Japanese Islet Disappears

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A Japanese islet named Esanbe Hanakita Kojim made news after seemingly vanishing. Located approximately 500 meters from a small village called Sarufutsu, towards the northern end of the island of Hokkaido, the islet is one of the 158 uninhabited land masses in 22 prefectures given names by the Japanese government in 2014.

The islet’s absence was recognized by Hiroshi Shimizu, author of “Hito-zukan,” a picture book on hidden islands, who made note of its disappearance after traveling to the area for inspiration. Locals confirmed to Shimizu that the islet used to be nearby but was no longer visible from land or boat. However, some fishermen believed that a rock reef was present in the area, as an islet was recorded on their marine navigation systems.

The islet was used to mark borders in the “Northern Territories,” an area of dispute near Russia, after several of the islands there were claimed by the Soviets after World War II. Now that the islet has seemingly disappeared, it can no longer serve as a territorial claim, as international law states that nations can only claim waters if an island in the area exists above the sea’s surface at high tide.

Map showing the location of Esanbe Hanakita Kojima. Inset map shows the islet marked on maps prepared by the Geographical Survey Institute of Japan.

Map showing the location of Esanbe Hanakita Kojima. Inset map shows the islet marked on maps prepared by the Geographical Survey Institute of Japan.

Japan’s Coast Guard states that the islet was surveyed in 1987, with records reporting that it appeared about 1.4 meters above average sea level. The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan further described the islet on a sea chart map created the following year.

A senior coast guard official, Tomoo Fujii, stated: “There is a possibility that the islet has been eroded by wind and snow and, as a result, disappeared.”

If this is the case, Japan could face losing 500 meters of territorial waters in this area. Japan’s Coast Guard plans to investigate the area to ensure the safe navigation of sea vessels near where Esanbehanakitakojima was once located.

View the original report from The Asahi Shimbun here.

Online mapping from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan showing the island’s location.

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