Ex-Residents of Russian-Held Isles Pray From Ship

Jiji Press
Participants, including former residents of the Habomai islets, pray for their ancestors aboard a ship on Monday.

SAPPORO (Jiji Press) — A program started Monday to allow former Japanese residents of Russian-held northwestern Pacific islands to pray for their ancestors from a ship.

The ship Etupirka, carrying about 70 participants, sailed off the Habomai group of islets, among the islands, which have long been claimed by Japan and are known as the northern territories in the country.

Another five trips are planned until September under the annual program, which started last year.

Monday’s participants included Takeshi Hatakeyama, an 87-year-old former resident of Shibotsu, part of the Habomais.

“I participated in [the program], believing this may be the last chance,” said Hatakeyama, whose siblings are buried on Shibotsu. “I wish I could go to my island and pray,” he said.

Visa-free visits to Russia by former residents of the northern territories have been suspended since fiscal 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2022, Russia unilaterally suspended the program as a countermeasure against Japan’s sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.