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Geography, climate and population
Japan is an archipelago that stretches 2 600 km in an arcrunning northeast to southwest through the North Pacific. The Sea of Japan and the East China Sea separate Japan from the Asian landmass. The archipelago lies mostly between 25░ and 45░N with a total land area of 376 520 km▓. The five main islands, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa, account for about 96 percent of the total land area though there are more than 3 300 other islands. About 70-80 percent of the country is mountainous. The mountains in the central part of Honshu are more than 3 000 m high. The Fuji mountain is the highest point at 3 776 m above sea level.
In 1996, the cultivated land area was 4 776 000 ha, which is 96 percent of the total cultivable area. The cultivated land area isdeclining gradually as it is needed for housing or industrial uses. About4 384.000 ha, or 92 percent of the cultivated area, consist of annualcrops, of which paddy fields occupy 2 560 000 ha. Cropping intensity of this land just exceeds 100 percent. The area under permanent crops is estimated at 392 000 ha.
Most parts of Japan are within the north temperate zone with four seasons a year. However, the length of the archipelago and the ocean currents along the coasts lend a wide variety of climates to Japan. Due to their proximity to the Asian landmass, the major islands of Japan are subjected to seasonal winds. These winds and the mountainous backbone divide the major landmasses into two typical climatic zones: the Pacific coast climatic zone and the Sea of Japan climatic zone, which have different seasonal distributions of precipitation. The difference in climate between the two zones is caused by the summer monsoon, which blows from the Pacific Ocean bringing warmer temperatures and rain, and the winter monsoon from the Asian landmass, which brings freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls to areas on the Sea of Japan side. Thus, the weather on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan is warm and humid in summer (June-August), while it is dry and windy in winter (December-February). The regions facing the Sea of Japan receive a lot of precipitation in the form of snow from December to February.
The mountainous topography of the interior also forms special weather pockets in the Inland Sea and the central highlands. The former is characterized by the lowest amount of precipitation, and the latter by extremely variable weather throughout the year. Japan is often struck by typhoons during the year, some of which bring a huge amount of rainfall in August and September. The rainy season lasts from June to mid-July. The mean annual precipitation is 1 728 mm, ranging from 800 mm in the north of Hokkaido island to 3.600 mm in the south of the country. Though Japan would appear to have plentiful water resources, it is so densely populated that the annual amount of rainwater per caput is only 3 430 m│. Moreover, this amount varies significantly with area and time.
In 1996, the population of Japan was estimated at 125 351 000 inhabitants (22 percent rural). The average population density is 332 inhabitants/km▓, which makes Japan one of the most densely populated countries in the world. About 70 percent of the population is concentrated in thecoastal zone extending from the capital, Tokyo, to the northern part of Kyushu island. Despite a low birth rate, it is projected that Japan's population will still be increasing at an annual rate of 0.2 percent up to 2 000, mostly as a result of increased life expectancy. However, it is expected that after 2005 the annual growth rate will be 0 percent.
In 1995, there were 2 651 000 farm households with apopulation of 15 084 000 inhabitants. Five out of every six households are part-time farmers who also earn income from other jobs. There are another 792 000 households owned by part-time farmers who cultivate small plots for own consumption and do not produce any surplus crops for sale. Japan's agriculture contributed approximately 2.1 percent of GDP in 1995, and provided employment for just over 5 percent of all employed persons in 1996.