While it is only one country, there are thousands of islands that form Japan. It’s an archipelago made up of four main islands and thousands of smaller ones. In total, there are 6,852 islands that are part of Japan, or so we thought. A new survey updated the previous count from 1987 and found the country now has 14,125 islands in its territory.
The Geospatial Information Authority (GSI) of Japan revealed an updated map of the country, which showed that the number of islands has doubled. You’re probably wondering, How did Japan not notice thousands and thousands of islands? Well, it’s easier to do than you think, especially considering the technology available in 1987 wasn’t great.
Back then, the country couldn’t distinguish between small groups of islands and larger individual ones, meaning thousands of these islands were counted as one. Japan also decided to exclude any island that didn’t have a circumference of over 100 meters. Plus, many islands have emerged after volcanic activity in the region.
The GSI now incorporated the use of aerial photos and cross-checked the findings against past maps. While the new figure reflects advances in digital mapping, it doesn’t change the overall area of land in Japan’s possession, GSI said. The total size of Japan’s territory is calculated using the same method, irrespective of the number of islands.
The new map uses the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea’s definition of what counts as an island. It’s a “naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.” This means that large sandbanks and islands within lakes and rivers, previously dismissed in the 1987 version, are now considered to be islands.
A disputed territory
Japan is divided into nine regions, which are split into 47 smaller prefectures. Some of these contain a large number of islands, based on the new map. The northern prefecture of Hokkaido, one of the four main islands of the country, along with Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, has 1,473 islands, while Nagasaki in the southwest has a total of 1,479.
The new island count is described by GSI as very significant for Japan as it provides an accurate depiction of its rights, as well as the rights of other countries within the region’s waters. Legislators in Japan had been asking for a recount of the islands for years now, the local media outlet Kyodo News reported, describing it as a matter of national interest.
The new number of islands doesn’t include any of the politically reclaimed land. The islands around Japan have been at the center of several territorial disputes, as CNN explained. Japan claims the rights over the Kuril islands, held by Russia. The dispute goes back to the end of World War II, when Soviet military forces took control over the island.
The Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are also disputed. While Japan currently controls the territory, China has challenged that claim many times. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea dispute the sovereignty of a group of islets known as Dodko by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan in the Sea of Japan, which Korea calls the East Sea.