The economic importance of Japan’s coastline is evident from the hundreds of towns and villages involved in fishing, whaling, and aquaculture. Japan has over 400,000 fishing vessels, more than any other country. Its fleet of 270,000 fish-trawling boats and the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo are the largest in the world. Japanese fishing fleets sail the country’s coastal waters and in many other fishing grounds throughout the world.
Due to overfishing and coastal pollution, Japan’s annual fish catch which for the past decades used to total about 10 million metric tons has however fallen to 7.4 tonnes. However, Japan still leads the world in tuna fishing and ranks second to the United States in the amount of salmon caught. Other products of Japan’s fishing industry include eels, flatfish, mackerel, pollock, sardines, and saury. Japanese fishing crews also catch large quantities of octopus and squid, and an abundance of clams, crabs, scallops, shrimp, and other shellfish. The Japanese also harvest oysters and edible seaweed from “farms” in coastal waters.
Japan is the world’s fourth largest fish-eating country after Maldives, Iceland, Kiribati (per capita consumption is 77.2 kg each year) as well as the world’s largest importer of marine products, accounting for 30% of the world’s total marine imports (1996 figures). Japan has become a food exporter of the unique sushi cuisine or raw fish culture, to the metropolises of the world.
Japan‘s merchant fleet totals about 40 million metric tons, the sign of a well-developed port and shipping industry. Only Liberia and Panama have larger fleets. With a number of good bays and deepwater harbors on the Pacific coast of central and southern Honshu, most of Japan’s urban centers are located on or near the coast with Japan’s chief ports being Chiba, Kobe, Nagoya, and Yokohama. Osaka, another large seaport and industrial center, has been an important commercial city for 400 years. The two principal shipping access channels are the Kii Channel on the east and the Bungo Strait on the west. To create new land for sprawling factories, oil storage tanks, expanded harbor facilities, airports, and other uses, the coastline in many urban-industrial areas has been extended by reclamation projects (a cause of environmental problems).
The Japanese archipelago also includes more distant island groups:
The Ryukyu Islands (or Nansei Shoto made up of the Amami, Okinawa, and Sakishima island chains that extend southwest from Kyushu for 1,200 km;
the Izu Islands;
the Bonin Islands (or Ogasawara Shoto), and
the Volcano Islands (Kazan Retto that extend south from Tokyo for 1,100 km); and
several islands north of Hokkaido: Kuril Islands, Ostrov Iturup (Etorofu-jima) and Ostrov Kunashir (Kunashiri-jima), as well as Shikotan and the Habomai island group (currently claimed by Japan and Russia, but administered by the latter).
Did YOU know …
The biodiversity of marine animal species in Japan’s southern waters, is the third highest in the world with 1,262 species (the Philippines has 1,488 and Indonesia 1,443 species).
The coral reefs of Okinawa are the riches in the world in rare marine species numbering 75 (followed by Australia’s 56 and the Gulf of Guinea’s 45).