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Japan’s climate and geography

From the wintry north to the sometimes scorching south, Japan is a country of variety. Learn more below.


Before discussing Japan’s four distinct seasons, it is important to note that the climate can vary depending on the region due to Japan’s incredible length (1,869 miles). Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyūshū have an extra-tropical climate, Hokkaido has a subarctic climate, and the southern islands (such as Okinawa) have a sub-tropical climate. While you can ski in the north in March, you can swim in the sea on the south-western islands at the same time of year.

Japanese seasons:

  • Spring (March to May)
    • Warm but not too hot, and there isn’t too much rain.
  • Summer (June to August)
    • For three weeks at the beginning of the season there’s a rainy spell. Temperatures are often in the high 30s (degrees) and, because of its location on the Pacific, Japan has high humidity.
  • Autumn (September to November)
    • Light breezes and cooler temperatures of around 8-10 degrees celsius.
  • Winter (December to February)
    • Dry and sunny along the Pacific coast. Temperatures rarely drop below 0 degrees unless you go north, where it can snow in the central and northern regions. Southern Japan is relatively temperate and experiences a mild winter.

(Sources: STA Travel, jnto Japan and Japan Specialist.)

Human geography

Due to its geographic remoteness and periods of self-imposed isolation, immigration and cultural assimilation into mainstream Japanese society has been comparatively limited.

The World Factbook (figures taken June 2018) shows that the largest immigrant community is Chinese, making up only 0.4%. Other ethnic groups, including up to 230,000 Brazilians, also exist in small numbers (0.6%.) Not least due to its ageing population, Japan has been encouraging immigration in recent years.


The four main islands of Japan — Honshū, Hokkaidō, Shikoku and Kyūshū — lie in the Pacific Ocean off the East Asian coast, neighbouring the Koreas, Russia and China just beyond. The beautiful countryside has a backbone of volcanoes and mountains up the islands’ length with flood plains and valleys either side.

Despite being a mountainous country, most of the conurbations are in the shallow plateaus, especially on the coasts, like Tokyo. While many nations — such as Costa Rica — suffer increased travel times due to the terrain, Japan has great infrastructure, from roads and buses to inter-city trains and urban trams.

Japan's larger cities are served by subways or trams, buses and taxis. City buses often have a flat fare; fares for those leaving cities or travelling through rural areas work are based on distance.

Taxis are ubiquitous in cities and you can pre-book, queue at a taxi rank or hail a cab from the street, by standing on the kerb and sticking your arm out. A red light means the taxi is free and a green light means it's taken, the opposite of what many expats may expect.

Fukuoka, Kōbe, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, Tokyo and Yokohama all have subway systems. Underground trains are usually the fastest and most convenient way to get around a city, and the Tokyo metro area and Kansai metro area are linked to a network of national Japanese rail and private rail lines.

Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Kagoshima on Kyūshū; Hiroshima on Honshū; Kōchi and Matsuyama on Shikoku; and Hakodate on Hokkaidō all have tram lines.

Internal flights are easy to purchase in Japan and you can travel between most of the country’s 27 international airports and some internal ones. Many journeys may include a change in Tokyo. As an example of prices and times, you can fly from Tokyo to Sapporo (in the north) from around $75 to $135 (¥8,300 to ¥15,000) in under two hours (price and conversion correct May 2018.)

You may also enjoy learning about Japan’s way of life in our culture and lifestyle article here.

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