Nippon consists of two islands situated 300 miles, at the closest point, off the east coast of Cathay. A backbone of mountains lies in the centre of the main island, Koshu, where some active volcanoes still remain to belch poisonous gases and burning lava. Within the natural boundaries created by river, hill, and mountain, are many semi-autonomous provinces and castles ruled by powerful warlords called daimyo. Pride of place in Nippon is the province of the shogun, the military dictator of all Nippon. His province is the most productive and the largest fief in the kingdom. On its borders lies the provinces of the martial governors who are tied to the shogun through blood and/or oath and these are known as the Exalted-daimyo. Further still from the provinces of the Exalted-daimyo come the provinces of the outer-daimyo; warlords the shogun would rather have as far away from him as possible, or those who are of little use to him. This is established through a census of each lord's wealth; the wealthier daimyo near to the shogun and the less wealthy, or those with small armies, as far away as possible from him.
Nippon is rich in natural resources. There are many rivers and streams, with plentiful supplies of fish, large forested areas - much of Nippon is heavily forested, providing ample wood for construction and burning - and mountainous regions rich in precious minerals. The land can be roughly divided into three geographical regions: forests, mountains and hills.
The forests of Nippon contain a wide variety of trees because of varying zones of temperature. Western and southern Koshu (the main island of Nippon) is home of broad-leaved evergreen forests; characteristic trees are shii and kashi, both a type of oak. Northern Koshu and southern Haikido are home to beech trees because of the relatively cool temperature. Central and northern Haikido are home to pine trees because of the much colder climate. Not surprisingly the people stay clear of the forests preferring instead to stick to their settlements for protection against bandits and rampaging beastmen; the latter are more common in the cooler regions of northern Koshu and Haikido, where they are many.
The mountains predominate the central spine of the main island of Koshu and the centre of the island of Haikido. They are largely uninhabited by Humans, however there are many isolated communities of Yamabushi and temples and shrines to the Nippon pantheon. There are also many empty temples and auxiliary castles that have, as yet, not been reclaimed due to the inevitable impracticalities of traversing through the treacherous mountains. However, many daimyo, due probably to their own failed attempts, have dismissed the notion of trying to reclaim any lost temples and castles. Aside from the unnatural dangers of beastmen and bandits there is also the danger of occasional volcanic eruptions and the odd earthquake. These natural occurrences also unwittingly serve to protect some of the most unwholesome creatures who lurk in the mountains.
The hills - much of Nippon is hilly - are physically less dangerous to traverse than the mountains but can still be, nevertheless, awkward due to bandits and beastmen. Dangerous regions of hills are known as 'Hill Country' to most, which is a broad ring of hills surrounding the main mountain spine of Kanto-Sanchi in the centre of Koshu. The hills of Haikido are similarly known.
South western Nippon has very warm summers (up to 33ºC) and a pleasantly mild temperature all year round, being subtropical, whereas much of Koshu can enjoy an average annual temperature of 14ºC. Northern Koshu and Haikido are much cooler and has very cold winters (-10ºC), which is why the forests there are thick with pine trees.
It rains heavily a lot of the time with an annual rainfall of around 1500mm. It rains the most in late summer and early autumn when the excess water all too often swells the rivers causing widespread flooding and threatening any nearby settlements as a result; it isn't unheard of for entire villages to be swept away in a matter of minutes. Mudslides are also a very big danger for settlements.
On the upside this inclement weather ensures that the rice paddies are rarely ever dry and people have a plentiful supply of rice to consume and sell to towns. The only time the rain is slight is in the winter but even then it rains as much as it does in the rainy seasons of the Empire. The climate also accounts for the fact that almost seventy percent of Nippon is covered by forest.
FLORA AND FAUNA
As mentioned briefly above, Nippon has a wide range of temperatures and significant rainfall, which make for a rich abundance of flora whose foliage changes colour from season to season. The highlands of Koshu and the island of Haikido are characterised by alpine plants such askomakusa and subalpine plants of Sakhalan fir and Yesso spruce. Pine (Matsu) and cedar (Sugi) are common throughout Nippon - even in warm southern regions. The pine trees make for splendid scenery and the large pines, of which can grow to 40 metres in height, sometimes serves as windbreaks in coastal areas. Small pines are used as bonsai, garden trees and materials for houses and furniture. Pines are also considered to be holy trees. Most Nipponese are awed by nature and see in plants and trees symbols of divine spirits. At times, for example, it is common to worship evergreen trees such as pine, cedar and cypress because they are thought to provide habitation to heaven-sent deities.
Other flora include the sakura or cherry tree, plum tree, and bamboo. The plum tree carries beautiful blossoms in the spring. Bamboo grows very fast and is also an evergreen. Bamboo wood is used for various handicrafts and constructions and young bamboo plants (takenoko) are also eaten. Trees are commonly used for naming three items like, for example, three different dishes of sushi: pine for the deluxe version, bamboo for the medium dish, and plum tree for the small portion.
The fauna is richly diverse because of the widely differing climatic conditions from north to south. The tropical sea off the western coast is home to coral fish, turtles, sea snakes, dugong and the black finless porpoise. Horseshoe crabs, the giant spider crab, and the frilled shark can also be found in Nipponese waters. The waters off the coast of more northerly areas are home to sea lions, fur seals and beaked whales. Even walrus are known to visit the cooler island of Haikido from time to time.
On land, western Koshu is inhabited by the crested serpent eagle, flying fox and the variable lizard. Wandering the rest of the lands of Nippon are raccoon dogs, foxes, copper pheasants, giant salamander (one of the largest amphibians), wild boar, deer, bears, hazel grouse, the common lizard, and the macaque (a race of small monkey).
Rivers, especially those of warmer climbs, are inhabited by sea snakes and freshwater sharks. While these creatures are not wholly dangerous to people they have been known to attack when disturbed or provoked. Some sea snake, for example, possess a poisonous bite and the freshwater shark is able to tear flesh with its razor sharp teeth. Some rural people catch these creatures and eat them.
Kanto-Sanchi Mountains: These mountains and hills dominate the main area of the island of Koshu. Its southern peaks overlooks the wealthy provinces of the Shogun and the Exalted-daimyo. The most mountainous areas lies in the centre and further away the mountains merge into Hill Country. Close to the origin of several rivers, and the sites of dormant volcanoes, there are areas of boiling water and calcified tubes, which intermittently spew forth jets of the bubbling liquid. Sometimes these plumes are as little as one to three yards high but can be as much as twenty yards. On occasion, an iridescent rainbow will rise out of the spume making for a splendid sight. Geysers such as this are rare and can only be found in a few places in the whole of Nippon.
Hill Country: The region of hills surrounding the Kanto-Sanchi Mountains is commonly known as Hill Country. While some parts of it are picturesque and peaceful, combining luscious forests with volcanic ash, there are as many parts that are deadly to any unprepared travellers and perilous even to larger groups. Beastmen and bandits are known to lurk in this region and safe passage through can only be guaranteed in very large numbers.
There are many rivers and streams throughout Nippon. Major waterways are maintained and guarded by gate-keepers and garrisons of soldiers. This means that such rivers can be easily fished by local farmers who may go about their business without fear of attacks from bandits, although they too often find their cargoes confiscated by ruthless gate-wardens to supplement their own greediness.
The Ekawasaki: This is one of the longest rivers in Nippon. It runs through one of the cities of the Exalted-daimyo, Izumo, and passes across the northern boundary of Akita, after which it finishes its journey when it meets lake Kiri-Ko high in the Kanto-Sanchi Mountains. The major river crossing is guarded by an auxiliary fort and a small garrison of troops, ever vigilant for any signs of trouble that could endanger the bridge. Anyone is allowed to cross the bridge as long as they can pay the toll.
The Moruto: This river flows along the northern boundaries of Yoshida province. Its spring lies deep within the Kanto-Sanchi Mountains where its flow joins the River Sakuma as it forks westwards into the bay of Kumayama-Wan.
The Hita: This river forms the northern boundary of Izumo province and the southern one of Munoguchi province. It provides, like so many of the waterways of Nippon, vital irrigation for the many rice paddies along the river's route.
The Komato: This river runs down from the north out of Munoguchi-Wan, almost symmetrical to the Yodo.
The Yodo: This river serves as the southern boundary for Munoguchi province. It is one of the largest rivers in Nippon and flows someway through Hill Country before it abruptly ceases at the Ikawa spring. Close to this spring is the Nakano Geyser.
The Onachi: This river flows through the Okakama forest and separates the provinces of Wakakawa and Yamakama at the western most region of Nippon. The river is known for an abundance of fish but also for freshwater shark and the odd sea snake.
Much of Nippon is covered in forest with trees ranging from broad-leaved evergreen to beech and pine. People, usually peasants, tend to steer clear of the forests, not because they can be dangerous, but because they believe that the animals that live there have supernatural powers, such as the raccoon-dog and the red fox especially. This is why only the buke tend to hunt and the peasants stick to catching fish and growing rice.
The Okakama Forest occupies the northern region of Wakakawa province and practically fills up the entirety of Yamakama province to the east. The River Onachi flows through it on its western side and continues its journey until it reaches the Hida-Sanchi Mountains. The Okakama is dominated by evergreen trees and is inhabited by the Nipponese macaque and copper pheasant as well as the giant salamander and dragonfly.
The Yamanashi Forest smothers much of Yamanashi province with a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees. Where the forest meets the southern slopes of Kanto-Sanchi, pine trees grow.
The Kumayama Forest is one of the largest forests in Nippon. It is a mixture of evergreen and deciduous; the latter dominates the mountain and hill regions of the northern half of the forest. One of Nippon's major highways passes through this forest and just because it lies within the Shogun's province it does not mean it is safe. Because of the fact that many nobles use it to travel to and fro from the capital to Izumo, many bandits lurk in the trees ready to pounce upon any travellers they deem as 'rich pickings'. Only daimyo, with the escort of a small army, which they do, can pass through this forest safely. There is only so much that the gate-wardens can achieve on the Moon Highway.
The Forest of Haikido is perhaps the most dangerous in all of the lands of Nippon. The forest is a mixture of pine and cedar variety and in its depths lurk foul beastmen and mutants and some of the most vicious warbands of cut-throats, who are almost certainly in league with the Gods of Chaos. There also remain isolated communities of the Ainu who, with their unsurpassed knowledge of the forest and its secret ways, can survive adequately enough against these unnatural threats. They do not greet trespassers, whether fair or foul, with much warmth. Aside from the unnatural threats comes the natural ones of the great Haikido brown bear which can grow to a height of fifteen feet and is easily angered if it is provoked.
People: The citizens of Nippon are, what can only be described, a suspicious lot - especially the peasants. The vast majority of people, the heimin commoners, are uneducated, save for merchants and the odd artisan. Education is the preserve of the military aristocracy leaving the commoners to be almost completely ignorant of the outside world. Successive shoguns have virtually made it impossible for anyone to leave Nippon, and those foreign traders that are actually permitted to trade with his country are treated with the utmost suspicion. Indeed, foreigners are treated with as much contempt as the lowest peasant, at least by the powerful buke.
Language: The citizens of Nippon speak Nipponese. It is a very difficult tongue to master and even more difficult to understand and write its literary symbols, which number in the thousands.