Geography of Japan


Terrain shapes and bedrock

According to COUNTRYAAH, Japan forms part of the mountain range along the northern and western coasts of the Pacific. The origin and physical character of the Japanese islands is a consequence of their boundary position between the Pacific plate and the Eurasian plate, of which the former moves west and the latter east. For Japan, this tectonic structure appears in the form of the 9,810 m deep Japanese tomb and a large number of islands inside. The islands are volcanic with about 60 volcanoes that have erupted in historical times, hot springs and geysers, and about 20 solar fathoms. Solidified lava covers one fifth of the island’s surface. The seismic activity is high with about 1,500 earthquakes per year, some very powerful with epicenter at great depth and often accompanied by earthquake waves, the so-called tsunami, with devastating effects along the coasts.

The dominant landform in Japan is mountains, which are broken by a large number of faults. Furthermore, there are smaller plains and plateaus, whereby a landscape known as honeycomb topography has emerged. From a morphological point of view, Japan is divided into a number of landform regions that are closely related to the mountain range arcs formed by flat movements. The Hokkaido region in the north includes most of Hokkaido and also (outside Japan) parts of both the Kuriler Arch and Kamchatka Arch. The largest mountain ranges, the Kitami Mountain and the Hidakak Chain, go in a north-south direction and reach over 2,000 m above sea level.

The northeast region extends from Hokkaido’s narrow southern peninsula to the center of Honshu and has several rows of mountain, lowland and volcanic areas. The bedrock is on the Pacific side of rocks formed during the Paleozoic, while younger tertiary rocks predominate in the west.

The central part of Honshu is the most mountainous region with, among other things. Japan’s highest peak, the volcano Fuji, 3,776 meters above sea level. Fossa Magna, a striking rift zone that gives rise to the largest plain in Japan, continues south in the volcanic arch of the Bonin Islands. Several mountains in this part form the Japanese Alps, such as the Akaishi, Kiso and Hida mountains.

The southwestern region includes southern Honshu, Shikoku and most of Kyushu, and has mountains and lowlands in arc lines convex to the Japanese sea. An inner zone consists mainly of granite and lava and is characterized by faults, while an outer zone is made up of crystalline shales.

The Ryukyu region encompasses the southern part of Kyushu with the large volcanoes of Asosan and Sakurajima, as well as the arcuate-stretched Ryukyu Islands, which reach almost to Taiwan and have 16 volcanoes.

Japan’s rivers have short and violent races; the largest are Tone, Shinano, Kitakami and Kiso at Honshu and Ishikari at Hokkaido. The largest lake is Biwa, which lies in a tectonic sink, but volcanic lakes, beach lakes and dammed lakes also exist.

The soil varies and from north to south are mainly pod oil soils, brown forest soils and red soils of laterite type. Locally, black soil occurs on terraces and hills, peat soils in poorly drained areas and volcanic ash soils in the highlands.


According to BRIDGAT, Japan has a temperate monsoon climate, whose general characteristics are determined partly by the country’s north-south extent and partly by its boundary position between the large land mass in the west and the ocean in the east. During the winter, the western sides of the islands are mainly hit by the cold monsoon of the winter monsoon from the continent. The summer monsoon, on the other hand, provides warm and humid air from the east and south from mid-April to September. Tropical hurricanes, typhoons, can occur during late summer. The warm Kuroshio stream from the south goes just east of Japan, while the branch Tsushima stream goes west to the islands, providing ice-free ports. The cold Oyashio stream from the north is squeezed closest to the eastern coasts of the northern islands, with plenty of haze and fog. The winter climate in northern Japan is windy and cold, while summer in the south is almost tropical. The average temperature of Hokkaido is −9 ° C in January and 21 ° C in August. On the east side of Honshus, near Tokyo, it is 4 and 27 ° C respectively and on Kyushu 7 and 27 ° C respectively. The rainfall is plentiful, usually over 1,000 mm per year, some places get up to 4,000 mm. Most rain falls in the spring and summer. Snow cover is available at Hokkaido as well as at northern and western Honshu.

Plant Life

The vascular plant flora is very rich in relation to the country’s surface, more than 4,000 native or well-naturalized species. The contrasts between north and south are great. Hokkaido and northern Honshu in the north have lowland deciduous forests of Europe well-known genus such as birch, beech, oak and poplar, but other and more species. Up to 1,500 meters above sea level at Hokkaido and to 2,500 meters above sea level. At Honshu, boreal coniferous forest dominates with pine trees, ajangran (Piʹcea jezoëʹnsis), larch trees and hemlock. Above this, strands of bush-dwarf numbers, camellia birch (Beʹtula ermaʹnii), and Elle Aʹlnus maximowiʹczii take. Fjällhed is only found on the highest mountains and is largely formed by circumpolar genera and species such as bell-heather, patchwork, lingonberry and odon.

Southern Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, especially coastal areas, belong to the warm-temperate region, and natural vegetation is a forest of mainly evergreen deciduous trees (oaks, camphor, camellias and Trochodeʹndron), with elements of certain conifers, such as cryptomeria (rare as wild, but widely used for forest planting). This forest, called Laurisylva, resembles the genus and species set most of those now found in China’s mountainous regions and on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, but during tertiary also existed in Europe. It is now largely cleared for cultivation. As undergrowth and colonizers after grubbing, there are several large bamboo species. In this region there is an element of subtropical and tropical species, such as the palm tree, Japanese cycas and several species of tree worms. In the Ryukyu Islands, the tropical flora on the coast is more prominent, with e.g. screw palm trees and furthest south through mangrove.


Wildlife is greatly reduced as a result of millennia of biotope destruction. As a traveler, you therefore see few animals. An exception is Japanese macaque, the world’s northernmost monkey, which in many places has become accustomed to feeding people. Of the larger mammals in general there are, among other things, Sika deer, Japanese serov (Capricoʹrnis criʹspus), wild boar, brown bear, collar bear, mongoose dog and six species of molluscs, i.a. Sable and Japanese Mard (Maʹrtes melaʹmpus). Japanese hare (Leʹpus brachyuʹrus) and riukiukanin are endemic in Japan.

About 530 species of birds have been observed, of which a significant proportion are migratory birds from the Asian mainland. Among the more well-known are Japanese tuffibis (Nippoʹnia niʹppon), for which the remaining world population (in Japan and China) amounts to about twenty birds (1990).

Of reptiles, there are some species of lacertids, hams, gecko lizards, snakes and the type of copper worm and two species of freshwater turtles. Of tentless amphibians, there are about ten species of real toads, genuine frogs, deciduous frogs and eastern tree frogs. The tail germs are well represented, including angular salamanders and the more than 1.5 m long species of Japanese giant salamanders, which live in mountain streams.

The freshwater fish fauna comprises about forty species of carp fish and three species of moths.

Nature conservation

About 14% of the land area enjoys protection, distributed among other things. 29 national parks and several thousand nature reserves, most of which are very small. However, most of the protected areas comprise recreational areas rather than nature-protected areas in the Western sense.