Japan, one of the most populous countries, is an island chain off the Eastern coast of China consisting of four main islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu), and 6,848 smaller islands.
Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and is also its most populous city. About a third of the country's population is centred around the capital, with the rest of people spread out along the coasts of the four main islands.
Evidence has been found of nomadic people living in Japan starting around 40,000 BC. Over time these people became more sedentary. Around 14,000 - 12,000 BC, the time known as the Jōmon (cord maker) period began, so named because the pottery from that time was imprinted with cords, giving the people the title of "cord makers".
Between 1,000 and 800 BC, the Jōmon period gave way to the Yayoi period, which brought with it the beginnings of agriculture, silk production, and glass-making. Towards the end of this period, the population started to grow quickly, which led to the creation of a number of kingdoms, with some estimates stating over 100 kingdoms were around at this time.
The Kofun period began around the year 250, which saw the numerous kingdoms spread out across the country slowly join into one large kingdom under Yamato rule. The current emperor of Japan is a direct descendant from this Yamato line.
In 538, Buddhism was introduced to Japan from Korea, starting the Asuka period. In this time, the constitution and a formal government were created.
The Nara period followed in 710, which was characterised by a number of natural disasters and disease outbreaks.
The Heain period began in 794, which brought with it battles for power and flourishing areas of art.
The Feudal Era began in 1185, where the ruling class of the country were the warriors known as samurai. This era is known (and named for) the many kingdoms and wars between the ruling samurai of each.
Westerners first reached Japan in the 16th century from Portugal, and brought weapons that helped fuel more conflicts leading up to the Edo period, where Japan closed its borders to outsiders (except for the Dutch) until the 19th century.
In 1854, America had Japan sign treaties that opened its borders again to Western influence, which initially caused economic issues for the country. Japan recovered in the next few decades, and then began expanding to Korea, and causing wars with China and Russia.
Leading up to World War 2 in the 1930s, Japan started aligning itself with the Fascist states in Europe, and invaded China in 1937. This led to the Nanking Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking), and the Japanese invasion of most of China. In 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, causing the United States to join the Second World War, especially so in the Pacific with Japan. To end the war, and Japanese conflict with the West, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, forcing Japanese surrender.
Japan was occupied by Western powers until 1952, and began adopting more Liberal democratic values. Its economy began to recover, and then surged with the onset of vehicle and electronics production and export.
The current flag of Japan has been in use since 1870, but wasn't officially adopted as the national flag until 1999. The red circle on a white background represents the sun, which is Japan's namesake.
In Japanese, Japan is called Nippon (日本), which translates to "origin of the sun", hence the English nickname "The Land of the Rising Sun". The English name of "Japan" likely comes from the old Malay word for Japan, "Japun", which was translated in Europe by Portuguese explorers as "Giapan", which slowly changed over time to Japan.