Missing: A tiny island off Hokkaido. Or so authorities fear, prompting plans for a survey to determine if the outcrop has been washed away, ever so slightly shrinking the country’s territorial waters.
The island, Esambe Hanakita Kojima, was only officially surveyed and registered in 1987 by the Japan Coast Guard, which couldn’t even say exactly how big it was.
Until recently, it rose 1.4 meters (4½ feet) above sea level and was visible from the very northern tip of Hokkaido.
But now it has disappeared.
“It is not impossible that tiny islands get weathered by the elements,” a coast guard official said. The disappearance of the island “may affect Japan’s territorial waters a tiny bit,” she added, but only “if you conduct precision surveys.”
Japan pours resources into protecting its outer islands, particularly the remote Okinotori Island in the Pacific, which secures a significant portion of the nation’s exclusive economic zone.
It is also locked in disputes with neighbors, including China and South Korea, over the sovereignty of several islands.
Prone to earthquakes and severe weather, Japan has found itself losing or sometimes gaining territory thanks to natural disasters and extreme weather.
In 2015, a 300-meter strip of land emerged from the sea and attached itself to the coast of Hokkaido. Initially, the phenomenon raised fears of mysterious seismic activity, but geologists said it was probably the result of a landslide that pushed the underwater surface up.
And in 2013, a volcanic island appeared around 1,000 km (620 miles) south of Tokyo, engulfing an existing island and continuing to grow.