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What are the Major Islands of Japan?

Japan's major islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, each offering unique landscapes, climates, and cultural experiences. From Hokkaido's snowy frontiers to Kyushu's volcanic hot springs, these islands form the heart of Japan's geography and heritage. Discover how these diverse islands shape the rich tapestry of Japanese life. What wonders will you find on each island? Continue reading to uncover their secrets.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The largest islands of Japan are Honshū, Shikoku, Hokkaidō, and Kyūshū,, which together account for 97% of the land area of Japan. In all, Japan has over 3,000 islands. The islands of Japan have been occupied for an extremely long time, since at least 35,000 BCE. During the last Ice Age, Japan would have been relatively balmy, spared from the huge glaciers that covered most of Europe and Asia at the time. Today, the islands of Japan have about 127 million occupants, making this nation the world's 10th most populous. Japan has the world's third largest economy, only behind the United States and China.

Honshū, the largest island of the country, accounts for 61% of the land mass and is located in the center of Japan, between the island of Hokkaido in the north and the islands of Kyūshū and Shikoku in the south. Larger than the island of Great Britain, Honshū is 1,300 km (800 mi) long and ranges from 50 to 230 km (31 to 143 mi) wide. Honshū is a mountainous and volcanic island with a population of almost 100 million, making it one of the most populous islands in the world. Most of the population on the island is found in the available lowlands, particularly the Kantō plains region. Many of Japan's most famous cities are on the island, including Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Hiroshima.

More than 3,000 islands are part of Japan.
More than 3,000 islands are part of Japan.

The two main islands of Japan to the south of Honshū are Kyūshū and Shikoku, which make up 9% and 5% of Japan's total land area, respectively. Kyūshū, located to the west, has a population of 13 million, while Shikoku has a population of 4 million, making it the least populous of the islands of Japan. Like Honshū, both of the islands are highly mountainous. Kyūshū is known for having Japan's most active volcano, Mt. Aso (at 1,592 m or 5,223 ft), while Shikoku is known for its beautiful temples. The most important cities on Kyūshū are Nagasaki and Kagoshima. The largest city on Shikoku is Matsuyama, with a population of half a million.

The major islands of Japan are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and the smallest of the four, Shikoku.
The major islands of Japan are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and the smallest of the four, Shikoku.

The final of the primary Japanese islands is Hokkaidō, which makes up a full 22% of the land area of Japan. Hokkaidō is the second largest of Japan's islands and among the most rural, with a population of just 68 people per square kilometer, in contrast with Honshū's population density of 430 people per square kilometer. The natural surroundings of Hokkaidō make it a popular vacation destination among Japanese. The capital of Hokkaidō is Sapporo, recognized around the world as the home of Sapporo beer and the host city of the 1972 Winter Olympics. Like every other island in Japan, most of the island is mountainous, and most of the population can be found in the southwestern lowland regions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the four largest islands of Japan?

Japan contains numerous active volcanoes.
Japan contains numerous active volcanoes.

The four largest islands of Japan, which make up about 97% of the country's land area, are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Honshu is the largest and most populous, hosting the capital city, Tokyo. Hokkaido is known for its cooler climate and natural beauty. Kyushu is famous for its volcanoes and hot springs, while Shikoku is celebrated for its historic pilgrimage route and scenic landscapes.

How many islands comprise the Japanese archipelago?

Tokyo is on the island of Honshū.
Tokyo is on the island of Honshū.

The Japanese archipelago consists of a staggering 6,852 islands, according to the Japan Coast Guard. However, only 430 of these islands are inhabited. The vast number of islands stretches over 3,000 kilometers along the Pacific coast of East Asia, forming a natural barrier that has influenced Japan's climate, culture, and history.

What is the significance of the Ryukyu Islands in Japan?

The Ryukyu Islands, also known as the Nansei Islands, are a chain of Japanese islands that stretch southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan. These islands hold geopolitical significance as they include Okinawa, which is home to a substantial U.S. military presence. The Ryukyus are also known for their unique culture, subtropical climate, and rich biodiversity, including the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, one of the largest in the world.

Can you visit the remote islands of Japan, and what might you experience there?

Many of Japan's remote islands are accessible to visitors and offer unique experiences. For instance, the Ogasawara Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site, can be reached by a 24-hour ferry ride from Tokyo and are known for their pristine beaches and opportunities for whale watching. Similarly, the art-filled Naoshima Island in the Seto Inland Sea provides a haven for art enthusiasts with its contemporary art museums and installations.

What role do Japan's major islands play in the country's economy?

Japan's major islands are integral to the country's economy. Honshu, being the largest, is the economic heartland, housing major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, which are centers for industry, commerce, and culture. Hokkaido is rich in natural resources and agriculture, while Kyushu is a hub for semiconductor and automotive industries. Shikoku, though smaller, contributes with its chemical industry and is a vital part of the Shikoku Electric Power grid.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime CulturalWorld contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime CulturalWorld contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

FrameMaker

@PelesTears- I once visited Okinawa and some of the other Ryukyu Islands of Japan. In case people do not know, these islands are very tropical and are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. The rare blue coral is also native to the reefs in this area.

When I was on this trip, I saw all kinds of unique fish. I saw the brightly colored mandarin fish, the emperor angelfish, and even a few clown fish. I also saw sea turtles that make the Ryukyu Islands their breeding grounds. One word of advice for those going to the islands to dive, the summer months are jellyfish season, so on top of watching out for creatures like lion fish, etc. you have to prevent exposure to box jellyfish and other poisonous stinging creatures.

I had a wonderful time in Okinawa prefecture. The combination of Sino-Japanese architecture, limestone caves, beautiful reefs, and endless beaches made the trip unforgettable.

PelesTears

@anon52068- As the article stated, there are over 3,000 islands that are part of Japan, so your request is a tall order. I can give you a little background of Okinawa Island, Japan and the Okinawa Prefecture. The Okinawa prefecture is comprised of the Ryukyu Island chain. This archipelago runs southwest from Shikoku to Taiwan, and includes the disputed Sinkaku Islands.

These islands are then divided into three more archipelagos for geographic regions, comprised of Ie-Jima, Kume, the Kerama Islands, Miyako-Jima, and of course Okinawa island just to name a few. These islands contain the majority of the U.S. military bases in Japan because of their strategic position close to Taiwan, and between Japan and China.

anon52068

I need all the names of the islands.

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    • More than 3,000 islands are part of Japan.
      By: kyogo7002
      More than 3,000 islands are part of Japan.
    • The major islands of Japan are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and the smallest of the four, Shikoku.
      By: Alex Yeung
      The major islands of Japan are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and the smallest of the four, Shikoku.
    • Japan contains numerous active volcanoes.
      By: varts
      Japan contains numerous active volcanoes.
    • Tokyo is on the island of Honshū.
      By: shirophoto
      Tokyo is on the island of Honshū.