]

The Firearm and Sword Possession Control Law strictly regulates the civilian ownership of gunsswords and other weaponry, in accordance with a 1958 Japanese law which states: “No person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords” and there are few exceptions.[157][158] According to statistics of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, among the 192 member states of the UN, and among the countries reporting statistics of criminal and criminal justice, the incidence rate of violent crimes such as murder, abduction, forced sexual intercourse and robbery is very low in Japan.[159][160][161][162][163]


The Tokyo Stock Exchange, one of the largest stock exchanges in Asia[164]

Headquarters of the Bank of Japan in Chuo, Tokyo

Japan is the third largest national economy in the world, after the United States and China, in terms of nominal GDP,[165] and the fourth largest national economy in the world, after the United States, China and India, in terms of purchasing power parity. As of 2016, Japan’s public debt was estimated at more than 230 percent of its annual gross domestic product, the largest of any nation in the world.[166] In August 2011, Moody’s rating has cut Japan’s long-term sovereign debt rating one notch from Aa3 to Aa2 inline with the size of the country’s deficit and borrowing level. The large budget deficits and government debt since the 2009 global recession, followed by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, caused the rating downgrade.[167] The service sector accounts for three quarters of the gross domestic product.[168]

Japan has a large industrial capacity, and is home to some of the largest and most technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronicsmachine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemical substances, textiles, and processed foodsAgricultural businesses in Japan cultivate 13 percent of Japan’s land, and Japan accounts for nearly 15 percent of the global fish catch, second only to China.[6] As of 2016, Japan’s labor force consisted of some 65.9 million workers.[6] Japan has a low unemployment rate of around four percent. Some 20 million people, around 17 per cent of the population, were below the poverty line in 2007.[169] Housing in Japan is characterized by limited land supply in urban areas.[170]

Japan’s exports amounted to US$4,210 per capita in 2005. As of 2014, Japan’s main export markets were the United States (20.2 percent), China (17.5 percent), South Korea (7.1 percent), Hong Kong (5.6 percent) and Thailand (4.5 percent). Its main exports are transportation equipment, motor vehicles, iron and steel products, semiconductors and auto parts.[6] Japan’s main import markets as of 2015 were China (24.8 percent), the United States (10.5 percent), Australia (5.4 percent) and South Korea (4.1 percent).[6]

Japan’s main imports are machinery and equipment, fossil fuels, foodstuffs (in particular beef), chemicals, textiles and raw materials for its industries. By market share measures, domestic markets are the least open of any OECD country.[171] Junichirō Koizumi‘s administration began some pro-competition reforms, and foreign investment in Japan has soared.[172]

Japan ranks 34th of 190 countries in the 2018 ease of doing business index and has one of the smallest tax revenues of the developed world. The Japanese variant of capitalism has many distinct features: keiretsu enterprises are influential, and lifetime employment and seniority-based career advancement are relatively common in the Japanese work environment.[171][173] Japanese companies are known for management methods like “The Toyota Way“, and shareholder activism is rare.[174] Japan’s top global brands include ToyotaHondaCanonNissanSonyMitsubishi UFJ (MUFG)PanasonicUniqloLexusSubaruNintendoBridgestoneMazda and Suzuki.[175]

Japan also has a large cooperative sector, with three of the ten largest cooperatives in the world located in Japan, including the largest consumer cooperative and the largest agricultural cooperative in the world.[176]

Economic history

Modern Japan’s economic growth began in the Edo period. Some of the surviving elements of the Edo period are roads and water transportation routes, as well as financial instruments such as futures contracts, banking and insurance of the Osaka rice brokers.[177] During the Meiji period from 1868, Japan expanded economically with the embrace of the market economy.[178] Many of today’s enterprises were founded at the time, and Japan emerged as the most developed nation in Asia.[179] The period of overall real economic growth from the 1960s to the 1980s has been called the Japanese post-war economic miracle: it averaged 7.5 percent in the 1960s and 1970s, and 3.2 percent in the 1980s and early 1990s.[180]

Growth slowed in the 1990s during the “Lost Decade” due to after-effects of the Japanese asset price bubble and government policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets. Efforts to revive economic growth were unsuccessful and further hampered by the global slowdown in 2000.[6] The economy recovered after 2005; GDP growth for that year was 2.8 percent, surpassing the growth rates of the US and European Union during the same period.[181]

Today, Japan ranks highly for competitiveness and economic freedom. It is ranked sixth in the Global Competitiveness Report for 2015–2016.[182][183]

Agriculture and fishery

The Japanese agricultural sector accounts for about 1.4% of the total country’s GDP.[184] Only 12% of Japan’s land is suitable for cultivation.[185][186] Due to this lack of arable land, a system of terraces is used to farm in small areas.[187] This results in one of the world’s highest levels of crop yields per unit area, with an overall agricultural self-sufficiency rate of about 50% on fewer than 56,000 square kilometres (14,000,000 acres) cultivated.

Japan’s small agricultural sector, however, is also highly subsidized and protected, with government regulations that favor small-scale cultivation instead of large-scale agriculture as practiced in North America.[185] There has been a growing concern about farming as the current farmers are aging with a difficult time finding successors.[188]

Rice accounts for almost all of Japan’s cereal production.[189] Japan is the second-largest agricultural product importer in the world.[189] Rice, the most protected crop, is subject to tariffs of 777.7%.[186][190]

In 1996, Japan ranked fourth in the world in tonnage of fish caught.[191] Japan captured 4,074,580 metric tons of fish in 2005, down from 4,987,703 tons in 2000, 9,558,615 tons in 1990, 9,864,422 tons in 1980, 8,520,397 tons in 1970, 5,583,796 tons in 1960 and 2,881,855 tons in 1950.[192] In 2003, the total aquaculture production was predicted at 1,301,437 tonnes.[193] In 2010, Japan’s total fisheries production was 4,762,469 fish.[194] Offshore fisheries accounted for an average of 50% of the nation’s total fish catches in the late 1980s although they experienced repeated ups and downs during that period.

Today, Japan maintains one of the world’s largest fishing fleets and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch,[195] prompting some claims that Japan’s fishing is leading to depletion in fish stocks such as tuna.[196] Japan has also sparked controversy by supporting quasi-commercial whaling.[197]


A Toyota factory in OhiraMiyagi Prefecture

Japan’s industrial sector makes up approximately 27.5% of its GDP.[198] Japan’s major industries are motor vehicles, electronics, machine tools, metals, ships, chemicals and processed foods; some major Japanese industrial companies include ToyotaCanon Inc.Toshiba and Nippon Steel.[198][199]

Japan is the third largest automobile producer in the world, and is home to Toyota, the world’s largest automobile company.[200][201] The Japanese consumer electronics industry, once considered the strongest in the world, is currently in a state of decline as competition arises in countries like South Korea, the United States and China.[202][203] However, despite also facing similar competition from South Korea and China, the Japanese shipbuilding industry is expected to remain strong due to an increased focus on specialized, high-tech designs.[204]


Japan’s service sector accounts for about three-quarters of its total economic output.[184] Banking, insurance, real estate, retailing, transportation, and telecommunications are all major industries, with companies such as Mitsubishi UFJMizuhoNTTTEPCONomuraMitsubishi EstateÆONMitsui SumitomoSoftbankJR EastSeven & IKDDI and Japan Airlines listed as some of the largest in the world.[205][206] Four of the five most circulated newspapers in the world are Japanese newspapers.[207] Japan Post Holdings, one of the country’s largest providers of savings and insurance services, was slated for privatization by 2015.[208] The six major keiretsus are the MitsubishiSumitomoFuyoMitsuiDai-Ichi Kangyo and Sanwa Groups.[209]


Mount Fuji, the highest peak, is considered as one of the most iconic landmarks of Japan.

Japan attracted 19.73 million international tourists in 2015[210] and increased by 21.8% to attract 24.03 million international tourists in 2016.[211][212][213] Tourism from abroad is one of the few promising businesses in Japan. Foreign visitors to Japan doubled in last decade and reached 10 million people for the first time in 2013, led by increase of Asian visitors.

In 2008, the Japanese government has set up Japan Tourism Agency and set the initial goal to increase foreign visitors to 20 million in 2020. In 2016, having met the 20 million target, the government has revised up its target to 40 million by 2020 and to 60 million by 2030.[214][215]

Japan has 20 World Heritage Sites, including Himeji CastleHistoric Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and Nara.[216] Popular tourist attractions include Tokyo and HiroshimaMount Fuji, ski resorts such as Niseko in HokkaidoOkinawa, riding the shinkansen and taking advantage of Japan’s hotel and hotspring network.

For inbound tourism, Japan was ranked 16th in the world in 2015.[217] In 2009, the Yomiuri Shimbun published a modern list of famous sights under the name Heisei Hyakkei (the Hundred Views of the Heisei period). The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 ranks Japan 4th out of 141 countries overall, which was the best in Asia. Japan gained relatively high scores in almost all aspects, especially health and hygiene, safety and security, cultural resources and business travel.[218]

Chinese travelers are the highest spenders in Japan by country, spending an estimated 196.4 billion yen (US$2.4 billion) in 2011, or almost a quarter of total expenditure by foreign visitors, according to data from the Japan Tourism Agency.[219] In 2018, 31,191,929 foreign tourists visited Japan.[220] In 2017, 3 out of 4 foreign tourists came from South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.[221]

Science and technology

Kounotori 6 grappled by the International Space Station’s robotic arm

Japan is a leading nation in scientific research, particularly in fields related to the natural sciences and engineering. The country ranks second among the most innovative countries in the Bloomberg Innovation Index.[222][223] Nearly 700,000 researchers share a US$130 billion research and development budget.[224] The amount spent on research and development relative to gross domestic product is the third highest in the world.[225] The country is a world leader in fundamental scientific research, having produced twenty-two Nobel laureates in either physics, chemistry or medicine[226] and three Fields medalists.[227]

Japanese scientists and engineers have contributed to the advancement of agricultural sciences, electronics, industrial roboticsoptics, chemicals, semiconductorslife sciences and various fields of engineering. Japan leads the world in robotics production and use, possessing more than 20% (300,000 of 1.3 million) of the world’s industrial robots as of 2013[228] – though its share was historically even higher, representing one-half of all industrial robots worldwide in 2000.[229] Japan boasts the third highest number of scientists, technicians, and engineers per capita in the world with 83 scientists, technicians and engineers per 10,000 employees.[230][231][232]

Electronics and automotive engineering

A plug-in hybrid car manufactured by Toyota, one of the world’s largest carmakers – Japan is the third-largest maker of automobiles in the world.[200]

The Japanese electronics and automotive manufacturing industry is well known throughout the world, and the country’s electronic and automotive products account for a large share in the global market, compared to a majority of other countries. Brands such as FujifilmCanonSonyNintendoPanasonicToyotaNissan and Honda are internationally famous. It is estimated that 16% of the world’s gold and 22% of the world’s silver is contained in Japanese electronics.[233]


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is Japan’s national space agency; it conducts space, planetary, and aviation research, and leads development of rockets and satellites. It is a participant in the International Space Station: the Japanese Experiment Module (Kibō) was added to the station during Space Shuttle assembly flights in 2008.[234] The space probe Akatsuki was launched May 20, 2010, and achieved orbit around Venus on December 9, 2015. Japan’s plans in space exploration include: developing the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter to be launched in 2018;[235] and building a moon base by 2030.[236]

On September 14, 2007, it launched lunar explorer SELENE (Selenological and Engineering Explorer) on a H-IIA (Model H2A2022) carrier rocket from Tanegashima Space Center. SELENE is also known as Kaguya, after the lunar princess of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.[237] Kaguya is the largest lunar mission since the Apollo program. Its purpose is to gather data on the moon’s origin and evolution. It entered a lunar orbit on October 4,[238][239] flying at an altitude of about 100 km (62 mi).[240] The probe’s mission was ended when it was deliberately crashed by JAXA into the Moon on June 11, 2009.[241]



Japan Airlines, the flag carrier of Japan

Japan’s road spending has been extensive.[242] Its 1.2 million kilometres (0.75 million miles) of paved road are the main means of transportation.[243] As of 2012, Japan has approximately 1,215,000 kilometres (755,000 miles) of roads made up of 1,022,000 kilometres (635,000 miles) of city, town and village roads, 129,000 kilometres (80,000 miles) of prefectural roads, 55,000 kilometres (34,000 miles) of general national highways and 8,050 kilometres (5,000 miles) of national expressways.[244][245] A single network of high-speed, divided, limited-access toll roads connects major cities on HonshuShikoku and KyushuHokkaido has a separate network, and Okinawa Island has a highway of this type. A single network of high-speed, divided, limited-access toll roads connects major cities and is operated by toll-collecting enterprises. New and used cars are inexpensive; car ownership fees and fuel levies are used to promote energy efficiency. However, at just 50 percent of all distance traveled, car usage is the lowest of all G8 countries.[246]

Since privatisation in 1987, dozens of Japanese railway companies compete in regional and local passenger transportation markets; major companies include seven JR enterprises, KintetsuSeibu Railway and Keio Corporation. Some 250 high-speed Shinkansen trains connect major cities and Japanese trains are known for their safety and punctuality.[247][248] A new Maglev line called the Chūō Shinkansen is being constructed between Tokyo and Nagoya. It is due to be completed in 2027.[249]

There are 175 airports in Japan;[6] the largest domestic airport, Haneda Airport in Tokyo, is Asia’s second-busiest airport.[250] The largest international gateways are Narita International AirportKansai International Airport and Chūbu Centrair International Airport.[251] Nagoya Port is the country’s largest and busiest port, accounting for 10 percent of Japan’s trade value.[252]


The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, a nuclear plant with seven units, is the largest single nuclear power station in the world.

As of 2011, 46.1% of energy in Japan was produced from petroleum, 21.3% from coal, 21.4% from natural gas, 4.0% from nuclear power and 3.3% from hydropower. Nuclear power produced 9.2 percent of Japan’s electricity, as of 2011, down from 24.9 percent the previous year.[253] However, by May 2012 all of the country’s nuclear power plants had been taken offline because of ongoing public opposition following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011, though government officials continued to try to sway public opinion in favor of returning at least some of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors to service.[254] Reactors at Sendai restarted in 2015.[255] Japan lacks significant domestic reserves and so has a heavy dependence on imported energy.[256] Japan has therefore aimed to diversify its sources and maintain high levels of energy efficiency.[257]

Water supply and sanitation

The Tokuyama Dam in Gifu Prefecture is the largest dam in Japan.

The government took responsibility for regulating the water and sanitation sector is shared between the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in charge of water supply for domestic use; the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in charge of water resources development as well as sanitation; the Ministry of the Environment in charge of ambient water quality and environmental preservation; and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in charge of performance benchmarking of utilities.[258]

Access to an improved water source is universal in Japan. 97% of the population receives piped water supply from public utilities and 3% receive water from their own wells or unregulated small systems, mainly in rural areas.[259]



The Greater Tokyo Area is ranked as the most populous metropolitan area in the world.

Japan is the second most populous island country with a population of 126.3 million (2019).[11] 124.8 million are Japanese nationals (2019).[260] Honshū is the world’s 2nd most populous island and it has 80% of Japan’s population. Due to the rugged and mountainous terrain with 66% forest, the population is clustered in urban areas on the coast, plains and valleys.[261][262] Japan is an urban society with only 5% of the labor force working in agriculture. About 80 million of the urban population is heavily concentrated on the Pacific coast of Honshu.[263] In 2010, 90.7% of the total Japanese population lived in cities.[264]

The capital city Tokyo has a population of 13.8 million (2018).[17] It is part of the Greater Tokyo Area, the biggest metropolitan area in the world with 38,140,000 people (2016).[265][18] The area is 13,500 km2 (5,200 sq mi)[266] and the metro area has a population density of 2,642/km2.

Japanese society is linguistically, ethnically and culturally homogeneous,[267][268] composed of 98.1% ethnic Japanese,[6] with small populations of foreign workers.[267] Zainichi Koreans,[269] ChineseFilipinosBrazilians mostly of Japanese descent,[270] Peruvians mostly of Japanese descent and Americans are among the small minority groups in Japan.[271] In 2003, there were about 134,700 non-Latin American Western (not including more than 33,000 American military personnel and their dependents stationed throughout the country)[272] and 345,500 Latin American expatriates, 274,700 of whom were Brazilians (said to be primarily Japanese descendants, or nikkeijin, along with their spouses),[270] the largest community of Westerners.[273]

Ainu, an ethnic minority people from Japan

The most dominant native ethnic group is the Yamato people; primary minority groups include the indigenous Ainu[274] and Ryukyuan people, as well as social minority groups like the burakumin.[275] There are persons of mixed ancestry incorporated among the Yamato, such as those from Ogasawara Archipelago.[276] In 2014, foreign-born non-naturalized workers made up only 1.5% of the total population.[277] Japan is widely regarded as ethnically homogeneous, and does not compile ethnicity or race statistics for Japanese nationals; sources varies regarding such claim, with at least one analysis describing Japan as a multiethnic society[278] while another analysis put the number of Japanese nationals of recent foreign descent to be minimal.[268] Most Japanese continue to see Japan as a monocultural society. Former Japanese Prime Minister and current Finance Minister Tarō Asō described Japan as being a nation of “one race, one civilization, one language and one culture”, which drew criticism from representatives of ethnic minorities such as the Ainu.[279]

Japan has the second longest overall life expectancy at birth of any country in the world: 83.5 years for persons born in the period 2010–2015.[27][280] The Japanese population is rapidly aging as a result of a post–World War II baby boom followed by a decrease in birth rates. In 2012, about 24.1 percent of the population was over 65, and the proportion is projected to rise to almost 40 percent by 2050.[281]

On September 15, 2018, for the first time, 1 in 5 persons in Japan is 70 or older according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. 26.18 million people are 70 or older and accounted for 20.7 percent of the population. Elderly women crossed the 20 million line at 20.12 million, substantially outnumbering the nation’s 15.45 million elderly men.[282]

In 2018, the number of resident foreigners was 2.22 million in Japan (1.76% of the population). In 2018, net immigration rose for the sixth straight year with 165,000. The number of foreign workers was 1.46 million in 2018, 29.7% are in the manufacturing sector. 389,000 are from Vietnam and 316,000 are from China.[283] On April 1, 2019, Japan’s revised immigration law was enacted. The revision clarifies and better protects the rights of foreign workers. This helps reduce labor shortage in certain sectors of the economy. The reform changes the status of foreign workers to regular employees.[284]


The torii of Itsukushima Shinto Shrine near Hiroshima, one of the Three Views of Japan and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Japan has full religious freedom based on Article 20 of its Constitution. Upper estimates suggest that 84–96 percent of the Japanese population subscribe to Shinto as its indigenous religion (50% to 80% of which considering degrees of syncretism with Buddhismshinbutsu-shūgō).[285][286] However, these estimates are based on people affiliated with a temple, rather than the number of true believers. The number of Shinto shrines in Japan is estimated to be around 100,000. Other studies have suggested that only 30 percent of the population identify themselves as belonging to a religion.[287] According to Edwin Reischauer and Marius Jansen, some 70–80% of the Japanese do not consider themselves believers in any religion. Nevertheless, the level of participation remains high, especially during festivals and occasions such as the first shrine visit of the New YearTaoism and Confucianism from China have also influenced Japanese beliefs and customs.[288] Japanese streets are decorated on TanabataObon and Christmas.[286]

The Byōdō-in Buddhist temple, located in Uji, Kyoto

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan, practiced by nearly 80% of the population, yet only a small percentage of these identify themselves as “Shintoists” in surveys. This is due to the fact that “Shinto” has different meanings in Japan: most of the Japanese attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to Shinto organisations, and since there are no formal rituals to become a member of folk Shinto, Shinto membership is often estimated counting those who join organised Shinto sects. Shinto has 100,000 shrines and 78,890 priests in the country.[289] Buddhism first arrived in Japan in the 6th century; it was introduced in the year 538 or 552[290] from the kingdom of Baekje in Korea.[290]

Christianity was first introduced into Japan by Jesuit missions starting in 1549.[291] Today, fewer than 1%[292][293][294] to 2.3% are Christians,[note 1] most of them living in the western part of the country, where the missionaries’ activities were greatest during the 16th century. Nagasaki Prefecture has the highest percentage of Christians: about 5.1% in 1996.[295] As of 2007, there were 32,036 Christian priests and pastors in Japan.[289] Throughout the latest century, some Western customs originally related to Christianity (including Western style weddingsValentine’s Day and Christmas) have become popular as secular customs among many Japanese.[296]

Islam in Japan is estimated to constitute about 80–90% of foreign born migrants and their children, primarily from Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran.[297] Many of the ethnic Japanese Muslims are those who convert upon marrying immigrant Muslims.[298] The Pew Research Center estimated that there were 185,000 Muslims in Japan in 2010.[299]

Other minority religions include HinduismSikhismJudaism, and Bahá’í Faith;[300] since the mid-19th century numerous new religious movements have emerged in Japan.[301]


More than 99 percent of the population speaks Japanese as their first language.[6] Japanese is an agglutinative language distinguished by a system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary indicating the relative status of speaker and listener. Japanese writing uses kanji (Chinese characters) and two sets of kana (syllabaries based on cursive script and radical of kanji), as well as the Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals.[302]

Besides Japanese, the Ryukyuan languages (AmamiKunigamiOkinawanMiyakoYaeyamaYonaguni), also part of the Japonic language family, are spoken in the Ryukyu Islands chain. Few children learn these languages,[303] but in recent years the local governments have sought to increase awareness of the traditional languages. The Okinawan Japanese dialect is also spoken in the region. The Ainu language, which has no proven relationship to Japanese or any other language, is moribund, with only a few elderly native speakers remaining in Hokkaido.[304] Public and private schools generally require students to take Japanese language classes as well as English language courses.[305]


The changes in demographic structure have created a number of social issues, particularly a potential decline in workforce population and increase in the cost of social security benefits such as the public pension plan.[306] A growing number of younger Japanese are not marrying or remain childless.[307] In 2011, Japan’s population dropped for a fifth year, falling by 204,000 people to 126.24 million people. This was the greatest decline since at least 1947, when comparable figures were first compiled.[308] This decline was made worse by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed nearly 16,000 people.[309]

Japan’s population is expected to drop to 95 million by 2050;[281][310] demographers and government planners are currently in a major debate over how to cope with this problem.[307] Immigration and birth incentives are sometimes suggested as a solution to provide younger workers to support the nation’s ageing population.[311][312] Japan accepts an average flow of 9,500 new Japanese citizens by naturalization per year.[313] According to the UNHCR, in 2012 Japan accepted just 18 refugees for resettlement,[314] while the United States took in 76,000.[315]

Japan suffers from a high suicide rate.[316][317] In 2009, the number of suicides exceeded 30,000 for the twelfth successive year.[318] Suicide is the leading cause of death for people under 30.[319]


Students celebrating after the announcement of the results of the entrance examinations to the University of Tokyo

Primary schools, secondary schools and universities were introduced in 1872 as a result of the Meiji Restoration.[320] Since 1947, compulsory education in Japan comprises elementary and junior high school, which together last for nine years (from age 6 to age 15). Almost all children continue their education at a three-year senior high school. The two top-ranking universities in Japan are the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University,[321] which have produced 16 Nobel Prize laureates.

Japan’s education system played a central part in the country’s recovery and rapid economic growth in the decades following the end of World War II. After World War II, the Fundamental Law of Education and the School Education Law were enacted. The latter law defined the school system that would be in effect for many decades: six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school, three years of high school, and two or four years of university. Starting in April 2016, various schools began the academic year with elementary school and junior high school integrated into one nine-year compulsory schooling program, in hopes to mitigate bullying and truancyMEXT plans for this approach to be adopted nationwide in the coming years.[322]

The Programme for International Student Assessment coordinated by the OECD currently ranks the overall knowledge and skills of Japanese 15-year-olds as the third best in the world.[323] Japan is one of the top-performing OECD countries in reading literacy, maths and sciences with the average student scoring 529 and has one of the world’s highest-educated labor forces among OECD countries.[324][323][325] The Japanese populace is well educated and its society highly values education as a platform for social mobility and for gaining employment in the country’s competitive high-tech economy. The country’s large pool of highly educated and skilled individuals is largely responsible for ushering Japan’s post-war economic growth.[326] Tertiary-educated adults in Japan, particularly graduates in sciences and engineering benefit economically and socially from their education and skills in the country’s high tech economy.[326] Spending on education as a proportion of GDP is below the OECD average. Although expenditure per student is comparatively high in Japan, total expenditure relative to GDP remains small.[326] In 2015, Japan’s public spending on education amounted to just 4.1 percent of its GDP, below the OECD average of 5.0 percent.[327] In 2017, the country ranked third for the percentage of 25 to 64 year-olds that have attained tertiary education with 51 percent.[326] In addition, 60.4 percent Japanese aged 25 to 34 have some form of tertiary education qualification and bachelor’s degrees are held by 30.4 percent of Japanese aged 25 to 64, the second most in the OECD after South Korea.[326] As the Japanese economy is largely scientific and technological based, the labor market demands people who have achieved some form of higher education, particularly related to science and engineering in order to gain a competitive edge when searching for employment opportunities.[328]


In Japan, health care is provided by national and local governments. Payment for personal medical services is offered through a universal health insurance system that provides relative equality of access, with fees set by a government committee. People without insurance through employers can participate in a national health insurance program administered by local governments. Since 1973, all elderly persons have been covered by government-sponsored insurance.[329] Patients are free to select the physicians or facilities of their choice.[330]


Japanese culture has evolved greatly from its origins. Contemporary culture combines influences from Asia, Europe and North America.[331] Traditional Japanese arts include crafts such as ceramicstextileslacquerwareswords and dolls; performances of bunrakukabukinohdance, and rakugo; and other practices, the tea ceremonyikebanamartial artscalligraphyorigamionsenGeisha and games. Japan has a developed system for the protection and promotion of both tangible and intangible Cultural Properties and National Treasures.[332] Twenty-two sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, eighteen of which are of cultural significance.[104]


In Japan, it is considered disrespectful to fail to remove shoes before entering a home.

Throughout the millennia, since the prehistoric Jōmon period, Japan developed a sophisticated culture and etiquette while absorbing influences from Asia, Europe, and North America.[331]

The code of etiquette in Japan governs the expectations of social behavior. They are considered very important in Japan. The etiquette varies greatly depending on one’s status relative to the person in question. Some customs have changed over time. These distinct cultural values make Japanese etiquette substantially different from western and other countries.

Honne and tatemae (本音と建前) contrasts a person’s true feelings and desires and the behavior and opinions one displays in public.[333] Yamato-damashii (大和魂) refers to the cultural values and characteristics of the Japanese people. It originates from the Heian period and describes the indigenous Japanese ‘spirit’ or cultural values as opposed to cultural values of foreign nations. Wa () is a Japanese cultural concept that implies a peaceful unity and conformity within a social group, in which members prefer the continuation of a harmonious community over their personal interests.[334][335] Miai (見合い) is a Japanese traditional custom in which a woman and a man are introduced to each other to consider the possibility of marriage. It is a meeting opportunity with more serious considerations for the future as a process of courtship.[336] Ishin-denshin (以心伝心) is a Japanese idiom which denotes a form of interpersonal communication through unspoken mutual understanding.[337] Isagiyosa (潔さ) is a virtue of the capability of accepting death with composure and equanimity. Cherry blossoms are a symbol of isagiyosa in the sense of embracing the transience of the world.[338] Hansei (反省) is a central idea in Japanese culture, meaning to acknowledge one’s own mistake and to pledge improvement. Kotodama (言霊) refers to the Japanese belief that mystical powers dwell in words and names.

Japan is regarded by sociologists as a high-context culture. People are more observant of hierarchical differences and communicate less explicitly and verbosely.[339] High context cultures such as Japan are more focused upon in-groups while low context cultures are focused upon individuals. Face-saving (to avoid being disgraced or humiliated) is generally considered as more important in Japan’s high context culture than in low-context ones such as the United States or Germany.[340]

There are differences in advertising and marketing in Japan due to the high-context culture. In Japan advertising uses more colors, images, gestures and sounds with powerful meaning behind them. Dialogue is not a central part of the advertising. Every vocal and non-vocal expression is explored, because Japanese people are more sensitive to it. Comparatively in low-context cultures advertising is more straightforward.[341]


Kinkaku-ji or “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” in KyotoSpecial Historic Site, Special Place of Scenic Beauty and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose torching by a monk in 1950 is the subject of a novel by Mishima

Japanese architecture is a combination between local and other influences. It has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (fusuma) were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customized for different occasions. People usually sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor, traditionally; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern, and post-modern architecture into construction and design, and is today a leader in cutting-edge architectural design and technology.

The introduction of Buddhism during the sixth century was a catalyst for large-scale temple building using complicated techniques in wood. Influence from the Chinese Tang and Sui dynasties led to the foundation of the first permanent capital in Nara. Its checkerboard street layout used the Chinese capital of Chang’an as a template for its design. A gradual increase in the size of buildings led to standard units of measurement as well as refinements in layout and garden design. The introduction of the tea ceremony emphasised simplicity and modest design as a counterpoint to the excesses of the aristocracy.

During the Meiji Restoration of 1868 the history of Japanese architecture was radically changed by two important events. The first was the Kami and Buddhas Separation Act of 1868, which formally separated Buddhism from Shinto and Buddhist temples from Shinto shrines, breaking an association between the two which had lasted well over a thousand years.[342]

Second, it was then that Japan underwent a period of intense Westernization in order to compete with other developed countries. Initially architects and styles from abroad were imported to Japan but gradually the country taught its own architects and began to express its own style. Architects returning from study with western architects introduced the International Style of modernism into Japan. However, it was not until after the Second World War that Japanese architects made an impression on the international scene, firstly with the work of architects like Kenzō Tange and then with theoretical movements like Metabolism.


Kitaro Nishida, one of the most notable Japanese philosophers

Japanese philosophy has historically been a fusion of both foreign, particularly Chinese and Western, and uniquely Japanese elements. In its literary forms, Japanese philosophy began about fourteen centuries ago.

Archaeological evidence and early historical accounts suggest that Japan was originally an animistic culture, which viewed the world as infused with kami () or sacred presence as taught by Shinto, though it is not a philosophy as such, but has greatly influenced all other philosophies in their Japanese interpretations.[343]

Confucianism entered Japan from China around the 5th century AD, as did Buddhism.[344] Confucian ideals are still evident today in the Japanese concept of society and the self, and in the organization of the government and the structure of society.[344] Buddhism has profoundly impacted Japanese psychology, metaphysics, and aesthetics.[345]

Indigenous ideas of loyalty and honor have been held since the 16th century. Western philosophy has had its major impact in Japan only since the middle of the 19th century.


Ritsurin Garden, one of the most famous strolling gardens in Japan

The Shrines of Ise have been celebrated as the prototype of Japanese architecture.[346] Largely of wood, traditional housing and many temple buildings see the use of tatami mats and sliding doors that break down the distinction between rooms and indoor and outdoor space.[347] Japanese sculpture, largely of wood, and Japanese painting are among the oldest of the Japanese arts, with early figurative paintings dating back to at least 300 BC. The history of Japanese painting exhibits synthesis and competition between native Japanese aesthetics and adaptation of imported ideas.[348]

Hirado ware porcelain censers in the form of tiger and figurine with fan, brown and blue glazes

The interaction between Japanese and European art has been significant: for example ukiyo-e prints, which began to be exported in the 19th century in the movement known as Japonism, had a significant influence on the development of modern art in the West, most notably on post-Impressionism.[348] Famous ukiyo-e artists include Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Japanese manga developed in the 20th century and have become popular worldwide.[349] Rakuten Kitazawa was first to use the word “manga” in the modern sense.


Japan has one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world; movies have been produced in Japan since 1897.[350] Three Japanese films (RashomonSeven Samurai and Tokyo Story) made the Sight & Sounds 2002 Critics and Directors Poll for the best films of all time.[351] Ishirō Honda‘s Godzilla became an international icon of Japan and spawned an entire subgenre of kaiju films, as well as the longest-running film franchise in history. Japan has won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film four times, more than any other Asian country.


Noh performance at a Shinto shrine

Japanese music is eclectic and diverse. Many instruments, such as the koto, were introduced in the 9th and 10th centuries. The accompanied recitative of the Noh drama dates from the 14th century and the popular folk music, with the guitar-like shamisen, from the sixteenth.[352] Western classical music, introduced in the late 19th century, now forms an integral part of Japanese culture. The imperial court ensemble Gagaku has influenced the work of some modern Western composers.[353]

Notable classical composers from Japan include Toru Takemitsu and Rentarō Taki. Popular music in post-war Japan has been heavily influenced by American and European trends, which has led to the evolution of J-pop, or Japanese popular music.[354] Karaoke is the most widely practiced cultural activity in Japan. A 1993 survey by the Cultural Affairs Agency found that more Japanese had sung karaoke that year than had participated in traditional pursuits such as flower arranging (ikebana) or tea ceremonies.[355]


The earliest works of Japanese literature include the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki chronicles and the Man’yōshū poetry anthology, all from the 8th century and written in Chinese characters.[356][357] In the early Heian period, the system of phonograms known as kana (hiragana and katakana) was developed. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is considered the oldest Japanese narrative.[358] An account of Heian court life is given in The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon, while The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is often described as the world’s first novel.[359][360]

During the Edo period, the chōnin (“townspeople”) overtook the samurai aristocracy as producers and consumers of literature. The popularity of the works of Saikaku, for example, reveals this change in readership and authorship, while Bashō revivified the poetic tradition of the Kokinshū with his haikai (haiku) and wrote the poetic travelogue Oku no Hosomichi.[361] The Meiji era saw the decline of traditional literary forms as Japanese literature integrated Western influences. Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ōgai were the first “modern” novelists of Japan, followed by Ryūnosuke AkutagawaJun’ichirō TanizakiYukio Mishima and, more recently, Haruki Murakami. Japan has two Nobel Prize-winning authors – Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburō Ōe (1994).[358]

Comics and animation

Japanese comics or graphic novels, known as manga, developed in the 20th century and have become popular worldwide.[349] Rakuten Kitazawa was first to use the word “manga” in the modern sense. Anime are influenced by manga, and are often adapted from them.

Japanese animated films and television series, known as anime, were largely influenced by Japanese manga and have been extensively popular in the West. Japan is a world-renowned powerhouse of animation.[362]


Maiko preparing teacups for tea ceremony

Japanese cuisine is based on combining staple foods, typically Japanese rice or noodles, with a soup and okazu – dishes made from fish, vegetable, tofu and such – to add flavor to the staple food.[363] In the early modern era ingredients such as red meats that had previously not been widely used in Japan were introduced.

Japanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on seasonality of food,[364] quality of ingredients and presentation. Japanese cuisine offers a vast array of regional specialties that use traditional recipes and local ingredients. The phrase ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜, “one soup, three sides”) refers to the makeup of a typical meal served, but has roots in classic kaisekihonzen, and yūsoku cuisine. The term is also used to describe the first course served in standard kaiseki cuisine nowadays.[365] Japanese curry, since its introduction to Japan from British India, is so widely consumed that it can be called a national dish.[366]

A plate of nigiri-zushi

Traditional Japanese sweets are known as wagashi.[367] Ingredients such as red bean paste and mochi are used. More modern-day tastes includes green tea ice cream, a very popular flavor.[368] Kakigōri is a shaved ice dessert flavored with syrup or condensed milk. It is usually sold and eaten at summer festivals. Popular Japanese beverages such as sake, which is a brewed rice beverage that, typically, contains 14%–17% alcohol and is made by multiple fermentation of rice.[369] Beer has been brewed in Japan since the late 1800s,[370] and is produced in many regions by companies including Asahi BreweriesKirin Brewery, and Sapporo Brewery – claiming to be the oldest named brand of beer in Japan.[371]


Young ladies celebrate Coming of Age Day (成人の日 Seijin no Hi) in HarajukuTokyo

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.[372] 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.[373][374]

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, Labor Thanksgiving Day on November 23, and The Emperor’s Birthday on December 23.[375]


Gion Matsuri is the annual festival held in Kyoto.

There are many festivals in Japan, which are called in Japanese matsuri () which are celebrated annually. There are no specific festival days for all of Japan; dates vary from area to area, and even within a specific area, but festival days do tend to cluster around traditional holidays such as Setsubun or Obon. Festivals are often based around one event, with food stalls, entertainment, and carnival games to keep people entertained. Its usually sponsored by a local shrine or temple, though they can be secular.[376]

Notable festivals often feature processions which may include elaborate floats. Preparation for these processions is usually organised at the level of neighborhoods, or machi (). Prior to these, the local kami may be ritually installed in mikoshi and paraded through the streets, such as Gion in Kyoto, and Hadaka in Okayama.[376]


Sumo wrestlers form around the referee during the ring-entering ceremony

Traditionally, sumo is considered Japan’s national sport.[377] Japanese martial arts such as judokarate and kendo are also widely practiced and enjoyed by spectators in the country. After the Meiji Restoration, many Western sports were introduced in Japan and began to spread through the education system.

Japan hosted the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 1964 and the Winter Olympics in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998. Further, the country hosted the official 2006 Basketball World Championship.[380] Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, making Tokyo the first Asian city to host the Olympics twice.[381] The country gained the hosting rights for the official Women’s Volleyball World Championship on five occasions (19671998200620102018), more than any other nation.[382] Japan is the most successful Asian Rugby Union country, winning the Asian Five Nations a record 6 times and winning the newly formed IRB Pacific Nations Cup in 2011. Japan will host the 2019 IRB Rugby World Cup.[383]

Nissan Stadium in Yokohama. Association Football is one of the most popular sports in Japan.

Baseball is currently the most popular spectator sport in the country. Japan’s top professional league, now known as Nippon Professional Baseball, was established in 1936[384] and is widely considered to be the highest level of professional baseball in the world outside of the North American Major Leagues. Since the establishment of the Japan Professional Football League in 1992, association football has also gained a wide following.[385] Japan was a venue of the Intercontinental Cup from 1981 to 2004 and co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with South Korea.[386] Japan has one of the most successful football teams in Asia, winning the Asian Cup four times.[387] Also, Japan recently won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011.[388] Golf is also popular in Japan,[389] as are forms of auto racing like the Super GT series and Formula Nippon.[390] The country has also produced three players who have succeeded in the NBA.[391][392][393]

Video gaming

A man playing a drumming arcade game (Drummania) in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, 2005

Video gaming in Japan is a major industry. Japan became a major exporter of video games during the golden age of arcade video games, an era that began with the release of Taito’s Space Invaders in 1978 and ended around the mid-1980s.[394][395][396] Japanese-made video game consoles have been popular since the 1980s.[397] Japan became the most dominant country within the global video game industry, since the release of the Nintendo Famicom and the third generation of consoles. Japan’s dominance within the industry would continue for the next two decades, until Microsoft‘s Xbox consoles began challenging Sony and Nintendo in the 2000s.[398][399][400]

In the Japanese gaming industry, arcades have remained popular through to the present day. As of 2009, $6 billion of Japan’s $20 billion gaming market is generated from arcades, which represent the largest sector of the Japanese video game market, followed by home console games and mobile games at $3.5 billion and $2 billion, respectively.[401]

In the present day, Japan is the world’s largest market for mobile games.[402] The country’s traditional console gaming market itself is today largely dominated by handheld game consoles rather than home consoles.[403] In 2014, Japan’s consumer video game market grossed $9.6 billion, with $5.8 billion coming from mobile gaming.[404]


Fuji TV headquarters in Tokyo

Television and newspapers take an important role in Japanese mass media, though radio and magazines also take a part.[405][406] For a long time, newspapers were regarded as the most influential information medium in Japan, although audience attitudes towards television changed with the emergence of commercial news broadcasting in the mid-1980s.[405] Over the 1990s, television surpassed newspapers as Japan’s main information and entertainment medium.[407]

There are 6 nationwide television networks: NHK (public broadcasting), Nippon Television (NTV), Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS), Fuji Network System (FNS), TV Asahi (EX) and TV Tokyo Network (TXN). For the most part, television networks were established based on capital investments by existing radio networks. Variety showsserial dramas, and news constitute a large percentage of Japanese television shows. According to the 2015 NHK survey on television viewing in Japan, 79 percent of Japanese watch television every day. The average daily duration of television viewing was three hours.

Japanese readers have a choice of approximately 120 daily newspapers with a total of 50 million copies of set paper with an average subscription rate of 1.13 newspapers per household.[409] The main newspapers’ publishers are the Yomiuri ShimbunAsahi ShimbunMainichi ShimbunNikkei Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun. According to a survey conducted by the Japanese Newspaper Association in June 1999, 85.4 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women read a newspaper every day. Average daily reading times vary with 27.7 minutes on weekdays and 31.7 minutes on holidays and Sunday.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Democratic Republic of the Congo
République démocratique du Congo  (French)
Repubilika ya Kôngo ya Dimokalasi  (Kongo)
Republíki ya Kongó Demokratíki  (Lingala)
Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo  (Swahili)
Ditunga dia Kongu wa Mungalaata  (Luba-Katanga)
Motto: “Justice – Paix – Travail” (French)
“Justice – Peace – Work”
Anthem: Debout Congolais  (French)
“Arise, Congolese”
Location of Democratic Republic of the Congo (dark green)
Location of Democratic Republic of the Congo (dark green)
and largest city
4°19′S 15°19′E
Official languages French
Recognised national languages
Ethnic groups
See Ethnic groups section below
Demonym(s) Congolese
Government Unitary semi-presidential republic[1]
Félix Tshisekedi
Sylvestre Ilunga
Legislature Parliament
National Assembly
17 November 1879
1 July 1885
15 November 1908
• Independence from Belgium
30 June 1960[2]
20 September 1960
• Renamed to Democratic Republic of Congo
1 August 1964
29 October 1971
17 May 1997
18 February 2006
• Total
2,345,409 km2 (905,567 sq mi) (11th)
• Water (%)
• Estimate
91,931,000 (2019 est.)[3] (16th)
• Density
39.19/km2 (101.5/sq mi)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
Increase $77.486 billion[3]
• Per capita
Increase $842[3]
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
Increase $46.117 billion[3]
• Per capita
Increase $501[3]
Gini (2006) Negative increase 44.4[4]
HDI (2018) Increase 0.470[5]
low · 176th
Currency Congolese franc (CDF)
Time zone UTC+1 to +2 (WAT and CAT)
Driving side right
Calling code +243
ISO 3166 code CD
Internet TLD .cd

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (About this soundpronunciation  FrenchRépublique démocratique du Congo [kɔ̃ɡo]), also known as DR Congo, the DRCDROC,[6][7] Congo-Kinshasa, or simply the Congo, is a country located in Central Africa. It is sometimes anachronistically referred to by its former name of Zaire, which was its official name between 1971 and 1997. It is, by area, the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, the second-largest in all of Africa (after Algeria), and the 11th-largest in the world. With a population of over 78 million,[8] the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most populous officially Francophone country, the fourth-most-populous country in Africa, and the 16th-most-populous country in the world. Eastern DR Congo has been the scene of ongoing military conflict in Kivu, since 2015.

Centred on the Congo Basin, the territory of the DRC was first inhabited by Central African foragers around 90,000 years ago and was reached by the Bantu expansion about 3,000 years ago. In the west, the Kingdom of Kongo ruled around the mouth of the Congo River from the 14th to 19th centuries. In the centre and east, the kingdoms of Luba and Lunda ruled from the 16th and 17th centuries to the 19th century.

In the 1870s, just before the onset of the Scramble for Africa, European exploration of the Congo Basin was carried out, first led by Henry Morton Stanley under the sponsorship of Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold formally acquired rights to the Congo territory at the Berlin Conference in 1885 and made the land his private property, naming it the Congo Free State. During the Free State, his colonial military unit, the Force Publique, forced the local population to produce rubber. From 1885 to 1908, millions of the Kongo people died as a consequence of disease and exploitation. In 1908, Belgium, despite initial reluctance, formally annexed the Free State, which became known as the Belgian Congo.

The Belgian Congo achieved independence on 30 June 1960 under the name Republic of the CongoCongolese nationalist Patrice Lumumba was elected the first Prime Minister, while Joseph Kasa-Vubu became the first President. Conflict arose over the administration of the territory, which became known as the Congo Crisis. The provinces of Katanga, under Moïse Tshombe, and South Kasai attempted to secede. After Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for assistance in the crisis, the U.S. and Belgium became wary and oversaw his removal from office by Kasa-Vubu on 5 September and ultimate execution by Belgian-led Katangese troops on 17 January 1961. On 25 November 1965, Army Chief of Staff Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, who later renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko, officially came into power through a coup d’état. In 1971, he renamed the country Zaire. The country was run as a dictatorial one-party state, with his Popular Movement of the Revolution as the sole legal party. Mobutu’s government received considerable support from the United States, due to its anti-communist stance during the Cold War. By the early 1990s, Mobutu’s government began to weaken. Destabilisation in the east resulting from the 1994 Rwandan genocide and disenfranchisement among the eastern Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi) population led to a 1996 invasion led by Tutsi FPR-ruled Rwanda, which began the First Congo War.[2]

On 17 May 1997, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a leader of Tutsi forces from the province of South Kivu, became President after Mobutu fled to Morocco, reverting the country’s name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tensions between President Kabila and the Rwandan and Tutsi presence in the country led to the Second Congo War from 1998 to 2003. Ultimately, nine African countries and around twenty armed groups became involved in the war,[9] which resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people.[10][11][12][13] The two wars devastated the country. President Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards on 16 January 2001 and was succeeded eight days later as President by his son Joseph.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is extremely rich in natural resources but has had political instability, a lack of infrastructure, issues with corruption and centuries of both commercial and colonial extraction and exploitation with little holistic development. Besides the capital Kinshasa, the two next largest cities Lubumbashi and Mbuji-Mayi are both mining communities. DR Congo’s largest export is raw minerals, with China accepting over 50% of DRC’s exports in 2012. In 2016, DR Congo’s level of human development was ranked 176th out of 187 countries by the Human Development Index.[5] As of 2018, around 600,000 Congolese have fled to neighbouring countries from conflicts in the centre and east of the DRC.[14] Two million children risk starvation, and the fighting has displaced 4.5 million people.[15] The sovereign state is a member of the United NationsNon-Aligned MovementAfrican Union, and COMESA.


The Democratic Republic of the Congo is named after the Congo River, which flows throughout the country. The Congo River is the world’s deepest river and the world’s second largest river by discharge. The Comité d’études du haut Congo (“Committee for the Study of the Upper Congo”), established by King Leopold II of Belgium in 1876, and the International Association of the Congo, established by him in 1879, were also named after the river.[16]

The Congo River itself was named by early European sailors after the Kingdom of Kongo and its Bantu inhabitants, the Kongo people, when they encountered them in the 16th century.[17][18] The word Kongo comes from the Kongo language (also called Kikongo). According to American writer Samuel Henry Nelson: “It is probable that the word ‘Kongo’ itself implies a public gathering and that it is based on the root konga, ‘to gather’ (trans[itive]).”[19] The modern name of the Kongo people, Bakongo was introduced in the early 20th century.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been known in the past as, in chronological order, the Congo Free StateBelgian Congo, the Republic of Congo-Léopoldville, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Zaire, before returning to its current name the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[2]

At the time of independence, the country was named the Republic of Congo-Léopoldville to distinguish it from its neighbour the Republic of the Congo-Brazzaville. With the promulgation of the Luluabourg Constitution on 1 August 1964, the country became the DRC, but was renamed to Zaire (a past name for the Congo River) on 27 October 1971 by President Mobutu Sese Seko as part of his Authenticité initiative.[20]

The word Zaire is from a Portuguese adaptation of a Kikongo word nzere (“river”), a truncation of nzadi o nzere (“river swallowing rivers”).[21] The river was known as Zaire during the 16th and 17th centuries; Congo seems to have replaced Zaire gradually in English usage during the 18th century, and Congo is the preferred English name in 19th-century literature, although references to Zaire as the name used by the natives (i.e. derived from Portuguese usage) remained common.[22]

In 1992, the Sovereign National Conference voted to change the name of the country to the “Democratic Republic of the Congo”, but the change was not made.[23] The country’s name was restored by President Laurent-Désiré Kabila following the fall of Mobutu in 1997.[24]


Early history

The geographical area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was populated as early as 90,000 years ago, as shown by the 1988 discovery of the Semliki harpoon at Katanda, one of the oldest barbed harpoons ever found, believed to have been used to catch giant river catfish.[25][26]

Bantu peoples reached Central Africa at some point during the first millennium BC, then gradually started to expand southward. Their propagation was accelerated by the adoption of pastoralism and of Iron Age techniques. The people living in the south and southwest were foraging groups, whose technology involved only minimal use of metal technologies. The development of metal tools during this time period revolutionized agriculture and animal husbandry. This led to the displacement of the hunter-gatherer groups in the east and southeast. The final wave of the Bantu expansion was complete by the 10th century, followed by the establishment of the Bantu kingdoms, whose rising populations soon made possible intricate local, regional and foreign commercial networks that traded mostly in slaves, salt, iron and copper.

Congo Free State (1877–1908)

A contemporary depiction of a Belgian expedition during the Congo Arab war

View of Leopoldville Station and Port in 1884

Belgian exploration and administration took place from the 1870s until the 1920s. It was first led by Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who undertook his explorations under the sponsorship of King Leopold II of Belgium. The eastern regions of the precolonial Congo were heavily disrupted by constant slave raiding, mainly from Arab–Swahili slave traders such as the infamous Tippu Tip, who was well known to Stanley.[27]

Leopold had designs on what was to become the Congo as a colony.[28] In a succession of negotiations, Leopold, professing humanitarian objectives in his capacity as chairman of the front organization Association Internationale Africaine, actually played one European rival against another.[citation needed]

Leopold formally acquired rights to the Congo territory at the Conference of Berlin in 1885 and made the land his private property. He named it the Congo Free State.[28] Leopold’s regime began various infrastructure projects, such as the construction of the railway that ran from the coast to the capital of Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), which took eight years to complete. Nearly all such infrastructure projects were aimed at making it easier to increase the assets which Leopold and his associates could extract from the colony.[29]

In the Free State, colonists coerced the local population into producing rubber, for which the spread of automobiles and development of rubber tires created a growing international market. Rubber sales made a fortune for Leopold, who built several buildings in Brussels and Ostend to honor himself and his country. To enforce the rubber quotas, the army, the Force Publique, was called in and made the practice of cutting off the limbs of the natives a matter of policy.[30]

During the period of 1885–1908, millions of Congolese died as a consequence of exploitation and disease. In some areas the population declined dramatically – it has been estimated that sleeping sickness and smallpox killed nearly half the population in the areas surrounding the lower Congo River.[30]

News of the abuses began to circulate. In 1904, the British consul at Boma in the Congo, Roger Casement was instructed by the British government to investigate. His report, called the Casement Report, confirmed the accusations of humanitarian abuses. The Belgian Parliament forced Leopold II to set up an independent commission of inquiry. Its findings confirmed Casement’s report of abuses, concluding that the population of the Congo had been “reduced by half” during this period.[29] Determining precisely how many people died is impossible, as no accurate records exist.

Belgian Congo (1908–60)

In 1908, the Belgian parliament, in spite of initial reluctance, bowed to international pressure (especially from the United Kingdom) and took over the Free State from King Leopold II.[31]

On 18 October 1908, the Belgian parliament voted in favour of annexing the Congo as a Belgian colony. Executive power went to the Belgian minister of colonial affairs, assisted by a Colonial Council (Conseil Colonial) (both located in Brussels). The Belgian parliament exercised legislative authority over the Belgian Congo. In 1926 the colonial capital moved from Boma to Léopoldville, some 300 kilometres (190 mi) further upstream into the interior.

The transition from the Congo Free State to the Belgian Congo was a break but it also featured a large degree of continuity. The last Governor-general of the Congo Free State, Baron Théophile Wahis, remained in office in the Belgian Congo and the majority of Leopold II’s administration with him.[32] Opening up the Congo and its natural and mineral riches to the Belgian economy remained the main motive for colonial expansion – however, other priorities, such as healthcare and basic education, slowly gained in importance.

Force Publique soldiers in the Belgian Congo in 1918. At its peak, the Force Publique had around 19,000 African soldiers, led by 420 white officers.

Colonial administrators ruled the territory and a dual legal system existed (a system of European courts and another one of indigenous courts, tribunaux indigènes). Indigenous courts had only limited powers and remained under the firm control of the colonial administration. Records show that in 1936, 728 Belgian administrators ran the colony.[citation needed] The Belgian authorities permitted no political activity in the Congo whatsoever,[33] and the Force Publique, a locally-recruited army under Belgian command, put down any attempts at rebellion.

The Belgian population of the colony increased from 1,928 in 1910 to nearly 89,000 in 1959.[citation needed]

The Belgian Congo was directly involved in the two world wars. During World War I (191