Japan Geography and Population

By | January 8, 2023

Japan (Geography)

Japan is an archipelago with four large and a number of smaller islands. Very large parts of the country are characterized by young, quite impassable and forested mountains. This is especially true of the main island, Honshu; total is 2/3 of the country covered by forest. In contrast, the many large and small river and coastal plains are extremely intensively exploited and very densely populated. Alone in the historic core area from Tokyo to the ancient capital Kyoto (Tokaido) and further along the Inland Sea to Kyushu live approximately half of the population. The northern and second largest island, Hokkaido, was late colonized from the south and remains sparsely populated.


Japan has an ethnically very uniform population. From the Japanese occupation of Korea 1910-45 are still many descendants of displaced and immigrant Koreans and especially on Hokkaido living few and heavily adulterated descendants of the indigenous Ainu – population. In addition, the residents are ethnic Japanese. The homogeneous character has its background in the island kingdom’s long-term isolation.

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The population density is 333 residents per km2, but with 2/3 of the country covered by forest is the real density in the inhabited areas much larger, and Japan’s cultural landscape is emerging as one of the closest and most intensively used in the world. Traditionally, any fairly flat plot of land was used for cultivation, and the associated buildings were located on the surrounding mountain slopes. This building pattern remains evident in the landscape.

For a long time, the population was fairly constant at approximately 35 mio. residents, and the growth took place especially after 1870. Until after World War II, agriculture was the dominant occupation, and both birth rate and mortality were high. With the rapid economic development thereafter and the associated growth in both urban population and standard of living, both birth and death rates decreased. This development was supported by the fact that as early as 1948, Japan was one of the first countries in the world to introduce legal abortion. In the 1990’s, the population has stabilized at around 125 million. As in most other highly developed countries, the number of old people is rising sharply, and problems of dependency and labor shortages are foreseen.

The very high density in the Japanese population centers causes the known problems with traffic and smog (but remarkably not with crime). From the state side, attempts are being made to turn urban development away from the Tokyo-Hiroshima dense urban belt in particular, and there are extensive support programs for the outlying areas.


The Japanese business distribution is similar to that of the other industrialized countries with a large and growing share of the labor force in the tertiary industries, while the industry itself employs a declining part and agriculture only a few percent. The fishery is the world’s second largest (after China), and in addition, Japan is by far the largest fish importer in the world. It reflects the very central position that fish traditionally and still holds in Japanese cuisine.

Mining has largely ceased. On the one hand, most deposits (copper, iron, coal) have been depleted, and on the other hand, the mines have been outcompeted by countries with lower production costs. Japan is among the world’s largest importers of a wide range of raw materials: coal, oil, natural gas, iron ore and more

Industry. Japan’s current status as an industrial superpower has been achieved since 1945, when the country emerged from the war with a severely damaged production apparatus. The great growth of the industry was not due to special natural resources or favorable location in relation to the market, but to a large extent to a massive American support for reconstruction and societal reforms. In addition, the Korean War, which meant great American activity in the region and demand for Japanese products. Throughout the process, the Japanese state played an active and governing role in industrialization and ensured competitiveness through low wages and low taxes.

Japanese industrial production is very versatile. From the outside, the very large groups in particular are characterized by names such as Mitsubishi and Mitsui, but the business community is also characterized by smaller, domestic-oriented companies. They either manufacture consumer goods or are subcontractors in close connection with the large groups.

The main exports are cars, electronics and ships. The Japanese car industry gained market share through the 1970’s, as a consequence of the oil crises. The Japanese cars were smaller and had lower fuel consumption than the American and European ones and were often also cheaper. In the 1990’s, the automotive industry has become highly internationalized, and it is less clear which countries produce what. Japanese car brands are now manufactured in a large number of countries, and Japanese capital is invested in other countries’ car groups.

In the past, heavy industry was an important export sector, and Japan was by far the largest shipbuilding nation. Increased demands for environmental protection and rising costs have now meant that much heavy industry has moved abroad. The export of electronic articles, on the other hand, has grown sharply. Japanese companies such as Sony, Panasonic and Fuji are among the leaders in cameras, music systems and IT.

The domestic industry includes a wide range of food and consumer goods, including traditional Japanese handicrafts of lacquer and paper. This sector plays a minor economic role, but has great employment significance.

Industrial development has taken place in close cooperation between the state and the business community, characterized by large-scale coordinated efforts. Thus, the 1960’s investment in the machinery and especially the automotive industry, the 1970’s turn towards electronics and the 1980’s investment in biotechnology and other high technologies were all the result of government initiatives, adopted in close contact with the leading business community.

Japanese industrial development is based on a distinctive model, which is characterized both by traditional Japanese culture and by the extensive reforms under the Allied administration after World War II. The companies accept that the state has a great influence on the development. The business structure is characterized by the large corporations, all of which have roots dating back to the early development after 1868; several of them are among the world’s largest companies. Zaibatsuare usually very broad-spectrum groups with many types of companies. Changes in the priorities of industrial policy are quickly absorbed, as the groups have companies in almost all industries. The structure helps to strengthen the common interest between the state and the business community and creates the opportunity for strong management of the future core areas of economic development.

Agriculture. Japan stretches over 21 degrees latitude from north to south, and there are large climatic differences from Okinawa’s and Kyushu’s subtropical to Hokkaido’s temperate climate with long, snowy winters.

Agricultural production has for more than 2000 years been concentrated on rice cultivation. Other traditional crops are millet, barley and soybeans. The arable area is only twice as large as Denmark’s, but the cultivation is extremely intensive, and the hectare yields are among the highest in the world. The cultivation was first mechanized late (after the 1950’s), which is related to the complicated rice cultivation, where the plants germinate in beds and then are planted out in irrigated fields. After a comprehensive land reform, which was carried out by the Allied administration, it was gnsntl. farm size quite small and it remains at a few acres. Most farms are run on a part-time basis; despite very large government subsidies, the earnings are not enough to entertain a family.

The Japanese diet has traditionally been completely dominated by plant foods with fish in addition to animal proteins. With the great economic growth and increase in prosperity, the demand has changed, and several large farms with meat and dairy production have been established.


Investments in transport and communication did not keep up with industrial development at all for a long time. The focus was primarily on a rapid increase in production, and in the late 1970’s one could find modern companies located at the end of dirt roads. Traditionally, shipping was important due to the often impassable terrain, and much industry was established in the port cities. This pattern still characterizes the industrial location, but is changing.

Since the 1960’s, there has been a nationwide expansion of the infrastructure, which in the 1990’s is characterized by great capacity and efficiency. With the Shinkansen – the connection between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964, Japan got the world’s first high – speed train, and in the late 1990’s the network stretches from northern Honshu to Kyushu. At the same time, the motorway network has been expanded with e.g. several bridge connections across the Inland Sea. Common to the many facilities are major engineering challenges and gigantic costs in the mountainous and densely populated country.

Natural geography

The Japanese island arc is formed by the active collision zone between two large lithosphere plates. The mountains of Japan are all very young and predominantly north-south-going. Pga. the young age they appear with rugged, steep mountain sides. No plateaus or plateaus of degradation material have formed in the valleys, and the rivers are short and have a large slope. Early on, dams were built for irrigation and energy supply.

Earthquakes and volcanism are commonplace in Japan, but few earthquakes cause major damage. This is partly due to the fact that most of them are of moderate strength, and partly due to the fact that all major buildings are constructed with special vibration-damping constructions. However, the country is occasionally hit by particularly violent earthquakes with great destruction as a result; most recently in the Kobe area in 1995 and the Fukushima area in 2011. The Tokyo earthquake in 1923 is among the most devastating in history; it cost 123,000 lives.

There are approximately 40 active volcanoes. Several have very regular cone shape and large well-defined craters. This also applies to a large extent to the sacred mountain Fujisan SV for Tokyo, which, however, is considered extinct. The active volcano Aso on Kyushu is known for one of the largest craters in the world.

Climate. The northern part of the country lies in the temperate zone; the border with subtropical climate goes a little north of Tokyo. The southernmost islands (Okinawa) have a tropical climate. The location east of the Asian mainland means that the climate is both mainland and monsoon. In winter, the stationary high pressure over Siberia presses cold air over the Sea of ​​Japan, where it absorbs moisture. It is causing heavy snowfall in northwestern Japan, while the east coast is sheltered from both the cold and rainfall. In summer, warm, humid winds blow in from the Pacific Ocean and provide precipitation on the east-facing side of the mountains. However, there is no real rainy and dry season, and the rainy seasons are not as pronounced as in actual monsoon climates.

Japan (Geology)

The Japanese islands are formed by a collision between the Eurasian Plate and the two oceanic lithosphere plates, the Pacific Plate and the Philippine Plate, which slide under the Japanese arch. At the same time, the Pacific plate is being pushed under the Philippine. With these movements, earthquakes and volcanic activity occur, and Japan is one of the areas in the world that has the highest frequency of earthquakes. The islands have many active and extinct volcanoes as well as numerous hot springs. Between the two ocean floor plates are the deep-sea tombs Boningraven and Marianergraven. Where the Pacific plate moves down below northern Japan, the Kuriler Tomb is found in the north and the Japan Tomb further south. Where the Philippine Plate pushes itself under the southern part of Japan, are the Nankai Trough and the Ryukyu Tomb. Japan’s highest mountain, the volcano Fujisan (3776 m), is located just where the two plates slide in under the Japanese arch.

The main islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, consist in part of older sediments; the oldest fossil carriers are from Silur. In addition, sediments are found from the entire period until today. Pga. repeated phases of plate movements and deformations, the sediments have been folded and metamorphosed several times; to each phase also belong granitic intrusions.

Melting of magma has formed intrusions, and hydrothermal activity in connection with this has resulted in mineralizations of e.g. gold, copper, nickel, manganese and iron. Pga. lateral displacements, the Japanese archipelago since the Miocene (approximately 24-5 million before now) is partially broken and torn from the Eurasian Plate. Thereby, The Sea of ​​Japan has been formed. The displacements have created a series of deep basins in the arch, in which thick sediment layers are deposited. The continued undercutting has meant that some of these have been raised and folded. The sediments today contain deposits of hard coal, lignite, oil and gas.

Japan (Peoples)

The Japanese population is unusually homogeneous, and approximately 99% are considered Japanese. In Japan, the Ainu people, who are predominantly assimilated, as well as a group of Koreans and Chinese also live. Many Chinese and Koreans came to Japan more or less voluntarily in the period leading up to World War II, where they then remained, and in many cases their descendants grew up without speaking anything other than Japanese. For culture and traditions of Japan, please check animalerts.

Some Japanese emigrated to Hawaii (from 1885), Brazil (from 1908) and later the United States and Canada. However, emigration has never been large enough to have had any noticeable effect on the population of the home country.

Japan Geography