Japan is the largest island country in East Asia and the fourth-largest island country on Earth. It is home to a cluster of over 6,000 astonishing islands of varying shapes and sizes, of which only around 400 are permanently inhabited.
Of these several hundred, five major islands are the country’s main claim to fame, home to famous Japanese cities and adventurous tourist attractions. Here’s an overview of the largest islands in Japan by land area.
The largest of the 120-plus Amakusa island group, the shores of Shimoshima Island are lapped by no less than four seas – the Ariake Sea, the Amakusa-nada Sea, the East China Sea, and the Yatsushiro Sea.
Activity on the island is mostly centered around Amakusa city, barring a smaller section on the north-western coast that’s home to the quieter Reihoku town.
The emphasis in Shimoshima is on the outdoors, with plenty of pretty beaches, parks, and hiking trails. There’s no shortage of history either; the island is renowned for its collection of historical museums and quaint, age-old churches.
Located in the Hyogo Prefecture, Awaji Island can be found in the easterly Seo Inland Sea.
Awaji, which means ‘the road to Awa,’ provides a gateway between two of Japan’s most celebrated islands – Shikoku and Honshu islands. It is connected to the latter by the longest suspension bridge in the world.
Apart from excellent sandy beaches and charming Japanese architecture, the island is famous for its nearby Naruto Whirlpools that swirl in the strait between Awaji and Shikoku island.
Tsushima Island is part of the great Japanese archipelago. Located halfway between the Japanese mainland and the Korean peninsula, the island is split in two – Shimono-shima in the south and Kamino-shima in the north – by the Ofunakoshiseto and Manzekiseto canals.
Stretching for more than 40 miles, the island incorporates a further 100 smaller satellite islands within its cluster, making it the largest satellite island group in the Nagasaki Prefecture. Its sprawling expanse is largely protected by Iki–Tsushima Quasi-National Park, which boasts some of the most captivating scenery in the region.
Amami Ōshima is the largest island in the Amami archipelago and forms part of the Satsunan islands of Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture.
Providing a home for over 70,000 people, this volcanic island lies surrounded by the waters of the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
Amami Gunto National Park protects the majority of the island and with its gorgeous beaches, balmy weather, and spectacular coral reefs. It is, unsurprisingly, one of Japan’s most popular watersport destinations. Diving, in particular, is popular here.
Located off the coast of the Niigata Prefecture, Sado Island once served as a makeshift political prison. Both Emperor Juntoku and Buddhist monk Nichiren were exiled here.
After gold was discovered in the 17th-century, the island became a popular gold mining hotspot, and gold panning is a still popular activity today.
The annual Earth Celebration, an international arts and culture festival held in August has also put this remote island on the map, as has its reputation for rare birds.
Despite being the largest of the Okinawa and Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands of Japan, Okinawa island is still the smallest and least crowded of Japan’s five main islands.
Stretching for over 65 miles in the turquoise blues of the Pacific Ocean, the island has an interesting history, having been the site of the Battle of Okinawa – the final big battle fought during the Second World War.
Since then, the island has served as a hub for the United States Armed Forces and boasts over 30 military bases and nearly 50 training sites.
Blessed with beautiful countryside, the island of Shikoku – which means ‘four provinces’ – is named after the four former regions that once divided the island. Located between the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, it is connected to the mainland by a bridge.
Shikoku is massive – it is the 50th largest island on Earth. Surrounded by the Inland Sea in the north, the Kii Strait in the east, and the Bungo Strait in the west, the island meanders for nearly 140 miles of coastline.
Shikoku is one of the five main Japanese islands and provides a home for around four million people. It is most famous for its 88-strong pilgrimage of temples that was created by an ancient Buddhist priest who once lived on the island.
The island of Kyushu is the southernmost and third-largest of Japan’s five main islands and provides a much quieter alternative to the bustling Japanese mainland.
Kyushu, which means ‘nine provinces’ is named after the nine ancient provinces of Saikaidō that once divided it.
Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the East China Sea to the west, it is separated from the mainland by the Shimonoseki Strait. Kyushu is home to Mount Aso, the most active volcano in Japan, and a plethora of glorious and rejuvenating hot springs known as onsen.
Previously known by the name Ezo, the island of Hokkaido is enormous. In fact, it is the 21st largest island on the planet. It is Japan’s northernmost and second-largest main island, as well as one of its most popular getaways.
With a glorious island climate and a series of magnificent natural hot springs, the volcanic island of Hokkaido provides relief from the scorching heat of the Japanese summer.
Home to no less than six national parks, there is some interesting wildlife to be found here too, such as brown bear, the Ezo red fox, and the Hokkaido sika deer.
Honshu takes home the prize for the largest of Japan’s five major islands. It is also the most populated. Lapped by the waters of the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, the island is still considered part of Japan’s mainland.
Stretching for more than 800 miles, the island of Honshu takes up over half of the country and is the seventh-largest island in the world.
Some of Japan’s most famous cities can be found on Honshu; these include Tokyo (the country capital) as well as Osaka and Hiroshima. The main claim to fame on the island of Honshu though is Mount Fuji – Japan’s tallest mountain and the second-tallest island volcano in Asia.