Japan has discovered it possesses over 7000 islands it previously knew nothing about.
A 1987 report by Japan’s Coast Guard put the number of Japanese islands at 6,852. But a new digital map by the country’s Geospatial Information Authority revealed 14,125 islands in Japan’s territory.
The survey was undertaken after a Liberal Democrat MP called for an island recount in 2021, telling parliament that “an accurate understanding of the number of islands … was in the national interest”.
Japan discovers 7,000 new unknown islands after fresh survey. pic.twitter.com/0lzI7a01n2— Daily Loud (@DailyLoud) February 18, 2023
In the absence of an internationally-recognised method for assessing islands, the exercise used the same criteria as the previous survey, counting all naturally-occuring land areas with at least a 100m circumference.
Ahead of a full report due in a few weeks, the government trailed the news explaining it was not a case of an increase in the overall area of Japanese land, or of islands disappearing or being created (although both can happen – and did as recently as 2021). Instead the increase reflected improvements in surveying technology and detailed mapping.
Instead of scrutinising paper maps as in 1987, this time the geographers used digitised maps, cross-referenced against information from past aerial photographs.
Previously thought to have over 29,000 km of coastline (more than than Australia), Japan is made up of 47 prefectures and many of those are made up of islands. Hokkaido, a northern prefecture and one of the four main islands, now boasts 1,473, while south-western Nagasaki has 1,479 islands.
Being a mountainous island nation brings problems. A low proportion of the territory is arable and inhabitants cluster in valleys and densely populated coastal districts.
But islands also bring natural resources and territorial disputes, as many of the waters around Japan attest.
At the end of World War 1, the Soviets took the southern Kuril islands, known for their rich fish and fish roe stocks, as well as their untapped oil, gas and rhenium reserves. They are claimed by the Japanese who know them as the Northern Territories.
The Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea may be uninhabited but they are a key strategic foothold. They are currently under Japanese administration though China has often challenged Japan’s historical claim to them.
And for over 70 years, Japan and South Korea have been in a headlock over the fish and natural gas rich archipelago called Dokdo by Seoul and Takeshima by Tokyo. North Korea also claims sovereignty.