Japan is located in the North Pacific off the coast of Russia and the Korean peninsula. The area of Japan is 377,873km², which makes it slightly smaller in land mass than California. Japan consists of four main larger islands and over 4000 smaller islands. The main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Honshu is the largest with an area of 231,000km². A modern railroad system connects the major islands and Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen runs between major urban areas.
Japan is over 70% mountainous terrain with approximately 18% land mass suitable for human settlement. Japanese cities are typically sprawling and densely populated. Tokyo, a megalopolis and the capital of Japan, is located on Honshu island. Central Tokyo has a population of 12 million people, with the population of the Greater Tokyo Area estimated at over 35 million people.
The islands of Japan are located in an area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. This area is where most of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. Japan is very seismically active with over 1,500 earthquakes per year. In 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake killed more than 143,000 people in the Tokyo area. Tsunamis and volcanic eruptions are other natural destructive forces in Japan. In 2011 the Tōhoku Earthquake, also known as 3-11 (three-eleven) in Japan, was the most powerful earthquake known to have struck Japan.
Japanese is the official language of Japan. Many Japanese also have some ability in writing and speaking English as it is a mandatory part of the curriculum in the Japanese educational system. Japanese uses four different writing systems; Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana (phonetic alphabet for native words), Katakana (phonetic alphabet for foreign words), and Romaji (western alphabet used to write Japanese). Japanese vocabulary has been strongly influenced by loanwords from other languages, with most loanwords coming from Chinese and English.
The climate of Japan varies considerably depending on the region and season. Summer is usually very hot and humid, known to the Japanese as “mushiatsui”. From mid June there is a rainy season which lasts around one month. Winters are usually mild, with the northern areas of Japan receiving more snow. Spring and autumn are usually sunny with mild temperatures.
The two major religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism. While religion does not play a major role in the life of the average Japanese, religious ceremonies are usually held at births, weddings, and funerals. On New Year’s Day visiting a temple or shrine is also a common custom. About 1% of the population follow Christianity, which was heavily persecuted in Japan prior to the Meiji Restoration in 1873.
World Heritage Sites
As of June, 2012 Japan has 12 cultural and 4 natural sites designated as World Heritage sites.