Photo/IllutrationLower House member Hodaka Maruyama, center, apologizes on May 12 to former islanders visiting Kunashiri, part of the Northern Territories. (Pool)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Despite offending war victims and having his intelligence questioned, Hodaka Maruyama indicated he would not resign from the Diet for drunkenly suggesting that Japan wage war against Russia to regain the Northern Territories.

Maruyama, a 35-year-old Lower House member, has already been expelled from Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) over the comment. He handed a resignation letter to the party on May 14, but the party refused to accept it and forced him out instead.

Maruyama later that day tweeted that he would not resign from the Diet but continue as an independent lawmaker.

He made the comment about going to war with Russia on May 11 during an exchange program on Kunashiri, one of the disputed Northern Territories. The program is intended to promote friendship between former islanders and the current Russian residents there.

The Japanese were forced to leave Kunashiri after Soviet troops occupied the Northern Territories in the waning days of World War II.

During a gathering, Maruyama, who traveled as an “adviser” and was drunk at the time, approached Koyata Otsuka, the head of the delegation of former islanders and family members, and asked him, “Are you in favor of or opposed to going to war to take back this island?”

When Otsuka said he was opposed to war, Maruyama said, “Nothing will be accomplished unless we go to war.”

Those who have worked closely in trying to resolve the territorial dispute with Russia were particularly critical of Maruyama’s comment.

“We have suffered because the islands were taken from us through war,” said Yasuji Tsunoka, 82. “That is why we should never go to war. I never dreamed that a lawmaker would make such a suggestion.”

Tsunoka was 8 years old when Soviet forces invaded Yurito island, one of the Habomai islets, and he and his family fled from their home the next year.

The exchange program dates back to 1992 and is based on an agreement between Japan and Russia to allow visa-exempt visits to the islands by the former residents.

Tsunoka raised concerns that Maruyama’s war comment could lead to further restrictions on Japanese seeking to visit the Northern Territories.

“We are growing older, and the time has come to turn over this movement to second- and third-generation former islanders,” Tsunoka said. “Not being able to freely interact would become a major hurdle.”

Muneo Suzuki, the former Lower House member from Hokkaido who helped to start the visa-free exchange program, said he was driven to tears when he thought about restrictions that could prevent visits by the former islanders.

“The average age of the former islanders is 84,” Suzuki said. “When we think about how much time they have left, tears well up when I think about what emotions they are going through when they step back on the islands.”

Other experts said Maruyama’s suggestion goes against all basic principles of international law.

Journalist Soichiro Tahara said the “unenlightened” remark was made by someone obviously unaware that Japan had consistently taken an exclusively defensive posture in terms of national security.

Katsutoshi Kawano, who until April was the highest-ranking officer in the Self-Defense Forces, said Maruyama’s comment was “extremely inappropriate, absolutely absurd and ridiculous.”

Kawano, former chief of staff of the Joint Staff Office, questioned if Maruyama was even aware that engaging in war except in cases of self-defense is a violation of international law.

Yu Koizumi, a military analyst, noted that the Russian military has a simulation for protecting the Northern Territories that involves the use of nuclear weapons.

“Given that, talk about using military means should not be made lightly,” said Koizumi, who is affiliated with the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology.