Japan, located in the north-western Pacific Ocean, lies off the east coast of mainland Asia across from Russia, Korea, and China. The four major islands--Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku--extend in a curve about 1 900 km from north-east to south-west. There are thousands of smaller islands and islets. Japan's territory also includes the Ryukyu and Bonin island chains. The total area of Japan is 377 837 km2. The country is one of the most densely populated in the world.

Topographically, Japan is a rugged land of high mountains and deep valleys, with many small plains. Mountains cover about 70 percent of the country. Honshu, the main island, is less than 300 km wide and none of Japan is more than 150 km from the sea. The coastline of Japan is very rugged, with many bays, inlets and some excellent harbours. Because of the mountainous topography and rocky soil, only about 11 percent of Japan is under cultivation. Most rivers are short, swift and not navigable for any great distance. There are many mountain lakes.

Earthquakes are frequent. The islands have more than 150 major volcanoes, of which more than 60 are active. Hot springs are common.

The peaks of the Japanese Alps dominate central Honshu. To the south-east lies a chain of volcanoes, including Japan's tallest peak, Mount Fuji, or Fujiyama, at 3 776 m above sea level. The Kanto Plain, the country's largest lowland, spreads east from the mountains to the Pacific. The Nobi Plain and Osaka Plain lie south and west of the Kanto region. Most of south-western Honshu is very mountainous.

Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's four major islands, is the country's second largest island. It is quite hilly and mountainous, although it has some plains, mainly near the coast. The Ishikari Plain is the largest.

A chain of rugged mountains runs down the centre of the island of Kyushu. North-western Kyushu consists of rolling hills and wide plains. The north-eastern and southern regions have many volcanoes, high lava plateaus, and large deposits of volcanic ash.

Shikoku, the smallest of the main Japanese islands, has few lowlands. A narrow plain borders Shikoku's south coast, otherwise the island is mainly mountainous.

More than 100 islands make up the Ryukyu Islands, extending from Kyushu to Taiwan. The Bonins lie about 970 km south-east of Japan and consist of 97 volcanic islands.

Because of its wide range of latitude, Japan's climate is quite diverse. Average mean temperatures range from about 5° C in Nemuro (Hokkaido) to about 16° C on Okinawa Island. The northern islands are heavily influenced by the continental climate of nearby Siberia, and are characterised by short summers and severe long winters. Due to the influence of the warm Kuroshio (or Japan) current, Shikoku, Kyushu, and southern Honshu have summers that are hot and humid, almost subtropical, with mild winters.

Yearly precipitation ranges from about 1 020 mm on Hokkaido to 3 810 mm in the mountains of central Honshu. Japan has two major rainy seasons--from mid-June to early July and in September and October. Tropical cyclones, or typhoons, can occur in the fall.

The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

last updated:  Monday, May 28, 2012