chapter  1
14 Pages

Restoration and Occupation

The islands which make up the nation of Japan lie in an arc off mainland northeast Asia. There are four main islands - Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu - which stretch southwest to northeast for over 2,000 kilometres from the 31st to the 45th parallels. Clustered around are a host of smaller archipelagoes and islands. The northernmost tip of Hokkaido is less than 50 kilometres from the now Russian-owned island of Sakhalin. The point on mainland Asia closest to Japan is the southern tip of the Korean peninsula over 200 kilometres from northern Kyushu. The variation in latitude bestows considerable climatic differences on different areas of Japan; northern Hokkaido is subarctic, whereas southern Kyushu and Okinawa are near tropical. For the most part the climate is temperate, with strong seasonal fluctuations, harsh winters in the central and northern areas, warm summers and abundant rainfall. The total land area is less than 0.3 per cent of the world’s total; little more than 50 per cent greater than that of the United Kingdom. Much of the area is mountainous, with only around one-fifth permitting of cultivation. The staple crop has for centuries been rice, and wet-rice agriculture has been of crucial significance in the evolution of Japanese society. While the volcanic nature of the country means much of the arable area is intensely fertile, earthquakes, typhoons and other natural disasters are frequent. Mineral resources are sparse, and the raw materials for modern industry particularly so. Natural endowments are not such as to suggest the astonishing prominence achieved by Japan in the twentieth century.