Ever since Hiroyuki Kurihara and his family took title to the Senkaku Islands in the 1970s, they have firmly kept to the will of the previous owner: The islets are not to be sold to anyone but the Japanese government or a public organization.

And so for decades the Kurihara family has continued to own four of the five uninhabited rocky islets in the East China Sea, turning down all offers from a number of private corporations.

But the family recently agreed with Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara — a hawkish nationalist who doesn't hide his hostility toward China — to sell three of the islets to the metropolitan government and shake up Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations.