Natural History


Fauna and Flora

Geology If you live in Japan, you will experience tremors from time to time and feel the earth's crust is composed of moving plates. Off the east coast of Japanese islands extend oceanic trenches, around which the Pacific and Philippine plates dive under the Asian plate. Volcanic and seismic activities are observed all along the boundaries between these crusts. There are about 200 Quaternary volcanoes in this country, of which 108 are recognized as active volcanoes that have erupted in the past 10,000 years. Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san) is one of the largest active volcanoes, whose latest eruption was in 1707, only three hundred years ago. Thanks to the volcanic activities throughout Japan, many hot springs have been discovered since ancient times. This makes the Japanese an onsen (hot spring)-loving people. Try hot springs, or onsen, while you are in Japan and you will surely become an onsen freak..

Surrounded by the sea, Japan in general enjoys a moderate maritime climate. The oceanic air brings considerable precipitation to the entire area. Because of the moisture from the sea, daily temperature ranges are usually small, but annual temperature ranges are rather large with hot summers and cold winters due to the influence of the monsoon. In winter, cold continental air masses bring heavy snowfall to the Japan Sea coast and the central mountains, while over the leeward Pacific coast blow dry cold winds. At the northern tip of Hokkaido, it is cool even in midsummer, while in the Southwestern Islands it is relatively warm in midwinter.
Flora Covering a wide latitudinal range from 45 N. to 20 N., Japan has a wide array of plants. In the southern part of the country occur subtropical forests, while the northern island of Hokkaido is the habitat of coniferous trees of northern origin. Forests observed in this country are roughly divided into four types: sub-tropical forest, broad-leaved evergreen forest ( warm-temperate forest), broad-leaved deciduous forest (cool- temperate forest) and sub-arctic coniferous forest.

Fauna: Salamanders, whose ancient relatives migrated from the continent, have diversified in this country. The world's largest living amphibian, the Japanese giant salamander(Andrias japonicus) inhabits in the streams of the Montane forest. You might find masses of foam on branches of trees hanging over standing water between April and July. They contain eggs of forest green tree frogs. The larvae will soon come out and jump into the water. There are a few poisonous snakes, such as Mamushi (pit vipers) which are no more than one meter in length with apatetic coloration. Be careful not to step on them on the trail.

You may encounter deer and Kamoshika (Capricornis crispus), a close relative of goat, on mountain slopes. Monkeys are also inhabitants of the montane forest. Do not look them in the eyes since such a conduct will provoke their reaction. Much of Japan is still home to bears, the largest mammals that live in this country (no bears are reported from Kyushu). Except in winter when bears are in hibernation, there is a possibility of stumbling on them. Wear bear bells or carry anything that makes noise, such as a can with coins inside, to let bears know that you are there and give them time to move away from you. Bears are omnivorous, and they usually eat acorns, berries, insects, etc. They never want to taste you. But if they bump into you, and get surprised, they may scratch you. It therefore is advisable not to travel alone when you are in bear country. It might be a good idea to carry a large umbrella as a walking stick, and pop it open in case you meet up face to face with a bear. He/she will probably run away, though I have never tried this and cannot guarantee that it will work.. But please keep in mind that you are an intruder into their habitat.

Among various insects you may see when hiking, wasps are a problem especially in early fall. Wasp stings can result in a life-threatening situation if you are allergic to their venom. You should be careful not to get into their territories when they are very aggressive. They are particularly excited by the color black, which may be the color of their natural enemy.  Sweet smells of cosmetics also attract them.

Back to the top of this page

Home/Recommended Walks and Hikes/Plant Life in Japan/
Useful Tickets and Passes
Pages in Japanese/

Mt. Fuji in summer

Squarrels are diurnal, active by day.
Japanese bumblebee