Japan lawmaker’s remarks and Japan-Russia travel

Hello, this is Anna from IMS.


Recently, some controversial news about an already controversial subject has emerged that could have the potential to affect the area of travel visas, which I believe is important to take note of.

A few days ago, news emerged that a 35-year old member of the Diet casually suggested that the only way Japan was to retake the Northern Territories is through war while on a visit to the islands on a visa-free exchange program.

For context, Hodaka Maruyama is a Diet member and a part of the Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin), who made a visit to the Northern Territories along with many other former residents, who are permitted travel as part of a visa-exempt exchange program. Japan and Russia have been in dispute over the rightful sovereign of the islands in this area since the end of World War II.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, “The aim of this program is to promote mutual understanding between them [Japanese citizens and Russian residents on the islands] and contribute to settlement of the territorial issue.”

There was significant backlash about these remarks from those who are highly involved in this delicate matter, and have been working extremely hard to improve diplomatic relations, as well as from former residents who now face stricter travel regulations to their birthplace now due to the potential consequences of these remarks. There are some who worry that if these comments are without consequence, travel to these islands and overall visa regulations will become more difficult. Various experts in the field have also made comments about how these remarks are not only highly unprofessional, but also a violation of international law.

Despite the fact that he characterized the remarks he made as thoughtless, and the remarks were made while drinking, Maruyama has been expelled from his political party. He has retracted and apologized for the remarks, but has announced he will remain in office as an independent lawmaker.

This has happened squarely in the midst of talks between the two country’s foreign ministers, and therefore this ill-time controversy could have serious implications for further negotiations on the ongoing talks of easing travel regulations or joint economic activities.

For more information:

“Diet member who suggested war against Russia won’t resign” – The Asahi Shimbun

“Japan lawmaker ousted from party over remarks about war with Russia” – Kyodo News

“Japanese lawmaker retracts ‘war’ remarks” – NHK World