Since the end of World War II, Japan has undergone major change. It has transformed itself from an impoverished, developing country into one of the world's predominant economic forces. Such rapid growth has been attained at a certain cost. The Japanese offer numerous examples of a society willing to compromise longterm environmental integrity for shortterm economic gain. These specific examples, however, must be contrasted with some of the more progressive aspects of the nation's environmental policy. Overall, the Japanese record, with regard to environmental issues, is somewhat variable.
In 1989, Japan's population was 123.3 million. For a country of its size, that is a burgeoning mass. In 1989, the population of the United States, which in land area is many times larger than Japan, was only 246.3 million. Furthermore, over 75% of Japan's people live in cities. In 1980, TokyoYokohama ranked as the largest city in the world.
With such a large populationurban and ruralJapan must consume considerable quantities of resources. For example, in the mid1980s, it had over 29 million automobiles. The country thus ranks among the world's highest in the number of people per car. However, whether the nation can be said to preserve, conserve, or exploit its natural wealth, really depends on the specific resource.
For example, Japan is among the world's top oil consumers.
Between 1970 and 1988, its net imports of oil grew 15%. Moreover, it is responsible for about 5% of the world's energy consumption.
Joni Seager, The State of the Earth Atlas (New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1990), 1698.
Whereas the world average annual energy consumption per person was 66 gigajoules in 1987, the average amount of energy consumed by a Japanese person was nearly 200 gigajoules. However, while this was more than that consumed by the average Asian, it still wasn't as much as that used by someone in the United States.