First visitation flight to disputed isles off Hokkaido canceled over poor weather

by

Staff Writer

Two days of bad weather forced the cancellation Monday of what was to have been the first chartered flight by former residents to visit Kunashiri and Etorofu, two of the four Russia-held islands off northeastern Hokkaido claimed by Japan.

About 70 people, including government officials and relatives of the former residents, had been scheduled to make a one-day trip Sunday on a chartered flight from Russia to visit family graves. The initial flight was postponed due to bad weather and rescheduled for early Monday.

But with Russian pilots saying that visibility over Kunashiri at one point was less than 10 meters due to fog and mist, and the Japanese government reporting that the minimum visibility requirement of 1,500 meters could not be confirmed in the area, it was decided late Monday morning to scrap the flight

The trip had been agreed to by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin in April.

“It’s extremely regrettable that bad weather forced the cancellation of the trip two days in a row. Many former residents are elderly and there are few chances to visit their family gravesites,” said Tadaaki Iwasaki, who headed the delegation of former residents.

Vice Foreign Minister Nobuo Kishi, who also happens to be Abe’s brother, told reporters that the government is not giving up on visiting the islands by air.

“We want to arrange another charter flight during the current year, if possible,” Kishi said.

Charter flights had long been requested by the former residents, who hoped flying there would be easier than ship visits, which can be canceled at the last minute due to adverse weather conditions in eastern Hokkaido or the disputed islands, wasting months of advance preparations.