Map first, then commentary. Notice first, though, that numbers on the itinerary (see red sidebar, at left) correspond with numbers on the map. E.g., #19 on the map is Sendai and is the nineteenth stop on this tour. To download a list of stops and distances, go to resources.

I lived in Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, for about eight months. This was about ten years ago. I knew very little, though, of Japanese geography: not even the name of the island I was living on. One of the main goals in planning this trip, therefore, is to repair some of my own ignorance.

To that end, I have devoted the first entry in my log, Iwojima, to the geology of Japan and its neighbors. For me, learning how the islands were formed has been a good way of understanding the geographical relationship between Japan and the rest of the world. If you're not interested in that kind of thing, don't worry: after the second log entry, I'll stop talking about it.

Dr. David A. Johnson has written an excellent introduction to this subject, called The Natural World of Japan. This is where I began my own research, and I recommend it highly.

To get started, though, it is enough to know that Japan has four major islands: Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu, and Hokkaido. Honshu is the largest of the four islands and stands in the center of the country; not surprisingly, this is where all of the capitals have been: Nara, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Hokkaido, in the north, is the famous Snow Country, vividly described by Kawabata in the novel that bears its name.

In addition, there are two or three island chains that ray out from the home islands to the south: beginnning on the left, these are the Ryukyu Islands, the Daito Islands, and the Volcano and Bonin Islands. We will begin the tour by visiting these minor island chains..

One more thing before we start: how big is Japan? The following map, used with the kind permission of Dr. Johnson, may help some of you to visualize it:

As you can see, Japan is roughly comparable in size and shape to the eastern seabord of the United States, minus Florida and Maine.