Within each of Japan’s eight major regions, there’s a key to unlock the history and culture of this amazing country. It’s total land size is slightly larger than Italy or Finland and nearly the same size as the US state of Montana. In 2020, Japan’s total population was 125,961,625 and growth rates in most of its prefectures are in decline.
While many people consider Japan to be a single island, it actually comprises thousand of islands in one archipelago. The whole archipelago comprises mountainous islands, rural areas, fishing towns and major metropolitan cities over a stretch of over 1700 miles.
There are four major islands: Hokkaidō, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyūshū. The Honshu is the largest of these and most people refer to it as the “main island.” Each section within these four islands have beautiful mountains, scenic landscapes, and a wealth of history to explore
|Region Name||Total Population of The Region||Prefectures Within The Region|
|Hokkaidō||5.4 million||Hokkaidō (Region Made Of An Entire Prefecture)|
|Tōhoku||8.8 Million||Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata|
|Kantō||43 Million||Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi, Tōkyō|
|Chūbu||21 Million||Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano,Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, Yamanashi|
|Kansai||22 Million||Hyōgo, Kyōto, Mie, Nara, Ōsaka, Shiga, Wakayama|
|Chūgoku||7 Million||Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, Yamaguchi|
|Shikoku||3.9 Million||Ehime, Kagawa, Kōchi, Tokushima|
|Kyūshū||13 Million||Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Nagasaki, Ōita, Saga|
|Okinawa||1.5 Million||Okinawa Over 1000 Islands (Although Not Considered Its Own Region)|
About Japan’s 8 Major Regions
The regions that make up the whole of Japan are not official boundry lines. However, they do denote variations in geographical characteristics, climate, food, art, culture and dialects.
Contrary to popular belief, the Japanese language is actually a classification that envelopes many different dialects. While standard Japanese is the dominant language, certain regions have their own ways of speaking.
Each region contains one or more of the 47 prefectures in Japan. The prefectures, what we could understand as states or provinces, each have their own modes and methods for their daily ways of life. So while some regions have their own characteristics as a whole, individual areas have further refined their takes on them.
|Region||Prefecture Contained Within|
|Tōhoku||Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, Fukushima|
|Kantō||Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Tōkyō, Kanagawa|
|Chūbu||Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Yamanashi, Nagano, Gifu, Shizuoka, Aichi|
|Kansai||Mie, Shiga, Kyōto, Ōsaka, Hyōgo, Nara, Wakayama|
|Chūgoku||Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi|
|Shikoku||Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, Kōchi|
|Kyūshū||Fukuoka Saga Nagasaki Kumamoto Ōita Miyazaki Kagoshima *Okinawa|
|*Notation||Some Discussion Of Okinawa Being Declared Its Own Region In Recent Years|
The northernmost and 2nd largest island that makes up several surrounding islands is Hokkaidō (北海道). It is the least developed of the four main islands in Japan. The name translates to “North Sea Road.” Honshu and the Tsugaru Strait separate the island and connect via an undersea train tunnel.
Climate and Landscape
Hokkaido has the coolest climate in all of Japan. There are harsh winters here and large amounts of snowfall along with frozen temperatures that bring on freezing sea coastlines.
It’s not nearly as humid or hot in the summer as it is in other parts of the country. Sapporo is the city most well known city in this region of Japan and the island’s capitol city.
Hokkaidō has many national parks, pristine nature areas and many rural landscapes. This is a land for those who love the outdoors.
Home of the Ainu
Historically, the Ainu are indigenous to the region and still inhabit it today. The mainland Japanese people began settling here in the 16th century and traded with the Ainu. Fishing and forestry are vital industries in this region of Japan along with agriculture.
Tōhoku Chihō (東北地方), or “North East Region,” contains six of Japan’s prefectures in Honshu. It’s famous for its hot springs, high quality rice, countryside, lakes, mountains and intense winters. They’re mostly an agricultural region, famous for their produce like Aomori apples and provide sumptuous Sendai beef.
Seasons ; Sights
Their summers are short with long, cold winters but the spring and autumn are picturesque. In the Miyagi prefecture, Masushima is a group of more than 260 small islands and is one of the three most beautiful landscapes in Japan.
Tourists flock from all over the world to catch a glimpse of the iconic sunrises and sunsets that happen here. Here’s where you can find Hirosaki Castle and the Yamadera Temple.
They also speak a unique dialect in Tōhoku that differs greatly from standard Japanese. So much so that national TV will have subtitles so some within the region can understand.
One of the prefectures, Fukushima has become popular in recent years. This is the part of Japan that experienced the Great Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 2011 along with the ensuing nuclear disaster. While many recovery efforts have restored some of the damage, there are still concerns about its aftereffects in the surrounding areas.
Mild Climate And Distinct Seasons
Unlike other areas of Japan, the climate is quite mild with 4 clearly marked seasons. This is the largest industrial zone in the country with some agriculture and heavy urbanization. Here is the core of Japan’s population, commerce and industry.
Tokyo, Chiba and Heavy Urbanization
It’s also the hub of education, culture and entertainment while offering a variety of arts, traditional and modern, to enjoy. Because Tokyo and Chiba are at the heart of Kantō, the nightlife and attractions are where many people are draw to work and live.
Seat of Military Power and the Japanese Government
This was the original residence of the ruling Tokugawa shogun during the feudal period in Japan. Edo, modern-day Tokyo was, at one time, the military seat of Japan. During the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Emperor moved to Tokyo. Even today, Tokyo is the country’s social and political center.
Chūbu Chihō (中部地方), also known as “Middle Region” or “Central Part,” has nine prefectures in the center of Honshu. This is where the famous Mount Fuji is and the Japanese Alps, otherwise known as the “Roof of Japan.” This is also the seat of the Hokuriku Region, which sits alongside the Sea of Japan.
Chūbu is the dividing point between all other areas of the country. This translates to an amalgamation of geography and culture from everywhere in Japan. Matsumoto Castle is here along with many well-preserved temples and historic villages.
The Sea of Japan has heavy snowfall but the Pacific side has very mild temperatures all year long. Chūbu has not only one of the largest rice-producing industries but also some of Japan’s longest rivers. It’s a highly agricultural area that produces mandarin oranges, tea, strawberries, apples, peaches, grapes and many other Japanese vegetables and fruits.
A myriad of art, poetry and literature from Japan and beyond abound about this ancient, mystical mountain.
Kansai or Kinki
Sitting on the Honshu’s “West of the Border,” is Kinki (近畿地方) or Kansai (関西) and is home to Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. This was the cultural and political center of Japan for many centuries before moving to Tokyo. So, the entire region has a myriad of castles, shrines, temples, landmarks and museums.
Osaka is the 2nd largest city in Japan and known for its entertainment and food. This is the place of the legendary fortress, Osaka Castle, by the ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi. From 794 to 1868 AD, this was the residence of the imperial family.
This region has some of the most beautiful views in Japan. Particularly, the Amanohashidate. This is a sandbar noted for its more than 6,000 gnarled pine trees.
Unique and Strong Dialect
The Kansai region is famous for a strong, casual dialect that’s somewhat different from standard Japanese. Many famous TV personalities and comedians in Japan speak the Kansai dialect. So, it’s the second-most common dialect spoken in Japan.
Chūgoku Chihō (中国地方), or “Central Country,” are the western climbs of Japan’s main island. The Sanin Region and the Sanyo Region are along most of the sea access in Japan. Here they have heavily industrialized and urbanized areas along with more rural areas. The dry, warm climate of the Inland Sea coast is idea for growing oranges and other Japanese fruits.
Hiroshima and Miyajima
Here is the site of Hiroshima, the atomic bombing during World War II. The city is filled with memorials, historic sites and museums about the lives lost. Miyajima Island, another famous area in the region, has the notorious floating gate at the Itsukushima Shrine. It’s one of the three most scenic places in Japan.
Seto Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan
This is near the bottom tip of the main island and it gives access to the Seto Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan. Along the coast there are cities, waterfront views, islands and fishing towns. This is where the famous delicacy of The deadly puffer Fish (Fugu) gained worldwide acclaim for is associations with Japanese cuisine.
The fourth and smallest of all Japan’s main islands is Shikoku (四国), or “Four Countries,” and sits southwest of the main island. As indicated by the name, there are four well-known prefectures: Kochi, Ehime, Kagawa and Tokushima.
Rural, Mountainous and Rugged
Remote and rural, until recently, the only way to access this area was by boat. Therefore, it didn’t urbanize as quickly as other regions. This is where delicious Udon noodles come from along with delectable Japanese oranges.
It’s a beautiful, rugged and mountainous area that’s famous for the Buddhist pilgrimage of Shikoku Junrei (四国巡礼). It’s a path that follows Kobo Daishi, the great Buddhist saint who achieved enlightenment here. The 867 mile passageway encompasses 88 sacred temples. It can take one to two months to fully achieve this pilgrimage.
The Pacific side of the region has a subtropical climate and the Naruto Strait is famous for its large whirlpools. As a matter of fact, a fish delicacy takes its name after the strait, made to resemble the large, swirling pools of water. It’s delicious on salads and ramen dishes.
Kyūshū And The Okinawan Islands
Southwest of Honshu is Kyūshū (九州), or “Nine Provinces,” and makes up the 3rd largest island in Japan. This is a center for one of Japan’s earliest civilizations and offers many cities, historic treasures and natural landscapes.
Kyūshū has seven prefectures and Okinawa comprises the other two. Here are the famous areas of Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Nagasaki and others. This was an important trade hub between the rest of Japan as well as with other countries such as Korea and China.
There are some 1,400 islands that comprise the entire region. The southernmost part of Kyūshū is the area that experiences the most typhoons annually because of its tropical and subtropical climate and location. The northern sector contains areas like Fukuoka, where the terrain is flatter.
Historic Cities And Locations
Nagasaki is the other bombing site during World War II. But this was the first Japanese port opened to the west for trading in the 16th and 17th centuries. It continues to be an important hub to this day.
Kumamoto is another place that recently gained worldwide attention after a powerful earthquake in 2016. However, it’s also the home of Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan and indeed the world.
Okinawa (沖縄), once called The Ryukyu Kingdom, a chain of 60 main islands on the farthest southern end of Kyūshū. These tropical islands are notorious for their culture, friendly people, coral reef beaches and fabulous food. The dialect here is also slightly different from standard Japanese.
At one time it was an independent kingdom. After the 17th century, the region developed its own distinct dialect and cultural traditions. From World War II to 1972, the US military controlled Okinawa. Today it’s a bustling urban center and tourists destination.
Exploring Japans Regions Final Thoughts
The eight major regions of Japan reflect the vast history and legendary civilizations this country is popular for. The archipelago of Japan, although all the same country, has different dialects, cultures, foods and even entirely differing climactic zones.
These regions are some of the most beautiful locales known in the world. Each part has something fantastic to see and explore. It’s so wide and vast that even native-born Japanese will tell you they cannot know it all in one lifetime.