Nemuro, Hokkaido, Japan — "I never dreamed that Russians would land on our island," said Kuniharu, Fujita. "We were expecting the Americans." Mr. Fujita, gnarled but hale, is one of some 20,000 Japanese, mostly fishermen, repatriated from the soviet-occupied Kurile Islands after World War II.
Mr. Fujita comes from Kunashir, which with Etorofu, Shikotan, and the Habomais constitute the so-called "northern territories" -- land Japan claims as its inherent territory. Japan will not sign a peace treaty with the Soviet Union until the latter agrees to return these four islands.
On Sept. 9 and 10, Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki flies from Tokyo to Nemuro to "inspect" the northern territories and thereby dramatize Japan's territorial claims against the Soviet Union. He cannot of course actually visit the islands , on which the Soviet Union has recently built military bases. He can only look across at them from a helicopter safely within Japanese airspace and from Cape Nosappu, which is only 2.2 miles from Kaigara, the nearest of the Habomais.
Mr. Suzuki is the first Japanese prime minister to venture so close to the northern territories. The government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been stepping up their campaign to publicize Japan's claims and to try to get across the Soviet Union that neither threats nor enticements will budge these claims.
Mr. Fujita is in full agreement with the government's policy. "Please remember," he told a visiting journalist, "that while Japan gave up sovereignty over the Kuriles in the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, we didn't gave them up in favor of the Russians -- only of the allies. Since the Soviet Union didn't sign the peace treaty, it has no right to the Kuriles."
While geographically Kunashiri and Etorofu are part of the Kuriles, the Japanese insist that historically they have been part of Japan since time immemorial. Hence, in the Japanese view, they do not even form part of the Kuriles over which Japan gave up sovereignty. As for Shikotan and Habomai (there are altogether six tiny islands making up the Habomais), these are geographically an extension of the Nemuro Peninsula and it is only by accident (the fact that American troops occupying Hokkaido did not garrison the islands) that the Soviets took them over, say the Japanese.
Mr. Fujita's father came to Kunashiri (10 miles from mainland Hokkaido) in 1889 to help his older brother, a fisherman on the island since 1869.Mr. Fujita himself gave up farming in northern Japan to move to Kunashiri in 1916. "My six children were all born there," he says.
When the emperor broadcast Japan's surrender Aug. 15, Mr. Fujita and his fellow-islanders were expecting American occupation forces to show up any day. They knew there had been fighting between Japanese and Soviet forces up in the northern Kuriles, "But we thought that since Japan had surrendered to the Americans, we would be occupied by the Americans."
What a shock, when a naval vessel showed on Sept. 1, to find that it flew a red flag, not the Stars and Strifes. Mr. Fujita, the assistant headman of his village, took his sampan and rowed over. "They were very friendly, althoug we could communicate only by sign language," he recalled. "They were laughing and beckoning to me and wanted to know particularly whether there were any Japanese soldiers of American troops in my area. When I said 'no', they seemed relieved and went away."
Soviet troops did not occupy his village until mid-October, Mr. Fujita recalled. However, other areas in the Kuriles were garrisoned much earlier. Soviet settlers were brought in from Siberia to take over the fisheries and canneries. The Japanese worked alongside these settlers, feeling more and more insecure. Finally in October 1948 they were all rounded up and repatriated to Hokkaido via Sakhalin.
"We had a hard life as repatriates," Mr. Fujita recalls. "I had lost my living as a fisherman. I could only find work in a fish market, and later doing construction work."
In Nemuro, where most of the Kuriles repatriates live, there is a division between them and local fishermen, approximately 500 (out of 5,000) of whom have permits to fish in Soviet-occupied waters.
Mr. Fujita and his friends espouse a strong Japanese line toward the soviet Union, feeling that ony thus can they or their children eventually hope to return to their lost homes. But local fishermen, while sharing the general Japanese feeling that the islands should be recovered, think it does no good to stir up trouble with the Soviets.
"The islands should belong to us," said one. "But I make my living by fishing. Since we have no means today of forcing the Russians to give back the islands, why provoke them needlessly?"