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I have found the following sentence in my practising book (only 日本 is written in kanji because it's in one of the first lessons):

日本は しまが 6852 とう あります。

  1. I am guessing that とう is the counter for islands. Is that right?
  2. Can it be written 島 like しま?
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You are correct on both accounts. With the kanji for 島 being used, this sentence would be written as

日本は島が6852島あります。

The first 島 would use the kun reading しま and the second would use the on reading とう.

Source: http://www.benricho.org/kazu/shi.html

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