TOKYO, June 1. /TASS/. On Friday, this year’s first group of 60 Japanese nationals travelled visa-free to Russia’s Iturup Island (part of the Southern Kuril Islands challenged by Japan), the Kyodo news agency reports.
During their trip, they will visit a fish plant, hot springs, as well as the graves of their ancestors in the city of Kurilsk. After that, they are scheduled for different cultural programs with local residents, including origami classes.
According to the head of the delegation, Shigemasa Noguchi, such events help strengthen friendly relations between the Japanese people and the residents of the southern Kuril Islands. This group will stay on Iturup until June 4 and then will return back to Nemuro port on Hokkaido Island.
In mid-May, another group of about 60 Japanese nationals visited Kunashir Island for the first time this year. All in all, nine delegations from Japan will visit the Southern Kuril Islands before the end of October.
These trips are being made on the Etopirika vessel, whose passengers include former residents of these territories, as well as their families, researchers, representatives from public organizations and journalists.
Visa-free exchanges seeking to improve mutual understanding of the two peoples were launched in 1992 based on an intergovernmental agreement. More than 8,000 residents of the Iturup, Kunashir and Shikotan islands have visited Japan since then, and over 18,000 Japanese nationals have traveled to the southern part of the Kuril Islands. Weather conditions limit these visits.
Russia and Japan have been in talks to sign a peace treaty since the mid-20th century. The main stumbling block to achieving this is the ownership issue over the Southern Kuril Islands. After the end of World War II, the Kuril Islands were incorporated into the Soviet Union. However, the ownership of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan Islands and the Habomai Islands is being challenged by Japan. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has stated many times that Russia’s sovereignty over the islands is beyond doubt. In 1956, the Soviet Union and Japan signed a joint declaration on ending the state of war, but no peace treaty has been signed so far.