Japan has counted more than 14,000 islands in its territory, twice as many as the last survey

Japan found that it has 14,125 islands after a survey updated the previous count that dated back to 1987. It will not change the overall area of Japanese territory or its territorial waters.

Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate in Japan
Floating Torii Gate on Itsukushima island in Japan | © Nicki Eliza Schinow

The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) counted all islands of the country and concluded the country has 14,125 islands, more than twice as many as the previous survey.

The GSI, which conducts national surveying and mapping activities providing a basis for land management, counted islands when land with a circumference of at least 100 meters (330 feet) was considered formed naturally.

There is no international agreement on the method for counting islands, according to the agency. However, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines an island as a “naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide,” which the agency followed to publish its findings on February 28.

To do so, the GSI used its electronic land map from 2022 and cross-referenced it with past aerial photographs, past maps and other data. An automatic computer count initially found 120,729 islands and was trimmed down to 14,125 by the GSI. Islands in lakes, river sandbanks or artificially reclaimed land are excluded from the count.

The previous survey was published by the Japan Coast Guard and dated back 36 years ago. The GSI used the same size criterion to count the islands but the number of islands increased significantly between the two surveys. Japan counted 6,852 islands in 1987, a number that was widely used as a reference for the number of islands in the country.

However, these new islands will not change Japan’s overall territory and territorial waters. Some islands surrounding Japan have been involved in several territorial disputes with Russia, China, and South Korea.

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