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Everybody knows the old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but the Japanese seems to really take it to heart. Japan has a lot of strange, unique needs, and out of those needs come cool, unusual inventions.

One of Japan’s biggest needs has been space. Japan is a pretty small country with a lot of mountains and a ton of people. These factors together sometimes limit what Japan can do with what land it has.

So what do the Japanese do? They make more space by creating artificial, man-made islands. Unlike the crazy extravagant artificial islands of Dubai, most of Japan’s man-made islands are actually quite functional.

Before I go any further, I know that you have a serious, burning question you need to ask. Fortunately, our friends over at Ask.com have answered it for us:

Is Japan a man made island?

Dejima【出島】

Surprisingly, Japanese artificial islands have been around for hundreds of years. You’d expect that artificial islands would require giant diggers, barges, and other mechanized monstrosities, but people still somehow managed to make man-made islands in the days before the industrial revolution.

Take Dejima, for example. Created in the 1600s Dejima, located in Nagasaki, was one of Japan’s first artificial islands.

Way back in the day when Japan was more than a little distrustful of foreigners, they kept interaction with the outside world at the absolute bare minimum. Trade and visitation were severely limited to everybody outside of Japan for about 200 years.

Dejima

Artist’s depiction of Dejima around the 1800s

Those foreigners who were allowed to come to Japan were kept at arm’s length. The shogunate wanted one dedicated place where foreigners could trade in Japan, and decided to create Dejima to be that place.

You know the kid who was always picked last for kickball in school? Dejima is like that times a million. The Japanese think that you’re so icky that they built an island just so they don’t have to deal with you?

That’s cold.

No gaijin allowed

Artist’s depiction of Tokugawa Japan

Eventually, Japan got over its whole fear of foreigners, and there wasn’t really a need for Dejima anymore. Nagasaki grew, caught up with Dejima, and eventually absorbed it into the city.

Nowadays, Dejima has been lost within Nagasaki; but the Japanese government has declared Dejima historical site and are working on figuring out its exact location in Dejima and restoring it to its original state.

Odaiba【お台場】

Odaiba, like Dejima, is an artificial island that was built because of scary, scary foreigners. After Commodore Perry rolled up on Japan and told the Japanese to come out of isolation or else, the shogunate decided to prepare for the worst. A series of gun batteries were built in Tokyo Bay to defend the city from any potential attacks.

Fuji Television buildingThe attack from the outside never came, and the islands fell into disuse until the 20th century. Local government gradually repurposed and built upon these islands, transforming them from old, unused gun batteries into places where people live, work, and play.

Odaiba Statue of LibertySince Odaiba has sprung to life, it’s gained its own character. Odaiba houses the iconic Fuji Television building, and has a bunch of tourist attractions. A miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty overlooks Tokyo Tower, and a giant Gundam has attracted flocks of otaku to Odaiba for over two years.

A Gundam isn’t quite what the shogunate had in mind when they built Odaiba to house weapons, but hey, it’ll do.

Gundam replica in Odaiba

Kansai Airport【関西国際空港】

As impressive as artificial islands like Dejima and Odaiba are, they pale in comparison to Kansai International Airport (KIX). The construction of KIX is an engineering marvel built at the peak of the Japanese economic powerhouse of the mid 20th century.

Aerial view of Kansai AirportThe city of Osaka wanted a first-class international airport, but couldn’t make it happen by conventional means. Osaka didn’t have the space, and building an airport in the middle of the city would have caused a ton of noise pollution and myriad safety issues.

So what did Osaka do? It built an island.

Construction started in the late 80s and, through years of work, tons and tons of landfill, and $20 billion, Kansai Airport opened in 1994. Its creation wasn’t without problems, though.

Airplane landing at Kansai International AirportKansai Airport’s designers grappled with the problem of sinking. Even after you’ve created a man-made island, you still have to deal with the island sinking into the soft ground below it. Designers have dealt with this problem by adding more material into the island and fitting the buildings with hydraulic lifts to keep them level and elevated.

And, believe it or not, KIX has held up pretty well. It’s weathered typhoons and earthquakes, including the devastating 1995 Hanshin Earthquake.

[hr]

There are plenty more fake islands in Japan, but these are the ones that seemed most significant to me. Did I miss any? Which is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

[Header image source]

  • Dharma

    To me it looks like all of Japan’s fake islands were made because of gaijins

  • http://espo.in/ Jonas

    Odaiba is definitely my favorite. Lots of fun stuff to do there and the view is superb. Taking a boat ride to Odaiba is something everyone should do!^^

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I love Dejima! If you ever have the chance to go there, definitely visit! Nagasaki in general is really nice.
    Personally I seem to like the parts of Japan that came into touch with foreigners early on.

    Back to the topic, I’m surprised that I’ve been to all the ones you’ve mentioned!
    There are more, though! And I’m sure more will come in the future as it’s really something Japan needs!

    As for islands (man made or not) I found Gunkanjima and Tashirojima very interesting.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    After seeing Gakuranman’s pictures from Gunkanjima, I really want to go!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Odaiba looks like a cool place to visit! I’ve been there before but was too young to remember anything :(

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Well, mostly :p

  • じょじざ じゃてく

    I just learned something new :D
    Japanese defiantly know how to think out of the box!
    Also…Whats with the new profile picture hashi…It totally suites you xD

  • じょじざ じゃてく

    Damn…My name is still not right…

  • Natsu

     Same! It is a nice place to go to, especially on a date. From what I remember, a good view of Rainbow bridge, indoor shopping with nice ceilings and a massive water fountain, big wheel, statue of liberty replica. Would definitely go there again. Think Fuji TV is located there too.

  • Jateku

    That is really interesting! 
    Now the Japanese are building islands…Whats next? A cat island?
    You: They already did that… 
    Me: o_O

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    So… How much longer until a really wealthy Japanese person builds their own private island? Seems like something that could happen.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Inevitably, there will be an island for every animal. Just let me know when puppy island is finished.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    That sounds like the birth of a supervillain

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    What happens when they’re no longer puppies??? D: D: D:

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

     I know, right?
    I went earlier this year. It was awesome. Have yet to write a blog post about it, though.

  • Kiriain

     I now know where the next coming of Batman will be at.

  • Kiriain

     I would hate having to land on Kansai Airport. What if the pilot falls asleep at the wheel, or somehow messes up and we land in the water?

  • Jateku

    Puppy island…Sounds good to me!:D

  • Jateku

    Mutt island?
    Wait..we are talking about japan…That would just modify the puppy’s to stay puppy’s…FOREVER…You know they would! xD

  • ジョサイア

    OMG puppy island that would be so かわいい I would totally 好き it!
    Excuse my annoying Japanese learner impression。

  • ジョサイア

    OMG puppy island that would be so かわいい I would totally 好き it!
    Excuse my annoying Japanese learner impression。 

  • ですこ

    Hey, 好き isn’t a verb!

  • http://x-stei.tumblr.com/ x_stei

    Very cool and informative post!

  • Brian

    The post-modern author David Mitchell recently released an amazing historic-fiction novel chronicling the life of one Dutch Jacob De Zoet on and around the island of Dejima in the late 18th century in his book “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.”

    Great post btwz!

  • Gentlementleman

    I like the NY/Odaiba comparison. XD

  • ジョサイア

    I know, that’s the irony of it!
    It is a verb if you add する.

  • ジョサイア

    Also, I was trying to impersonate one of those people koichi is always making fun of…”The passive learners”

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Americans probably would’ve cut the mountains into giant spiral ziggurat shapes and built on the newly level (or, at least, much less steep than previously) places.  But hey, whatever works.

  • Andy_Meg

    In the film “Pikanchi Life is Hard Dakara Happy” starred by Arashi boy band`s members, the main characters live in one of those fake islands and going into the “real” Japan is seen almost as traveling to a foreign country… hehehe… kind of funny XD!.

  • Jim

    How would a pilot “falls asleep at the wheel”? If I’m going in for a landing, I’d probably be wide awake.

    … That is, unless a ninja shot me with a tranquilizer dart.

  • awesomemvs

    Odaiba is where Digimon Adventure takes place!!!11

  • SukiXrose

    If anyone is interested in a bit about the history of dejima, there’s a really good book called “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” set there, by David Mitchell (I think). I really enjoyed it :)

  • SukiXrose

    Economics jokes anybody?

    SWISS CORPORATION:  You have 5000 cows, none of which belong to you. You charge others for storing them. 
    AN ITALIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You break for lunch.
    A FRENCH CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You go on strike because you want three cows.
    A JAPANESE CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create clever cow cartoon images called Cowkimon and market them World-Wide.A GERMAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You reengineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.