NAGOYA, Japan – A group of Japanese scholars are putting together “border tourism” excursions to stir discussion and interest in Japan’s national borders at a time of highly charged territorial disputes with its neighbors.
In March, the Nagoya-based nonprofit group Japan Center for Borderlands Studies organized a three-day “border tour” to sites near Japan’s border with South Korea to give participants a look at the area’s rich culture.
The package tour, starting March 14, included stops in Fukuoka facing the Korea Strait, sightseeing spots in Tsushima Island in Nagasaki Prefecture, which lies in the middle of the strait, and Busan on the Korean side of the strait.
The destinations include an observation deck on Tsushima Island from which the lights of Busan, located about 50 kilometers away, can be seen at night and the site of the ancient Japanese embassy during the Edo Period (1603-1867) in Busan.
The March tour was fully booked, and the organization is planning other tours of the border area with South Korea as well as Russia.
Tsushima has been a center of controversy even before diplomatic friction between Japan and South Korea flared over the disputed Takeshima islets, which are controlled by South Korea but claimed by Japan.
For example, The Sankei Shimbun, one of the nationally distributed newspapers in Japan, started running a series of stories in 2008 that claimed that the influx of Korean tourists to the island is threatening Japan’s national security and territorial integrity.
“Historically, Tsushima has tried to maintain good relations with South Korea,” said Yasunori Hanamatsu, a lecturer of international laws at Kyushu University and a member of the JCBS.
The expert of national border-related issues has repeatedly visited the island since 2012 when he worked for Hokkaido University’s Slavic-Eurasian Research Center.
“By helping revitalize the island’s economy through tourism, we can contribute to the protection of the border island,” Hanamatsu said.
“While there is an increasing argument that Tsushima is now falling into a critical situation because of South Korean visitors, it is more productive for us to think how residents on the island can lead a rich life.”
Akihiro Iwashita, professor of international politics at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center and the deputy director of JCBS, said that such border tourism is popular in many overseas locations, including Panmunjom on the border between the two Koreas.
The scholar also said that border cities can develop when they fully take advantage of their functions as gateway cities.
“The protection of border islands no longer has strategic importance in light of today’s defense strategy,” Iwashita said. “It only devastates the area’s economy and people’s lives if a country fortifies a border island.”
JCBS plans to organize monthly tours offering different routes to the Japan-South Korea border from May. It will also host a package tour to explore the abundant nature in the area near Japan-Russian borders, including destinations in Wakkanai, Hokkaido and Sakhalin island, in June.
Iwashita added that the organization also plans to host a border tour to visit areas near Japan’s border with Taiwan.