An annual ceremony was held in western Japan on Thursday to reinforce the country's claim to a group of South Korea-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan, a long-standing sticking point in bilateral ties that have recently been improving.

Shimane Gov. Tatsuya Maruyama and Shojiro Hiranuma, a Cabinet Office parliamentary vice minister, attended the commemoration day event organized by the prefectural government for the islets, which are called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

The Shimane government designated Feb. 22 as Takeshima Day in 2005, a century after a Cabinet decision was issued placing them under the prefecture's jurisdiction, and the event commemorating that decision has been organized for the past 19 years.

The local government has repeatedly asked the central government to dispatch a higher ranking official to the event, but this year's ceremony once again saw a Cabinet Office parliamentary vice minister attend.

The islets, covering a total land area of 0.2 square kilometer and located northwest of Shimane Prefecture's coast, consist of volcanic rock with little vegetation or drinking water. But they are located in rich fishing grounds.

South Korea has stationed security personnel on the islets, located roughly 200 kilometers from either country, since 1954 and taken effective control of them.

Bilateral relations, which had deteriorated in the late 2010s and early 2020s to their worst state level in decades, have seen notable signs of improvement since South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in May 2022.

Although disputes stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and the territorial issue linger, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Yoon have sought to deepen ties between their nations and with their key ally, the United States, to tackle common challenges, especially a nuclear-armed North Korea.