In this episode we’ll be talking about the Kuril Islands. This island chain is located in the Northern Pacific, and stretches between northern Japan and Kamchatka, Russia. The 56 islands extend for more than 750 miles across the ocean, and they total 10,500 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) of territory altogether, making their entire landmass roughly the same size as Lebanon or the island of Puerto Rico. The islands today have a population of roughly 20,000, and are controlled by Russia. However, the islands were previously administered by Japan from the 18th century up until WWII, and have been subject to a land dispute ever since. Japan claims the southernmost islands as their ‘Northern Territories,’ and the conflict over them has led Moscow and Tokyo to avoid signing the peace treaty that would have formally ended the Second World War.
Here are a few things you may want to read/watch more about:
- Of general interest: the book “Hokkaido: A History of Ethnic Transition and Development on Japan’s Northern Island” by Anne B. Irish; “Kuril Island s dispute between Japan and Russia” (BBC); “The Kurils: a difficult life on the disputed islands” (2016, Al Jazeera); article on the islands’ history (2005, Prokarelia)
- A helpful infographic of the history of the conflict from Georgetown University
- Wikipedia is a great place to start reading about the historical groupings of people who lived in the northern islands of the Japanese archipelago throughout pre-history: Jōmon, epi-Jōmon, Nivkh, Ainu, and Yamamato/Wajin (modern Japanese); as well as the peoples of Kamchatka, such as the Itelmens
- Some articles about the history of Ainu people generally:
- “The Ainu and Early Commerce in the Sea of Okhotsk” (Nippon.com)
- “The Conquest of Ainu Lands” by Brett L. Walker
- “Ainu People lay ancient claim to Kurile Islands” (1992, The Independent (UK))
- “Where are the Ainu now?” (2003, The Japan Times)
- Old documentary on the Ainu people and their way of life
- On the visit of adventurer and trouble-maker Count Mortiz von Benyowsky
- “Resilience and the population history of the Kuril Islands, Northwest Pacific: A study in complex human ecodynamics”, a 2016 research article by Fitzhugh et al.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica series on the Russo-Japanese War
- “Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan“ by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa is a relevant book on this topic
- “Did Hiroshima Save Japan from Soviet Operation” (2015, Foreign Policy)
- Watch: “Islands of Discontent – Russia” and Australian Broadcasting Corporation report on the Kuril Islands, which we discussed in the podcast.
- Article in the Siberia Times about the phenomenon of white ‘brown bears’ on Kunasahir and other isolated islands
- Atlasov is a remarkable looking island in the northern end of the chain, featuring a near-perfect volcanic cone
Joe was recently in Honshu and Hokkaido and took some photos, including from a Jomon-era archaeological site, and the the Museum of Northern Peoples in Hakodate, which listeners might find interesting. Well worth a visit if you’re ever in the neighbourhood
Music from these islands and the neighbouring territories, some of which you heard, can be found at the following sources:
- 21 minutes of Ainu music from the Traditional Music Channel
- Traditional Ainu dancing and singing (video)
- A woman playing a tonkori
- Ainu folk song by Umeko Ando
- You also heard a track from Lee Rosevere, used under a Creative Commons license (by attribution)
A massive thanks to all of our patrons on Patreon who are supporting season 3. If you’d like to join them and see what rewards are available for supporters, and get a peek behind the curtain check out www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast. We really appreciate the support and input!
Finally, here is a picture of some of the postcards sent from Hokkaido to our Neil Armstrong-tier patrons on Patreon – they truly are out of this world!