The islands that make up the Japanese Archipelago stretch from the humid subtropics in the south to the boreal zone in the north, resulting in a wide variety of climates and ecosystems.
About a quarter of the vertebrate species occurring in this hotspot are endemic, including the Critically Endangered Okinawa woodpecker and the Japanese macaque, the famous “snow monkeys” that are the most northerly-living non-human primates in the world.
Japan has a relatively high diversity of amphibians as well, with 75 percent being endemic to the islands. Urban development has had some of the most significant effects on the Japanese wilderness, as are introduced exotic species like the Indian grey mongoose, the Siberian weasel, and the large mouthed bass.
†Recorded extinctions since 1500. *Categories I-IV afford higher levels of protection.
|Hotspot Original Extent (km²)
|Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²)
|Endemic Plant Species
|Endemic Threatened Birds
|Endemic Threatened Mammals
|Endemic Threatened Amphibians
|Human Population Density (people/km²)
|Area Protected (km²)
|Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV*
Encompassing more than 3,000 islands of the Japanese Archipelago, this hotspot includes the land area of the nation of Japan (roughly 370,000 km²). In addition to the four main islands – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu – Japan includes a number of smaller island groups, including the Ogasawara-shoto (the Bonin Islands and Iwo or Volcano Islands), Daito-shoto, Nansei-shoto (Ryukyu and Satsun Islands) and the Izu-shoto. Japan is located at the intersection of three of the Earth’s tectonic plates, and the slippage of these plates generates forces that result in numerous volcanoes, hot springs, mountains and earthquakes.
Japan stretches from around 22°N to about 46°N latitude, from the humid subtropics in the south to a temperate zone in the north. This latitudinal range, and the country’s mountainous terrain (about 73 percent of Japan is mountainous, the highest point being the 3,776-meter Mt. Fujiyama) contribute to Japan's widely varying climate. While the central mountain area of Honshu is one of the snowiest regions on Earth, the Pacific side of Japan is remarkably dry. Yaku-shima, just south of the southern tip of Kyushu, is one of the wettest places on Earth, with annual rainfall of over 5,000 millimeters in some places.
Japan's vegetation ranges from boreal mixed forests of Abies (fir), Picea (spruce) and Pinus (pines) on Hokkaido (and at high elevations in Honshu and Shikoku) to subtropical broadleaf evergreen forests and mangrove swamps in the south. High elevations on Honshu and Shikoku support alpine vegetation, while subalpine vegetation and natural beech forests are distributed throughout the region. The subtropical island chains in the south of Japan support a flora and fauna different from that of the main islands and hold many endemic species.