Geography of Japan

Geographic Information About the Pacific Island Nation

Autumn park, Japan


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Japan is an island nation located in eastern Asia in the Pacific Ocean to the east of China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea. It is an archipelago that is made up of over 6,500 islands, the largest of which are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Japan is one of the world's largest countries by population and it has one of the world's largest economies.

Fast Facts: Japan

  • Capital: Tokyo
  • Population: 126,168,156 (2018)
  • Official Language: Japanese 
  • Currency: Yen (JPY)
  • Form of Government: Parliamentary constitutional monarchy
  • Climate: Varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north
  • Total Area: 145,913 square miles (377,915 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Mount Fuji at 12,388 feet (3,776 meters) 
  • Lowest Point: Hachiro-gata at -13 feet (-4 meters)

History of Japan

According to Japanese legend Japan was founded in 600 BCE by the Emperor Jimmu. Japan's first contact with the west was recorded in 1542 when a Portuguese ship bound for China landed on Japan instead. As a result, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain all began to go to Japan shortly thereafter, as did several different missionaries. In the 17th century, however, Japan's shogun (a military leader) determined that these foreign visitors were a military conquest and all contact with foreign countries was barred for about 200 years.

In 1854, the Convention of Kanagawa opened Japan up to relations with the west, causing the shogun to resign which led to the restoration of Japan's emperor as well as the adoption of new, western-influenced traditions. According to the U.S. Department of State, in the late 19th century Japan's leaders began to view the Korean Peninsula as a threat and from 1894 to 1895 it was involved in a war over Korea with China and from 1904 to 1905 it fought a similar war with Russia. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea.

With the beginning of World War I, Japan began to influence much of Asia which allowed it to quickly grow and expand its Pacific territories. Shortly thereafter it joined the League of Nations and in 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria. Two years later in 1933, Japan left the League of Nations and in 1937 it invaded China and became a part of the Axis powers during World War II. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii which led to the United States entering WWII and the subsequent atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. On September 2, 1945, Japan surrendered to the U.S., ending WWII.

As a result of the war, Japan lost its overseas territories, including Korea, and Manchuria went back to China. In addition, the country fell under the control of the Allies with the goal of making it a democratic self-governing nation. It thus underwent many reforms and in 1947 its constitution went into effect and in 1951, Japan and the Allies signed the Treaty of Peace. On April 28, 1952, Japan gained full independence.

Government of Japan

Today, Japan is a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. It has an executive branch of government with a chief of state (the Emperor) and a head of government (the Prime Minister). Japan's legislative branch consists of a bicameral Diet or Kokkai that is made up of the House of Councilors and the House of Representatives. Its judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court. Japan is divided into 47 prefectures for local administration.

Economics and Land Use in Japan

Japan's economy is one of the largest and most advanced in the world. It is famous for its motor vehicles and electronics and its other industries include machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemicals, textiles, and processed foods.

Geography and Climate of Japan

Japan is located in eastern Asia between the Sea of Japan and the North Pacific Ocean. Its topography consists mainly of rugged mountains and it is a highly geologically active region. Large earthquakes are not uncommon Japan as it is located near the Japan Trench, where the Pacific and North American Plates meet. In addition, the country has 108 active volcanoes.

The climate of Japan varies upon location—it is tropical in the south and cool temperate in the north. For example, its capital and largest city Tokyo is located in the north and its average August high temperature is 87 degrees (31˚C) and its average January low is 36 degrees (2˚C). By contrast, Naha, the capital of Okinawa, is located in the southern part of the country and has an average August high temperature of 88 degrees (30˚C) and an average January low temperature of 58 degrees (14˚C).

Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011

On March 11, 2011, Japan was struck by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that was centered in the ocean 80 miles (130 km) east of the city of Sendai. The earthquake was so large that it caused a massive tsunami that devastated much of Japan. The earthquake also caused smaller tsunamis to hit areas across much of the Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii and the west coast of the United States mainland. In addition, the earthquake and tsunami damaged Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Thousands were killed in Japan in the disasters, thousands were displaced, and entire towns were leveled by the earthquake and/or tsunami.

Additionally, the earthquake was so powerful that it caused the main island of Japan to move eight feet and shifted the Earth's axis. The earthquake is also considered to have been one of the five strongest to have struck since 1900.


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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Japan." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Briney, Amanda. (2023, April 5). Geography of Japan. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Japan." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).