Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Japan's Islands off Islands

Sakurajima, active volcano off Kagoshima, Southern Japan, March 2013
The winter is setting in, and won't budge for another four or five months: it's time to think about travel to warmer places like Southern Japan.

One theme of my next visit to Japan is "Islands off Islands."

Japan is an archipelago consisting of thousands of islands. Four are considered the main islands:  Honshu (over 80% of the population), Kyushu (about 10% of the population), Shikoku, and Hokkaido. These islands are connected by tunnels and bridges, including (for now) the world's longest rail tunnel.

In the Seikan tunnel connecting Honshu and Hokkaido, April 2013
I've even walked between two of the islands (Kyushu and Honshu) in an undersea tunnel.

Jogger on a rainy day under the Kanmon Straits, March 2013
It's impossible to give an exact count of Japan's islands that stands the test of time.
Islands stop being islands. The volcano Sakurajima was on an island until recently. A major eruption in 1914 created a land bridge to the mainland (Kyushu). I got there by ferry in March 2013, then spent a day hiking this active volcano.
Ownership of some islands is in dispute with Russia, China (PRC and ROC), and Korea (North and South). These islands are generally unpopulated, and off-limits to visitors.
Ownership changes hands over the years. Sakhalin, to the north of Hokkaido has been completely Russian since the end of the Second World War.  Russia is now planning a rail link to this island, and there is talk of building a tunnel from Hokkaido to Sakhalin. One day, it may be possible to take a train from any of Japan's main islands to Great Britain, itself an island. 
Islands appear and disappear. A new island has formed volcanically in just the last few weeks. New islands have a habit of disappearing, so the authorities are in no rush to give this one a name.
Artifical islands pop up. Dejima (in Nagasaki) was created in 1634 as a trading post with the outside world. Huge international airports, such as Nagoya's Chūbu Centrair International, sit on land dredged from the sea.

The sea will engulf some islands. Five islands will be submerged when sea levels rise by one meter. 
I'm drawing up my shortlist of Japan's islands off islands because I want to explore islands other than the four main ones. Depending on weather and whim, I'll deposit my hiking boots on some of those islands.

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