TOKYO, May 23. /TASS/. A group of citizens of southern Kuril Islands arrived on Thursday in northern Japan under a visa-free exchange program, authorities of the Nemuro port in the Hokkaido Prefecture said.
The participants include 60 people, mostly pupils and teachers accompanying them. During the trip, which will last until May 28, Russian pupils will have the opportunity to communicate with Japanese children of the same age and visit Kamakura, a city located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, which is famous for cathedrals.
Russia and Japan agreed on the 2019 visa-free travel program in early March. According to the program, former Japanese residents of the southern Kuril Islands and persons accompanying them will make nine visits to the islands, while the islands’ Russian residents will visit Japan six times.
Visa-free travel between Russia’s South Kuril Islands and Japan began in 1992 in accordance with an intergovernmental agreement aimed at improving mutual understanding between the two countries’ people. Japanese citizens qualifying for visa-free trips include former residents of the Kuril Islands, their family members, researchers, members of public organizations and reporters. Over this time, more than 8,000 citizens of Iturup, Kunashir and Shikotan Islands have visited Japan, while over 18,000 Japanese citizens have come to the southern Kuril Islands. The time of these visits depends on weather conditions.
This year’s first trip of former Japanese citizens of southern Kuril Islands to these territories was marred by a scandal. The Japanese group was accompanied by MP Hodaka Maruyama, who publicly urged the delegation to speak in favor of seizing these territories. However, the lawmaker said he wouldn’t want to use the word "war" in that context. Reports said that he was intoxicated at the time. The remarks drew strong condemnation from Japanese lawmakers.
Moscow and Tokyo have been in talks to sign a peace treaty since the mid-20th century. The main stumbling block to achieving this goal is the contention over the ownership of the Southern Kuril Islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan. After the end of World War II, the Kuril Islands were incorporated into the Soviet Union. However, the ownership of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and the Habomai Islands has been challenged by Japan.