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Russian Tourist Destinations: The Kuril Islands - Japanese Russia or Russian Japan?
June 28, 2007 11:51

“Thousand islands” – this was the way the first Japanese explorers called the Kuril territories. The archipelago lost in the Pacific Ocean has always lived its own, special, life. The influences of Kamchatka and Japan along with the longstanding traditions keep many mysteries and secrets. The unexplained contrast of natural phenomena, flora and fauna impressing the imagination make the island a unique place. Here it is possible to walk for weeks and yet not to come upon a single person around.

Japan considers the Kuril Islands a Japanese territory illegitimately occupied by the Soviet army. While no one has any doubts that Sakhalin Island belongs to Russia, the islands between Kamchatka and Japan cause many disputes. As a result of the defeat in the Russian-Japan war 1904-1905 Russia lost Southern Sakhalin, and in 1920-1925 Northern Sakhalin was also occupied by Japan. When the Russian diplomats reminded the Japanese that it ran counter to the treaty of 1875 they responded that wars annulled all treaties and as Russia was defeated the situation must be seen in the new perspective.

When in 1945 the USSR broke the non-aggression pact and occupied Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, it was a time for the Japanese to boil over, although not at once. The disputes over the Kuril Islands have even reflected in geographic maps: for instance, Japanese maps happened to distort the real territories of Russia and showed the Kuril Islands as belonging to Japan.

Nevertheless, one of the main advantages of the Kuril Islands being under the Russian protectorate is the absence of civilization on the islands and wide opportunities for extreme tourism. As the islands are mainly used as industrial and military bases, there are no a lot of local dwellers constantly living there. The main tourism directions to develop in the islands are ecological tourism, hunt, fishing, educational and adventure tourism.

The majority of locals call themselves “Russian”, regardless of their real nationality, including Ukrainians who are a considerable part of the islands` population. The original Ukrainians on the Kuril Islands consume less alcohol, work more that Russians, but are more secretive in their habits, which often irritates their Russian neighbours.

Many Kuril citizens know what the roads were like when the islands were populated by Japanese. It is said that if a Japanese man carted and noticed a pit on the road, he stopped and didn’t go on his trip unless he evened the pit, unlike Russians.

Going to the Kuril Islands means to see virgin lands of geysers and volcanoes, to bathe in the health-giving wells, to see the fantastic fumarole fields with thick gas clouds and hot red ground, to visit real mud and water geysers, and a lot more.


Natalya Lavrentyeva

Tags: Russian tourism Russia adventure tours Sakhalin Islands Kuril Islands  

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