World Facts

The Main Islands of Japan

Japan has four main islands, the largest of which is Honshu.


Japan is a country in East Asia composed of a series of islands, the largest being Honshu. The country is a stratovolcanic archipelago that includes more than 6,853 islands, although only 430 are occupied. Located in a volcanic zone of the Pacific Ocean, along the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan has no land borders, only maritime borders. The country is densely populated and the majority of its population resides near the coastal regions since the inland terrain of the islands is typically mountainous and forested. Japan's islands are prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. The main islands of Japan, or "home islands," are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, which are described in greater detail below.

4. Hokkaido

Hokkaido is a vast island on the northern edge Japan and is the second largest after Honshu. It occupies a total area of 30,108 square miles and its highest point of elevation is Mount Asahi, which is 7,510 feet above sea level. The closest island to Hokkaido is Honshu, which is separated by the Tsugaru Strait, but connected by an undersea railway, known as the Seikan Tunnel. Russia's Sakhalin Island is located about 43 kilometers north of Hokkaido, while the highly disputed Kuril Islands are located to the east and northeast. The capital and most populous city of Hokkaido is Sapporo, while other major cities on the island include Abashiri, Chitose, Asahikawa, and Hakodate. The coastlines of Hokkaido meet the Sea of Japan, the Pacific Ocean, and the Sea of Okhotsk. The central region is mountainous, with numerous volcanic plateaus and coastal plains extending in all directions towards the sea. The island has several lakes such as Lake Shikotsu, Mashu, and Akan.

Like most parts of Japan, the island is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity. A few mountains are still considered active, and have had at least one eruption since 1850. These mountains are Koma, Usu, Tarumae, Meakan, and Tokachi. A devastating earthquake occurred in 1993, generating a tsunami which led to the death of more than 202 people in Okushiri. On September 6, 2018, another earthquake struck the island near Tomakomai at a magnitude of 6.6. The island is the coldest region in Japan, as it experiences cool summers and snowy winters. Administratively, the Hokkaido prefecture incorporates other small islands such as Rishiri, Rebun, and Okushiri.

3. Honshu

#3 Honshu

Honshu is Japan's largest and most populous island. The island occupies a total area of 87,200 square miles, which makes up 60% of Japan's total area, and is slightly bigger than Great Britain. The island's area has actually increased due to land reclamation or land fill, especially in the north part of the island. Honshu is located south of Hokkaido, north of Shikoku, northeast of Kyushu, and is a boundary between the Sea of Japan and the North Pacific Ocean. Honshu is the seventh largest island in the world in terms of area, and with a population of 103 million, it is the second most populous island, after Java, Indonesia. The majority of Honshu's population lives in coastal areas, especially in the Kantō plains. Volcanic activity and earthquakes often occur in Honshu, such as the March 2011 earthquake that moved the northeastern part of the island by as many as 17 feet. The island's highest point of elevation is Mount Fuji, which has a height 12,388 feet, while the Shinano is its longest river. The Japanese Alps cuts across the island, dividing it into the northwestern and southeastern regions.

Honshu is Japan's most developed island, containing numerous cities and major industries, and is therefore the country's economic hub. The island's largest cities include Kyoto, Tokyo, Nara, Kamakura, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, and Nagoya. Numerous modern bridges and tunnels link Honshu to other islands. Technological advancements emerging from Honshu island has made Japan a superpower in many industrial sectors. Honshu is divided into 34 administrative units, called prefectures. Small islands such are Ogasawara, Sado, Izu Ōshima, and Awaji are also governed under the administration of Honshu.

2. Shikoku

#2 Shikoku

Shikoku is the smallest of Japan's four main islands, occupying only 7,259 square miles including its surrounding islets. The island is located south of Honshu and east of Kyushu. Shikoku is administratively subdivided into four prefectures: Kagawa, Tokushima, Ehime, and Kōchi. The island is divided by a mountainous landscape which runs east-west, separating the northern and more inhabited region from the more sparsely populated and mountainous south. The highest point of elevation is Mount Ishizuchi, which has a height of 6,503 feet, while the longest river is the Yoshino, running 121.8 miles from its source at Mount ishizuchi to the sea near Tokushima. The northernmost point of the island is Takamatsu, Kagawa. The island is endowed with four capes or headlands: Gamōda, Sada and Kōchi and Ashizuri.

The climate of Shikoku is suitable for growing fruits, especially citrus, a few varieties of vegetables, and cereals such as wheat, rice, and barley. Fishing is common along the coast, while salt crystallization is a major industry. Other industries produce metals, wood pulp, textiles, and petroleum products. The island is connected to Honshu by three expressways, while transportation within the island is efficient due to a network of national highways and rail. Shikoku's major cities are Matsuyama, Takamatsu, Tokushima, and Uwajima.

1. Kyushu

#1 Kyushu

Kyushu is Japan's third largest island in terms of area, occupying 14,202 square miles. It is the most southwesterly of the four big islands. Kyushu features a mountainous landscape and is home to the most active volcanos and evidence of tectonic activity. The highest point of elevation on the island is Mount Kujū, which has a height of 5,876 feet. Kyushu has a population of 12,970,000, most of whom live in cities located in the northwest part of the island, such as Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Karatsu, Yanagawa, and Kumamoto. Administratively, the island is divided into 7 prefectures, including the Okinawa Metropolitan Prefecture, which is governed under the Kagoshima Prefecture. Kyushu experiences a subtropical climate, with fertile valleys and is suitable for cultivating crops such as tobacco, sweet potatoes, tea, and rice. The island's industrial activity is mostly located in northern parts of the island, including Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, and Oita. The northern territory has numerous mud springs which serve as home to extremophile micro-organisms that survive in hot environments. Kyushu is linked to Honshu by the Kanmon Tunnels. The island is home to Nagasaki, the city that was the site of a nuclear bombing during the end of the Second World War.


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