Japan put fighter jets into operation more often over the past 12 months than at any time since the cold war ended, according to government figures, with the sorties mostly aimed at deterring Chinese and Russian aircraft.
Tokyo scrambled fighter jets 810 times in the year to March, with more than half of the operations aimed at Chinese planes, as the Asian powers remained locked in a tense stand-off over competing territorial claims, the defence ministry data published on Wednesday showed. Planes were sent up nine times to ward off North Korean jets, it added.
The operations total was the highest since 1989, when Japan scrambled jets 812 times, mostly to intercept Soviet aircraft.
Tokyo responded 415 times against Chinese aircraft in the latest fiscal year, up from 306 times in 2012 and 156 times in 2011, reflecting the spike in tensions over islands in the East China Sea.
Japanese jets targeted Russian aircraft 359 times in 2013, up from 248 times a year earlier, the data showed. The nations are also embroiled in territorial disputes.
Chinese planes did not violate Japanese airspace in the year, but they were "expanding their area of activity", the ministry added.
The dispute over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, has fuelled historical animosities tied to Japan's brutal expansionist drive across Asia in the first half of the 20th century.
Chinese ships and planes have been seen numerous times near the disputed islands since Tokyo nationalised some of them in September 2012, which pushed already shaky relations to their lowest level in years.