The largest islands of Japan are Honshū, Shikoku, Hokkaidō, and Kyūshū,, which together account for 97% of the land area of Japan. In all, Japan has over 3,000 islands. The islands of Japan have been occupied for an extremely long time, since at least 35,000 BCE. During the last Ice Age, Japan would have been relatively balmy, spared from the huge glaciers that covered most of Europe and Asia at the time. Today, the islands of Japan have about 127 million occupants, making this nation the world's 10th most populous. Japan has the world's third largest economy, only behind the United States and China.
Honshū, the largest island of the country, accounts for 61% of the land mass and is located in the center of Japan, between the island of Hokkaido in the north and the islands of Kyūshū and Shikoku in the south. Larger than the island of Great Britain, Honshū is 1,300 km (800 mi) long and ranges from 50 to 230 km (31 to 143 mi) wide. Honshū is a mountainous and volcanic island with a population of almost 100 million, making it one of the most populous islands in the world. Most of the population on the island is found in the available lowlands, particularly the Kantō plains region. Many of Japan's most famous cities are on the island, including Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Hiroshima.
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The two main islands of Japan to the south of Honshū are Kyūshū and Shikoku, which make up 9% and 5% of Japan's total land area, respectively. Kyūshū, located to the west, has a population of 13 million, while Shikoku has a population of 4 million, making it the least populous of the islands of Japan. Like Honshū, both of the islands are highly mountainous. Kyūshū is known for having Japan's most active volcano, Mt. Aso (at 1,592 m or 5,223 ft), while Shikoku is known for its beautiful temples. The most important cities on Kyūshū are Nagasaki and Kagoshima. The largest city on Shikoku is Matsuyama, with a population of half a million.
The final of the primary Japanese islands is Hokkaidō, which makes up a full 22% of the land area of Japan. Hokkaidō is the second largest of Japan's islands and among the most rural, with a population of just 68 people per square kilometer, in contrast with Honshū's population density of 430 people per square kilometer. The natural surroundings of Hokkaidō make it a popular vacation destination among Japanese. The capital of Hokkaidō is Sapporo, recognized around the world as the home of Sapporo beer and the host city of the 1972 Winter Olympics. Like every other island in Japan, most of the island is mountainous, and most of the population can be found in the southwestern lowland regions.