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Expert: Russian man who swam over from Kunashiri may just be Japan nerd

The Northern Territories negotiations continue to be at a stalemate and no progress made. One issue is the Aug. 19 arrival of an unexpected and uninvited visitor from Kunashiri in Shibetsu Town, Hokkaido. He is a 38-year-old Russian man who said he was seeking asylum.


According to a national newspaper reporter, “The man wore a wet suit used for scuba diving, attached a compass to his abdomen, and crossed the [Nemuro] Strait by floating on his back. The strait is 24 km wide and the water temperature is about 15 degrees Celsius. Authorities are skeptical, saying it would be impossible for someone to do that without special training.”


How the Russian man managed to reach the shores of Hokkaido remains a mystery, but what is troubling the Japanese government is how to handle this man. Granting him asylum as a political refugee would, of course, worsen relations with Russia.


The national newspaper reporter continues: “The most problematic part is that the man came from a ‘territory that is an inherent part of Japan.’ He left Kunashiri Island, which is under the effective control of Russia, and appeared in Shibetsu. From the Japanese perspective, this is ‘domestic relocation’ and does not constitute a case of ‘entry into Japan.’ Even if the man were to be deported, he could not be returned to Kunashiri Island, which is ‘Japan,’ and in the end, the government decided to take the evasive approach of repatriating him to Sakhalin Oblast.”


Is this a Russian strategy to put the Japanese government in a bind?


Takizawa Ichiro, an international affairs specialist, does not see it that way: “This case doesn’t seem to have this kind of intrigue.”


“The man apparently used to work for a Russian telephone company and moved to Kunashiri Island three years ago by utilizing President Putin’s program under which land in the Northern Territories was parceled out free of charge. The man had no noteworthy assets or job. He left a note on the motorcycle he abandoned on the Kunashiri beach, saying ‘Please sell this and send the proceeds to me in Japan.’ He reportedly was deported from Japan after his visa expired during a trip he took 10 years ago. Is he not just a Japan nerd?”


He is certainly a great vagabond.

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