National

Japan to conduct trial tour to Russian-held isles from Wednesday

JIJI

A trial sightseeing tour to two of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido at the center of a decadeslong territorial row between Tokyo and Moscow will take place between Wednesday and Oct. 16, the Japanese government has said.

Around 50 Japanese nationals will participate in the tour, which is part of Japan-Russia joint economic activities on the disputed islands, according to the announcement Monday by the Foreign Ministry and the Japan Tourism Agency.

Attendees will include members of the public, who made bookings through travel agencies, and officials of the Foreign Ministry, the announcement said.

The four islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan, are the Habomai islets, Shikotan, Kunashiri and Etorofu.

After touring locations including Nemuro in Hokkaido, the participants will visit Kunashiri from Friday to Sunday and Etorofu from Oct. 14 to 15. Locations on the two islands that are on the tour route include a volcano and the graves of Japanese nationals who died there.

The tour, which will make use of an existing visa-free travel system, was agreed at a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in June. It will be the first opportunity for Japanese nationals to visit any of the disputed islands for sightseeing without a visa from Russia, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Through the trial tour, the Japanese government hopes to identify any difficulties as it prepares to conduct a full-scale sightseeing tour to the islands, expected to be held in the spring of next year at the earliest.

The Japanese and Russian governments face difficulties in making arrangements for the full-scale tour that do not infringe upon the two nations’ respective legal positions on the territorial dispute.

The islands were seized from Japan by the former Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The territorial dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a peace treaty to formally end wartime hostilities.

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