The islands of Japan are the projecting summits of a huge chain of mountains originally a part of the continent of Asia, from which they were detached in the Cenozoic era. The long and narrow main island, Honshu, measures less than 322 km (200 mi) at its greatest breadth. The coastline of Japan is exceedingly long in proportion to the area of the islands, and totals, with the many bays and indentations, about 24,950 km (15,500 mi). The greatest amount of indentation is on the Pacific coast, the result of the erosive action of the tides and severe coastal storms. The western coast of Kyushu, on the East China Sea, is the most irregular portion of the Japanese coast. Few navigable inlets are found on the eastern coast above Tokyo, but south of Tokyo Bay are many of the best bays and harbours in Japan. Between Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu is the Inland Sea, dotted with islands and connected with the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan by three narrow straits through which oceanic storms rarely pass. The western coast of the islands of Japan, on the almost tideless Sea of Japan, is relatively straight and measures less than 4,830 km (3,000 mi); the only conspicuous indentations in the coastline are Wakasa and Toyama bays in Honshu.
Topographically, Japan is a rugged land of high mountains and deep valleys, with many small plains. Because of the alternating sequence of mountain and valley, and the rocky soil, only an estimated 11 per cent of Japan is arable land.
The Japanese plains lie chiefly along the lower courses of the principal rivers, on plateaux along the lowest slopes of mountain ranges, and on lowlands along the sea coast.
The most extensive plains are in Hokkaido: along the Ishikari River in the western part of the island, along the Tokachi River in the south-east, and around the cities of Nemuro and Kushiro on the east-central shore. Honshu has several large plains. The Osaka plain contains the cities of Kōbe, Kyoto, and Osaka; the Kantō plain is the site of Tokyo; and Nagoya is the main city of the plain of Nobi. The Tsukushi plain is the most important level area in Kyushu.
The mountains of Japan are the most conspicuous feature of the topography. Mountain ranges extend across the islands from north to south, the main chains sending off smaller ranges that branch out laterally or run parallel to the parent range, and frequently descend to the coast, where they form bays and harbours. In the north, the island of Hokkaido is marked by a volcanic range that descends from the Kurils and merges in the south-western part of the island with a chain branching from Point Soya in the north-western tip. These mountains branch into two lines near Uchiura Bay, on the south-western coast, and reappear on the island of Honshu in two parallel ranges. The minor range, situated entirely in the north-east, separates the valley of the Kitakami River from the Pacific Ocean. The main range continues towards the south-west until it meets a mass of intersecting ridges that enclose the plateau of the Shinano River and forms a belt of mountains, the highest in Japan, across the widest part of the island.
The highest peak, at 3,776 m (12,389 ft), is Fuji, an extinct volcano near Yokohama, which, because of its unique height and shape, and exceptional beauty, is one of the favourite themes of Japanese art. One of the subsidiary chains in the central mountain mass is called the Japanese Alps because of the grandeur of the landscape; the highest elevation in the chain is Mount Yariga (3,180 m/10,433 ft). Farther south is another chain of high peaks of which Mount Shirane (3,192 m/10,472 ft) is the highest. The islands of Shikoku and Kyushu are dotted with mountain ranges, although none contains any peak higher than Ishizuchi (1,981 m/6,500 ft) on the island of Shikoku. Volcanoes are common in the Japanese mountains; some 200 volcanoes are known, about 50 of which are still active. Thermal springs and volcanic areas emitting gases are exceedingly numerous. "Japan" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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