Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University

Landscapes of Mountains in Japan — Displays using mapRaster2

Noboru Ogata

Land of Japan is mountainous. About 70% of the land is covered by hills and mountains. Another prominent feature is that forests cover most of mountains in Japan. Because pre-modern Japanese economy depended on rice cultivation, stable water supply to the rice paddies was critically important. The forests covering mountains function as natural reservoirs for stabilizing water supply and prevent floods and soil erosion. The following text is of the decree issued in 821 by the ancient Japanese government. From this text we realize that the Japanese at the time were conscious of the importance of the forests covering mountains.

Tasks for the agriculture are not limited to the maintenance of irrigation equipments. The stable water supply is based on the interaction between water and woods. Therefore, mountains that are sources of rivers should be wooded. We know that great rivers have thickly wooded mountains as their sources while poor streams come from bald hills. For that reason, we realize that the richness of rivers depends on their mountains. Mountains cause clouds and rain, so rivers supply water for 9 ri. If the vegetation over the mountains is lost, the rivers will dry up...

Decree of the cabinet issued on the 21st day, 4th month of the 12th year of the Konin era.
Please see also C. Totman (1989) The Green Archipelago, p. 29.

Although separated from arable lands and settlements, mountains in Japan have been familiar space for farmers as sources of firewood and fertilizer. However, mountains have often been objects of people's worship as the seats of Shinto deities. Buddhists also located their temples within the mountainous areas. Shugendo, the symcretistic fusion of Shinto and Buddhism, formed a typical style of worship of mountains. Many mountains in Japan are known as the sacred mountains for training of Shugendo such as Mt. Ômine and Mt. Tateyama. Accordingly, management of forests covering mountains has been the key issue for the Japanese administrators while mountains and forests have been closely associated with religious life of the Japanese.

In this page, we offer landscape views of mountains in Japan using digital elevation models (DEM) and LANDSAT satellite images. Different from many cases of LANDSAT displays, the draped satellite images are mostly of true color composite of bands 1, 2 and 3 because we prefer to present more realistic images. The images below using true color acquired in spring offer vivid images of mountains in Japan mostly covered by thick forests. In order to show the steepness of mountains in Japan, elevations are not exaggerated.

Mt. Ômine (Nara Prefecture)

Mt. Ômine is the sacred place of Shugendo, the most prominent religion associated with mountains. Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, which includes Mt. Ômine, was listed in the World Heritage of UNESCO in 2004. The catchment basin of Yoshino River (northern side of Mt. Ômine; the upriver part of Kinokawa River) is known as the birthplace of Japan's plantation forestry.


Mt. Tateyama (Toyama Prefecture)

Mt. Tateyama is referred to in the Japanese poems by Ôtomo Yakamochi who was in the service of the governor of Etchû Province (modern Toyama Prefecture). Ôtomo Yakamochi is known as the editor of Man'yô-shû, the first Japan's anthology of the 8th century.

Mt. Tateyama is located at the northern part of the Japan Alps. But it is a volcano with thick piles of volcanic products on its mountainsides. The piled volcanic products flow into rivers, causing frequent floods. Therefore Jôganji River flowing from Mt. Tateyama is considered to be a dangerous river, and its control has been one of the foci of the civil engineering or sabo in Japan.


Mt. Aso (Kumamoto Prefecture)

The volcano of Mt. Aso has one of the largest calderas in the world with the size of about 20 kilometers in diameter. The eruption of some 85,000 years ago is considered to have formed this huge depression. The volcano in the moddle of the caldera is still very active. In order to display the feature of the caldera, the geomorphological model shown in the right is colored according to the elevation.


Mt. Fuji (Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures)

A stratovolcano with a beautiful shape, which is the highest peak and symbolic feature of Japan. Mt. Fuji is the object of worship of Sengen Shrine of Shinto and other religious sects.