The mysterious disappearance of Esanbe Hanakita Kojima

Japanese islands

Grace Crocker, Guest writer


An entire Japanese island disappeared without a trace, and no one noticed it was missing until very recently.

Esanbe Hanakita Kojima was an islet set off the coast of Japan, said to be about one-third of a mile away from the village Sarufutsu, located on the northern tip of Hokkaido. One among 158 other uninhabited islets, it was officially named in 2014 by the Japanese government to keep track of their oceanic territory, namely their exclusive economic zone.

Hiroshi Shimizu, author of “Hito-Zukan,” planned a trip to Sarufutsu village with the idea to write a sequel to his book about Japan’s hidden islands, but when he searched for Esanbe Hanakita Kojima, he was unable to find it. Shimizu told local fisheries about his dilemma, and when they set out in search of the island, they were met with the same problem. Tomohiko Kihara assessed the situation using a sea chart, and confirmed that it could not be seen from land or passing boats.

The island had originally been surveyed by the Japanese Coast Guard back in 1987. Identified as an undersea reef and only four-and-a-half feet above sea level, fisherman avoided the area for decades. “Around a decade from 1975, there was a small island around there, and we stayed clear of the area,” an elderly fisherman said, according to Asahi Shimbun. No one visited the island until recently; therefore, no one noticed as it vanished over time. So what happened to it? Experts conclude that the islet was eroded by wind and ice every winter, leading to its disappearance.

The Japanese coast guard will visit the area again to determine if the islet is indeed missing. If that is the case, Japan’s territorial reach will shrink. One coast guard official said that this shrinkage “may affect Japan’s territorial waters a tiny bit…if you conduct precision surveys.” According to Asahi Shimbun, “The coast guard plans to investigate the area also to ensure safe navigation of vessels.”

Japan’s islands have played a major part in territorial disputes between Japan, China, and Russia. Japan intends to claim more land to avoid territorial disputes on their part. In 2016, Japan reported it would invest $107 million to rebuild the observatory tower on Okinotorishima, approximately 1000 miles south of Tokyo. At the time, according to The Guardian, Beijing had already claimed that the island was only made of rocks and attempted to prevent Japan from including Okinotorishima in its exclusive economic zone. A United Nations convention backed this claim, stating that “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own” do not qualify to be included in the zone.

We can only wait to see how the disappearance of Esanbe Hanakita Kojima will affect Japan’s exclusive economic zone, and, further, the island country’s relations with China and Russia.


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