Boats carrying about 20 members of a Japanese nationalist group headed back to port yesterday after sailing near tiny islands in the East China Sea that are at the centre of a dispute between Japan and China.
Members of Ganbare Nippon - "Stand Firm, Japan" - did not attempt to land on the uninhabited islands, which are known as the Diaoyus in China and the Senkakus in Japan. They had said they wanted to send a message to Beijing.
"We want to show these islands are under Japanese control," Satoru Mizushima, the right-wing filmmaker who leads Ganbare Nippon, told activists before departure late on Saturday from a port in Okinawa.
The islands are located near rich fishing grounds and potentially large oil and gas reserves.
The five Ganbare Nippon boats were surrounded by about 10 Japanese coastguard vessels when they approached within one nautical mile of the islands yesterday morning. Coastguard crews in small boats urged them to leave through loudspeakers.
Last week, Chinese patrol boats entered Japanese territorial waters and stayed there for more than 24 hours, the longest since surveillance around the islands was increased after Japan's government purchased several of them from a private owner in September last year.
No Chinese vessels were reported in the vicinity yesterday, although Chinese and Japanese planes and patrol vessels have been playing cat-and-mouse near the islands, raising concerns that an unintended incident could escalate into a military clash between the countries.
Ganbare Nippon is not officially affiliated with any political party, but its members have organised rallies to support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine en masse on Thursday.