Japan Finds 7,000 Islands It Didn’t Know It Had

Iroha Islands in Japan.
Image: siro46 (Shutterstock)

Japan discovered it has 7,000 more islands than previously thought thanks to advanced survey mapping technology. The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) found 14,125 islands during its surveillance, a huge difference from the 6,852 islands it recorded in 1987, CNN reported.

But how does a country just lose islands? The answer is fairly simple, when the Japanese Coast Guard counted the islands 35 years ago, the technology was not able to distinguish between small clusters of islands and larger individual islands, meaning thousands of these islands were counted as one.

In the years since, volcanic eruptions have also contributed to the formation of new islands, which combined, have nearly doubled the island landmass Japan was previously thought to possess.

The GSI used the same technique to tabulate the number of islands by marking only those that have a circumference of 100 meters (330 feet) or greater and were natural formations. The same methods of calculation were used to confirm Japan’s territory, but the GSI added the use of aerial photos and cross-checked the findings against past maps to ensure it did not include artificially reclaimed land.

Researchers had tediously listed each island they found by hand but omitted not only the small islands but they also left out sandbanks and islands found within lakes and rivers. At the time, those landmasses were not considered islands but are now recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The law establishes where the coastal and maritime boundaries are, from one country to another, prohibits countries from exploring seabeds within other territories, and evenly distributes revenue obtained from regulated exploration.

Japan’s island count is of international significance because it provides an accurate depiction of its rights, as well as the rights of other countries within the region’s waters.

A Japanese legislator reportedly argued it was time for a recount during a 2021 parliamentary session. The legislator said, “An accurate understanding of the number of islands is an important administrative matter that is related to the national interest,” Kyodo News reported.

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