Japanese Territory

April 1, 2002

Northern Territories

Northern Territories Issue Q&A

  • Q1What is the government’s basic position on the Northern Territories issue?
  • A1
    • The Japanese government has firmly maintained a consistent policy to conclude a peace treaty as soon as possible through the resolution of the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands (Etorofu Island, Kunashiri Island, Shikotan Island and the Habomai Islands), inherent part of the territory of Japan. If the attribution of the Northern Territories to Japan is confirmed, Japan is prepared to respond flexibly to the timing and manner of their actual return.
  • Q2What are the grounds that the Northern Territories are "an inherent part of the territory" of Japan?
  • A2
    • The Northern Territories are an inherent part of the territory of Japan that have never been held by foreign countries. Japan and Russia established their mutual border between Etorofu Island and Uruppu Island under the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation between Japan and Russia signed on February 7, 1855. Subsequently, in Treaty for the Exchange of Sakhalin for the Kurile Islands (1875), Japan ceded the rights and the titles to all of Sakhalin to Russia in exchange for the cession by Russia of the Kurile Islands (the 18 islands stretching from Shumshu to Uruppu) to Japan.
    • At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 9, 1945, ignoring the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact that was still in force, and started invasion of the Kurile Islands on August 18 after Japan had accepted the Potsdam Declaration, and then occupied all of the Northern Territories from August 28 to September 5, unilaterally "incorporating" them into the Soviet Union. In the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty Japan renounced all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands, but the Four Northern Islands have never been included among the Kurile Islands. Furthermore, the Soviet Union refused to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
  • Q3What became of the Japanese living in the Northern Territories at the end of World War II?
  • A3
    • Prior to the end of World War II, there were approximately 17,000 Japanese living in the Northern Territories, but all of them had been forcibly removed to the Japanese mainland by 1948.
  • Q4What is the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration?
  • A4
    • Because the Soviet Union refused to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan separately undertook peace treaty negotiations with the Soviet Union. In 1956 Japan and the Soviet Union concluded the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, ending the state of war between the two and restoring diplomatic relations. The Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty ratified by the legislatures of both Japan and the Soviet Union.
    • This Declaration states that both countries agreed to continue negotiations on a peace treaty after restoring normal diplomatic relations and that the Soviet Union agreed to hand over the Habomai Islands and Shikotan Island to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty.
  • Q5Why was the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration concluded in 1956 without a peace treaty being signed?
  • A5
    • Japan and the Soviet Union undertook negotiations in 1956 to conclude a peace treaty but, no agreement was reached regarding the issue of the attribution of Kunashiri Island and Etorofu Island, on whose return Japan has consistently insisted. Both countries decided to restore diplomatic relations by the conclusion of the Joint Declaration and continue negotiations on a peace treaty, leaving the resolution of the territorial issue for the future.
  • Q6Is the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration still valid?
  • A6
    • The Declaration has, of course, remained legally valid from 1956 to the present. When Japan concluded the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the US in 1960, the Soviet Union unilaterally imposed a new condition on the handover of the Habomai islands and Shikotan Island, which was agreed upon in the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, that all foreign military forces be withdrawn from the Japanese territory. For a considerable time thereafter, the Soviet Union took the position that the territorial issue had already been resolved.
    • However, as the Cold War drew to a close, Russia acknowledged the existence of the territorial issue and again confirmed that the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration remained valid between Japan and Russia. In September 2000, when President Putin visited Japan, President Putin stated at a summit meeting that he considered the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration to be valid. In the Irkutsk Statement of March 2001 it was confirmed that the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration is a fundamental legal document that served as the starting point for negotiations between the two countries on concluding a peace treaty. In November 2004, both Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin made statements to the effect that Russia, as the same country as the Soviet Union, is obliged to implement the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration.
  • Q7What is the Tokyo Declaration in 1993?
  • A7
    • The Tokyo Declaration is a document signed by the leaders of both Japan and Russia in October 1993 when Russian President Yeltsin visited Japan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This Declaration listed the Four Northern Islands by name, positioned the Northern Territories issue as a matter of attribution, presented clear negotiation guidelines for the resolution of this issue based on the historical and legal facts, the documents to which both countries had agreed as well as the principles of law and justice. Japan and Russia have since then repeatedly confirmed the policy set out in the Tokyo Declaration of concluding a peace treaty through the resolution of the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands.
  • Q8What will happen to the Russians residing in the Northern Territories if the Northern Territories are returned to Japan?
  • A8
    • There are presently about 18,000 Russians residing in the Northern Territories, primarily engaged in the fishery and marine product processing industries. In resolving the territorial issue, Japan intends to duly respect the rights, interests and wishes of the current Russian residents in the Northern Territories. On this point, even the preamble to the "Joint Compendium of Documents on the History of the Territorial Issue between Japan and Russia" (see Q10) prepared jointly by the foreign ministries of Japan and Russia notes that, in resolving the territorial issue, "the Japanese government has made clear its intent to duly respect the rights, interests and wishes of the current Russian residents on these islands".
  • Q9Are visits to the Northern Territories, exchanges with people living in the Northern Territories, etc., currently being arranged?
  • A9
    • The government has requested Japanese people not to enter the Northern Territories which are illegally occupied by Russia, including complying with Russia’s "entry and exit procedures", but as exceptions, visits, exchanges, and the like are conducted under the following four frameworks set up between Japan and Russia.
      1. Visits to graves

        Visits to graves in the Northern Territories have been conducted for former island residents and their family members since 1964, and a total of 4,851 persons had visited as of the end of 2020.

      2. Four-Island exchange program

        Mutual visits between Japanese citizens and residents of the Northern Territories have been arranged since April 1992 to promote mutual understanding and contribute to the settlement of the territorial issue, and a total of 24,488 persons had participated in these visits as of the end of 2020.

      3. Free visits

        Visits have been conducted since September 1999 for former island residents and their family members to visit their former residences, etc., in the Northern Territories, and a total of 5,231 persons had participated in these visits as of the end of 2020.

      4. Humanitarian assistance

        Humanitarian assistance has been provided to Russian residents of the Northern Territories in genuine need, e.g., accepting patients from the Four Northern Islands.

  • Q10Have Japan and Russia compiled any documentation on the Northern Territories issue?
  • A10
    • In September 1992, the Japanese and Russian foreign ministries compiled objective facts on the Northern Territories issue in the "Joint Compendium of Documents on the History of the Territorial Issue between Japan and Russia" that is being used in both Japan and Russia to disseminate accurate information on the territorial issue. A new edition was issued in January 2001.
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