List of Extremely Different Countries

Our world has a vast array of diverse countries. They have remarkable variations in demographics, culture, government, infrastructure, and geography. However, among these different aspects, which pairs of nations are the least similar?

One way to answer this difficult question is by analyzing the data from the Country Similarity Index. The index attempts to quantify how similar countries are to each other relative to other countries, using a variety of statistics. An analysis of the data gives the following suggestions for what pairs of countries have the least similar aspects in regards to demographics, culture, government, infrastructure, and geography.

Culture: Japan & Niger

Japan is a densely populated archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean. In contrast, Niger is a sparsely populated landlocked country in the middle of Africa. Not only is their geography significantly different, but also their culture.

Niger is a former French colony, so French is the official language in the country. However, most people natively speak indigenous languages like Hausa and Zarma. Japan, on the other hand, has its own unique language, which is not related to any other language in the world. It is a complex language with three writing systems: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Niger on the other hand uses the Latin alphabet, so they have completely different origins.

The vast majority of people in Niger are Muslim. Japan, on the other hand, has a complex religious landscape, with Shintoism and Buddhism being the two most prominent religions. However, people in Niger tend to be more religious than people in Japan. It has a high percentage of atheists. In fact, the country has no official religious holidays. In contrast, Niger has many Islamic holidays on its calendar, including Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as well as Christmas.

The religious beliefs of people in Niger affect many parts of their culture. Few people drink alcohol, since alcohol is prohibited under Islamic law. On the other hand, Japan is known for its sake and beer culture, and it is common for people to drink after work or during social occasions. People in Japan also tend to smoke more cigarettes and do more illicit drugs. Another difference is that Niger has a high rate of marriage and a low rate of divorce, in contrast to Japan. Arranged marriages are still common there.

The average personality of their people is also different. According to the Lewis Model, people from Niger are characterized as multi-active, meaning that they tend to be more emotional and expressive in their communication styles. The Japanese are known for their reserved nature and adherence to social norms. Niger has a relatively high level of violence, particularly in the form of armed conflict and terrorism. Japan, on the other hand, has one of the lowest levels of violence in the world, with very low rates of homicide and violent crime.

Another big difference is their sports culture. Niger has has never won an Olympic medal or competed in the World Cup. Japan has a strong sports tradition and has hosted the Olympics and the World Cup. Its team has won a total of 498 Olympic medals, including 142 gold medals. The Japanese especially excel in gymnastics. Unlike Niger, baseball is especially popular in Japan.

The food in Niger and Japan differs greatly too. Niger relies heavily on millet and sorghum as staple grains, while Japanese people eat a lot of rice and wheat products. The Japanese also consume more meat, especially a lot of seafood and pork. However, pork is prohibited for Muslims in Niger due to religious reasons. The country is also landlocked so seafood is not commonly eaten there.

The architecture styles in Niger and Japan are disimilar as well. Niger’s traditional architecture is characterized by mud-brick structures with intricate Islamic geometric designs. In contrast, traditional Japanese architecture is known for its natural materials and minimalist design.

The Countries with the Least Similar Culture

Government: Canada & Iran

Canada is a predominately Christian country in North America. In contrast, Iran is a predominately Muslim country located in the Middle East. The two countries have especially little in common in regards to their government and politics.

Their systems of government are set up differently. Canada is a bicameral parliamentary democracy that guarantees freedom of religion. On the other hand, Iran is a theocratic country, where the Supreme Leader is both the highest-ranking political and religious authority. The President is the head of government, while the Assembly of Experts chooses the Supreme Leader.

Unlike Canada, Iran’s government is not very democratic. Although the president is elected by popular vote, only candidates approved by the Assembly of Experts, who are chosen by the Supreme Leader, are allowed. Moreover, Iran’s government heavily censors the media and journalists. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Netflix are blocked there. Another difference is that Iran has far less rule of law than Canada.

Their judicial branches are far different as well. Canada’s legal system is based on the English common law, where judges make decisions on precedent from past cases. Iran’s legal system is based on sharia (Islamic religious law) for criminal and family matters. For commercial, contractual, and civil matters, it is based on civil law. While Iran has a supreme court, the Supreme Leader can make the final decisions.

Their laws are especially dissimilar. Canada allows same sex marriage, while in Iran homosexuality is punishable by death. Polygamy is allowed in Iran, but criminalized in Canada. Another difference is that Iran has many restrictions on abortion, in contrast to Canada, where abortion has no restrictions. Iran also has more restrictions on gambling than Canada. In addition, alcohol is prohibited for Muslims in Iran. It has one of the highest rates of execution in the world, while Canada does not allow capital punishment.

Canada is a member of various international organizations, including NATO and the United Nations. Iran’s membership in the UN has been subject to various sanctions and restrictions. Iran is also not in the World Trade Organization. While Canada’s big allies are the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, some of Iran’s allies include Syria, China, and Russia. Furthermore, more than a decade ago, Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iranian diplomats from their land.

The Countries with the Least Similar Governments

Infrastructure: Singapore & Haiti

Singapore is a small, but highly developed country located on an island in Southeast Asia. It is known for its modern and efficient infrastructure. Haiti is another country located on a tropical island, but it is the Caribbean Sea. In contrast to Singapore, it has especially poor and inadequate infrastructure.

Transportation is one of the areas where the two countries differ greatly. Singapore has a highly developed transportation system that includes an extensive network of roads, highways, and mass transit options such as buses, trains, and subways. In contrast, Haiti has poorly maintained roads and no working railroads. There are only 11 vehicles for every 1,000 people there. Furthermore, Singapore drives on the left side of the road, whereas Haiti drives on the right side of the road.

Energy is another area where the two countries differ. Singapore’s electricity grid is reliable and efficient. In contrast, less than half of people in Haiti have access to electricity. Furthermore, most of Singapore’s electricity is created by natural gas, while Haiti relies on petroleum. Their technology standards are also different. Haiti uses Type A, B electrical outlets, like the United States, whereas Singapore uses Type G, like the United Kingdom. Their electrical grids also have different standard voltages and frequencies.

Water infrastructure is also vastly different between the two countries. Clean and potable tap water is available to the entire population of Singapore. The country has a well-developed water supply and distribution system, as well as a modern wastewater treatment system. In contrast, Haiti has limited access to clean water. Only 64% of the population has access to improved water sources. The country’s water supply system is poorly maintained, and its wastewater treatment system is inadequate.

A low percentage of people in Haiti have internet access. Not only that but those who do have slow internet speeds. Singapore has some of the fastest internets speeds in the world. Since many Haitians do not have access to electricity, a much lower percentage have television. Furthermore, their television broadcasting standards are different. Singapore was the first country to switch to digital broadcasting in 1998, while Haiti’s broadcasts are still in analog.

Haiti has a weak military. Its army was disbanded in 1995 and reconstituted in 2017. Its medical infrastructure is also significantly less developed than Singapore’s, with one of the lowest life expectancies and highest infant mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere. In contrast, Singapore has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, with a system that provides affordable and high-quality healthcare services to all its citizens. Furthermore, Singapore’s military is well-trained and uses advanced technology.

The Countries with the Least Similar Infrastructure

Geography: Netherlands & Solomon Islands

Few countries on Earth can rival the stark contrast in geography between the Solomon Islands and the Netherlands. These two nations are located on opposite ends of the world. The Solomon Islands is located in the South Pacific Ocean, near the equator. In contrast, the Netherlands is a small country in northwestern Europe. Their time zones are at least 9 hours apart.

The Solomon Islands and the Netherlands have vastly different topography. The Solomon Islands is characterized by rugged terrain, with mountains, volcanoes, and deep valleys. Its high point, Mount Popomanaseu, is over 2,300 meters tall. In contrast, the Netherlands, is known for its flat and low-lying landscape. Its high point is only 322 meters. In fact, over a quarter of its land lies below sea level.

One similarity these countries do have in common is that most of their people live relatively close to the coast. However, the Solomons are an archipelago, while the Netherlands is bordered on two sides by Belgium and Germany. The Netherlands is also known for its intricate system of man-made canals that crisscross the country. It has large freshwater lakes, created by dikes as well.

In fact, the Netherlands has one of the highest population densities in the world, with over 500 people per square kilometer. A large percentage is highly developed urban land. By comparison, the Solomon Islands has a relatively low population density, with just 24 people per square kilometer. Its small villages are scattered across the islands, so the country has a low level of urbanization.

Interestingly enough, the Solomon Islands also has the highest average annual rainfall of any country in the world. It gets between 2,000 to 3,800 millimeters each year. It has high temperatures ranging from 24 to 29 Celsius year-round as well. The Netherlands, on the other hand, has a temperate climate, so it has mild summers and cold winters. Its average temperature is less than 10 Celsius. Unlike the Solomon Islands, its precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, with no distinct dry or wet season,

Another big difference is that the Solomon Islands are almost entirely comprised of lush dense tropical forests. Except for the cultivation of coconut trees, it has little agricultural land. The islands are home to a wide variety of plant and animal species that are found nowhere else on Earth. In contrast, only 10% of the land in the Netherlands is forested. Most is used for agriculture, typically either potato or tulip fields. Its landscape has been largely shaped by human intervention and management practices. Furthermore, the Netherlands has relatively little biodiversity in comparison to the Solomon Islands.

The Countries with the Least Similar Geography

Demographics: Japan & Niger

Japan is a densely populated archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean. In contrast, Niger is a sparsely populated landlocked country in the middle of Africa. Not only is their geography significantly different, but also their demographics.

While Japan has a largely homogenous population, Niger is comprised of various ethnic groups, including Hausa, Fulani, Tuareg, and Kanuri. Due to environmental factors, their people developed different physical features. Africans developed darker skin tones that provide greater protection against harmful UV rays. In contrast, regions with lower levels of sunlight, like Japan, have populations with lighter skin tones to allow for greater absorption of sunlight, to synthesize vitamin D.

Shintoism and Buddhism are the dominant religions in Japan. On the other hand, the people of Niger practice a religion with completely different origins. It is a predominantly Muslim country, with over 99% of the population adhering to Islam. Furthermore, the native languages in Japan and Niger are unrelated as well.

Socioeconomic indicators are also important in understanding demographic differences. Japan is a relatively wealthy country with a well-educated population. In contrast, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with low income levels, limited access to education, and high rates of poverty. In fact, less than 50% of Niger’s population is literate. Most people in Niger work in agriculture, while the vast majority of people in Japan work in either the service sector or industry.

Due to low birth rates and increased life expectancy, Japan has a high percentage of elderly individuals. In fact, it is the oldest country on average in the world. In Niger, the population is extremely young, since it has a high birth rate and low life expectancy. Its median age is just 16 years, compared to 48 in Japan. In addition, Japan has more females than males, while the reverse is true in Niger.

The Countries with the Least Similar Demographics

Overall: Japan & Niger

The analysis shows that the demographics, culture, governments, infrastructure, and geography of Japan and Niger are extremely different.

Japan happens to be an outlier among countries for a variety of reasons. It is frequently the least similar country to most developing countries outside of Asia. The three least similar countries to Japan are all landlocked countries located in located in the Sahara Desert in Africa. Although Niger happens to be the least similar, Chad and Mali are not far behind. These countries are mostly Muslim and were once colonies of France. They are also some of the least developed countries in the world. 

The Least Similar Countries

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