In Nagasaki’s former foreign settlement sits an overgrown lot filled with as many as 30 buildings, many of them abandoned and falling down. While vacant ‘akiya’ properties are not an unusual sight, this particular one is part of an ongoing international dispute between Russia and Ukraine over former Soviet property.

Back in 1875 the 1,500 sqm lot was purchased by the Russian Empire. In those days the port city of Nagasaki had a thriving and diverse international community of traders. Housing for employees of the Russian consulate was built on this hillside site. After the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917, the property sat idle. After WWII, locals who had lost their homes moved in, building small huts on the land. Those homes were then sold on or leased to third parties. This continued until 1987 when the former Soviet Union filed an ownership claim with the Nagasaki Regional Legal Affairs Bureau. This action was short-lived, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In 2000, Russia filed a suit in the Nagasaki District Court seeking the handover of the land from the people residing on it. In 2007, a settlement was reached with some of the residents that would see them receive ownership of the land in exchange for payment, while those that could not pay or were unreachable would be evicted. Worsening relations between Russia and Ukraine, saw these plans scuttled. To this day the land title has yet to be updated, still listing the Soviet Union as the owner.

Local residents have started to complain about the condition of the property to Nagasaki City, but nothing can be done without the permission of the landowner. It is located in the center of the city’s historic foreign settlement, and just down the hill from the Glover Garden – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Source: The Nishi Nippon Shimbun, February 6, 2020.