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Digital mapping technology doubles Japan’s island count

Did you know that Japan is not a single land mass, but rather a nation made up of many thousands of islands?

Since 1987, when the last official count was performed, Japan has been described as a country of 6,852 islands. But recent work involving digital mapping technology has revealed that the total is actually more than double that.

The Japanese government is expected to officially unveil the new count of 14,125 islands next month, according to a report by Kyodo News.

The original figure was compiled by the Japan Coast Guard 36 years ago. Its counting method involved analysis of paper maps and focused on any land mass with a circumference greater than 100 meters.

This time around, the islands were counted automatically using digital mapping processes and an electronic land map created in 2022 by the Geospatial Information Authority (GSI) of Japan, a national organization that carries out survey and mapping activities. The final count was also cross-referenced with aerial photographs and other data.

Once again, only islands with a circumference of at least 100 meters were included in the final count. If all of the land masses had been counted regardless of size, the final figure would have exceeded 100,000, Kyodo News said.

The recount came after a politician in the ruling party said that an accurate understanding of the number of islands in Japan was an important matter that’s “related to the national interest.”

The new data is expected to make its way into school books and other reference materials when they’re next updated.

Due to the high level of seismic and volcanic activity in and around Japan, new islands do occasionally appear in Japan’s waters, though such events are rare enough that another island recount shouldn’t be necessary for a considerable time.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
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