The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his relationship with Japan.
Question: President Putin has come to Japan before, hasn't he? How many times has he visited Japan?
Answer: This is Putin's sixth visit to Japan. He first visited the country in 1995, when he was the first deputy chairman of the St. Petersburg city government. Subsequently, he made three visits to Japan between 2001 and 2005 -- during his first period as president of Russia. He also visited the country in 2009, when he was the prime minister of Russia. This is his first visit to Japan in seven years.
Question: How is Putin's relationship with Japan?
Answer: Putin was very keen on judo as a child, and has a black belt in the sport. At a press conference that was held before his current visit to Japan, Putin stated, "Judo is a part of my life that I really like." He is friendly with Yasuhiro Yamashita -- gold medal winner in judo at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. On the afternoon on Dec. 16, Putin is planning to reunite with Yamashita at the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo. When questioned over solutions concerning the Northern Territories dispute, Putin brought up judo phrases such as "hajime" (begin) and "hikiwake" (draw).
Q: So is Putin a Japanophile?
A: It is known that he liked eating at a particular Japanese restaurant in St. Petersburg. At the press conference prior to his visit to Japan, Putin stated, "I am very interested in Japan."
Q: Is it likely that he will be able to help solve the Northern Territories dispute?
A: National leaders' hobbies are kept separate from national strategy. As far as the Northern Territories dispute is concerned, it is not that simple for Russia to concede. One can't assume that progress will be made regarding the Northern Territories dispute simply because Putin is fond of Japan.
Q: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking a personal relationship with Putin, right?
A: It is considered that Putin has total authority in present-day Russia. Therefore, in order to make progress concerning the Northern Territories dispute, there is no choice but to work effectively with Putin. (Answers by Hitoshi Omae, Foreign News Department)