Regions of Japan
From Richard Tames' "A Traveller's History of Japan", pp 225-8
Convention, based on a combination of geography and history, divides Japan into eight regions which have been used since 1905 as basic units for description and comparison. From north to south they are:
Japan's northernmost island accounts for 22 percent of the nation's land area but only 5 percent of the population. Hokkaido constitutes a single prefecture with Sapporo as its capital. Only formally part of Japan since 1868, it is relatively underpopulated and still heavily forested. Major economic activities include agriculture (especially dairying), fishing, paper and pulp, beer and tourism (based on skiing, the Ainu, Noboribetsu hot springs and Japan's largest National Park). Major cities: Sapporo, Hakodate, Kushiro.
The northernmost six prefectures of the main island, Honshu-Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Miyagi and Fukushima. Historically the snowy climate has made this a poor, backward region (Michinoku - the end of the road) until the development of cold-resistant strains of rice a century ago. Now it produces a quarter of Japan's rice and 70 percent of its apples. Fishing, horse-breeding and handicrafts are also important. With almost 18 percent of the national territory, Tohoku still holds less than 9 percent of the population. Major cities: Sendai, Akita, Morioka, Aomori, Hachinohe, Fukushima, Yamagata.
This region, consisting of Japan's largest plain and the mountains to its north-west, comprises the prefectures of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Tokyo. Here some 30 percent of the population are crowded into less than 9 percent of the national territory. All major industries (except textiles) are important here but so also are farming and fishing. Major cities: Tokyo, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Chiba, Hachioji, Ichikawa, Funabashi, Urawa, Omiya.
The nation's crossroads comprises nine prefectures: Shizuoka, Yamanashi, Nagano, Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Gifu and Aichi. Seventeen percent of the opoulation live on just over 17 percent of the land area. Sprawling across the 'waist' of Honshu, the region is conventionally divided into a southern, Pacific half (Tokai), centred on the Nobi plain, and a cooler, northern Japan Sea half (Hokuriku), separated by a ridge of central highlands rising to over 3,000 meters. Rice and lumber are major products but Shizuoka specialises in tea, mandarins and eels and Yamanashi in grapes. Major industries include testiles (Nagoya), oil-refining (Yokkaichi), vehicles (Toyota), musical instruments (Yamaha at Hamamatsu) and precision machinery (Suwa). Major cities: Nagoya, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Gifu, Shimizu, Yokkaichi, Toyota, Niigata.
The cradle of Japanese civilisation is home to Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe and Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake. The region consists of the prefectures of Mie, Shiga, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Hyogo and Wakayama. Here 18 percent of the population live on less than 9 percent of the land. The Osaka-Kobe sprawl (Hanshin) is Japan's second largest industrial complex but fishing and framing (tea, oranges) are also important. Major cities: Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Sakai, Amagasaki, Himeji.
Mountainous Chugoku, comprising the prefectures of Tottori, Okayama, Shimane, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, has just over 8 percent of the land and 6 percent of the population. Divided by a massive mountain ridge it falls, like Chubu, into a northern (San'in) half (noted for sand dunes) and a southern half (San'yo). Fishing, farming (rice, peaches and pears) and traditional handicrafts are still important, though the pollution of the Inland Sea by chemical plants has diminished the fishing catch. Major cities: Hiroshima, Shimonoseki, Fukuyama, Okayama, Kurashiki, Kure.
The smallest of the four islands is divided into the prefectures of Ehime, Kochi, Tokushima and Kagawa, each representing an ancient feudal domain. Here under 4 percent of the population live on 5 percent of the national territory. Major economic activities include fishing and the production of chemicals, paper and vegetables. Major cities: Kochi, Tokushima, Matsuyama, Takamatsu.
Half the size of Hokkaido, the island of Kyushu has just under 12 percent of Japan's land area and just over 12 percent of its population. It is divided into the prefectures of Fukuoka, Oita, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima. The mild climate favours a diversified economy, with fishing, farming (sweet potatoes, tobacco, oranges, wheat, rice, dairying), tourism (Beppu hot springs), crafts and modern industry (coal, steel, rubber, ships, semi-conductors) all well represented. Major cities: Kita-Kyushu, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Oita, Sasebo, Kurume, Kagoshima, Miyazaki.
Image source: Richard Tames' "A Traveller's History of Japan," p256