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Summary of Japan's Geography

Japan's Geography

 

 

 

 

 



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The island of Japan forms an arc in the Pacific Ocean to the east of the Asian continent.  The land comprises four large islands name (in decreasing order of size) Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, together with many smaller islands.  The Pacific Ocean lies to the east while the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea separate Japan from the Asian continent.

Japan's total land area is about 378,000 square km, which is approximately the same size as Germany, Finland, Vietnam, or Malaysia.  As warm ocean current known as the Kuroshio flows northeastward along the southern part of the Japanese archipelago, and a branch of it, known as the Tsushima Current, flows into the Sea of Japan along the west side of the country.  From the north, a cold current known as the Oyashio flows south along Japan's east coast, and a branch of it, called the Liman Current, enters the Sea of Japan from the north. The mixing of these warm and cold currents helps produce abundant fish resources in waters near Japan.

About 3/4 of Japan's land surface is mountainous.  The Chubu Region of central Honshu is known as the "roof of Japan" and has many mountains which are more than 3,000 meters high.  Japan's highest mountain is Mt. Fuji (3,776 m) with Kitadake at 3,192 m being the second highest.  

Since it is situated along the circum-Pacific volcanic belt, Japan has several volcanic regions - usually considered to number 7- from the far north to the far south.  Of all the volcanoes, about 80 are considered active, including Mr. Mihara, Mt. Asama and Mr. Aso.  Incredibly, Japan has about 1/10 of the world's approximately 840 active volcanoes, this in spite if it's small land area (about 1/400 of the world's land area).  Mt. Fuji, which as been dormant for almost 300 years, is still capable of erupting again in our lifetime.  All the instability under the Japanese archipelago is conducive for earthquakes, thus placing Japan among those countries most likely to suffer from them.

 


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Overview

The island of Japan forms an arc in the Pacific Ocean to the east of the Asian continent.  The land comprises four large islands name (in decreasing order of size) Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, together with many smaller islands.  The Pacific Ocean lies to the east while the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea separate Japan from the Asian continent.

Japan's total land area is about 378,000 square km, which is approximately the same size as Germany, Finland, Vietnam, or Malaysia.  As warm ocean current known as the Kuroshio flows northeastward along the southern part of the Japanese archipelago, and a branch of it, known as the Tsushima Current, flows into the Sea of Japan along the west side of the country.  From the north, a cold current known as the Oyashio flows south along Japan's east coast, and a branch of it, called the Liman Current, enters the Sea of Japan from the north. The mixing of these warm and cold currents helps produce abundant fish resources in waters near Japan.

About 3/4 of Japan's land surface is mountainous.  The Chubu Region of central Honshu is known as the "roof of Japan" and has many mountains which are more than 3,000 meters high.  Japan's highest mountain is Mt. Fuji (3,776 m) with Kitadake at 3,192 m being the second highest.  

Since it is situated along the circum-Pacific volcanic belt, Japan has several volcanic regions - usually considered to number 7- from the far north to the far south.  Of all the volcanoes, about 80 are considered active, including Mr. Mihara, Mt. Asama and Mr. Aso.  Incredibly, Japan has about 1/10 of the world's approximately 840 active volcanoes, this in spite if it's small land area (about 1/400 of the world's land area).  Mt. Fuji, which as been dormant for almost 300 years, is still capable of erupting again in our lifetime.  All the instability under the Japanese archipelago is conducive for earthquakes, thus placing Japan among those countries most likely to suffer from them. 

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GEOGRAPHY

Japan is an island with a coastline ranging from long, sandy beaches to areas with steep cliffs.  The country forms an arc and contains four large islands and many smaller ones.  Approximately the same size as Malaysia or Germany, Japan has a total land area of about 378,000 sq km.  To put it into further perspective, it's smaller than the state of California and about 1/25 the size of the United States.

On Japan's east is the Pacific Ocean and on the west is the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.  These two seas, incidentally, are all that separate Japan from China.  Being in the middle of all these bodies of water with their warm and cold currents has it's advantages, a great abundance of fish!  The currents flow in different directions around Japan.  The warm currents flow from the southern part of Japan, northward with a cold current flowing from the north going south.  These currents split, thus branching off and flowing on both the east and west side of Japan.

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VOLCANOES AND EARTHQUAKE

Volcano Sakurajima Kagoshima

The majority of Japan's land is mountainous, totaling approximately 75%.  Central Honshu's Chubu Region is incredible with many mountains exceeding 3,000 in height, which is why it's aptly named "the roof of Japan".    

The highest mountain in Japan is Mt. Fuji, at an impressive 3,776 meters.  Mt. Fuji can be found bordering the Yamanashi and Shizuika Prefectures.   It's easy to forget that this impressive and beautiful mountain is actually a volcano.  Although it hasn't erupted since 1707, Mt. Fuji is not considered a dormant volcano and could erupt again in the future.

Actually, many mountainous regions, about seven of them, are considered to be volcanic.  These regions go from the far north all the way down to the far south.  The reason for the high number of volcanic areas is because Japan is located along the circum-Pacific volcanic belt.  Of the 840 active volcanoes in the world, Japan has almost 1/10 of them (approximately 80) even though Japan has only 1/400 of the world's land area!  A positive aspect of volcanoes is the money brought in by tourists.  Tourists go to see the beautiful scenery and go to the surrounding hot springs as well.

It is apparent by all Japan's volcanoes that there is a lot of instability in the Earth's crust below.  This instability, and high energy, attributes to the approximately 1,000 earthquakes Japan experiences every year.  Most of these are not serious and don't cause extensive damage, but are simply those that are strong enough to be felt.

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CLIMATE

A major feature of Japan's climate is the clear-cup temperature changes between the four seasons.  From north to south, Japan covers a range of latitude of some 25 degrees and is influenced in the winter by seasonal winds blowing from Siberia and in the summer by seasonal winds blowing from the pacific Ocean.  In spite of it's rather small area, Japan is characterized by four different climatic patterns.

Hokkaido, with a subarctic weather pattern, has a yearly average temperature of eight degrees centigrade and receives an average annual precipitation of 1,150 millimeters.  The Pacific Ocean side of Japan, from the Tohoju region of northern Honshu to Kyushu, belongs to the temperate zone, and its summers are hot, influenced by seasonal winds from the Pacific.  The side of the country which faces the Sea of Japan has a climate with much rain and snow, produced when cold. moisture-bearing seasonal winds from the continent are stopped in their advance by the Central Alps and other mountains which run along Japan's center like a backbone,  The southwestern islands of Okinawa Prefecture belong to the subtropical climate zone and have  a yearly average temperate of over 22 degrees, while receiving over 2,000 millimeters of precipitation.

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Spring (March, April, May)

 When winters nears its end, the cold seasonal winds blowing from the continent become weaker and more intermittent.   At this time, low pressure air masses originating in China enter the Sea of Japan; these give rise to strong, warm southerly winds which travel toward this low-pressure zone from the Pacific Ocean.  The first of these winds is called haru ichiban.  While it announces the warmth of the coming spring, it sometimes causes avalanches and, crossing the mountains to the side of the country facing the Sea of Japan, it is at times responsible for exceptionally hot and dry weather and can even become the cause of large fires.

In early spring, plum blossoms appear, followed by peach blossoms.  During the last ten days or so of March, the cherry blossoms so beloved by the Japanese people begin to bloom.

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Summer (June, July, August)

 Before the arrival of real summer-like weather, Japan has a damp rainy season know as baiu.  From May until July, there is a high-pressure mass of cold air above the Sea of Okhotsk to the north of Japan, while over the Pacific Ocean there develops a high-pressure mass of warm, moist air.  Along the line where these cold and warm air masses meet, known as the baiu zensen, which extends from southern China over the Japanese archipelago, causes prolonged periods of continuous rainfall.

After the middle of July, high-pressure air masses over the Pacific Ocean become predominant and the rainy season comes to an end as the baiu zensen is pushed northward.  Seasonal winds from the Pacific Ocean bring warm, moist air to Japan, and the country has hot summer weather with many days when temperatures rise to more than 30 degrees centigrade.

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Autumn (September, October, November)

 From the end of summer through September, Japan is often struck by typhoons.  Typhoons originate from large masses of tropical low-pressure air in the North Pacific between the latitudes of approximately 5 and 20 degrees, and are the same phenomenon as hurricanes and cyclones in other parts of the world.  When a typhoon begins to take shape, it gradually moves north.  Every year, during this period, around 30 typhoons form, of which on the average about 4 reach Japan, sometimes causing great destruction.

After the middle or latter part of October, Japan enjoys generally clear weather; it is neither hot nor cold.  The country also enjoys especially fine weather at the beginning of November.  Many of the trees take on bright autumn colors, making this time of the year, together with the time of new greenery in the spring, a truly beautiful season.

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Winter (December, January, February)

 Toward the end of November, cold seasonal winds begin blowing over Japan from the continent.  These northwesterly winds pick up moisture over the Sea of Japan and drop much of this moisture in the form of rain and snow on the western side of Japan as they are impeded in their eastern advance by the ridge of mountains that runs through the central part of the country.  The Hokuriku region (Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama, and Niigata prefectures), which faces the Sea of Japan and is separated from other regions of Japan by high mountains, is known for its deep snows.

By contrast, the Pacific side of the country enjoys generally clear skies during the winter season.  In Tokyo, despite the fair skies, winter temperatures average around 5 degrees, a difference of 25 degrees from summer temperatures of 30 degrees or more.

The islands of Okinawa Prefecture in the far southwest have a subtropical climate with less marked temperature differences between the seasons.  Winter temperatures there are much more moderate than in other parts of the country.

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Information provided by the Japanese Embassy

Location:
Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula
Geographic coordinates:
36 00 N, 138 00 E
Map references:
Asia
Area:
total: 377,915 sq km
country comparison to the world: 61
land: 364,485 sq km
water: 13,430 sq km
note: includes Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-gunto), Daito-shoto, Minami-jima, Okino-tori-shima, Ryukyu Islands (Nansei-shoto), and Volcano Islands (Kazan-retto)
Area - comparative:
slightly smaller than California
Land boundaries:
0 km
Coastline:
29,751 km
Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nm; between 3 nm and 12 nm in the international straits - La Perouse or Soya, Tsugaru, Osumi, and Eastern and Western Channels of the Korea or Tsushima Strait
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate:
Current Weather
varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north
Terrain:
mostly rugged and mountainous
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Hachiro-gata -4 m
highest point: Fujiyama 3,776 m
Natural resources:
negligible mineral resources, fish
note: with virtually no energy natural resources, Japan is the world's largest importer of coal and liquefied natural gas, as well as the second largest importer of oil
Land use:
arable land: 11.64%
permanent crops: 0.9%
other: 87.46% (2005)
Irrigated land:
25,920 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources:
430 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 88.43 cu km/yr (20%/18%/62%)
per capita: 690 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards:
many dormant and some active volcanoes; about 1,500 seismic occurrences (mostly tremors) every year; tsunamis; typhoons
volcanism: both Unzen (elev. 1,500 m, 4,621 ft) and Sakura-jima (elev. 1,117 m, 3,665 ft), which lies near the densely populated city of Kagoshima, have been deemed "Decade Volcanoes" by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior, worthy of study due to their explosive history and close proximity to human populations; other notable historically active volcanoes include Asama, Honshu Island's most active volcano, Aso, Bandai, Fuji, Iwo-Jima, Kikai, Kirishima, Komaga-take, Oshima, Suwanosejima, Tokachi, Yake-dake, and Usu
Environment - current issues:
air pollution from power plant emissions results in acid rain; acidification of lakes and reservoirs degrading water quality and threatening aquatic life; Japan is one of the largest consumers of fish and tropical timber, contributing to the depletion of these resources in Asia and elsewhere
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note:
strategic location in northeast Asia

 

 
 
 
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