Japan, also known as Nippon, is made up of about 4,000 islands that lie off the east coast of Asia. To the north is the Sea of Okhotsk and a group of islands belonging to Russia, to the east and south is the Pacific Ocean, and to the west is the Sea of Japan, which lies between Japan and North and South Korea.

Japan has four main islands. From north to south, they are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Honshu is the largest of the four. The capital city, Tokyo, is located on Honshu. South of Kyushu are the smaller Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa.

About 70% of the land area consists of mountains. Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest and most famous mountain, is located in central Honshu. The mountains developed as a result of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions about 1.6 million years ago. Modern Japan continues to experience about 1,000 land tremors a year. 

Japan’s rivers are short and tend to have fast, strong currents. Most lakes in Japan are located in the northeast, with the exception of Lake Biwa in central Honshu, Japan’s biggest lake.

  Did you know?
Japan is hit by up to 30 typhoons a year. Winds can reach 200 kilometres an hour and 30 centimetres of rain can fall in 24 hours.
The Japanese climate is influenced by monsoons, or seasonal winds. Winters are cold and often snowy. The island of Hokkaido has especially heavy snow, with average winter temperatures of about -9C. Summers are hot and humid. The summer marks the beginning of the rainy season, except in Hokkaido. Heavy rain falls in June and July. The typhoon season begins in late August and lasts for six weeks. Spring and fall are usually warm and clear.

 The mountainous areas in the north, where the temperatures are cold, are characterized by small pine trees, birches and heather. In central Honshu and Shikoku trees such as camphor, Japanese evergreen oak, holly, camellia, bamboo, katsura, maple and beech are common. On Okinawa, the vegetation is semi-tropical, with palms, sugar cane, mangrove forests, and tropical fruits such as bananas and pineapples. 

The Japanese islands attract approximately 600 bird species, including domestic and migratory birds. Environmental pollution caused by Japan’s rapid industrialization since the 1950s has caused some birds to become extinct, and marine life has been threatened by overfishing. Japan has instituted strict environmental measures to address these problems.