SENKAKU, ISLANDS OKINAWA PREF. – It took 10 sleepless hours aboard cramped boats, but as the Senkaku Islands drift into view, backlit by a rising sun, excitement sweeps through Japanese nationalists on board.
Puffed up by pride and flying flags, their 20-strong flotilla had sailed through the night from far southwestern Ishigaki to this outpost archipelago, where waters teem with fish and the seabed is believed rich in minerals.
This, they say, is definitely Japan. And they are here to prove it by raising the national flag.
For them, the humiliation of the landing carried out Wednesday by activists loyal to China was keenly felt: The Aug. 15 date was no coincidence — it was the 67th anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender.
“This is undoubtedly Japanese territory,” Eiji Kosaka said after he and other nationalists swam to the island to raise the Hinomaru. “On the mountain we found (the ruins of) Japanese-style houses that had places for drying fish.”
Kosaka, a local politician from Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward, was clearly excited at having set foot on rocky and uninhabited Uotsuri, the biggest islet in the chain Beijing calls Diaoyu and claims as its own.
The flotilla arrived as the sun was rising over a sea almost as still as a millpond. The craggy rocks and dense vegetation of the island were silhouetted against the pale blue, cloudless sky of dawn.
Kosaka, wearing a blue uniform and cap redolent of the Japanese military, clung to the boat’s railing and pointed excitedly at the islands.
Tokyo had told them not to go ashore, unwilling to provoke China’s ire again on an issue that is a perpetual sore point in diplomatic relations.
But after the pro-Beijing group’s audacious landing Wednesday, when they paraded Chinese and Taiwanese flags, no one was going to stop them.
Satoru Mizushima, president of Gambare Nippon (Hang In There Japan), took the lead, jumping into the water and swimming to shore with a rope to help his fellow rightwingers follow.
The two Japan Coast Guard ships nearby repeatedly broadcast demands to leave the island, but without the authority to arrest on land they were powerless.
Around 10 members of the group scrambled over rocks, draped in the national flag, and disappeared into the thick undergrowth.
They had wanted to reach the island’s summit, but settled instead for planting their flags on the hillside and on shore.
“These islands are ours. Japan’s future is at stake,” Kanagawa politician Kenichi Kojima said ahead of the landing.
Coast guard officers eventually boarded some of the vessels moored to make a pontoon. They questioned those they found there, but no one was arrested.
Five hours after they arrived, with the island adventurers safely back on board, the flotilla weighed anchor and set off for port.
An exultant Kosaka beamed widely. “This trip was a great success,” he said.