Japan Discovers It Has 7,000 More Islands Than It Previously Thought

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP / Getty Images

After updating its island tally by conducting a new survey, Japan was surprised to discover that within its territorial waters were twice as many islands than was previously thought. Thanks to advancements in technology, a more accurate number was able to be established. However, given ongoing territorial disputes, this total is up for interpretation.

Japan’s last survey was conducted decades ago

Hand pointing to Takeshima on a map
Photo Credit: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

In 1987, the Japan Coast Guard conducted a survey to determine how many islands were located within the country’s territorial waters. It was done using paper maps, with officials tallying naturally-occurring islands and omitting any with a circumference of less than 100 meters. When the analysis was complete, a total of 6,852 islands had been tallied.

However, 35 years later and following ample volcanic activity in the region, a Liberal Democrat MP called for a recount of Japan’s islands, stating that “an accurate understanding of the number of islands … was in the national interest.” The previous count was considered outdated, and many speculated the total had significantly increased over the years.

A new survey is conducted

View of Takeshima
Photo Credit: Chico Harlan / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Conducting the new survey was the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI), which employed an analysis of digital mapping over an area of more than 370,000 square kilometers. The group stuck to the same criteria as the previous study, including counting islands with a circumference of 100 meters or more, and didn’t include any artificially-reclaimed land. 

The results of the survey were shocking.

The GSI counted a whopping 14,125 islands in Japan’s possession – more than double the number tallied decades prior. Realizing the disparity between the two studies, the GSI stressed the new figure was a reflection of the advancements in digital mapping technology, adding they didn’t change the scope of the area that was surveyed.

Territorial disputes could alter this number in the future

Two boats sailing near Kunashir Island
Photo Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP / Getty Images

Despite 14,125 being the new official count for islands under Japan’s domain, there have been decades-long territorial disputes that could ultimately change this figure in the future.

The Russian-held Kuril Islands have been disputed since the end of the Second World War, following their seizure by troops with the Soviet Red Army. Additionally, the group of islets in the Sea of Japan, known as Takeshima by Tokyo, has been the center of a 70-year-long dispute with South Korea, which calls them Dokdo.

Japan is also involved in additional territorial disputes with China for several uninhabited plots of land that make up the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

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Another factor that could very well change this number is the volcanic activity that occurs in the region. While underwater volcanoes have slowly increased the number of islands in the area, erosion from wind and drift ice has caused others to disappear entirely. 

With so many natural elements at play, the number of Japanese islands may drastically change again in another 35 years.