Archive for the 'Japan' Category

Hashima: once the world’s most densely populated island

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Google Sightseeing notes an interesting island off western Kyushu, Japan.

Hashima is small (6 hectare / 15 acres), and was owned by a coal mining company, which housed the miners on the island. Writes Google Sightseeing:

When space for the workers began to run out, they built Japan’s first large scale reinforced concrete apartment block on the island in 1916. More concrete tower blocks followed, and by 1959 the population of Hashima reached its peak of 5,259 — an astonishing 1,391 people per 10,000 square metres within the residential district — which is said to be the highest population density ever recorded in the world.

That would indeed be the most densely populated island known: 227,000 people per square mile, or 88,000 per sq km, surpassing the current record holder, Ap Lei Chau, which houses 160,000 per sq mi / 60,000 per sq km. This is all the more impressive given that Hashima was not connected to mainland Japan by bridge.

The island is now evidently deserted.

Japan hopes to grow island

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

To firm up the definition of Okinotorishima as an island — and thereby insure rights to a large economic zone in the Pacific — Japan is planning to seed corals on the reef in hopes that the island might grow. The island is now almost wholly covered at high tide.

Overall, the Japanese case is weak, though the government argues otherwise. According the the UPI article,

Last year Shintaro Ishihara, the nationalist Governor of [Tokyo], was photographed kissing its dwindling earth. The problem is Article 121 of Part VIII of the UN Convention: “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” Even Mr Ishihara would balk at living on Okino-Torishima, although there is talk of setting up an electricity plant to establish “economic life”.

(Perhaps the Japanese have heard this Malay saying: “Where good seed falls into the sea, one day an island may appear.”)

Translations lost at sea

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

The Tokdo (Dokdo) / Takeshima dispute between Japan and Korea is heating up again, and could lead to a particularly stupid war.

On a blog, an angry poster listing Japan’s historical offenses against Korea leveled this curious accusation: “The Japs has made the land to be officially named ‘Half Island’ instead of ‘Peninsula’. Kingdom of Forgery!”

“Hanto” is Japanese for “peninsula,” and means “half-island” in English. That is of course the same meaning as “peninsula,” which is Latin for “almost island.”

The oddest part of this complaint is that in Korean the Koreas occupy a “bando.” What does this mean? An American university notes that “the Korean term for peninsula (bando) means literally ‘half-island.'”

(“Half-” or “semi-island” is the term for peninsula in many languages. Perceiving a protuberance of land this way does not seem self-evident, and I wonder what peninsulas are called by peoples for whom islands were the center of things, not isolated fragments, for instance in the Pacific?)

Dok-to / Takeshima

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

Two Korean senior citizens will resume their existence as the sole civilians on the disputed group of islets in the Sea of Japan after a 10 year absence. A poet is supposed to join them in the spring.

The practice of sending someone to live on disputed small islands is partially an assertion of their island status: an attempt to prove that they are places rather than things, islands not rocks.

Island or rock? Sometimes it matters

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

When it comes to Okinotorishima, “Tokyo claims the parts above sea are islands, Beijing prefers to think of them as mere rocks.” Whose definition prevails could determine whether Japan has exclusive rights over thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean.