The economy of Japan is the second largest economy in the world, after the United States, at around US$4.5 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and third after the United States and China when adjusted for purchasing power parity. The workers of Japan rank 18th in the world in GDP per hour worked as of 2006.
Japan's economy is highly efficient, highly diversified, and very competitive, being ranked 19th among 111 countries on productivity. Japan has a well-educated work force and high levels of savings and investment rates.
For three decades, Japan's overall real economic growth had been spectacular: a 10% average in the 1960s, a 5% average in the 1970s, and a 4% average in the 1980s.
Sliding stock and real estate prices marked the end of the "Japanese asset price bubble" of the late 1980s, and ushered in a decade of stagnant economic growth. These problems may have been exacerbated by domestic policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets. Real GDP in Japan grew at an average of roughly 1.5% yearly between 1991-1999, compared to growth in the 1980s of about 4% per year. Growth in Japan throughout the 1990s was slower than growth in other major industrial nations, and the same as in France and Germany. Government efforts to revive economic growth have met with little success and were further hampered in 2000 to 2001 by the slowing of the global economy. However, GDP per worker has increased steadily even through the nineties, given that from 1993 to 2007, 10% of the population distribution moved from the "working age" to "elderly age".
Starting in 2003 Japan's economy began to recover, growing at 2.0% per year in 2003 and 2004, and 2.8 percent in 2005. Unlike previous recovery trends, domestic consumption has been the dominant factor in leading the growth. As predicted, the economic recovery continued in 2006 and 2007.
A mountainous, volcanic island country, Japan has inadequate natural resources to support its growing economy and large population. Although many kinds of minerals were extracted throughout the country, most mineral resources had to be imported in the postwar era. Local deposits of metal-bearing ores were difficult to process because they were low grade. The nation's large and varied forest resources, which covered 70 percent of the country in the late 1980s, were not utilized extensively. Because of the terrain, underdeveloped road network, and high percentage of young trees, domestic sources were only able to supply between 25 and 30 percent of the nation's timber needs. Agriculture and fishing were the best developed resources, but only through years of painstaking investment and toil. The nation therefore built up the manufacturing and processing industries to convert raw materials imported from abroad. This strategy of economic development necessitated the establishment of a strong economic infrastructure to provide the needed energy, transportation, communications, and technological know-how.
Deposits of gold, magnesium, and silver meet current industrial demands, but Japan is dependent on foreign sources for many of the minerals essential to modern industry. Iron ore, copper, and bauxite must be imported, as well as many forest products.
As of 2005, one half of energy in Japan is produced from petroleum, a fifth from coal, and 14% from natural gas. Nuclear power in Japan makes a quarter of electricity production and Japan would like to double it in the next decades.
Japan's road spending has been large. The 1.2 million kilometers of paved road are the main means of transportation. Japan has left-hand traffic. A single network of high-speed, divided, limited-access toll roads connects major cities and are operated by toll-collecting enterprises. New and used cars are inexpensive. Car ownership fees and fuel levies are used to promote energy-efficiency.
Dozens of Japanese railway companies compete in regional and local passenger transportation markets; for instance, 7 JR enterprises, Kintetsu Corporation, Seibu Railway, and Keio Corporation. Often, strategies of these enterprises contain real estate or department stores next to stations. Some 250 high-speed Shinkansen trains connect major cities. All trains are known for punctuality.
There are 176 airports and flying is a popular way to travel between cities. The largest domestic airport, Haneda Airport, is Asia's busiest airport. The largest international gateways are Narita International Airport (Tokyo area), Kansai International Airport (Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto area), and Chūbu Centrair International Airport (Nagoya area). The largest ports include Port of Yokohama and Nagoya Port.
Given its heavy dependence on imported energy, Japan has aimed to diversify its sources. Since the oil shocks of the 1970s, Japan has reduced dependence on petroleum as a source of energy from more than 75% in 1973 to about 57% at present. Other important energy sources are coal, liquefied natural gas, nuclear power, and hydropower. Demand for oil is also dampened by higher government taxes on automobile engines over 2000 cc, as well as on gasoline itself, currently 54 yen per liter sold retail. Kerosene is also used extensively for home heating in portable heaters, especially farther north. Many taxi companies run their fleets on liquefied gas with tanks in the car trunks. A recent success towards greater fuel economy was the introduction of mass-produced Hybrid vehicles. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was working on Japan's economic revival, signed a treaty with Saudi Arabia and UAE about the rising prices of oil.