Japan is an archipelago of over 3,000 islands lying off the east coast of continental Asia. Its only near neighbours are North and South Korea and Russia, all of which lie to the west, across the Sea of Japan. At their closest point, Japan and South Korea are separated by about 180 kilometres of sea. To the east lies the Pacific Ocean. Covering a total area of 377,835 square kilometres, Japan is comparable to California in size.

An island nation, it has no land borders, and no point is more than 150 kilometres from the sea. It has a total coastline of 29,751 kilometres distributed across thousands of isles and islets but the vast majority of the country’s landmass is accounted for by four main islands: Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku (listed in decreasing order of size). Further-flung Japanese islands include the Ryūkyū group, centred on Okinawa. At their southernmost point, these islands are more than 1,900 kilometres from Tokyo, and far closer to Taiwan.

Japan’s main islands all feature mountainous terrain, covering 76% of the total landmass, with numerous peaks above 2,000 metres. The country’s highest point is the peak of the dormant volcano Mount Fuji, at 3,776 metres. The rugged topography means most of the populated areas lie along the coast, resulting in very high population densities. It also leaves little room for agricultural land, with only about 12% of Japan’s area given over to farming. What agricultural land exists is often of marginal viability, being characterised by small plots, often in steeply sloping terrain. By far the most important crop is rice, and terraced paddies are a defining characteristic of rural Japan. Adding to the country’s general congestion are large industrial centres; involved in heavy industries such as shipbuilding and steelmaking, consumer electronics and high technology. Politically, the country is divided into 47 prefectures (ken). The capital, Tokyo, lies approximately halfway up Honshū’s Pacific coast, and crams about 10% of Japan’s population into just 0.6% of its total area.

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