Japan’s official number of islands could more than double thanks to a new recount. A “source familiar with the matter” told Kyodo News that the number will jump from 6,852 to 14,125, although final adjustments could make the officially released number slightly different.
This recount follows remarks by a lawmaker in a 2021 parliamentary session that "an accurate understanding of the number of islands is an important administrative matter that is related to the national interest." The data will reportedly come from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI), an institution set up in 1869 that surveys and maps the country.
According to the Japan Statistical Yearbook 2023, containing statistics available by June 30, 2022, Japan has 6,852 islands with a total area of 377,973.74 square kilometers (145,936.48 square miles). In fact, the island of Honshu is the seventh largest and second most populous island in the world.
However, data on the number of islands dates back to a study conducted by hand by the Japan Coast Guard in 1987. This listed islands with circumferences of 100 meters (328 feet) or above, but apparently sometimes lumped in groups of islands together as one.
The recount reportedly used an electronic land map from the GSI plus aerial photographs, detecting over 100,000 islands – but only those that reached the 100-meter standard made the final cut. It also took into account the UN definition of an island: “a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.”
Japan is also no stranger to new islands springing out of the ocean due to volcanic activity. For example, on August 13, 2021, an eruption of the undersea volcano Fukutoku-Okanoba created a new landmass around 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) in diameter.
However, nature giveth and nature taketh away – in 2018, it was revealed that the island of Esanbe Hanakita Kojima seemingly vanished without anyone noticing, which has been attributed to erosion from waves and drift ice.