Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands. The four largest islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Together, these four islands hold about 97 percent of Japan's land area. Japan has the world's tenth-largest population, with more than 126 million people. Honshū's Greater Tokyo Area, includes the de facto capital city of Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures. It is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with more than 30 million residents.
Archaeological research indicates that people lived in Japan as early as the Upper Paleolithic period. The first written mention of Japan is found in Chinese texts from the 1st century AD. Influence from other nations followed by long periods of isolation has characterized Japan's history. Japan evolved into a cohesive society during the Heian period. From the 12th century until 1868, Japan was ruled by successive feudal military dictatorships or shogunates in the name of the Emperor. In the early 17th century, Japan entered into a long period of isolation, which was only ended in 1853 when a United States fleet pressured Japan to open to the West. Nearly two decades of internal conflict and insurrection followed before the Meiji Emperor was restored as head of state in 1868 and the Empire of Japan was proclaimed, with the Emperor enshrined as a divine symbol of the nation.
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