Southern Japan braces as typhoon charts course for main island

Japan is bracing for high winds and heavy rain as a typhoon roars north, bringing high seas to outlying islands before taking aim at the country's main island this weekend.

Southern islands face heavy seas, strong winds ahead of storm's arrival

This NASA satellite image shows Typhoon Trami on its march across the Western Pacific Ocean as it tracked north toward Japan on Friday. (NASA Earth Observatory)

Japan braced for high winds and heavy rain as a typhoon roared north on Friday, enveloping outlying islands in high seas before taking aim at the country's main island this weekend.

Typhoon Trami is the latest storm to threaten the Japanese archipelago in a year filled with more than the usual number of disasters, including punishing heat, heavy rains and landslides.

Less than a month ago, a typhoon flooded Kansai International airport near Osaka, leaving thousands of tourists stranded.

Outlying islands in the Okinawan chain, about 1,000 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, were being pounded by heavy seas and strong winds two days before an Okinawan gubernatorial election, forcing some areas to hold voting early. The central government set up an emergency office to deal with the storm.

At 2:45 a.m. local time, forecast models from the Japan Meteorological Agency showed the storm continuing to track north toward the archipelago's southern Okinawa island, with sustained winds of 162 km/h and gusts of 216 km/h.

Trami is forecast to churn north across Okinawa on Saturday, then across the islands of Kyushu and the main island of Honshu on Sunday, a path similar to that of Typhoon Jebi early in September.

Earlier this week, NASA astronaut Alexander Gerst snapped a series of photos of the massive cyclone as it spun over the Western Pacific. On Friday, NASA's Earth Observatory said while the storm had since been downgraded to a category 2 cyclone, it could regain strength before reaching Japan's main island over the weekend.

Though the Japanese capital of Tokyo is set for heavy rain, current predictions show it avoiding a direct hit.

A rough year 

Jebi, the most powerful storm to hit Japan in 25 years, brought some of the highest tides since a 1961 typhoon. It flooded the Kansai airport near Osaka, one of the busiest in the country, taking it out of service for days.

Seventeen people died in the storm. High winds sent trees crashing to the ground and cars scudding across parking lots.

A car lies upside-down along a road after being blown by Typhoon Jebi's strong winds in Osaka on Sept. 4. (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)

Even for a country accustomed to disasters, this year has been hard for Japan, starting with a volcanic eruption in January that rained rocks down on a ski resort, killing one person.

July brought record-breaking heat that killed at least 80 people and sent over 20,000 to hospital for treatment, along with torrential rains in western Japan that set off floods and landslides, killing more than 200 people.

Just two days after Jebi hit in September, the northernmost main island of Hokkaido was rocked by an earthquake that set off landslides, knocked out power throughout the island and killed at least 44 people.

With files from CBC News