Unusually heavy snows fell on northern Japan this winter. Snow highlights the flat, fenced landscape used for agriculture in this image taken from the International Space Station. The large Tokachi River reaches the arc of the Pacific Ocean on Hokkaido's east coast. Forests on steeper hillsides mask the snow and appear dark (upper image margin and image center).
This detailed view taken with a long lens from more than 800 km (500 mi) away, shows the narrow greenbelt forests that line the coast. Planted in Japan for at least the last four centuries, greenbelts protect coastlines from storms and sand movement, and are increasingly providing recreation areas. Greenbelts also reduce tsunami wave energy, protecting houses and roads from floating debris. Greenbelt forests reduced the destructive effects of the 2011 tsunami at Sendai by "catching" entire seagoing vessels, preventing them from being washed inland.