Trial Tour Of Russia - Held Islands Begins

Trial tour of Russia-held islands begins

A group of Japanese people has begun a trial sightseeing tour of two of the four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

The Japanese government organized the first tour of its kind as part of efforts to promote joint economic activities by Japan and Russia on the four islands.

The 44 Japanese, including tourists and government officials, arrived at Kunashiri Island on Wednesday by ship.

They visited the island's scenic spots, such as a huge rock known as "Rosoku-iwa" and a grand caldera lake.

At a museum in the island's central town of Furukamappu, they were briefed about objects on exhibit such as tableware that was used by Japanese residents living on the island until the Soviet Union occupied it.

The group also visited a cemetery where Japanese people are buried and prayed for them. A woman from Tokyo said she was moved to the point of tears, as she was able to come to the island thanks to the continued peace.

The group is scheduled to visit Kunashiri and Etorofu islands through next Sunday under a program allowing former Japanese residents of the islands to travel to the four islands.

The Japanese government hopes the trial tour will advance Japan-Russia economic activities, and eventually help advance territorial talks with Russia.

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.