Feb. 7 is Northern Territories Day, the date on which Japan officially campaigns for the return of the Russian-held islands (otherwise known as the Southern Kurils) just off the northeast coast of Hokkaido. Speaking at this year's national rally, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struck a conciliatory tone, avoiding the claim that the islands are "inherent" Japanese territory and omitting any explicit demand for their immediate return. He also stressed the potential for Japanese and Russians to make use of this borderland together.

Although often described as a nationalist, when it comes to policy on Russia, Abe is pragmatic, if not dovish. He has distanced himself from previous administrations' fanciful insistence on the return of "all four islands as a bunch." Instead, he has prioritized maximizing access to the territory for Japanese citizens after all were expelled from the islands following their occupation by the Soviet Union in 1945.

One element of this policy has been to negotiate the start of charter flights to the islands for elderly former residents and their families. The first of these occurred in September and there are expectations for a further flight this year.