Geography of the Four Major Islands of Japan

Japan is an island nation located in eastern Asia to the east of China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea. Its capital is Tokyo, and it has a population of around 127,000,000 people (2019 estimate). Japan covers an area of 145,914 square miles (377,915 square kilometers) that is spread out over its more than 6,500 islands. Four main islands make up Japan, however, and they are where its main population centers are located.

The main islands of Japan are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. The following is a list of these islands and some brief information about each.


World Heritage Itsukushima Shrine
Nobutoshi Kurisu/ Digital Vision

Honshu is the largest island of Japan, and it is where the majority of the country's cities are located. The Tokyo Osaka-Kyoto area is the core of Honshu and Japan. 25% of the island's population lives in the Tokyo region. Honshu has a total area of 88,017 square miles (227,962 sq km) and it is the world's seventh-largest island. The island is 810 miles (1,300 km) long, and it has a varied topography that includes many different mountain ranges, some of which are volcanic. The highest of these is the volcanic Mount Fuji at 12,388 feet (3,776 meters). As in many areas of Japan, earthquakes are common on Honshu.

Honshu is divided into five regions and 34 prefectures. The regions are Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, and Chugoku.


Japan Hokkaido landscape
A farm with some beautiful colors in Hokkaido, Japan. Alan Lin / Getty Images

Hokkaido is the second-largest island of Japan, with a total area of 32,221 square miles (83,453 sq km). The population of Hokkaido is roughly 5,300,000 (2019 estimate), and the main city on the island is Sapporo, which is also the capital of Hokkaido Prefecture. Hokkaido is located to the north of Honshu; the two islands are separated by the Tsugaru Strait. The topography of Hokkaido consists of a mountainous volcanic plateau in its center that is surrounded by coastal plains. There are a number of active volcanoes on Hokkaido, the tallest of which is Asahidake at 7,510 feet (2,290 m).

Since Hokkaido is located in northern Japan, it is known for its cold climate. Summers on the island are cool, while winters are snowy and icy.


Women bathing at hot spring resort
Bohistock / Getty Images

Kyushu is the third-largest island of Japan, located to the south of Honshu. It has a total area of 13,761 square miles (35,640 sq km) and a rough 2016 population estimate of 13,000,000. Since it is in southern Japan, Kyushu has a subtropical climate, and its inhabitants produce a variety of agricultural products. These include rice, tea, tobacco, sweet potatoes, and soy. The largest city on Kyushu is Fukuoka, and it is divided into seven prefectures. Kyushu's topography consists mainly of mountains and the most active volcano in Japan, Mt. Aso, is located on the island. In addition to Mt. Aso, there are also hot springs on Kyushu. The highest point on the island, Kuju-san, at 5,866 feet (1,788 m), is a volcano.


Japan autumn 2016
Matsuyama Castle in Matsuyama City, Shikoku Island. Raga / Getty Images

Shikoku is the smallest of Japan's main islands with a total area of 7,260 square miles (18,800 sq km). This area is made up of the main island as well as the small islets surrounding it. Shikoku is located to the south of Honshu and to the east of Kyushu, and it has a population of roughly 3,800,000 (2015 estimate). The largest city of Shikoku is Matsuyama, and the island is divided into four prefectures. Shikoku has a varied topography that consists of a mountainous south, while there are small lowland plains on the Pacific coast near Kochi. The highest point on Shikoku is Mount Ishizuchi at 6,503 feet (1,982 m).

Like Kyushu, Shikoku has a subtropical climate and agriculture is practiced in its fertile coastal plains, while fruit is grown in the north.

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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of the Four Major Islands of Japan." ThoughtCo, Jan. 26, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, January 26). Geography of the Four Major Islands of Japan. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of the Four Major Islands of Japan." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).