What Are The Major Natural Resources Of Japan?

Fish, arable land, and forests are some of the important natural resources of Japan.

Japan is an island country in East Asia. It is situated in the Pacific Ocean, off the eastern coast of the continent of Asia. Japan consists of over 6,800 islands, with four main islands, Shikoku, Kyushu, Hokkaido, and Honshu, making about 97% of the country’s land area. It is the 10th largest country in the world with a population of approximately 127 million people. The majority of the population (98%) are ethnic Japanese. Japan is one of the most highly developed countries in the world. It has a very high standard of living, with its population enjoying the highest life expectancy. The country has been long known for the influential music industry, extensive cinema, and rich cuisine.

Overview of the Natural Resources of Japan

Japan has always been described as a country with virtually no major natural resources such as natural gas, oil, gold, coal, copper, and iron. The country depends on imported raw material and energy. In fact, Japan is the largest importer of liquefied natural gas and coal, and the second-largest importer of oil in the world. Following the shutdown of the nuclear reactors in 2011 following a series of earthquakes and tsunamis, the industrial sector of Japan has even become more reliant on imported fossil fuel. However, the government is planning to restart the nuclear plant. Of late, Japan has proven that it has two huge potential areas rich in natural resources but the two areas have remained largely untapped. These areas are the forest that covers a large portion of the land and the ocean which surrounds the archipelago. Japan has negligible mineral resources, especially under the seabed.


While Japan has a small land area (approximately 145,937 square miles), the land is mainly covered with forest. Approximately 68.2% of the Japanese land is under the forest cover, the world’s 4th highest percentage after Laos, Finland, and Bhutan, and far ahead of countries such as the US, Britain, France, and China. Japan’s forest has the potential for increasing export and employment opportunities. The demand for high-quality timber from China and South Korea is rising very fast. China cannot fully meet its demand by its domestic forest resources. Thus Japan has the opportunity to export most of its timber to China. In 2015, the forestry industry in Japan produced approximately 20 million cubic meters of wood, translating to revenue of 436 billion yen. The industry accounts for 0.04% of the country’s GDP.

Forests in Japan have high quality and wide varieties of trees. 40% of the forests in the country are planted forests. The forests were planted in the years following the Pacific War with the aim of providing construction material. However, following the rapid economic growth experienced, the country switched from wood material to concrete material. Moreover, imported wood was relatively cheaper and more attractive compared to the locally harvested wood. Most of the man-made forests remain largely untouched and are so dense that they require thinning. They are mainly located on steep mountains and contain cedar and cypress.


Fish is considered the main natural resource of Japan. The territorial waters of Japan and its exclusive economic zone is the 6th largest in the world, covering approximately 4.5 million square kilometers. Fishing has been a major economic activity in Japan. The country has been known for deep-sea fishing and whaling. However, following the 1973 energy crisis, fishing in Japan declined with annual catch averaging 2 million tons in the 1980s. During the same period, offshore fishing accounted for 50% of the total catch. Both the domestic and overseas fishing in Japan has always been centered on the Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo. The fish market is one of the largest wholesale fish markets in the world, especially for frozen, processed, and fresh fish. Japan has over two thousand fishing ports including Otaru, Nagasaki, Kushiro, and Abashiri.

Japan is also one of the few nations that are involved in commercial whaling. The country is a member of the International Whaling Commission. Japan conducts whaling in both pelagic areas of the Southern Ocean and North Pacific Ocean. The pelagic whaling feet consist of a number of ships that hunt and process whale catch as well as protecting the hunt against the protest. The species of whales hunted by the Japanese fleet include sperm whales, minke, humpback, western gray, and northern fin whale. Japanese whaling has been a source of conflict between Japan and the anti-whaling organizations and countries. However, Japan has insisted that whaling is purely for scientific research.

Agricultural Land

Agriculture and fishing are the primary sectors of the Japanese economy. However, only 20% of the total land area is suitable for cultivation and agricultural sector is highly subsidized. The share of arable land has fallen gradually over the years but farming still remains a major economic activity. There are approximately 4 million farm households in Japan, of which the majority of the farm households are engaged in other activities other than farming. There is a great shortage of farmland in Japan. However, the available land is cultivated intensively. Most of the rice paddies are common in the countryside, especially on alluvial plains, wetlands, and terraced slopes. Agriculture is characterized by the decreasing availability of arable land surplus rice, and low agricultural income. To solve these problems, the government of Japan has embarked on a program to consolidate farmlands as part of Reform Package which was introduced in 2014.

Other Minor Natural Resources

Japan has very little mineral deposits and mainly rely on imports to meet its demand. The country has few deposits of coal, mainly found in Kyushu and Hokkaido. However, the coals are of poor quality and are hard to extract. Japan also has several oil wells drilled off the coast of Honshu. Natural gas reserves are also found in different areas including Mobara gas field and Southern Okinawa gas field. Copper has been produced in Japan in small quantities since the turn of the 20th century. However, the production has significantly declined over the years. Other metal resources that have been produced in the country include gold, silver, manganese, tin, and zinc. Non-metal elements that have also been mined in Japan include sulfur, antimony, and graphite.

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