The Geography of Japan

Following my basic introduction to Japan, this is an overview of Japan’s geography.


Japan is located in East Asia, off the coasts of China, Korea, and Russia.

Japan (topographic map)

[topographic map from Wikipedia]

The northern end of Japan is at roughly the same latitude as the cities Milan, Montreal, and Portland, Oregon.  The southern end of the main islands of Japan is at roughly the same latitude as Shanghai, the mouth of the Nile river, and Austin, Texas.  The string of small islands that makes an arc from the bottom of the main islands to Taiwan is also part of Japan, and its southern end is at about the same latitude as Cuba.


Mountains account for 73% of Japan’s land, and most of the country’s people are crammed into what little flat land there is.  In this fantastic satellite image from NASA (via Wikipedia), the concrete-gray population centers are clearly visible.

Japan Satellite View

The biggest urban area, at the elbow of the main island, is the Tokyo region.

Forests cover most of the land that isn’t either urban, rocky mountain, or agricultural.  In the satellite image, only the south is green, but that’s because the picture was taken in April, when spring was well underway in the southern half of the country, but when plants in the north were still waking up.


Japan is mostly in the temperate zone and thus experiences the four seasons distinctly.  Summers are hot, winters bring snow, autumn is colored by red maple leaves, and spring begins with cherry blossoms.  Except at the north island, there is also a month-long rainy season in early summer. Additionally, typhoons occur through summer and into early autumn.  Each storm typically starts in the south and sweeps up the length of the archipelago, weakening along the way.

Japan’s weather isn’t the same all over, however.  The country’s dividing mountains and span of latitudes create several climate zones.

  • Pacific Coast: Hot, humid summers and mostly dry winters.
  • Inland Sea: (The area between the main island and the smaller two of the four big islands.)  Has weather similar to the Pacific Coast, but it’s sheltered from storms and has more sunny days.
  • Japan Sea Coast: Somewhat cooler summers and heavy snowfall in the winter, due to winds from Siberia.
  • Central Highlands: (A small region in the mountains in the middle of Japan.)  Has a more continental climate, with a large contrast between daytime and nighttime temperatures.
  • Hokkaidō:  (The northern island.)  Cooler and less humid than the rest of Japan and with less precipitation.
  • Southern Islands: Subtropical.

I’ll stop here and talk about regions and flora and fauna in separate posts; this post was too long with those sections included.


2 Responses to “The Geography of Japan”

  1. Regions of Japan « Erratic Dispatches Says:

    […] Erratic Dispatches from a former Kobe JET « The Geography of Japan […]

  2. Plants and Animals of Japan « Erratic Dispatches Says:

    […] and Animals of Japan By kevinjames Following my Introduction to Japan and overview of The Geography of Japan, this is a brief look at the country’s flora and fauna.  I won’t attempt to be at all […]

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