Geography. The boundaries of Japan have expanded greatly in the course of ages. The central and western portions of the Main Island, together with Shikoku, Kyūshū, and the lesser islands of Iki, Tsushima, Old, Awaji, and perhaps Sado, formed the Japan of early historic days, say of the eighth century after Christ. At that time the Ainos, though already in full retreat northwards, still held the Main Island as far as the 38th or 39th parallel of latitude. They were soon driven across the Straits of Tsugaru into Yezo, which island was itself gradually conquered during the period extending from the twelfth to the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century a portion of Saghalien was added to Japanese territory. But a discussion having arisen on this subject between Japan and Russia, the weaker of the two powers (for Japan was young and weak then) naturally went to the wall. Saghalien, with its valuable coal-fields and fisheries, was ceded to Russia by the treaty of St. Petersburg in 1875, and the barren, storm-swept Kurile Islands were obtained in exchange. Meanwhile, the Luchu and Bonin Islands had been added to the Japanese possessions, and in 1895 the valuable island of Formosa was ceded by the vanquished Chinese. The empire thus, in its present and furthest extent, stretches from Kamchatka on the north in about lat. 51°, to the extremity of Formosa on the south in lat. 22°, and from 120° to 156° of long, east of Greenwich.
Japan proper consists of three large islands, of which one, the largest or Main Island, distinguished as Hondo on some modern maps, has no name in popular use, while the other two are called respectively Shikoku and Kyūshū, together with the small islands of Sado, Oki, Tsushima, and a multitude of lesser ones still. The largest island is separated from the two next in size by the celebrated Inland Sea, for which latter also there is no generally current Japanese name. The area of the entire Japanese empire, excluding Formosa and the Pescadores, is between 146,000 and 147,000 square miles. Only twelve per cent. of this total area is cultivated, or even cultivable. By far the greater portion of it is covered with mountains, many of which are volcanoes either active or extinct. Fuji itself was in eruption as late as January, A.D. 1708. Of recently or constantly active volcanoes we may mention Asama, the two Shirane-sans, Nasuyama, and Bandai-san in Eastern Japan, Vries Island (Ōshima) not far from the entrance to Yokohama harbour, Aso-san and Kirishima-yama in Kyūshū, and the beautifully shaped Komaga-take near Hakodate. Others, extinct or quiescent, are Ontake, Hakusan, Tateyama, Nantai-zan, Chōkai-zan, Iide-san, Ganju-san, and Iwaki-yama, all on the Main Island. Some are difficult to class, for instance, Sakura-jima in Kyūshū, whose smoke has long been reduced almost to nothing, and Onsen-ga-take in the same island, where all that remains active is a solfatara at its base. The grandest mountain mass in Japan is the Shinano-Hida range,—granite giants of from 8,000 to 10,000 ft. in height.
Owing to the narrowness of the country, most Japanese streams are rather torrents than rivers. The rivers best worth mentioning are the Kitakami, the Abukuma, the Tone, the Tenryū, and the Kiso, flowing into the Pacific Ocean, the Shinano-gawa flowing into the Sea of Japan, and the Ishikari in Yezo. Most of the smaller streams have no general name, but change their name every few miles on passing from village to village.
Lake Biwa near Kyōto is the largest lake, the next being Lake Iwashiro, on whose northern shore rises the ill-omened volcano, Bandai-san. The so-called lakes to the north-east of Tōkyō are but shallow lagoons formed by the retreating sea. The most important straits are the Strait of La Pérouse between Yezo and Saghalien, the Strait of Tsugaru between Yezo and the Main Island, the Kii Channel (Linschoten Strait) between the Main Island and eastern Shikoku, the Bungo Channel between western Shikoku and Kyūshū, and the Strait of Shimonoseki between the south-western extremity of the Main Island and Kyūshū. The most noteworthy gulfs or bays are Volcano Bay in southern Yezo, Aomori Bay at the northern extremity of the Main Island, Sendai Bay in the north-east, the Gulfs of Tōkyō, Sagami, Suruga, Owari, and Kagoshima facing south, and the Bay of Toyama between the peninsula of Noto and the mainland.
Of peninsulas the chief are Noto, jutting out into the Sea of Japan, and Kazusa-Bōshū and Izu, not far from Tōkyō on the Pacific Ocean side. It is an interesting fact that both Noto and Izu, words meaningless in Japanese—mere place-names—can be traced back to terms still used by the Ainos to designate the idea of a "promontory" or "peninsula." Finally, even so rapid a sketch as this cannot pass over the waterfalls of Nikkō, of Kami-ide near Fuji, of Nachi in Kishū, of Todoroki in Shikoku, and of Yōrō. Still less must we forget that mighty river in the sea the Kuroshio, or "Black Brine" which, flowing northwards from the direction of Formosa and the Philippine Islands, warms the southern and south-eastern coasts of Japan much as the Gulfstream warms the coasts of western Europe. Very noteworthy, likewise, is the Naruto Channel which separates the island of Shikoku and Awaji, where the tide rushes with resistless force out of the Inland Sea into the Pacific Ocean.
There are two current divisions of the soil of the empire an older and more popular one into provinces (kuni), of which there are eighty-four in all, and a recent, purely administrative one into prefectures (ken), of which there are forty-three, exclusive of the three metropolitan districts (fu)—Tōkyō, Kyōto, and Ōsaka—and of the islands of Yezo and Formosa. Owing to the extensive use made of the Chinese language in Japan, most of the provinces have two names,—one native Japanese, the other Chinese. Thus, the provinces to the north and west of Tōkyō marked Kōtsuke, Shinano, and Kai on our map, are also called Jōshū, Shinshū, and Kōshū respectively, the syllable shū (州) signifying "province" in Chinese. The south-western province marked Nagato in the map bears the alternative name of Choshu, and forms part of the prefecture of Yamaguchi, which also includes the province of Suwō. To add to the perplexities of the foreign student, groups of provinces receive special names in popular and historical parlance. Such are, for instance, the Go-Kinai, or "Five Home Provinces," consisting of the Kyōto-Nara-Ōsaka district, the Kwantō which includes all the provinces of the East, the San-yōdō or "Sunny District," bordering the Inland Sea, and the San-indō or "Shady District," on the Sea of Japan. (See also Articles on Capital Cities, Population, Formosa, Luchu, and Yezo.)
Books recommended. Japan, by W. B. Mason, in "The International Geography."—Rein's Japan.—The China Sea Directory, Vol. IV.—Abbé Papinot's Dictionnaire de l'Histoire et de la Geographic du Japon.