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Senkaku Islands owner okay with sale to government

Date Posted: 2012-05-25

The Japanese family that owns four of the five disputed Senkaku Islands in southern Okinawa Prefecture is now in the process of negotiating the sale of three of the islands to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The Kurihara family has held title to the Senkaku Islands for more than four decades, sticking to a vow made to the previous owner that the islands would never be sold to anyone other than to a public organization or to the Japanese government. With the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, led by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, already amassing more than ¥300 million to purchase three of the uninhabited islets also claimed by Taiwan and China, it’s only a matter of time before a deal is struck.

Kurihara family spokesman Hiroyuki Kurihara confirms that the Tokyo governor has been trying for decades to buy the tiny islands, but has been continuously rebuffed because of a promise made to the previous owners, family friends Zenji and Hanako Koga, who’d been overseeing the islands since the Meiji era. Koga’s father Tatsushiro had first established bonito-flake factories and plants to process albatross feathers back in the 1890’s. He sold the islands to Zenji in 1932.

The present owners, the Kurihara family, are from Saitama, part of what was the Omiya area. The family is well known for real estate activities, although Hiroyuki Kurihara has a medical consulting firm and an architectural outfit. His older brother and younger system are active in property rentals.

The brother owns Uotsuri, Kikta Kojima and Minami Kojima, the three islands Tokyo wants to buy. The sister owns Kuba, but she has no plans to sell it, as it’s already leaded to the Defense Ministry, which has sublet the island to the U.S. military as a bombing exercise site.

“Our fundamental rule is not to sell the islands to individuals or private companies,” says Hiroyuki Kurihara, explaining “that is why we continued to decline the governor’s offers since the mid-1970’s because Mr. Ishihara is an individual. Now,” Kurihara notes, “this time it’s different because it is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government that wants to buy the islands.” Kurihara says the family has already basically agreed to sell the three islands, and noted the two parties are trying to work out details of a contract, including how much to charge and pay. “There are many hurdles to overcome,” says Kurihara, “ and realistically it will take a while. It’s not like buying a lot in Minato Ward, for example. We have no reference.”

The Kurihara family has also not ruled out that ownership of the Senkakus may ultimately be shifted to the Japanese central government, which now pays ¥25 million per year to use the land on the three islands. That annual contract expires next March. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has already told government officials and the family that the central government may consider buying the three islands. “For us, it doesn’t matter whether the Tokyo Metropolitan Government or the central government becomes the owner,” says Kurihara. “What matters is that they are maintained by either one and not handed over to someone else.

China and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over the tiny islands. They began making claims in 1971 after the United Nations first issued a report on potential oil and gas reserves in the area. Kurihara says he’s had many offers from Japanese trading and oil companies, but never any offer from a Chinese individual or firm. “There’s no way of knowing, and that’s why we would never sell to individuals or companies,” he notes, adding “if the Senkakus are sold from one party to another, they could eventually end up in the hands of a foreigner. And if that happens, the history of the islands will be completely erased.”

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