Japan is an archipelago and has no land border with any other sovereign nation. However, several towns and regions near neighboring countries play the role of a “border town” — politically, economically, and culturally.
Wakkanai is the northernmost town in Japan and is located just across from Sakhalin island, which today is Russian territory, and which you can see from the city on a clear day. Wakkanai developed a century ago as a port for transportation of goods to and from Sakhalin Island, the southern region of which was once Japanese. Today it serves primarily as a fishing town and regularly sees Russian sailors who bring their catches to Japan.
Tsushima Island is situated between Japan’s Kyushu Island and Korea, between the respective cities of Fukuoka and Pusan. Historically Japanese, it has long been a point of transit for trade between Japan and Korea through the course of many centuries, from lacquerware to cuisine. The island was ruled for centuries by the So clan, which historically even advocated Korean interests in Japan, and the last member of the clain Takeyuki married Princess Deokhye of Korea in 1931.
I have visited both Wakkanai and Tsushima and noticed that both cities shared characteristics of other border towns I’d seen in such countries as Vietnam, Thailand, China, and America. One clear example of the mild internationalization is road signs. In Japan, all road signs display English letters below Japanese road and place names due to the legacy of the US occupation. But road signs in these two border towns are trilingual — Wakkanai road signs have Russian, while Tsushima road signs contain Korean.
Relations with the the respective foreigners in both border towns are polar opposites. Tsushima has historically been close to Korea, and today its economy has grown very dependent on investment and tourists from South Korea. In Wakkanai and other parts of the northern island of Hokkaido, incidents of crude or criminal Russian sailors has led to poor relations with Western visitors.
A similar version of this post previously appeared at ComingAnarchy.com.