The Russo-Japanese Visa-less Exchange Program : Opportunities and Limits

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-133
Journal / PublicationEast Asia
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2003
Externally publishedYes


Cognizant of the rising importance of Russian public opinion as a factor in determining the future ownership of the Northern Territories, Japanese policymakers, despite initial ambivalence in some quarters, adopted a two-track approach to resolving the territorial dispute: cross-cultural exchanges among ordinary citizens in Russia and Japan was intended to supplement state-level diplomacy by promoting mutual understanding between the two peoples. Significant amongst these efforts at grassroots diplomacy is the visa-less exchange program between the former Japanese and current Russian inhabitants of the disputed islands. From a Japanese perspective, the visa-less exchanges have the added goal of capturing the hearts and minds of the Russian islanders, thereby securing their understanding and support for reversion of the Northern Territories to Japan. This paper evaluates the visa-less exchange program's impact on alleviating opposition among South Kuril residents to transferring the islands to Japan. It argues that although endogenous socio-economic factors can largely explain pro-return sentiments on the disputed islands, the visa-less exchanges have also played a role. While the program has, in some cases, had positive results for Japanese irredentism, in other instances, it has also the unintended effect of further stimulating Russian nationalism and consolidating the anti-return vote.