Land and Resources, Plant and Animal Life
More than 17,000 species of flowering and nonflowering plants are found in Japan, and many are cultivated widely. Azaleas color the Japanese hills in April, and the tree peony, one of the most popular cultivated flowers, blossoms at the beginning of May. The lotus blooms in August, and in November the blooming of the chrysanthemum, occasions one of the most celebrated of the numerous Japanese flower festivals. Various types of seaweed grow naturally or are cultivated in offshore waters, adding variety to the Japanese diet. The most common varieties of edible seaweed are laver (a purple form of red algae also known as nori), kelp (a large, leafy brown algae also called kombu), and wakame (a large brown algae).
Forests cover 64 percent of Japan's land area. Forests are concentrated on mountain slopes, where trees are important in soil and water conservation. Tree types vary with latitude and elevation. In Hokkaido, spruce, larch, and northern fir are most common, along with alder, poplar, and beech trees. Central Honshu's more temperate climate supports beech, willows, and chestnuts. In Shikoku, Kyushu, and the warmer parts of Honshu, subtropical trees such as camphors and banyans thrive. The southern areas also have thick stands of bamboo. Japanese cedars and cypresses are found throughout wide areas of the country and are prized for their wood. Cultivated tree species include fruit trees bearing peaches, plums, pears, oranges, and cherries; mulberry trees for silk production; and lacquer trees, from which the resins used to produce lacquer are derived. Potted miniaturized trees called bonsai are popular among hobbyist gardeners in Japan and are a highly evolved art form.
Japanese animal life includes at least 140 species of mammals; 450 species of birds; and a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Mammals include wild boar, deer, rabbits and hares, squirrels, and various species of bear. Foxes and badgers also are numerous and, according to traditional beliefs, possess supernatural powers. The only primate mammal in Japan is the Japanese macaque, a red-faced monkey found throughout Honshu. The most common birds are sparrows, house swallows, and thrushes. Water birds are common as well, including cranes, herons, swans, storks, cormorants, and ducks. The waters off Japan abound with fish and other marine life, particularly at around 36? north latitude, where the cold Oyashio and warm Kuroshio currents meet and create ideal conditions for larger species.