TOKYO (majirox news) — A few years ago, a Russian photographer made the difficult journey to the Kurils, or the Northern Territories as the Japanese refer to them, to see what the uproar was about, traveling by cargo ship and fishing boat to get there.
The four islands lay to the north of Hokkaido. Japan and Russia claim they belong to them.
“I was surprised,” wrote the unidentified photographer on a blog. “With all the millions and millions of inhabitants in Japan, the Kurils were totally deserted.”
Other than the Russian Coast Guard Station, some fishing facilities and shacks of the few inhabitants of the islands, they were almost devoid of people.
At the end of World Word II, the Russian Army overran the islands, and ever since, the islands have been Russian. At that time, there were several thousand Japanese inhabitants, but most moved to Hokkaido in the aftermath of the war, and fewer than 400 are said to still be alive.
Japan and Russia have disputed ownership of the islands since the war. Russians claim that they are now part of Russia; Japan says that they are Japanese — and always have been — and demand their return. Because Russia has not returned the Northern Territories, Japan has refused to sign a peace treaty with Russia. So, technically Russia and Japan are still at war.
On the island, the Japanese-era City Hall is still in good shape and being used, and is a fine example of the blend of Japanese and Western architecture from the beginning of the 20th century. Here and there are some old Japanese gravestones, seriously disfigured from target practice by the local hunters.
But more than anything, the photographer found nothing, nothing at all. Traveling along the dirt roads of the islands and the shores, he rarely if ever met a soul. Salmon jumped in the streams, and bears ignored him as they fished for the salmon; eagles flew overhead. But of man there was not a solitary sign. The North Territories appear to have been entirely forgotten in Moscow and retain their quiet, green, lonely beauty without a sign of the hand of man anywhere upon them.