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Japan (日本, Nippon/Nihon, literally "the origin of the sun") is a country in East Asia situated on a chain of islands east of the Asian continent on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. The largest of these islands are, from north to south, Hokkaido (北海道), Honshu (本州, the largest island), Shikoku (四国), and Kyushu (九州). A number of smaller islands immediately surround these four, as well as one outlying group of small islands well to the south in Okinawa.
Japan, a country of islands, extends along the eastern or Pacific coast of Asia. The main islands, running from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu (or the mainland), Shikoku, and Kyushu. Naha on Okinawa in the Ryukyu archipelago is over 600 km to the southwest of Kyushu. In addition, about 3,000 smaller islands may be counted in the full extent of the archipelago that comprises greater Japan.
About 73% of the country is mountainous, with a chain running through each of the main islands: the highest mountain, Mount Fuji, has a height of 3,776 m. Since flat land is limited, many hills and mountainsides are cultivated all the way to the summits, and major cities have developed on every sizable plain.
Japan is situated in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Frequent low intensity earth tremors and occasional volcanic activity are felt throughout the islands. Destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunamis, occur several times a century. The most recent major quakes include the 2004 Chuetsu Earthquake and the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Hot springs are numerous and have been developed as resorts.
Japan is a temperate region with four distinct seasons, but because of its great length from north to south, its climate varies from region to region: the far north is very cold in the winter, while the far south is subtropical. The climate is also affected by the seasonal winds blown from the continent to the ocean in winters and vice versa in summers.
Late June and early July are a rainy season (except in Hokkaido), as a seasonal rain front or baiu zensen (梅雨前線) stays above Japan. In the late summer and early autumn, typhoons develop from tropical depressions generated near the equator, and track from the southwest to the northeast, often bringing heavy rain.
Japan's varied geographical features divide it into six principal climatic zones.
The Local Government Law of Japan divides the country into 47 prefectures, which carry out administrative duties independently of the central government. From north to south (as listed in ISO 3166-2), these are:
Japan is also commonly divided into nine regions. From north to south, these are Hokkaido, Tohoku region, Kanto region, Chubu region, Kinki region (commonly called Kansai), Chugoku region, Shikoku, Kyushu, and the Ryukyu Islands.
Japan has outstanding territorial disputes over the southern four islands of the Kuril Islands, administered by Russia, as well as the Liancourt Rocks (Kr. Dokdo, Jp. Takeshima), occupied by South Korea. The Senkaku Islands (Chinese Diaoyutai) are claimed by China and Taiwan.
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