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Experiences of a Dutch Journalist




Visit to the Kuril Island of Kunashir, 27 & 28 August 2002

Our trip to Kunashir, part of the Kuril Islands east of Sakhalin and heavily disputed, was planned well in advance. Locals had warned us flying down there included the risk of not getting back for weeks, as it tends to be pretty foggy down there and airplanes can't land.


We spend one day waiting at the airport and barbecuing at the neighbours. There was one airplane taking off for Kunashir that day, but for passengers with tickets dating up to three days back.


Day two: we flew to Kunashir around noon, but when the flight time had elapsed, the pilot said we were going back to Sakhalin as it was too foggy to land. In our garage we consumed some of the food our travel guide had bought. Better than camping, as it was raining cats and dogs. Plan B was camping on central Sakhalin. The rest of the group did, and had a great time climbing the second highest mountain on the island. I found another opportunity to get to Kunashir: by Peace Boat. I was allowed on as a journalist (sometimes there are some advantages about having a job like that.....).


The Peace Boat in the harbour of Korsakov, Sakhalin. It was carrying around 530 Japanese people... The aim of the Peace Boat's visit to Kunashir was to create mutual understanding between Russians and Japanese people on a person-to-person level. Russia seized the Kuril Islands after the Second World War. Japan claims four of them, among which Kunashir.


After sailing for one day we could see Kunashir.


Sailormen in the harbour - which was rundown but had a new pier, financed with Japanese tax payers money.


Lunch at the 'friendship' house, also financed by the Japanese government (definitely the nicest building in Kunashir's capital Yuzhno-Kurilsk). Some say the Japanese government only provides humanitarian aid to support its political case.


Lenin still stands, but many buildings don't after a major earthquake in 1994. They haven't been rebuilt...


No paved roads, not even in the city centre.


Hardly anything available at the market (although I found a bottle of South African wine in the shops, which surprised me a lot and made my day).


Very different vegetation than on Sakhalin: subtropical.


This is Oki Kano, an 'Ainu'. The native people Ainu used to live on Kunashir and Oki was the first in decades to play the traditional instrument 'Tonkiri' on Kunashir again during a festival in which both Russians and Japanese participated.


These Russian soldiers were performing a song with the refrain: "The Kuril Islands, they will never be Japanese, always be ours." Good thing most Japanese visitors couldn't understand the lyrics...


Bye Kunashir! Next year, I'll try to go back and see the magnificent nature (24 hours on the island proved to be too short). That is weather allowing, of course...


Do you want to know more about this trip to Kunashir? Read the following article: