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Honshu is the largest island in Japan at almost 228,000 square kilometres. Located to the north is Hokkaido, and Shikoku and Kyushu islands are located to the south and southwest respectively. The island separates the Sea of Japan, which lies to its north and west, from the North Pacific Ocean to its south and east. It is the seventh largest island in the world, and the second most populous after Java.
The population is mostly concentrated in the coastal lowlands, notably in the Kantō plain where 25% of the total population resides in the Greater Tokyo Area. As the historical center of Japanese culture and political power, the island includes several past Japanese capitals, including Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura. Much of the island's southern shore forms part of the Taiheiyō Belt, a megalopolis that spans several of the Japanese islands.
Most of Japan's industry is located in a belt running along Honshu's southern coast, from Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Hiroshima by contrast, the economy along the northwestern Sea of Japan coast is largely based on fishing and agriculture. The island is linked to the other three major Japanese islands by a number of bridges and tunnels. Its climate is humid and mild.
The island is roughly 1,300 kilometres long and ranges from 50 to 230 kilometres wide, and its total area is 227,962.59 km2, 60% of the total area of Japan, making it slightly larger than Great Britain. Its land area has been increasing with land reclamation and coastal uplift in the north, but global sea level rise has diminished these effects. Honshu has 5,450 kilometres of coastline.
Mountainous and volcanic, Honshu experiences frequent earthquakes (the Great Kantō earthquake heavily damaged Tokyo in September 1923, and the earthquake of March 2011 moved the northeastern part of the island by varying amounts of as much as 5.3 metres while causing devastating tsunamis). The highest peak is the active volcano Mount Fuji at 3,776 metres, which makes Honshu the world's 7th highest island. There are many rivers, including the Shinano River, Japan's longest. The Japanese Alps run the length of Honshu, dividing the northwestern (Sea of Japan) shore from the southeastern (Pacific or Inland Sea) shore; the climate is generally humid subtropical in the southern and coastal parts of the island and humid continental in the northern and inland portions.
The northernmost point on Honshu is the tip of the Shimokita Peninsula in Ōma, Aomori; Cape Kure lies at the southern extreme in Kushimoto, Wakayama. The island's eastern extremity is Todogasaki in Miyako, Iwate, and its western one is Bishanohana in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi. Honshu spans more than eight degrees of latitude and 11 degrees of longitude.
Five out of 8 regions in Japan are on Honshu:
Himeji Castle (or Himeji-jo) is the best preserved castle in Japan and a must see for all tourists. Located one hour west of Osaka, it is a beautiful day trip for any visitor to the Kansai area. Himeji Castle, also known as the White Heron Castle, was designated as a UNESCO cultural site in 1993.
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If you only visit one city in Japan, be sure to make it Kyoto. Japan's capital until it was moved to Tokyo in 1868, Kyoto is considered by many to be Japan's most beautiful city. Only Rome lays claim to more designated Unesco World Heritage Sites than this city nestled amongst the mountains of Western Honshu.
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Mount Fuji is one of the best known natural features of Japan and is conveniently located in Chubu region, west of the capital Tokyo. It is 3,776 metres high and the walk up to the summit is tough but require no special climbing skills. Mount Fuji has an exceptionally symmetrical cone which is a recognisable symbol of this East Asian country.
Shirakami-Sanchi (白神山地?, literally white god mountain area) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Honshu. This mountainous, unspoiled expanse of virgin forest straddles both Akita and Aomori Prefectures. Of the entire 1,300 km², a tract covering 169.7 km² was included in the list of World Heritage Sites in 1993. Siebold's beech trees make up a large portion of the forest. The World Heritage Site area has never been opened to human activity or trails other than mountain climbers' paths, and is planned to be protected in this state. Permission is needed from Forest Management to enter the heart of the Shirakami-Sanchi. Fishing requires permission from both the Fishing Cooperative and Forest Management.
Generally speaking, most areas are best visited during the mid-March to mid-May period or from half September to half November. These are the most popular times as well, with the beautiful spring blooms and autumn colours of the trees.
The major airports are Narita Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND) near Tokyo and Kansai Airport (KIX) and Osaka International Airport (ITM) near Osaka and Kyoto. The latter is a major domestic airport.
Other airports offering international connections are Nagoya's Chubu Centrair International Airport (NGO) and Hiroshima Airport (HIJ). Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have extensive services, as well as dozens of international airlines.
There are regular ferry services linking Chinese ports, like Tianjin with Kobe on a weekly basis. Chinese Express Line is the major carrier on the Tianjin to Kobe route.
To add, there are also weekly ferries crossing the sea between Shanghai and Kobe and Osaka. The ferry's destination alternates each week between Osaka and Kobe and the journey takes two days. Another line travels weekly as well between Shanghai and Osaka only.
FESCO runs a service from Vostochny Port/Nakhodka in Far Eastern Russia to the ports of Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.
Business Intour Service operates a line between Fushiki in western Honshu and Vladivostok in Russia, which is where the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow terminates.
Rail is a major form of transport on Honshu. Operated by Japan Railways Group, the services are exceedingly efficient, fast and comfortable and almost without exception represent the most convenient option for travellers.
The Japan Rail Pass, or JR Pass, is a deal devised specifically for visitors to Japan including Honshu. Seven-day, 14-day and 21-day passes will allow unlimited travel on all JR lines and affiliated buses and ferries for the period of the pass. If you planning on travelling by train for even moderate distances, the pass will likely be the cheapest option. The pass is only available to international travellers on a tourist visa and must be purchased overseas. On purchase, you will be issued a Japan Rail Pass Exchange Order, which must be exchanged for a JR Pass at a designated in JR Travel Service Centre in Japan. When you exchange the pass, you need to specify the day you want the period to commence and that day must be within three months of the issue of the Exchange Order.
Japan is a relatively safe country to navigate by car if you choose. It is the most flexible way of getting around, if you are in the countryside. Car rental is not necessarily expensive, but road tolls and parking charges can quickly add up. The main problem for visitors is the deciphering of road signs. Also, be sure to drive on the left.
To drive a car in Japan, you will have to have an International Driving Permit. The cost of fuel is comparable to European prices, about double the price in Canada and triple that of US prices. Car parks have had to deal with Japan's lack of space in innovative ways, including stacking the cars with lift systems.
Due to the comprehensive coverage and efficiency of the trains in Japan, long-distance buses are not often considered by visitors to Japan. They are however a cheap alternative for those wanting to save a few pennies. The buses are comfortable and often have on-board toilets, guides and even food and beverage services. Timetables can be found at local information centres. Kakuyasu buses is one of the major operators (partly joined by JR) for intercity bus services.
City buses, while not particularly necessary in the major cities, can be handy in smaller regional centres. Methods of payment vary. One system requires passengers to board at the front and deposit the fare into a slot beside the driver. If you are not sure what the fare is, tell the driver your destination and offer some coins to pick out. Another system requires passengers to board at the centre or back of the bus and take a ticket. A panel at the front indicates which fare is to be paid depending on your destination and this should be paid when you get off the bus.
Though you can easily run up tabs of ¥10,000 (US$ 100) per person in the nicer restaurants, it’s possible to eat really well for a decent price. Decent meals with lots of variety can be found for ¥500 and ¥1,000 (US$5 - US$10) a meal. English isn’t widely spoken, so look for places with English menus or picture menus.
The fish market is a great place to get a cheap breakfast. In most towns there will be a fish market, and since the workers are winding up their day just as you’re getting started, there’s a ton of great sushi and soba noodle places to eat at.
Variety stores have a large selection of prepared meals, from sandwiches (egg salad, tuna, ham and cheese and vegetable are usually all available) to meat skewers and cold noodle dishes.
Also, there is a strong possibility that as you are sitting at the counter, you’ll get invited to join in the conversation, meal and drinks of other parties. Don’t be surprised if they end up paying for your meal - it’s Japanese tradition.
Like accommodation but unlike food, finding cheap drinks in Japan is tough! There are places that charge as little as ¥300 for a drink, but at many places you’ll be spending ¥600 - ¥1,000 for a pint of beer. It is also legal to walk down the street with alcohol.
If you are in Japan in the summer, for an interesting experience, you need to check out the beer gardens that department stores set up on their roof tops. They often have “all you can drink and eat” specials (timed for 60 or 90 minutes), and provide you with good beer and a do it yourself grill to cook your food.
Accommodation is very expensive in Japan, but with advanced planning budget travel can be achieved.
Most large cities have a Tourist Information Center (TIC). In most every train station of some size, there will be a Tourist Information Center. Here you will find English speaking staff that can assist you in planning your travels, including booking accommodation. The TICs are hooked into the Welcome Inn Reservation Center, which allows booking of a number of properties across Japan. The TIC can book places using the Welcome Inn Reservation Center.
A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese style inn, where you will find mat floors with a futon and sliding paper doors (though the door to the external hall is a thick metal secure door), and will include a public bath.
The capsule hotel is a cheap alternative as well. The capsule is about 2 metres deep and 1 metre by 1 metre high and wide, just enough to get into and roll around comfortably. The capsule contains a small TV, a radio, an alarm clock and a lamp, all built into the surrounding walls and coated in plastic, making it feel like it could all just be hosed down for cleaning. Basically, the capsule hotel is like a hostel dorm, but for business men in Japan. You share a public bath and will get a small locker, but they will hold a large bag behind the desk. The capsule provides all toiletries needed, including toothbrush and paste, shaver and shaving cream and towels and PJs. No women are allowed at the majority of capsule hotels.
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