The main islands, sometimes called the "Home Islands", are (from north to south) Hokkaidō, Honshū (the "mainland"), Shikoku and Kyūshū. There are also about 3,000 smaller islands, including Okinawa, and islets, some inhabited and others uninhabited. In total, as of 2006, Japan's territory is 377,923.1 km², of which 374,834 km² is land and 3,091 km² water. This makes Japan's total area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Montana. Japan is bigger than Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand and the U.K., and is 1.7 times the size of Korea and 10 times the size of Taiwan.
Map references: Asia
Land boundaries: none
Coastline: 29,751 km (18,486 mi)
Climate: varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north
Terrain: mostly rugged and mountainous
Natural resources: negligible coal, oil, iron resources, fish, and mineral resources
Irrigated land: 27,820 km² (1993 est.) 73% of Japan is mountains.
About 73% of Japan is mountainous, with a mountain range running through each of the main islands. Japan's highest mountain is Mt. Fuji, with an elevation of 3,776 m (12,388 ft). Since so very little flat area exists, many hills and mountainsides are cultivated all the way to the top. As Japan is situated in a volcanic zone along the Pacific deeps, frequent low-intensity earth tremors and occasional volcanic activity are felt throughout the islands. Destructive earthquakes occur several times a century. Hot springs are numerous and have been exploited as an economic capital by the leisure industry.
The mountainous islands of the Japanese Archipelago form a crescent off the eastern coast of Asia. They are separated from the mainland by the Sea of Japan, which historically served as a protective barrier. The country consists of four principal islands: Hokkaidō, Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū; more than 3,000 adjacent islands and islets, including Oshima in the Nampo Chain; and more than 200 other smaller islands, including those of the Amami, Okinawa, and Sakishima chains of the Ryukyu Islands. The national territory also includes the small Bonin or Ogasawara Islands, which include Iwo Jima and the Volcano Islands (Kazan Retto), stretching some 1,100 kilometers from the main islands. A territorial dispute with Russia, dating from the end of World War II, over the two southernmost of the Kuril Islands, Etorofu (Iturup) and Kunashiri, and the smaller Shikotan and Habomai Islands northeast of Hokkaidō remains a sensitive spot in Japanese-Russian relations as of 2005. Excluding disputed territory, the archipelago covers about 377,000 square kilometers. No point in Japan is more than 150 kilometers from the sea.
The four major islands are separated by narrow straits and form a natural entity. The Ryukyu Islands curve 970 kilometers southward from Kyūshū.
The distance between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, the nearest point on the Asian continent, is about 200 kilometers at the Korea Strait. Japan has always been linked with the continent through trade routes, stretching in the north toward Siberia, in the west through the Tsushima Islands to the Korean Peninsula, and in the south to the ports on the south China coast.
The Japanese islands are the summits of mountain ridges uplifted near the outer edge of the continental shelf. About 73 percent of Japan's area is mountainous, and scattered plains and intermontane basins (in which the population is concentrated) cover only about 25 percent. A long chain of mountains runs down the middle of the archipelago, dividing it into two halves, the "face," fronting on the Pacific Ocean, and the "back," toward the Sea of Japan. On the Pacific side are steep mountains 1,500 to 3,000 meters high, with deep valleys and gorges. Central Japan is marked by the convergence of the three mountain chains—the Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi mountains—that form the Japanese Alps (Nihon Arupusu), several of whose peaks are higher than 3,000 meters. The highest point in the Japanese Alps is Mount Kita at 3,193 meters. The highest point in the country is Mount Fuji (Fujisan, also erroneously called Fujiyama), a volcano dormant since 1707 that rises to 3,776 meters above sea level in Shizuoka Prefecture. On the Sea of Japan side are plateaus and low mountain districts, with altitudes of 500 to 1,500 meters.
None of the populated plains or mountain basins are extensive in area. The largest, the Kanto Plain, where Tokyo is situated, covers only 13,000 square kilometers. Other important plains are the Nōbi Plain surrounding Nagoya, the Kinki Plain in the Osaka-Kyoto area, the Sendai Plain around the city of Sendai in northeastern Honshū, and the Ishikari Plain on Hokkaidō. Many of these plains are along the coast, and their areas have been increased by reclamation throughout recorded history.
The small amount of habitable land has prompted significant human modification of the terrain over many centuries. Land was reclaimed from the sea and from river deltas by building dikes and drainage, and rice paddies were built on terraces carved into mountainsides. The process continued in the modern period with extension of shorelines and building of artificial islands for industrial and port development, such as Port Island in Kobe and the new Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay. Hills and even mountains have been razed to provide flat areas for housing.
Rivers are generally steep and swift, and few are suitable for navigation except in their lower reaches. Most rivers are fewer than 300 kilometers in length, but their rapid flow from the mountains provides a valuable, renewable resource: hydroelectric power generation. Japan's hydroelectric power potential has been exploited almost to capacity. Seasonal variations in flow have led to extensive development of flood control measures. Most of the rivers are very short. The longest, the Shinano River, which winds through Nagano Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture and flows into the Sea of Japan, is only 367 kilometers long. The largest freshwater lake is Lake Biwa, northeast of Kyoto.
Extensive coastal shipping, especially around the Inland Sea (Seto Naikai), compensates for the lack of navigable rivers. The Pacific coastline south of Tokyo is characterized by long, narrow, gradually shallowing inlets produced by sedimentation, which has created many natural harbors. The Pacific coastline north of Tokyo, the coast of Hokkaidō, and the Sea of Japan coast are generally unindented, with few natural harbors.
Japan belongs to the temperate zone with four distinct seasons, but its climate varies from cool temperate in the north to subtropical in the south. The climate is also affected by the seasonal winds that blow from the continent to the ocean in winters and vice versa in summers.
Japan is generally a rainy country with high humidity. Because of its wide range of latitude, Japan has a variety of climates, with a range often compared to that of the east coast of North America, from Nova Scotia to Georgia. Tokyo is at about 35 north latitude, comparable to that of Tehran, Athens, or Las Vegas. The generally humid, temperate climate exhibits marked seasonal variation celebrated in art and literature, as well as regional variations ranging from cool in Hokkaidō to subtropical in Kyūshū. Climate also varies with altitude and with location on the Pacific Ocean or on the Sea of Japan. Northern Japan has warm summers but long, cold winters with heavy snow. Central Japan has hot, humid summers and short winters, and southwestern Japan has long, hot, humid summers and mild winters.
Two primary factors influence Japan's climate: a location near the Asian continent and the existence of major oceanic currents. The climate from June to September is marked by hot, wet weather brought by tropical airflows from the Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asia. These airflows are full of moisture and deposit substantial amounts of rain when they reach land. There is a marked rainy season, beginning in early June and continuing for about a month. It is followed by hot, sticky weather. Five or six typhoons pass over or near Japan every year from early August to early September, sometimes resulting in significant damage. Annual precipitation, which averages between 100 and 200 centimeters (39–78 inches), is concentrated in the period between June and September. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of the annual precipitation falls during this period. In winter, a high-pressure area develops over Siberia, and a low-pressure area develops over the northern Pacific Ocean. The result is a flow of cold air eastward across Japan that brings freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls to the central mountain ranges facing the Sea of Japan, but clear skies to areas fronting on the Pacific.
Two major ocean currents affect this climatic pattern: the warm Kuroshio Current (Black Current; also known as the Japan Current); and the cold Oyashio Current (Parent Current; also known as the Okhotsk Current). The Kuroshio Current flows northward on the Pacific side of Japan and warms areas as far north as Tokyo; a small branch, the Tsushima Current, flows up the Sea of Japan side. The Oyashio Current, which abounds in plankton beneficial to coldwater fish, flows southward along the northern Pacific, cooling adjacent coastal areas. The meeting point of these currents at 36 north latitude is a bountiful fishing ground.
Late June and early July are a rainy season—except in Hokkaidō—as a seasonal rain front or stays above Japan. In summer and early autumn, typhoons, grown from tropical depressions generated near the equator, attack Japan with furious rainstorms.
Its varied geographical features divide Japan into six principal climatic zones.
The warmest winter temperatures are found in the Nampo and Bonin Islands, which enjoy a tropical climate due to the combination of latitude, distance from the Asian mainland, and warming effect of winds from the Kuroshio, as well as the Volcano Islands (at the latitude of the southernmost Ryūkyūs, 24° N.).
As an island nation, Japan has a long coastline. A few prefectures are landlocked: Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama, Nagano, Yamanashi, Gifu, Shiga, and Nara. As Mt. Fuji provides rain shadow effects in Yamanashi it has the least rainfall in Japan, which still excesses 1000 mm annually. The others all have coasts on the Pacific Ocean, Sea of Japan, Seto Inland Sea or have a body of salt water connected to them. Two prefectures—Hokkaidō and Okinawa—are composed entirely of islands.
The hottest temperature ever measured in Japan—40.9 degrees Celsius—occurred in Tajimi, Gifu on August 16, 2007.
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes (Basel Convention), Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection (Montreal Protocol), Ship Pollution (MARPOL 73/78), Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands (Ramsar Convention), Whaling
signed and ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Ten percent of the world's active volcanoes—forty in the early 1990s (another 148 were dormant)—are found in Japan, which lies in a zone of extreme crustal instability. As many as 1,500 earthquakes are recorded yearly, and magnitudes of four to six on the Richter scale are not uncommon. Minor tremors occur almost daily in one part of the country or another, causing slight shaking of buildings. Major earthquakes occur infrequently; the most famous in the twentieth century was the great Kantō earthquake of 1923, in which 130,000 people died. Undersea earthquakes also expose the Japanese coastline to danger from , tidal wave.
Japan has become a world leader in research on causes and prediction of earthquakes. The development of advanced technology has permitted the construction of skyscrapers even in earthquake-prone areas. Extensive civil defense efforts focus on training in protection against earthquakes, in particular against accompanying fire, which represents the greatest danger.
Another common hazard are that reach Japan from the Pacific.
The region is not an official administrative unit, but has been traditionally used as the regional division of Japan in a number of contexts: for example, maps and geography textbooks divide Japan into the eight regions, weather reports usually give the weather by region, and many businesses and institutions use their home region as part of their name (Kinki Nippon Railway, Chūgoku Bank, Tohoku University, etc.). While Japan has eight High Courts, their jurisdictions do not correspond to the eight regions.
This is a list of the extreme points of Japan, the points that are farther north, south, east or west than any other location.
All Geography of Japan information taken from:
The World Fact Book