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A Guide to the Key Features of Each Japanese Island

by Jack Guy

Feb 14, 2020

The Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon © Jason Vandehey | Dreamstime

Destinations / Asia

The Japanese archipelago is made up of thousands of islands, but the four largest ones are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku.


If you imagine Japan’s shape as a small “j,” Hokkaido is the dot, Honshu is the body, and Shikoku and Kyushu form the curve.


Honshu is the largest island of Japan, and the seventh-largest on Earth. Most Japanese people live here, and the capital city Tokyo is found on the island. Other major cities include Osaka, Hiroshima, Yokohama and Nagoya. It’s also home to Mount Fuji, the most famous mountain in Japan, and Lake Biwa, the country’s largest lake.


Hokkaido is the second-biggest island, and its largest city is Sapporo. Outdoor enthusiasts come here to enjoy skiing and the many national parks. The Sounkyo Gorge, Lake Kussharo and Lake Shikotsu are also key sites for visitors.


Kyushu sits southwest of Honshu, and is home to a chain of volcanoes. Its major cities are Nagasaki, Fukuoka and Kagoshima.


The fourth-biggest island is Shikoku, which sits east of Kyushu and southeast of Honshu. It is home to a great number of Buddhist temples, which draw pilgrims from around the world. One of the oldest pilgrimages in the world, it involves walking between the 88 temples on the island.



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