Despite its claim that the Northern Territories legally belong to Japan, it is Moscow, not Tokyo, that exercises an increasingly firm grip on development of the disputed islands off Hokkaido.
This was recently brought home by the presence of 1,500 workers, many from the two Koreas, for development projects being implemented by Russia.
About 1,000 foreign nationals are currently on Kunashiri island, with an additional 500 workers and technicians working on Etorofu island, according to local government sources.
Foreign workers are also known to be working on Shikotan island.
Russia is forging ahead with plans to develop social infrastructure on what it calls the Southern Kuril islands. This involves the construction of roads, airports and harbor facilities.
There are about 15 "camps" on Kunashiri where foreign workers live, with each hosting between several dozens to about 100 people. Most of the camps consist of old cargo containers converted into living quarters.
Foreign workers were brought in because of a chronic labor shortage on the islands.
The foreigners are cheaper to hire than native Russians because Russian law requires extra pay for Russians working in such an isolated location.
At a small harbor near the community of Shana on Etorofu, South Korean workers are constructing a pier. The community is called Kurilsk in Russian.
A South Korean company serves as a subcontractor to a local Russian company that is in charge of developing the harbor. In May, about 50 South Korean technicians, drillers and welders arrived on the island.
Construction of the pier is scheduled to wind up in October so that ships of about 5,000 tons can dock at the harbor.
At Furukamappu, known in Russian as Yuzhno-Kurilsk, on Kunashiri, about 30 North Korean workers are building a customs facility.
According to a worker who came from Pyongyang, the monthly pay is 10,000 rubles (25,000 yen, or $320), of which half is withheld by North Korea.
When asked about Japanese opposition to having foreigners engage in economic activity on the Northern Territories, one worker said, "The Japanese are bad. This is a Russian island."
A majority of about 50 workers at an apartment construction site in central Furukamappu were from nations that were once part of the former Soviet Union.
A worker from Kazakhstan said he came to the Northern Territories about six years ago and has worked on Shikotan and Kunashiri.
"We built a school and kindergarten on Shikotan," the worker said. "I don't think Russia plans on returning the islands to Japan."
A Chinese man in his 60s was working in a greenhouse about a dozen or so kilometers north of Furukamappu. He grows tomatoes and radishes.
He spent about $70,000 (5.5 million yen) three years ago to purchase three hectares of farmland.
"Because there are no farmers on the island, I thought there would be a future here," the man said.
Although he hired eight Chinese workers last year, they all returned home, apparently unsatisfied by the monthly pay of 11,000 rubles (27,000 yen).
(This article was compiled from reports by Daisuke Nishimura in Vladivostok and Hideki Soejima in Moscow. An Asahi Shimbun assistant reporter also contributed to this article.)
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