Japan: A Geographical Sketch

Japan is an island nation. It consists of four principal islands—Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu—more than 3,000 small adjacent islands and islets in the Nanpo chain and more than 200 other smaller islands in the Ryukyu archipelago. The four major islands are separated by narrow straits and extend along a northeast-southwest axis, forming a natural entity.

The Japanese archipelago lies off the eastern coast of Asia separated from the mainland by the Sea of Japan. The distance between Japan and the Asian continent is about 124 miles (200 kilometers), with the Korean peninsula as the nearest landmass. The Japanese islands cover approximately 147,116 square miles (381,000 square kilometers) and measure nearly 2,361 miles (3,800 kilometers) from north to south.

More than two-thirds of Japan is mountainous. A long chain of mountains runs down its middle, dividing it into halves. One half faces the Pacific Ocean, the other the Sea of Japan. The Japanese islands are, in fact, the summits of mountain ridges that were uplifted near the outer edge of the Asian continental shelf.

It is in the plains and mountain basins that most of the population is concentrated. This means that most cities, factories, farms, and people are squeezed into one-third of Japan’s total land.

Japan is located in the Pacific Basin, a zone where the earth’s crust is unstable. Many earthquakes occur each year. The mountains of Japan are volcanic and more than forty of the volcanoes are active.

Japan lies in approximately the same latitude as the eastern coast of the United States. Seasonal change is clearly marked. Two major ocean currents affect Japan’s climate. The Black Current flows north on the Pacific side warming areas as far north as Tokyo while another current flows southward along the northern Pacific, cooling adjacent coastal areas. Monsoon winds contribute to the hot and humid summers, rainy seasons in early summer and early fall, and the cold northern winters.

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