Historic Japan-Sakhalin seabed cables now damaged, hazards to fishermen

ASAHIKAWA, HOKKAIDO - Disused undersea telecommunications cables from before the war are becoming a headache for fishermen in Hokkaido when they inadvertently hook sections lying on the seabed, tearing their nets. Historians nevertheless are pleased to see the artifacts from Japanese prewar history.

For Yasushi Shimizu, 42, an oyster fisherman at Hokkaido’s northern village of Sarufutsu, the cables are nothing more than a nuisance.

“The cables may hurt our workers and boats,” he said.

They used to connect northern Hokkaido to what is now Russia’s Sakhalin Island, about 160 km away. The southern half of the island was Japanese until August 1945, at which point Soviet troops occupied the territory and most Japanese residents fled.

The cables ensured communications between Karafuto, where some 400,000 Japanese lived, and Hokkaido.

When the cables first went into operation in December 1934, local daily newspaper Karafuto Nichinichi Shimbun reported with enthusiasm that the voice of the deputy head of Karafuto Prefecture in the city of Toyohara, now Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, had been heard in Tokyo, some 1,700 km away.

Eighty years on, the cables are abandoned and a nuisance for Shimizu and other local fishermen.

The seabed cables, measuring 6 cm in diameter and sturdily built with copper cores bound in outer steel wires, have been damaged over the years and are now broken. In some places, sections of cable stick out with sharp edges.

Oystermen usually rake the sea bottom with clawed nets for oy....

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