Japan occupies the greater part of the chain of islands which fringes the coast of Asia from Kamchatka to the southern extremity of the Malay Peninsula. Her possessions reach from the northernmost of the Kurile islands, just south of Kamchatka, to the southern cape of Formosa, a distance of about twenty-five hundred miles and nearly thirty degrees of latitude. The islands held by her number over three thousand and have a total area of 173,786 square miles, or a little more than that of the state of California, and about fifty per cent more than that of the British Isles. Most of the islands are very small and only about six hundred are inhabited. The six principal ones, enumerating them in their order from north to south, are Sakhalin, Yezo, the Main Island, Shikoku, Kiushiu and Formosa. Sakhalin is called Karafuto by the Japanese. Only the southern half of the island belongs to them and it is important chiefly for its fisheries. Yezo, or Hokkaido, as it is commonly known in Japan, was until recently inhabited chiefly by the Ainu, an aboriginal people. It is to-day being rapidly developed and settled by the Japanese. The Main Island, called in the native tongue Hondo or Honshiu, alone comprises over half the entire area of the insular part of the empire. On it from the earliest historic times has been the center of government. Shikoku, "The Four Provinces," derives its name from an ancient administrative division of the island, and forms part of the southern border of the Inland Sea, famous for the beauties of its waters, islands, and shores. Kiushiu is literally "The Nine Provinces," a designation also derived from an earlier governmental organization. It is separated from the Main Island by the narrow straits of Shimonoseki, through which passes most of the shipping from the east coast of Asia to North America. It is but a comparatively short distance from Korea and since it is also nearer to China than any other of the principal islands of the older Japan, it was the gateway through which came most of the influences from the continent. It was, too, the first to be profoundly affected by European intercourse in the sixteenth century. Its chief port, picturesque Nagasaki, is still one of the most important harbors in the empire. Formosa was ceded to Japan by China in 1895 and racially is as yet unassimilated to the rest of the nation. To the north of Yezo lie the Kuriles, a long line of thinly settled islands. Kiushiu and Formosa are connected by the Riu Kiu group, which has become definitely Japanese only within the past sixty years. In addition to its islands, Japan now holds the neighboring peninsula of Korea which has about half the area of the insular part of the empire, and has come to dominate the adjoining territories of Southern Manchuria and Eastern Inner Mongolia. Of these continental possessions more will be said later.


But this enumeration of its main component parts and area reveals little of the many important effects that the land has had upon its people. First of all, the fact that the historic Japan has been a closely coherent group of islands has promoted unity. As we shall see later, the Japanese, although of diverse origin, are a distinct type, and have, with the exception of a few sections in the north and in the newly acquired islands in the south, attained a remarkable homogeneity. They have as well a highly developed national consciousness. Their intense patriotism has undoubtedly been furthered by the fact that the sea has separated them from other peoples.

This insular position has, as well, encouraged individuality and continuity in national development. Never since the original, prehistoric migrations of the ancestors of the Japanese have the islands been successfully invaded. No foreigners have interrupted the sequence of events, as in China, by overthrowing the native dynasty and establishing on the throne an alien line of monarchs. Only during the great Mongol irruptions in the thirteenth century was the nation seriously threatened with foreign domination. The invasions that have succeeded have been those of ideas, not of peoples. The civilization that has been evolved, although deeply affected by influences from without, has been distinctive. The free and at times wholesale appropriation of alien cultures has always been marked by a certain vigorous originality that has put its stamp on all that has been acquired.

Then the fact that the Japanese are an island people has encouraged them to become a sea-faring folk. This tendency has been strengthened by the prevalence of protected bays and the absence of great gaps between islands. The harbors at Nagasaki and Yokohama, to mention only two, are among the best in the world. The Inland Sea, dotted with islands, free from storms, and near the home of early Japanese civilization, invited to a life on the water. The Japanese have been famous fishermen. It is but natural that in this day of international commerce they should take kindly to the sea and that their flag should be seen in every port of the world.

The Japanese islands have, moreover, a peculiarly intimate relation to the eastern shore of Asia. Their nearness to the coast promotes intercourse. In at least three places they so nearly touch the continent that communication is comparatively easy-Sakhalin on the north, Kiushiu and Korea in the center, and Formosa on the south. Of greatest importance has been the second, for it was partly through Korea that the ancestors of the Japanese reached the islands. It was through Korea that the main stream of Chinese and Indian culture flowed to Japan. It is through Korea that to-day commercial intercourse with the continent most easily takes place. Through Sakhalin may have come some aboriginal tribes from the north, possibly the ancestors of the modern Ainu. Through Formosa by way of the Riu Kiu Islands Malay elements entered, and possibly some strains of blood from the mainland.

This nearness to Asia means, too, that the Japanese are vitally interested in continental affairs. Here is their natural field for commercial and territorial expansion. Here is the natural outlet for their surplus population. They must see to it that no strong foreign power dominates the points where Japan most nearly touches Asia. Hence they fought both Russia and China for Korea, and later annexed it. Hence they demanded that China alienate to no European power the coast of Fuhkien province opposite Formosa. They must also insist that their voice be heard in settling the affairs of their unwieldy neighbor, China, and that her door be kept open to their commerce: they have attempted during the War of Nations so to establish themselves in the great Asiatic republic that they cannot be easily dislodged when the struggle is over. Their policy on the continent has not without some appropriateness been styled their "Monroe Doctrine." It has been inspired largely by the same fear of foreign aggression that gave rise to our insistence on Latin-American independence. We feared lest Europe, by encroaching on the newly won freedom of our sister republics of the south, would threaten our own existence. Japan is apprehensive of a monopoly by Occidental nations of the vast resources of China and Korea that would stifle her legitimate commercial expansion. In the hearts of some of her leaders there has been a passion for expansion, but before we cast a stone we need to remember that it is not yet a hundred years since we talked glibly of our "manifest destiny" and seized vast regions from a defenseless neighbor.

The length of the chain of islands, combined with the proximity to the coast of Asia, is a factor of importance. In prehistoric days it meant that from many different points diverse racial elements could find their way into the islands. Thus through Sakhalin have come peoples akin to those of Siberia, through Korea various folk from Central Asia, China, and Korea, and from the south some of Malay blood. In more recent times this relationship to the continent has placed Japan in a position to dominate nearly all the east coast of Asia. Great Britain because of her location has long been able to command the ocean routes to north- western Europe and to be queen of the North Atlantic; even more does Japan's geographical position point to her as the logical mistress of the foreign commerce and shipping of far- eastern Asia.

Her location has made Japan the natural interpreter of the culture of the Occident to the Far East. It is no mere accident that she should have been the ant nation of that region unreservedly to unbar her doors to the West. Her great harbors, some facing Asia and some America, were an open challenge to the Occident when the age of steam began to dot the Pacific with ships. Nor is it an accident that Japan should have led in opening Korea, and that Chinese should have flocked in such numbers to her universities to acquire the new learning. She has geographical reasons for believing herself preordained to guide the Far East into the new age.

Not only have her insularity and her relation to the Asiatic mainland influenced Japan profoundly, but the characteristics of the land itself have been important. In the first place, the islands are very mountainous. They are badly broken by peaks and ranges. Some of these are of volcanic origin, others the result of folding, but they occupy the larger part of Japan's surface. As a result only a small proportion of the land is tillable. At present about seventeen per cent. of Japan's area (exclusive of Korea) is listed as arable. Probably another ten per cent. can be reclaimed, although the process will prove costly. This means that the limits of population supported by home-grown food are soon reached. Any excess beyond these limits must either emigrate or busy itself, as in Great Britain, with manufacturing and commerce. Fortunately there is near at hand a vast continent. In Manchuria, Mongolia, and Siberia are unoccupied lands for immigrants. In China there is a teeming, industrious population, the greatest potential market in the world, and unmeasured supplies of raw material. Nearly the entire eastern coast of Asia is a great granary and is to become a greater one. Moreover, the mountains of Japan invite to manufacturing. They are in places well stocked with coal, and their streams can be harnessed to provide water power. They are, unfortunately, lacking in iron ore, but this is found in great abundance in China proper and Manchuria, not far from navigable streams which connect directly with the sea and with Japan. It is evident that Japan must insist that the door on the neighboring continent be kept open to her, and it is but natural that she should seek special privileges there. Here is a source of food; here is a possible outlet for surplus population; here is a market for her manufactures; here a store of raw materials.

The mountains cut the islands into small valleys and plains. There are few navigable streams, and in the old days before the advent of railways, telegraphs, and steamboats, intercommunication was difficult. As in most mountain countries, a strong tendency to internal division followed. The nation separated naturally into small groups, each of which tended to become independent of the central power, and the feudal form of government and the emphasis on family which we are later to notice easily developed.

Japan is favored in climate. She lies largely in the temperate zone, the home of the great civilizations of the globe. By some observers she is said to have, more than any other country of Asia, that succession of cyclonic disturbances which helps to produce the marked changes in temperature from day to day that are believed by a school of modern geographers to promote human activity and civilization. She has an abundant rainfall. The Black Current, a warm ocean stream from the tropics, washes a portion of her shores. Vegetation is luxuriant and as much of her land as is tillable responds splendidly to the efforts of the husbandmen. Her large population could not have been self-supporting for so long had soil and climate not favored her efforts.

The natural surroundings may, moreover, partly account for the love of beauty which we so associate with the Japanese. The wooded hills, the infinite variety of mountain and valley, of lake and harbor and sea, could scarcely have failed to develop in the people any latent sense of the artistic. The land is one of the most beautiful in the world, and the inhabitants have responded to it with a love for flowers, for trees, for birds, for moonlit lakes, for streams and waterfalls. Their politeness and regard for ordered ceremonial may also be partially the result of long ages spent in an attractive environment.

The very situation and the natural resources and characteristics of the islands, then, have had and still have a profound influence upon the people, their civilization, their ambitions, and their policies.

Bibliography. (See end of the book for annotations and further details on these works.) Griffis, The Mikado's Empire; Japan Year Book, 1916; Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan; Mitford, Japan's Inheritance; Nitobe, The Japanese Nation; Encyclopædia Britannica, eleventh edition, article Japan.