TOKYO, September 25. /TASS/. Japan’s government believes that visa-free travel to the Southern Kuril Islands made on September 23-24 by their former residents and people who accompanied them helped deepen mutual understanding between the two nations, a spokeswoman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry told TASS today.
"This was a special trip to visit the tombs of (our) ancestors," she said. "We believe that its organization had a special importance from the perspective of deeper mutual understanding between the peoples of Japan and Russia. The trip came as a result of the talks between the leaders of our countries held last December, as well as this past April and July."
"We failed to make this pilgrimage in one day, as was initially planned, due to bad weather," the spokeswoman continued. "But if a vessel had been used instead of a plane, as before, it would have taken three hours just to reach Kunashir Island and almost 10 hours to reach Iturup Island. Now, we managed to shorten travel time which decreased physical exertion for the island’s former residents and left the door open for further visits. This is important: We would like to use our current experience to work to improve the quality of such trips."
"Japan’s government plans to continue making every effort to ink a peace treaty with Russia while considering the opinion of the former island residents," the official said.
On Saturday morning, a group of 68 Japanese people, including former residents of the Kuril Islands and their relatives, flew from Nakashibetsu Airport, Hokkaido. Having made a stopover in Kunashir to land part of the delegation there, the plane set off for Iturup Island, but failed to stop in Kunashir on its way back to take part of the delegation on board due to bad weather and had to return to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport. So, the Japanese delegation, split up into two groups, and spent the night in Russia. Here the issue of possibly upgrading the Yuzhno-Kurilsk Mendeleyevo Airport to operate under severe weather conditions was brought up.
The flight was to take place in June, but its arrival to the airport was rescheduled for September due to bad weather. An agreement on visa-free travel was reached during a meeting between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin that took place on April 27 in Moscow. In July, the two countries’ leaders agreed in Hamburg to organize a flight in September