One, Two, Skip a Few: Japanese Government Recounts Islands, Finds 7,000 More

Thirty-five years ago, the government of Japan counted 6,852 islands in the country. Now after a recount, the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) is expected to announce it’s found a few more.

To be exact, 7,273 more. That takes the total number of Japanese islands up to 14,125.

So how could Japan’s government miscount so badly the first time around? It has to do with paper.

To be considered an island in the survey, a landmass needs a circumference of at least 100 meters. That’s the same criterion used during the last survey, conducted by the Japanese Coast Guard in 1987.

And while what makes an island an island remained the same from survey to survey, the difference in methodology was significant. The 1987 count relied on human beings poring over paper maps, a tactic that was apparently prone to significant error.

a rocky but beautiful Japanese island

Omijima Island, Yamaguchi, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock


For the new count, the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan used digital mapping technology to tally up islands and cross-referenced the information with past aerial photographs and other data. The computer was able to formulate an accurate island count while automatically excluding anything under that 100-meter circumference mark. It also weeded out islands in lakes or rivers.

Maybe there are more

The government might officially release the new number as early as March, according to Kyodo News, a Japanese news outlet. But don’t get too cozy with 14,125 islands. Kyodo News reported the GSI is still making final adjustments to its survey.

The modified island number is not expected to change the size of Japan’s territory, as the islands were all counted within the country’s current 370,000 square kilometers of sovereign waters.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
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