Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Geography of Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia comprised of a large stratovolcanic archipelago extending along the Pacific coast of Asia. Measured from the geographic coordinate system, Japan is 36° north of the equator and 138° east of the Prime Meridian. The country is north-northeast of China and Taiwan (separated by the East China Sea) and slightly east of Korea (separated by the Sea of Japan1). The country is south of Siberia in Russia.
The main islands, sometimes called the "Home Islands", (from north to south) are Hokkaido, Honshu (the "mainland"), Shikoku and Kyushu. There are also about 3,000 smaller islands, including Okinawa, and islets, some inhabited and others uninhabited. In total, Japan's territory is 377,835 kmē, of which 374,744 kmē is land and 3,091 kmē water. This makes Japan's total area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Montana.
Japan belongs to the temperate zone with distinct four 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.
About 73 percent of the 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 3776m (12,388 feet). Since so 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 developed as resorts.
Late June and early July are a rainy season except Hokkaido as a seasonal rain front or baiu zensen (梅雨前線) 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.
- Hokkaidō (北海道): Belonging to the cool temperate zone, Hokkaido has long, cold winters and cool summers. Precipitation is not great.
- Nihonkai (日本海) or Sea of Japan: The northwest seasonal wind in winter gives heavy snowfalls. In summer it is less hot than in the Pacific area but sometimes experiences extreme high temperatures due to the Foehn wind phenomenon.
- Chūō-kōchi (中央高地) or Central highland: A typical inland climate gives large temperature differences between summers and winters and between days and nights. Precipitation is not large throughout the year.
- Setonaikai (瀬戸内海) or Inland Sea: The mountains in the Chūgoku and Shikoku regions block the seasonal winds and bring mild climate and many fine days throughout the year.
- Taiheiyō (太平洋) or Pacific Ocean: Winters are cold, with little snowfall, and summers are hot and humid due to the southeast seasonal wind.
- Nansei-shotō (南西諸島) or Southwest Islands: This zone has a subtropical climate with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very high, and is especially affected by the rainy season and typhoons.
As an island nation, Japan has a long coastline. A few prefectures are landlocked: Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama, Nagano, Yamanashi, Gifu, Shiga, and Nara. 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—Hokkaido and Okinawa—are composed of islands.
Geographic coordinates: 36 00 N, 138 00 E
Map references: Asia
total: 377,835 kmē
land: 374,744 kmē
water: 3,091 kmē
note: includes Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-guntō 小笠原群島), Daitō-shotō (大東諸島), Minami Torishima(南鳥島), Okino-tori-shima (沖ノ鳥島), Ryūkyū Islands (Ryūkyū-shotō 琉球諸島), and Volcano Islands (Kazan-rettō 火山列島)
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Montana
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 29,751 km
exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles
territorial sea: 12 nautical miles; between 3 nautical miles and 12 nautical miles in the international straits - La Perouse or Sōya Strait (宗谷海峡), Tsugaru (津軽), Osumi, and Eastern and Western Channels of the Korea or Tsushima Strait (対馬海峡)
Climate: varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north
Terrain: mostly rugged and mountainous
lowest point: Hachirō-gata (八郎潟) -4 m
highest point: Fujisan (富士山) 3,776 m
Natural resources: negligible mineral resources, fish
arable land: 11%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 2%
forests and woodland: 67%
other: 19% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 27,820 kmē (1993 est.)
Environment - current issues: air pollution from car emissions in urban area suspected for causing Asthma; over-enrichment of lakes and reservoirs degrading water quality for aquatic life; quota for fisheries imposed on Japanese fishing fleets; over-fish farming causing degrading water quality for aquatic life; Biodiversity threatened by foreign animals, fish, insects, and plants
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Japan is informally divided into eight regions. From north to south, they are:
- Hokkaido (the island of Hokkaido and nearby islands, including Sapporo)
- Tohoku region (northern Honshu, including Sendai)
- Kanto region (eastern Honshu, including Tokyo and Yokohama)
- Chubu region (central Honshu, including Mt. Fuji), sometimes divided into:
- Kinki region (west-central Honshu, including Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto)
- Chugoku region (western Honshu, including Hiroshima)
- Shikoku (island, including Matsuyama)
- Kyushu (island, including Fukuoka) and Okinawa
Each contains several prefectures, except the Hokkaido region, which covers only Hokkaido Prefecture.
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, Chugoku Bank, Tohoku University, etc.). While Japan has eight High Courts, their jurisdictions do not correspond to the eight regions above.
1. See also dispute over the name of the Sea of Japan for alternatate names.
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