A territorial row between Russia and Japan has spilled onto the streets of Tokyo.
Police gathered as protesters, shouting patriotic slogans, demanded the return of disputed islands, seized by the Soviets at the end of the Second World War.
But at an annual rally to stake Japan’s claim, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda took a more conciliatory tone, vowing to settle the spat with Moscow.
“The strategic environment in the Asia Pacific region is changing and the relationship between Japan and Russia is taking on a new significance,” he said. “I will continue, with a determined will, to negotiate with Russia with a view to an agreement between the two countries.”
The row over what Japan calls the Northern Territories and Russia calls the Kuril Islands means the two nations never signed a peace treaty. Yet a cooperation deal was recently stuck.
“Possibilities for Japan to contribute to the modernisation and development of the Far East or Russia are enormous,” said Jeffrey Kingston, Head of Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo.
“And Russia would certainly stand to gain a great deal from that. Japanese companies would stand to gain a great deal from that, so there is a win-win situation.”
Surrounded by rich fishing grounds in the Pacific Ocean, the islands, home to thousands of Russians,
are believed to have offshore reserves of oil and gas.