KURILES (Jap. Chishima, " thousand islands "), a chain of small islands belonging to Japan, stretching in a north-easterly direction from Nemuro Bay, on the extreme east of the island of Yezo, to Chishima-kaikyo (Kuriles Strait), which separates them from the southernmost point of Kamchatka. They extend from 44 45' to 50 56' N. and from 145 25' to 156 32' E. Their coasts measure 1496 m.; their area is 6159 sq. m.; their total number is 32, and the names of the eight principal islands, counting from the south, are Kunashiri, Shikotan, Etorofu (generally called Etorop, and known formerly to Europe as Staten Island), Urup, Simusir, Onnekotan, Paramoshiri (Paramusir) and Shumshiri. From Noshapzaki (Notsu-no-sake or Notsu Cape), the most easterly point of Nemuro province, to Tomari, the most westerly point in Kunashiri, the distance is 7$ m., and the Kuriles Strait separating Shumshiri from Kamchatka is about the same width. The name " Kurile " is derived from the Russian kurit (to smoke), in allusion to the active volcanic character of the group. The dense fogs that envelop these islands, and the violence of the currents in their vicinity, have greatly hindered exploration, so that little is known of their physiography. They lie entangled in a vast net of sea-weed; are the resort of innumerable birds, and used to be largely frequented by seals and sea-otters, which, however, have been almost completely driven away by unregulated hunting. Near the sou th-eastern coast.of Kunashiri stands a mountain called Rausunobori (3005 ft. high), round whose base sulphur bubbles up in large quantities, and hot springs as well as a hot stream are found. On the west coast of the same island is a boiling lake, called Ponto, which deposits on its bed and round its shores black sand, consisting almost entirely of pure sulphur. This island has several lofty peaks; Ponnobori-yama near the eastcoast, and Chachanobori and Rurindake in the north. Chachanobori (about 7382 ft.) is described by Messrs Chamberlain and Mason as " a cone within a cone, the inner and higher of the two being so the natives say surrounded by a lake." The island has extensive forests of conifers with an undergrowth of ferns and flowering plants, and bears are numerous. The chief port of Kunashiri is Tomari, on thesouth coast. The island of Shikotan is remarkable for the growth of a species of bamboo (called Shikotan-chiku) , having dark brown spots on the cane. Etorofu has a coast-line broken by deep bays, of which the principal are Naibo-wan, Rubetsu-wan and Bettobuwan on the northern shore and Shitokap-wan on the southern. It is covered almost completely with dense forest, and has anumberof streams abounding with salmon. Shana, the chief port, is in Rubetsu Bay. This island, the principal of the group, is divided into four provinces for administrative purposes, namely, Etorofu, Furubetsu, Shana and Shibetoro. Its mountains are Atosha-nobori (4035 ft.) in Etorofu; Chiripnupari (5009 ft.) in Shana; and Mokoro-nobori (3930 ft.) and Atuiyadake (3932 ft.) in Shibetoro. Among the other islands three only call fornoticeonaccountof their altitudes, namely, Ketoi-jima, Rashua-jima and Matua-jima, which rise to heights of 3944, 3304 and 5240 ft. respectively.
Population. Not much is known about the aborigines. By some authorities Ainu colonists are supposed to have been the first settlers, and to have arrived there via Yezo; by others, the earliest comers are believed to have been a hyperborean tribe travelling southwards by way of Kamchatka. The islands themselves have not been sufficiently explored to determine whether they furnish any ethnological evidences. The present population aggregates about 4400, or 0-7 per sq. m., of whom about 600 are Ainu (q.v.). There is little disposition to emigrate thither from Japan proper, the number of settlers being less than 100 annually.
History. The Kurile Islands were discovered in 1634 by the Dutch navigator Martin de Vries. The three southern islands, Kunashiri, Etorofu, and Shikotan, are believed to have belonged to Japan from a remote date, but at the beginning of the 1Sth century the Russians, having conquered Kamchatka, found their way to the northern part of the Kuriles in pursuit of fur-bearing animals, with which the islands then abounded. Gradually these encroachments were pushed farther south, simultaneously with aggressions imperilling the Japanese settlements in the southern half of Sakhalin. Japan's occupation was far from effective in either region, and in 1875 she was not unwilling to conclude a convention by which she agreed to withdraw altogether from Sakhalin provided that Russia withdrew from the Kuriles.
An officer of the Japanese navy, Lieut. Gunji, left Tokyo with about forty comrades in 1892, his intention being to form a settlement on Shumshiri, the most northerly of the Kurile Islands. They embarked in open boats, and for that reason, as well as because they were going to constitute themselves their country's extreme outpost, the enterprise attracted public enthusiasm. After a long struggle the immigrants became fairly prosperous.
See Capt. H. J. Snow, Notes on the Kurile Islands (London, 1896).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)