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Japan–Russia relations

Russo-Japanese relations
Map indicating locations of Japan and Russia


Japanese Prime-Minister Shinzō Abe (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meet in Da Nang, Vietnam in November 2017.

Japan–Russia relations (Russian: Российско-японские отношения, Rossiysko-yaponskiye otnosheniya; Japanese: 日露関係史, Nichiro kankeishi) refers to the international relations between Japan and the Russian Federation. Relations between Russia and Japan are the continuation of the relationship of Japan with the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1991, and with the Russian Empire from 1855 to 1917. Historically, the two countries had cordial relations until a clash of territorial ambitions in the Manchuria region of northeastern China led to the Russo–Japanese War in 1904, ending in a Japanese victory which contributed to the weakening of the monarchy in Russia. Japan would later intervene in the Russian Civil War from 1918 until 1922, sending troops to the Russian Far East and Siberia. That was followed by border conflicts between the new Soviet Union and the Empire of Japan throughout the 1930s. The two countries signed a nonaggression pact in 1941, although the Soviet government declared war on Japan anyway in August 1945, invading of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo as well as seizing the Kuril chain of islands just north of Japan. The two countries ended their formal state of war with the Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956, but as of February 2019 have not resolved this territorial dispute over ownership of the Kurils.[1]

A 2018 opinion poll published by the Russian Levada Center shows that 61% of Russians have a favorable view of Japan, with 20% expressing a negative opinion.[2] According to a 2017 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, 64% of Japanese people view Russia unfavorably, compared with 26% who viewed it favorably. People ages 50 and older are much less likely to hold a favorable view of Russia (16%) than those 18 to 29 (53%).[3] Nonetheless, the Japanese government sees Russia as an important partner for security and counterbalancing China and North Korea in the region. Because of this, since the start of the Ukrainian Crisis and the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Japan has continued to engage with Russia in spite of sanctions against the country by Japan's Western allies.[4] The governments of the two countries have taken efforts to increase relations, including Japanese investment in Russia,[5] military cooperation,[1] and organizing a year of cultural exchange between Russia and Japan for 2018.[6]

Country comparison

Japan Japan Russia Russia
Coat of Arms Imperial Seal of Japan.svg Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation.svg
Flag Japan Russia
Population 127,053,000 146,877,000
Area 377,944 km2 (145,925 sq mi) 17,125,191 km2 (6,612,073 sq mi)
Population density 344/km2 (891/sq mi) 8.4/km2 (21.8/sq mi)
Capital Tokyo Moscow
Largest city Tokyo – 13,185,502 (35,682,460 Metro) Moscow – 11,503,501 (17,000,000 Metro)
Government Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy Federal semi-presidential constitutional republic
Inaugural Leaders
Current Leaders
Official languages Japanese Russian
Main religions 83.9% Shintoism, 7.14% Buddhism, 2% Christianity, 7.8% other Orthodox Christianity (42.5%), unaffiliated Christians (4.1%),
other Christians (0.5%), spiritual but not religious (25%),
atheism (13%), Islam (6.5%), Paganisms (1.3%), Buddhism (0.5%),
other religions (1.1%), undeclared (5.5%)
Ethnic groups 98.5% Japanese, 0.5% Korean, 0.4% Chinese, 0.6% other 81.0% Russian, 3.7% Tatar, 1.4% Ukrainian, 1.1% Bashkir,
1.2% Armenian, 1.0% Chuvash, 11.0% others
GDP (nominal) $5.179 trillion, (per capita $44,833) $1.578 trillion, (per capita $10,743)
Expatriate populations 2,137 Japanese-born people live in Russia 8,092 Russian-born people live in Japan
Military expenditures $318.6 billion $359.8 billion


Russian navigator Adam Laxman was sent by Catherine the Great to return Japanese castaway Daikokuya Kōdayū to Japan. Russian diplomat Nikolai Rezanov was commissioned by Alexander I as Russian ambassador to Japan to conclude a commercial treaty, but his efforts were thwarted by the Japanese government.

Tsarist era (1855–1917)

Diplomatic and commercial relations between the two empires were established from 1855 onwards. Japan and Russia participated in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China. Relations were minimal before 1855, mostly friendly from 1855 to the early 1890s, then turned hostile over the status of Korea. The two nations contested control of Manchuria and Korea, leading to Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. [7] Relations were good 1905-1917, as the two countries divided up Manchuria and Outer Mongolia.

Soviet era 1917-1991

Map of Japanese Hokushin-ron plans for a potential attack on the Soviet Union. Dates indicate the year that Japan gained control of the territory.

Relations between the Communist takeover in 1917 and the collapse of Communism in 1991 tended to be hostile. Japan had sent troops to counter the Bolshevik presence in Russia's Far East during the Russian Civil War, but left without any gains. The two were in opposite camps during World War II and the Cold War. In addition, territorial conflicts over the Kuril Islands and South Sakhalin were a constant source of tension. [8]

Strains in Japan–Soviet Union relations have deep historical roots, going back to the competition of the Japanese and Russian empires for dominance in Northeast Asia. The Soviet government refused to sign the 1951 peace treaty and the state of war between the Soviet Union and Japan technically existed until 1956, when it was ended by the Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956. A formal peace treaty still has not been signed. The main stumbling block to improving relations between the Soviet Union and Japan in the post-war period has been the territorial dispute over the Kurils, which are known as the Northern Territories in Japan.[9]

Early post-Soviet era (1991–1999)

By the late 1990s, the Russian leadership began to pivot from West to East, considering improving relations with Japan as part of this effort, and viewed Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's position as an opportunity. President Boris Yeltsin met with Prime Minister Hashimoto in Krasnoyarsk on 1 November 1997, where he proposed to solve the territorial problem with a peace treaty by 2000. Yeltsin also asked Hashimoto to consider financial assistance to Russia to the measure of $3 or $4 billion. Hashimoto also promoted the idea of increasing economic cooperation, which was called the Hashimoto–Yeltsin plan. In mid-April 1998, the Kanawa summit between the two leaders included Hashimoto making a proposal of having the four disputed Kuril islands coming under Japanese sovereignty. Yeltsin made a public statement about it and that he was considering accepting it, which prompted the Russian government and media to unite against this. By the autumn of 1998, the proposal had died after so much opposition in Russia, and Hashimoto was out of office after the July 1998 parliamentary election. Nonetheless about $1.5 billion of the World Bank/IMF loan to Russia came from Japan. A meeting in November 1998 between Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi and Yeltsin in Moscow took place, where Russia proposed to give Japan special status over the islands jointly with Russia as transitory legal regime. The Japanese side was cautious to the proposal and by 1999 there was a stalemate on the territorial question, while the economic initiatives stalled in their implementation.[10]

On July 30, 1998, the newly elected Japanese prime minister Keizō Obuchi had focused on major issues: signing a peace treaty with Russia, and renewing the Japanese economy. However, he died soon afterwards.

Current relations (1999–present)

Vladimir Putin and Junichiro Koizumi in 2003 at the APEC Summit

In March 2014, following Russia's annexation of Crimea, Japan imposed several sanctions against Russia, which included halting consultations on easing the visa regulations between the two countries and suspension of talks on investment cooperation, joint space exploration and prevention of dangerous military activity.[11][12]

On 27 April, 2018, in Moscow was held the fourth Russia-Japan forum dubbed The Points of Convergence, where the sides discussed pressing issues concerning the two countries’ trade and economic relations. Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was the forum's special guest, read out Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's address at the event's opening ceremony. Participants discussed the two countries’ tourism cooperation, investment projects for the Far East and other Russian regions, as well as interaction in the areas of infrastructure, technology and energy industry. [1]

On June 23, 2018, Russia and Japan inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in Russia's Far Eastern Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to expand cooperation between the two countries.[13]

In June 2018, Japan's Princess Hisako Takamado travelled to Russia to cheer on her national team at the FIFA World Cup. She is the first member of the Imperial family to come to Russia since 1916.[14]

In November 2019, Japan’s foreign minister stated that he will visit Russia in December for talks about a formal World War Two peace treaty, in an effort to improve relations.[15]

Kuril Islands dispute

Extreme-right truck confronting the Japanese police near the Russian Embassy on August 9, 2015

Relations between Russia and Japan since the end of World War II have been defined by the dispute over sovereignty of the Kuril Islands and concluding a peace treaty. In the spring of 1992 the Russian General Staff received reports that the Japanese began discussing the possible return of the northern territories. President Boris Yeltsin was considering giving up the Southern Kurils in 1992.[16] Throughout the 1990s, efforts were made to come to some agreement by President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi. One of the goals of the Obuchi was to sign a peace treaty with Russia by 2000, which he did not achieve. He visited Russia in November 1998.[17]

Extreme-right van blasting propaganda about the Kuril Islands (北方領土) in front of a shopping mall

On August 16, 2006, Russian maritime authorities killed a Japanese fisherman and captured a crab fishing boat in the waters around the disputed Kuril Islands. The Russian foreign ministry has claimed that the death was caused by a "stray bullet".[18]

On September 28, 2006, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would "continue the dialogue with the new Japanese government. We will build our relations, how the people of the two countries want them to be. Then-Foreign Minister Taro Aso remained on his post in the government. We have good, long-standing relations, we will act under the elaborated program."[19]

The dispute over the Southern Kuril Islands deteriorated Russo-Japan relations when the Japanese government published a new guideline for school textbooks on July 16, 2008 to teach Japanese children that their country has sovereignty over the Kuril Islands. The Russian public was generally outraged by the action and demanded the government to counteract. The Foreign Minister of Russia announced on July 18, 2008 "[these actions] contribute neither to the development of positive cooperation between the two countries, nor to the settlement of the dispute," and reaffirmed its sovereignty over the islands.[20][21]

In 2010, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian president to take a state trip to the Kuril Islands. Medvedev shortly ordered significant reinforcements to the Russian defences on the Kuril Islands. Medvedev was replaced by Vladimir Putin in 2012.

In November 2013, Japan held its first ever diplomatic talks with the Russian Federation, and the first with Moscow since the year 1973.[22]

In September 2017, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at Eastern Economic Forum, which held at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok. The main purpose of meeting was approving joint economic activities on disputed islands off Hokkaido. In their talks the both leaders decided to sign off on joint projects in five areas — aquaculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind power and waste reduction.[23]

At the 2018 Thirteenth East Asia Summit in Singapore, Shinzo Abe followed up on a proposal from Vladimir Putin to sign a peace treaty without preconditions by the end of the year.[24] The Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956 promised that the USSR would give Japan the Habomai islet group and Shikotan and keep the remaining islands, in return for negotiation of a formal peace treaty. At the time, the United States threatened to keep Okinawa if Japan gave away the other islands, preventing the negotiation of the promised treaty.[25][26] Putin and Abe agreed that the terms of the 1956 deal would be part of a bilateral peace treaty.[27]

Military cooperation

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's visit to Japan in 2017

The Russian Chief of General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, visited Tokyo in mid-December 2017 to meet with his Japanese counterpart, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano. He stated that there will be more than thirty joint military drills held by Russia and Japan in 2018.[1][4] Russia's military chief, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, warned Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in Tokyo that military exercises conducted by the United States around the Korean Peninsula will destabilize the region. Apparently with such exercises in mind, Gerasimov told Onodera at the outset of their talks, “Exercises in surrounding areas would increase tension and bring instability.” Onodera sought Russia's cooperation in dealing with North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations, saying Moscow has “big clout” with North Korea. [2]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Majumdar, Dave (12 December 2017). Could Russia and Japan Finally Settle Their Island Dispute?. The National Interest. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  2. ^ "РОССИЙСКО-ЯПОНСКИЕ ОТНОШЕНИЯ". Levada. November 30, 2018.
  3. ^ "Publics Worldwide Unfavorable Toward Putin, Russia". Pew Research Center. October 16, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Brown, James D. J. (11 December 2017). Japan woos Russia for its own security. Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  5. ^ Mochizuki, Takashi (2013-04-26). "Japan Seeks Closer Russia Ties - WSJ". Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  6. ^ Japan-Russia Year of Culture 2018 to feature grand exhibitions. TASS. Published 25 November 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  7. ^ see Victor A. Yakhontoff, Russia And The Soviet Union In The Far East (1932) online
  8. ^ Harriet L. Moore, Soviet Far Eastern Policy, 1931-1945 (Princeton UP, 1945). online
  9. ^ Kimie Hara, Japanese-Soviet/Russian Relations since 1945: A Difficult Peace (1998) online
  10. ^ Rozman, Gilbert, and Togo, Kazuhiko (2006). Russian Strategic Thought toward Asia. Springer. ISBN 9780230601734. pp. 91–95.
  11. ^ "TASS: Russia - Japan halts consultations on easing visa regime with Russia". Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  12. ^ "Japan breaks several Ties with Russia over Crimea crisis". IANS. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  13. ^ []
  14. ^ []
  15. ^ "Japan foreign minister to visit Russia to discuss formal WWII treaty: official". Reuters. 2019-11-22. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  16. ^ Baranets, Viktor (24 January 2019). Как военный обозреватель «КП» спас Курилы от сдачи Японии Ельциным. (in Russian). Komsomolskaya Pravda. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  17. ^ Yeltsin to give answer on isle row when Obuchi visits. The Japan Times. Published 13 October 1998. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  18. ^ Justin McCurry. "Japanese fisherman killed in Kuril dispute | World news". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-03-11. Retrieved 2006-09-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ "Russia hopes to solve territorial dispute with Japan by strengthening trust_English_Xinhua". 2008-07-19. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  21. ^ Japanese schoolbooks to claim Russia's Southern Kuril Islands, RussiaToday, Accessed 2008-07-19
  22. ^ "First diplomatic talks between Japan, Russia result in strengthened security cooperation". The Japan Daily Press. 2013-11-04. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  23. ^ []
  24. ^ "Japan Rejects Putin's Offer to Abe of Peace Treaty by Year-End". Bloomberg. 12 September 2018. Archived from the original on 12 September 2018. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  25. ^ Kimie Hara, 50 Years from San Francisco: Re-Examining the Peace Treaty and Japan's Territorial Problems. Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 361–382. Available online at J-STOR.
  26. ^ Northern Territories dispute highlights flawed diplomacy. By Gregory Clark. Japan Times, March 24, 2005.
  27. ^ "Abe: accelerate negotiations on peace treaty". NHK World-Japan. NHK. 2018-11-14. Archived from the original on 2018-11-14. Retrieved 2018-11-14.

Further reading

  • Allison, Graham, Hiroshi Kimura and Konstantin Sarkisov, eds. Beyond Cold War to Trilateral Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region: Scenarios for new relationships between Japan, Russia, and the United States (Harvard University Press, 1993)
  • Brown, James D.J. "Japan’s foreign relations with Russia." in James D.J. Brown and Jeff Kingston, eds. Japan's Foreign Relations in Asia (2018): 248-61.
  • Ferguson, Joseph. Japanese-Russian Relations, 1907-2007 (Routledge, 2008)
  • Hara, Kimie. Japanese-Soviet/Russian Relations since 1945: A Difficult Peace (1998) online
  • Kimura, Hiroshi. Japanese-Russian Relations Under Brezhnev and Andropov (M.E. Sharpe. 2000)
  • Moore, Harriet L. Soviet Far Eastern Policy, 1931-1945 (Princeton UP, 1945). online
  • Yakhontoff, Victor A. Russia And The Soviet Union In The Far East (1932) online

External links