Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Sept. 5 that a planned grave visit to Etorofu Island in Japan’s Northern Territories by former residents on Sept. 10-13 was canceled, explaining that the Hokkaido government decided to call off the tour due to insufficient coordination with the Russian side. “Given the sentiment of former island residents, it is extremely regrettable,” he said.
The grave visit program in the Northern Territories, which was introduced by the Japanese and Russian governments on humanitarian grounds, allows former island residents to visit the Northern Territories about three times a year without visas. From 2017, flight services became available for former residents to visit their family graves. This year they already made a second visit. Suga pointed out that the central government “was informed that coordination is not well underway.” The Japanese side called on the Russian side to realize the visit, but the two sides could not come to terms.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russian side explains that the grave visit this time covers areas where access is restricted. There is an opinion within the Japanese government that a large military drill which Russian plans to carry out from Sept. 11 in the Far East region including the Northern Territories could be a reason. The tour was called off due to non-weather factors for the first time since 2015. Suga stressed that “we will deal with the situation to meet the wishes of former residents.”