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September 2011

Japan, 1996

Japan, 1996

Japan, a country of islands, extends along the eastern or Pacific coast of Asia. The four main islands, running from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu (or the mainland), Shikoku, and Kyushu. About 3,000 smaller islands are included in the archipelago including Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-gunto), Daito-shoto, Minami-jima, Okino-tori-shima, Volcano Islands (Kazan-retto), and Ryukyu Islands (Nansei-shoto) which includes Okinawa . In total land area, Japan is slightly smaller than California.

Japan's population, currently some 126 million, is primarily an urban society with only about 4% of the labor force engaged in agriculture. About 80 million of the urban population is heavily concentrated on the Pacific shore of Honshu and in northern Kyushu. Major population centers include: Metropolitan Tokyo with approximately 12.8 million; Yokohama with 3.7 million; Osaka with 2.6 million; Nagoya with 2.2 million; Sapporo with 1.8 million; Kyoto and Kobe with 1.5 million each; Kawasaki and Fukuoka with 1.4 million each, and Saitama with 1.2 million.

Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government with universal adult suffrage and a secret ballot for all elective offices. The executive branch is responsible to the Diet, and the judicial branch is independent. Sovereignty, previously embodied in the emperor, is vested in the Japanese people, and the Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state.

Because the islands run almost directly north-south, the climate varies considerably. Sapporo, on the northernmost main island, has warm summers and long, cold winters with heavy snowfall. Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, in central and western parts of the largest island of Honshu, experience relatively mild winters with little or no snowfall and hot, humid summers. Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, has a climate similar to that of Washington, DC, with mild winters and short summers. Okinawa is subtropical.

Natural hazards include volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and typhoons. Japan has about 1,500 seismic occurrences (mostly tremors but occasional severe earthquakes) every year. Two historically active volcanoes, Unzen (elev. 1,500 m) and Sakura-jima (elev. 1,117 m), which both lie near the densely populated city of Kagoshima, have been deemed "Decade Volcanoes" by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior. Other active volcanoes include Asama, Honshu Island's most active volcano, Aso, Bandai, Fuji, Iwo-Jima, Kikai, Kirishima, Komaga-take, Oshima, Suwanosejima, Tokachi, Yake-dake, and Usu. Hot springs are numerous and have been developed as resorts.

On September 21, 2011, Japan was hit by Typhoon Roke. The powerful storm comes as Japan is still recovering from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck in March 2011 killing more than 15,000 people.

To learn more about this typhoon, go to the NASA Earth Observatory Program site.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes; NASA Earth Observatory Program, 08/2011, 09/2011

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