How One Japanese Island Seemed to Vanish

In the rapid and exceptional changing pace of our world, it’s hard to notice everything. Don’t pass through a city for a month or two, and it changes a fair bit. Don’t pass through for a year or two, and it’s transformative. However, things like islands and genuine land masses tend to be something that we can spot and acknowledge – if they were not there, we would surely notice. Right?

Apparently not. According to Japanese outlet Asahi Shimbun, one of the 158 islands which belong to the country but was uninhabited, has vanished. The Japanese Coast Guard are out searching for the island, which is known as Esanbehanakitakojima. The island in question is around a third of a mile away from Sarufutsu, a small village based on Hokkaido island. According to Japanese media author Hiroshi Shimizu, the man who reported the missing island, it’s gone.

He was to visit the island as part of a project that he was writing as a follow-up to his picture book on Japanese islands. The paper rejected his claim, though saying he couldn’t find it: so Shimizu headed out to Sarufutsu to ask around.

Google Maps

It turns out that Esanbehanakitakojima was last surveyed by the Coast Guard in 1987 – when the island was around 4 ½ feet above sea level. Now, it’s not able to be seen from land whatsoever. One senior Coast Guard quoted in Asahi Shimbun, Tomoo Fujii, said: “There is a possibility that the islet has been eroded by wind and snow and, as a result, disappeared,”

Has this happened before?

Strangely, yes. Land vanishing might seem very odd, but a 2016 report which was published in Environmental Research Letters claimed this is more commonplace than one might assume. They found that five reef islands of the Solomon Islands had vanished between the years of 1947-2014. They believe that major events, such as sea walls and ‘inappropriate development’ could be the main causes of that kind of vanishing act.

Coast of Japan

Interestingly, Japan has in the past been very clear about claiming islands in a bid to ensure territorial dominance over some of their neighbors. In 2016 they committed to a $107m rebuild of an observatory tower on Okinotorishima, around 1,000 miles from Tokyo.

This was disputed by China, and has created a back-and-forth quarrel ever since, culminating in a United Nations convention suggesting that “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own” cannot qualify as an exclusive economic location.

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