• Kyodo

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Two new island cities born March 1 through municipal administrative mergers aim to use their geographical and historical heritages to attract tourists, and, for one, troops.

One of the new Nagasaki Prefecture cities, Tsushima, incorporated the municipalities on a cluster of islands of the same name close to South Korea.

The other, Iki, on an island 50 km away, is rich in historical sites, including one mentioned in a third century Chinese historical account.

On a clear day from Tsushima, mountains in South Korea can be seen, and the lights of Pusan are visible by night.

Tsushima has played an important cultural, economic and strategic role since ancient times by linking Japan to the Asian continent.

Ferries connect Hitakatsu on the northern tip of Tsushima with Pusan, which is 50 km away and 90 minutes by ship.

More than 10,000 South Koreans visit the islands every year.

In November, the national government designated Tsushima a special zone for promoting exchanges with South Koreans, and simplified short-term visa procedures — South Koreans no longer have to prove they are gainfully employed.

The island hopes to attract South Korean housewives and youths.

To attract more South Koreans, Tsushima is going all-out to develop its tourism resources.

Yoshiki Ueno, 47, set up an eco-tourism company last year to offer kayak trips around Asaji Bay, which has a scenic, jagged coastline.

Shops in the former town of Izuhara, now the center of the city of Tsushima, have begun sporting signs in Korean.

“Without South Koreans, there is no future for Tsushima,” innkeeper Hiroomi Kumamoto said.

Tsushima is also home to various Self-Defense Forces bases.

The Air Self-Defense Force’s radar base on the isle of Uni, in the northern part of the Tsushima islands, is on 24-hour alert.

At the southern end of the chain is a Ground Self-Defense Force post.

The troops number only 350 despite being led by a colonel, a rank usually in command of 1,000 troops or more.

In the 13th century, Mongolian forces under Kublai Khan and Korean invaders landed on Tsushima before twice trying to attack northern Kyushu. In the 16th century, warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi launched conquests of the Korean Peninsula via the islands.

During the Korean War, North Korean forces came close to Pusan, a development that put people on Tsushima on high alert.

“In transactions on the island, bills could not be accepted, and all deals had to be settled in cash,” an executive at a local fishery association recalled as an example of the uneasiness then.

For today’s islanders, the SDF bases are an important source of revenue, buying local materials and equipment, and spending on eating and drinking.

Last summer, the then Izuhara assembly called for more troops. It said in a resolution: “Tsushima is extremely important for the defense of Kyushu. All islanders want the number of troops to be increased.”

Residents of Iki, the newly merged city on the island of the same name in the Genkai sea, are putting their hopes in numerous historical relics.

Most of the ruins on the island, which is 15 km wide from east to west and 17 km from north to south, date from the Yayoi Period (300 B.C. to 300). There are more than 250 burial mounds.

The Harunotsuji remains in the southeastern part of Iki were mentioned as the Iki Kingdom in the 65-volume “History of Three Kingdoms,” which describes the kingdoms of Wei, Wu and Shu and their neighbors in the third century.

Harunotsuji, capital of the Iki Kingdom, has been designated a special historical site.

More than 1 million pieces of earthenware, old coins and other relics unearthed at the Kango (ring trench) remains — Japan’s largest — tell of Iki’s prosperity as a corridor connecting Japan with China and the Korean Peninsula.

In December, Tadashi Nishitani, an archaeology professor emeritus at Kyushu University, and other scholars proposed establishing a prefectural center for buried cultural properties at the Harunotsuji remains to promote tourism on the island.

Nagasaki Gov. Genjiro Kaneko strongly supported the plan.

The project would create a walking course for visitors to the burial mounds, the Mongolian battlefields and Hideyoshi’s invasion staging areas.

The coral reef in Yumoto Bay off Iki is touted as the northernmost coral in the world, though no measures have been taken to protect it. Researchers warn that the coral faces extinction if left unprotected.

Hironori Tochi, an official of the Iki Tourism Association, said, “We would like to protect the coral to utilize it for sightseeing purposes.”

An international seminar on coral will be held in June in the city of Ginowan in Okinawa, and a tour to Iki is planned to see the reef.

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