Memorials held at sea set to replace canceled visits to Northern Territories

The Japanese government is planning to have the former residents of four Russian-controlled islands hold memorials at sea, as visits to the islands have been canceled, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Japan claims the four islands, which it calls the Northern Territories. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan's territory. It says the islands were illegally occupied after World War Two.

Former residents of the Japanese islands had been allowed to make regular visits to the graves of their ancestors. The visits were part of a mutual exchange program. But the program was canceled for two years, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Visits were expected to resume this year, but then the invasion occurred.

Last week, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio suggested that the government was mulling the creation of an alternative program. He told Hokkaido Governor Suzuki Naomichi that something has to be done for the former island residents who are elderly.

On Tuesday, Cabinet Office State Minister Kikawada Hitoshi told a Diet committee that relevant groups are making arrangements, so that maritime memorials can be held. He said they are arranging to have a ship used by the former islanders make about 10 trips starting in late July.

Kikawada added that the government will work with the groups and offer any support that is needed.