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Bordering Japan: Towards a Comprehensive Perspective

Koji Furukawa


What constitutes Japan’s territory is a standard topic in historical overviews of Japan. Most works have focused on islands or land territories as well as on disputed islands, such as the Northern Territories (South Kuril), Takeshima (Dokdo), and the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. However, Japan’s territorial sovereignty extends beyond land territories to include both a sea zone and an air zone. This paper attempts to present a more comprehensive and balanced perspective on Japan’s territorial sovereignty and thereby to suggest how Japan might resolve territorial disputes. A brief historical overview of Japan’s borders from the end of the Edo period (1603–1868) to the present is given, followed by an examination of the Japanese government’s positions in various dimensions of territorial sovereignty: the Northern Territories, Takeshima, the Senkaku Islands, United States Military Bases, Territorial Water, the Provisional Measures Zone, the Exclusive Economic Zone, Airspace, Air Defense Identification Zones, and air traffic control. Current analysis indicates three important features of Japanese territorial sovereignty. First, many ongoing disputes regarding Japan’s land territory stem from US occupation policy. Second, Japan’s attitude toward other issues, sea zone issues in particular, is flexible and leaves room for compromise rather than adopting an "all or nothing" position. Third, Japan’s attitude toward airspace issues is passive and submissive, which is in sharp contrast to the above two situations. Researchers and policy makers often examine Japan’s territorial issues separately because of a different stance taken by the Japanese government on each unresolved issue. However, a comprehensive picture, such as that suggested in this paper, should help formulate a strategic vision that encompasses a deep appreciation of the links among these land, air, and maritime territorial issues.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229