Some local governments in Japan have decided to halt exchange activities with their sister cities in Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine late last month, with a few municipalities openly criticizing the act and sending protest letters over the aggression.

A total of 43 municipalities in Japan have sister cities in Russia, according to the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations. But a majority of them are not considering completely severing ties with their partners.

Japanese musicians play the balalaika, a Russian stringed instrument, during an event to promote sister-city and other local exchanges between Japan and Russia that the two governments jointly held on Jan. 29, 2022, in Sapporo, northern Japan. (Kyodo)

The city of Hiroshima that was planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of sister-city ties with Volgograd in the southern part of Russia said on March 9 it will cancel the dispatch of a delegation led by its mayor originally scheduled for September.

"Russia's invasion (of Ukraine) and remarks suggesting that the country may use nuclear weapons trample upon the feelings of Hiroshima that suffered an atomic bomb attack" in 1945 in the final phase of World War II, an official of the western Japanese city said.

The official also cited "safety concerns" as a reason for forgoing the dispatch.

Russian President Vladimir Putin placed his country's nuclear forces on high alert earlier this month, in the face of continuing resistance from Ukraine's troops and the rollout of economic sanctions from the United States and its allies.

Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, which is a sister city of Moscow, said at a press conference on March 11 that she will suspend exchange programs between the two cities.

Osaka city, meanwhile, sent a letter to its Russian sister city St. Petersburg, urging the country's forces to retreat from Ukraine.

"Invasion by armed forces is completely unacceptable. We call for the withdrawal of the troops as soon as possible to bring an end to the situation," Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui said in the letter.

In a similar move, Maizuru city in Kyoto Prefecture, which has ties with Nakhodka in Russia's Far East, criticized Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. "The aggression is unacceptable because it disturbs the peace and stability of the international society," the city said in a statement.

Tottori Prefecture and Kamo city in Niigata Prefecture have released similar statements. Niigata city, which has ties with Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Birobidzhan, canceled a plan to dispatch its delegation to the country.

The announcements by Japanese municipalities to suspend exchange activities came as the Ukrainian Embassy in Japan called for an end to sister-city alliances between Russia and Japan in a Twitter post.

But many cities in Japan were not convinced by the embassy's call, as they perceive such interactions to be different from those conducted on a national level.

"The interactions between citizens offer a different channel. We'd like to observe the situation without taking an action," said an official of Akita city, which has ties with Vladivostok.

Meanwhile, the city of Wakkanai in Hokkaido expressed concern that suspending the exchange activities for a long time may affect the two nations' efforts to resolve a decades-old territorial row over four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

The spat over the group of islets off Hokkaido has prevented the two nations from signing a postwar peace treaty. They are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

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