In the hope of making progress in a long-standing bilateral territorial dispute with Russia, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited the spirit of hikiwake, a martial arts term for a draw or tie, in his previous talks with President Vladimir Putin in November, a diplomatic source said Tuesday.
The term, which is used in judo, was originally mentioned by Putin, a judoka himself, in an interview with foreign media in March 2012, apparently showing his readiness to settle the dispute involving Russian-administered islands off Hokkaido.
In the talks, held on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in the Turkish resort of Antalya, Putin apparently took Abe’s remark positively and invited him to visit a city in Russia for their meeting, according to the source.
Japanese sources had earlier said Abe plans to visit Russia next spring in response to Putin’s invitation, aiming to search for a breakthrough over the dispute that has prevented the two nations from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.
Abe also apparently hopes his trip to Russia next spring will pave the way for Putin’s visit to Japan in the first half of next year after the Russian leader’s visit to Japan this year was effectively shelved, the source said.
The dispute involves Japan’s claim to four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido — Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan as well as the Habomai islets. The islands were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945.
In the November talks, Abe was quoted by the diplomatic source as telling Putin, “Vladimir, you must have previously mentioned hikiwake,” while pointing to the necessity for both sides to search for a compromise in resolving the territorial dispute.
Putin said in response, “You are trying to earn an ippon,” referring to a martial arts term meaning a winning point, and added, “It’s difficult to visit Japan now. How about meeting in a Russian city,” according to the source.
In the territorial dispute, Japan is seeking recognition of its ownership of the four islands while trying to stay flexible about how and when they are returned.
The Soviet Union’s 1956 joint statement with Japan states that it agrees to return Shikotan and Habomai following the conclusion of a peace treaty.
Abe and Putin agreed in their summit in April 2013 “to work out a solution acceptable to both sides” over the territorial dispute.
But negotiations have stalled amid Moscow’s opposition to Tokyo’s imposition of economic sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March last year.