The human geography of japan
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The Human Geography of Japan. By Kieran McLaughlin, M.S. Ed. Physical Geography. Land area – 145,882 square miles, smaller than Montana Four Main Islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku Japan is mostly mountainous and the cities are located on the coast

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The human geography of japan l.jpg

The Human Geography of Japan


Kieran McLaughlin, M.S. Ed.

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Physical Geography

  • Land area – 145,882 square miles, smaller than Montana

  • Four Main Islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku

  • Japan is mostly mountainous and the cities are located on the coast

  • Mount Fuji is the highest point – elevation 12,388 ft.

  • Mild earthquakes are common and severe earthquakes occur every few years

  • The Japanese experience all four seasons.

  • The Location of Tokyo - 35 40 N 139 45 E

    • Located at the same latitude as Milwaukee

  • Northern Japan has very cold winters and the climate of southern Japan is more tropical

  • Image:

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Historical Geography

  • Known as the land of the rising sun

  • Has a line of Emperors to the present

  • From 12th to late 19th Century Shoguns had control

  • Shoguns expelled all foreigners in 17th century, opted for strict isolation

  • In 1853, US Naval Officer Perry sailed into Tokyo and demanded a Treaty

  • Became a regional power through victories against Chine (1895) and Russia (1905)

  • After WWII US occupied Japan from 1945-1952

  • Image (

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Historical Geography Cont…

  • Japan adopted a new US influenced constitution

    • Renouncing war, granting basic human rights, and declaring Japan a democracy

  • The US and Japan still maintain close political and military ties

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Population Geography(Japan compared to the USA)

  • Population: 127,288,416 (rank=10)

  • Human Dev. Index rank: 8 of 177 countries

  • Real GDP per capita: $31,267

  • Adult literacy rate: 99% (male); 99% (female)

  • Life expectancy: 79 (male); 86 (female)

  • Infant mortality rate: 3 per 1,000 births

  • Population: 303,824,640 (rank=3)

  • Human Dev. Index rank: 12 of 177 countries

  • Real GDP per capita: $41,890

  • Adult literacy rate: 99% (male); 99% (female)

  • Life expectancy: 75 (male); 80 (female)

  • Infant mortality rate: 6 per 1,000 births

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Japan is in stage four of the Demographic Transition Model

Japan’s population is declining .14% annually. This is a major concern.

70% of people live in urban areas

About %50 live in three major urban areas: Nagoya, Tokyo, and Osaka.

As a result, the cost of living is high and housing is expensive

Japan is 98.5 percent ethnic Japanese

Immigration is very limited and push factors rarely exist to cause Japanese to emigrate

The Ainu, an indigenous group, live mostly in Hokkaido

Population Geo. Cont…

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Japanese society is group oriented.

Loyalty to the group and superiors takes precedent over personal feeling

The Japanese feel an obligation to return favors and gifts Imuyage.

The following characteristics are admired in Japanese society: honor, patience, respect and politeness is extremely important

Uniformity in appearance is a Japanese characteristic

Businessmen wearing black pants, a white shirt, and a tie are very common

Women wear dresses or slacks

In general students wear uniforms to school

Outside of school, youth wear the latest American and European fashions

Traditional Japanese clothing such as kimonos and yukatas are worn for special occasions and at onsens

Cultural Geography

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Bowing is the traditional Japanese greeting

Lower bows = more reverence

Japanese will generally prefer shaking hands with Westerners

Last names including san are utilized for first names

The use of first names is reserved for family and friends

Exchanging business cares is very common, cards are offered and accepted with both hands.

You must also read the card in the person’s presence or it is considered a sign of disrespect

Cultural Geography Cont…

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Cultural Geo. Cont…

  • Family Life

    • Family is the foundation of Japanese society

    • A children’s actions is a reflection on the family

    • Traditionally the father is the head of the household and the mother is the head of the household

      • Today women are nearly 50% of the workforce

    • Divorce and single parenthood are rare compared to other countries. Spousal compatibility and spending time together are less important than in other cultures

    • Families generally have fewer than three children

  • Picture of me and my host family at dinner. Both parents worked at Canon since they were eighteen. Most of the baby boom generation did not attend college and entered directly into the workforce

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Visiting a Japanese Home

One would remove shoes before stepping into a home

Slippers are often worn inside, but not in rooms with tatami mats

Guests are usually offered the most comfortable seat and sleeping arrangements

During my home stay, I slept in my host parent’s bedroom

It is very important to provide a gifts for the families you are staying with. Many times they will not open it while you are in the room.

Food is the most common gift

Japanese commonly bath and change into pajamas before they have dinner

Japanese style bathrooms include a bathing room with a stool and a toilet located in another room next door

The toilets are generally washlets made by Toto

Cultural Geography Cont…

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Toto Washlet

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Dining Habitats

It is considered bad manners to eat while walking in public

People eat at street stands rather than walk

A bowl is traditionally held at chest level

It is not polite to drink soup directly from a bowl

Chopsticks are traditionally used, utensils are used for western meals

The main meal is eaten in the evening


The diet consists largely of rice, fresh vegetables, seafood, fruit, and small portions of meat

Sake and soy sauce

Tea is usually part of every meal

Fast food is becoming increasingly popular (Starbucks, McDonalds, Wendy’s, and KFC)

Common Japanese food: miso soup, noodles, sashimi, tofu, and pork.

Cultural Geography Cont…

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Entertainment and Leisure


Dates back to 1934, the current league of 12 teams was established in 1958

The Yomuri (Tokyo) Giants are the Japanese equivalent of the NY Yankees


Traditional Japanese Inn centered around hot springs

Guests wear Yukatas, eat traditional food, and participate in communal bathing

Cultural Geography Cont…

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Cultural Geography Cont…

  • Music

    • Japan Pop, Hip Hop, and Jazz are popular

    • American artists like Michael Jackson are also popular

    • It is often common to see Traditional Japanese folk instruments paired with popular rock instruments

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Cultural Geography Cont…

  • Education

    • Largely influenced by the US occupation during 1945 - 1952

    • Mandatory and generally free from age six to fiftteen

    • Math and Science are stressed in the curriculum

    • Students often attend private schools if they pass difficult exams during kindergarten

      • Universities are also associated with elementary, middle and high schools

    • High School students often attend night school (juku) on weeknights and weekends to study for college entrance exams

      • Students stop playing school sports sophomore year to study for entrance exams

      • Students study for years and cram for months for the exams

      • Admittance and graduating from the top schools usually insures gaining a well paying job

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Cultural Geography Cont… (Language)

  • Official language is Japanese

  • Written characters are related to Chinese

  • Hiragana and Katakana are the two common phonetic alphabets

  • Romaji uses Roman letters used for keyboards

  • It can be written vertically from right to left or horizontally from left to right

  • English is taught in all secondary schools and is also used in business

  • Common Greetings

    • Ohayu – Hello

    • Konichiwa – Good Day

    • Konbanwa – Good Evening

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Cultural Geography Cont.. (Religion)

  • Most Japanese practice a combination of Shintoism and Buddhism

  • Shinto is based on ancient mythology

    • Stresses relationship to nature and many gods

    • Hands are washed at Shrines as a cleansing ritual

  • Many households observe Shinto marriages and Buddhist funerals

  • Shinto Shrines in homes are common

    • Mostly for respect of religious tradition rather than veneration

  • One percent is Christian

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Youth Culture

  • The “i” generation is fully engaged in Japanese culture

  • The high school students I met were not familiar with American athletes or music, other than Michael Jackson

    • Learning English was not a priority for most students. My host parents actually spoke better English than their children

  • The Baby Boom generation admired the prosperity of the USA while the i generation admires the prosperity of Japan

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Economic Geography

  • Japan has one of the world's largest economies even though it has few natural resources and must import most raw materials.

  • Japanese companies are listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE)

  • Japanese weddings can be elaborate and expensive. Marriage ceremonies usually take place in hotels.

  • Largest economies event though it is a physically small country

  • 12 percent of the land is suitable for cultivation

  • Japan imports about half of its food supply

  • Major local crops: fruit, tea, vegetables and rice

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Economic Geography Cont…

  • Japan is the leading exporter of fish

  • Exports include: electronic equipment, televisions, and automobiles

  • Well known manufactures are: Mitsubishi, Toyota, Toshiba, Honda, and Sony

  • Toyota surpassed GM as the world’s largest automaker in 2009 – “Toyota reported 8.97 million sales in 2008, roughly 616,000 more than GM's 8.36 million units” (Truck Trend)

  • Japan’s biggest trading partner is the US – Cultural Diffusion occurs with limited barriers

  • Their currency is the yen – one dollar is currently worth 90.9865 JPY

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Economic Geography Cont…

  • Tourism

    • 6.1 million foreigners visited Japan in 2004

    • 16.8 million Japanese traveled overseas (est.)

    • Tourism revenues = $11.3 billion (2005)

    • Popular Destinations

      • Mt. Fuji, Lake Chuzenji, Kegon Falls, and Nikko National Park, and Okinawa

      • Hokkaido – has excellent skiing in Northern Japan

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Economic Geography Cont… (Tourism)

  • Mt. Fuji at almost 13,000 ft. is a very popular tourist destination

    • It can be climbed from station 5 (6000 ft) in a total of 8-9 hours roundtrip

    • Most people opt to reserve a space on one of the huts located on the route. Most people awake at 3 am to hike the summit for Sunrise

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Economic Geo Cont… (View from Fuji San)

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Economic Geo Cont… (View from Fuji San)

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Economic Geo Cont… (View from Fuji San)

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Economic Geo Cont… (View from Fuji San)

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Urban Geography

  • Highly efficient mass transportation system: mainly trains, subways, and buses

  • Tokyo has many regional cities within Tokyo: Shibuya, Shinjuku, etc.

  • Cities are generally clean and well managed

    • Public smoking is illegal in public

    • Subways are very clean

    • Sidewalks have arrows to direct foot traffic

    • Cars rarely honk

    • Taxis are very clean and you are only charged a fare when it moves

  • Tokyo Subway Map

  • Image:

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Urban Geography Cont…

  • Tokyo

    • Includes the Meiji Emperors Imperial Palace

    • The relocation of the Emperors palace for Kyoto to Tokyo (East of Kyoto) is an excellent example of interregional migration

    • Large number of skyscrapers

    • Two Baseball Stadiums

    • Many museums

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Urban Geography Cont… (LaLaPort Tokyo Bay)

  • LaLaPort Tokyo Bay is the first mall built in Japan. La Port is a god example of a Brownfield that was redeveloped. It includes shopping, restaurants, condos, and a museum.

  • Shopping mostly takes place near the home or at sections of the city, which sell a particular good.

  • A naval yard once existed at the site and it was redeveloped for mixed use. Also it was the area planned to host the Olympics in Japan was awarded the most recent bid

  • The metropolitan are of Tokyo is 837 square miles, the population is 32 million about 1/10 of the total pop.

  • Image:

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Urban Geography Cont..

  • Shinkansen

    • Bullet Trains- provide quick and comfortable travel between major cities. Speed reach almost 200 mph.

    • The rail system provides access to all of Japan

    • Traveling on a Bullet Train is extremely comfortable. Bathrooms and food is available

    • A rail pass purchased in the US will provide you with unlimited transportation on JR Rail lines for about $300 per week

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Works Cited

  • Currency Calculator. Web. 20 Oct 2009. <>.

  • "Japan." CultureGrams Online Edition. ProQuest, 2009. Web. 29 Oct 2009.

  • "Japan." Funk & Wagnalls. Web. <>.

  • Japan At A Glance. Tokyo: Kondansha International, 2001. Print.

  • "Team and League Information." Japan Ball. Web. 20 Oct 2009. <>.

  • LaLaPort Tokyo Bay. Web. 20 Oct 2009. <>.

  • Skiing Hokaido. Web. 20 Oct 2009. <>.

  • All images were taken by Kieran McLaughlin unless otherwise noted