Tokyo writer makes isle political gesture

by Kanako Takahara

Fuyuko Kamisaka, 74, a nonfiction writer and critic on Japan’s postwar history, was born in Tokyo and lived here most of her life.

But her family register is now on a small village on an island off northeastern Hokkaido where she has never lived — Kunashiri, one of four Russian-held islands that Japan wants returned.

The author of “Hopporyodo Joriku-ki” (“A Record of Landing on the Northern Territories”), Kamisaka transferred her family registration, on paper only, to Kunashiri in January.

A special law enacted in 1982 allows the mayor of Nemuro, eastern Hokkaido, to deal with family registrations on the Russian-held islands, enabling Japanese to move their registration to the islands even though Japan currently has no sovereignty over them. The registrations are not physically on the islands and the islands are not involved in the process.

She learned of the law when she researched her 2003 book, which depicts her experience of visiting the Russian-held islands and the history of the territorial row.

She decided to make use of the law when she was asked to make a speech in February at a government-sponsored rally campaigning for the return of the islands.

She decided to transfer her family registration from Tokyo to Kunashiri’s Tomari village, known as Golovnino in Russia, because she wanted to make an impact during her three-minute speech.

After she contacted the Nemuro office, the procedures were completed in three days in January, she says.

As of Sept. 1, 90 Japanese have established their family registration on the Russian-held islands in an apparent demonstration that the territories belong to Japan. Only a small number are Japanese former residents of the islands, according to the Nemuro office.

Kamisaka herself was no expert on the dispute until early 2002, when she began to take an interest in it amid the scandal surrounding disgraced lawmaker Muneo Suzuki, who was then a Lower House member of the Liberal Democratic Party, and his meddling in government-funded humanitarian aid projects on Kunashiri Island.

“I had been working on postwar history for a long time, but I realized there was also a big postwar issue here,” Kamisaka said.

Today, Kamisaka laments the public ignorance over the territorial row.

When she transferred her family registration, a friend “offered to help me move to” Kunashiri, Kamisaka said. “If I could do that, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

Many Japanese lawmakers also lack detailed knowledge of the dispute, she added.