Japan is a country shaped by plate tectonics. This archipelago of 6,582 islands on the Pacific Ring of Fire was moulded by the subduction of tectonic plates over millions of years. It has over 100 active volcanoes and regularly experiences earthquakes, including the recent 9.0 magnitude Tohoku earthquake, in 2011, which created a devastating tsunami. This aspect alone makes it an excellent destination for school geography trips. Students can see how the landscape has been shaped by tectonic activity and learn about the impact this has had on Japanese culture.
The most iconic of Japan’s mountains is Mount Fuji, which is visible from Tokyo, but it is a country of many other mountains. This has had a significant effect on its settlement and agriculture patterns throughout history, as arable land is in short supply. Geography trips to Japan allow school students to see this landscape of forests and crowded low-land fields for themselves, then visit the densely populated urban areas to understand how the country has developed in modern times. From futuristic skyscrapers to the reclamation of 20% of Tokyo Bay for the airport, Disneyland and Yokohama harbour, the adaptations to the landscape are clearly visible.
It would be impossible for people to live in such a tectonic land and not be affected by it, and its striking setting shapes Japanese culture in myriad ways. Students on geography trips can see evidence of this in the beautiful Zen Gardens: the carefully placed and stacked rocks show the mountainous landscape rising from the sea of raked gravel. Other aspects of Japanese culture are incredibly practical, like the stone tablets mounted in the hills to warn people not to build their houses below certain points. In the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the people of Aneyoshi reported that the waves stopped 300 feet from their stone. Some of these stones are 600 years old.
The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation
Known as the Miraikan (“Future Museum”), the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo is an essential stop on geography trips to Japan. One highlight is a real-time display of data from the vast network of seismometers located throughout the Japan, where students can see the country gently vibrating. A searchable online database of the recent earthquake activity provides an additional resource for understanding the complex patterns of earthquakes. There is also a real-time display of worldwide weather patterns, oceanic temperatures and vegetation cover on the Geo-cosmos globe. Any students on geography trips with an interest in the long history of the Earth will be excited to see a rock core taken across the Cretacous-Paleogene boundary (K-T boundary), which records the meteorite impact believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.