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Kuril Islands
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Kuril Islands

The Kuril Islands (Russian: Кури́льские острова́), also known as Kurile Islands, stretch northeast from Hokkaido, Japan, to Kamchatka, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean. They are part of Russia's Sakhalin Oblast.

The islands are known in Japanese as the 千島 - Chishima (the thousand islands) or クリル列島 - Kuriru rettō (Kuril Archipelago). The name originates from the autonym of the aboriginal Ainu: "kur", meaning man.

The Kuril Islands were inhabited by the Ainu from time immemorial until they were expelled from the northernmost by the Russians in the 18th century. Japan inherited them in 1875 (Treaty of Saint Petersburg) in exchange for ceding Sakhalin to Russia. Russia reclaimed them after the WWII (Treaty of San Francisco), but Japan maintains a claim to the four southernmost islands, called Northern Territories in Japan (see Kuril Island conflict).

The islands are renowned for their fogginess but are rich in seaweed and marine life, such as fish and otters. The northernmost, Atlasov Island (Oyakoba to the Japanese), is an almost perfect volcanic cone rising sheer out of the sea and has led to many Japanese eulogies in haiku, wood-block prints, etc., extolling its beauty, much as they do the more well-known Mt. Fuji.

The first information about the Kuril Islands was provided by a Russian explorer Vladimir Atlasov in 1697. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Kurils were explored by Danila Antsiferov, I.Kozyrevsky, Ivan Yevreinov, Fyodor Luzhin, Martin Shpanberg, Ivan Krusenstern, and Vasily Golovnin.