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Japan has three territorial disputes with neighboring countries, none of which can be understood without looking at Japan’s imperial era, 1860s-1945.
First it is important to know the current status of these territories in the postwar settlement. Here is the text of the Treaty of Peace with Japan. This was not signed by the Soviet Union. Here the key document is the 1956 Joint Declaration by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Japan.
The key scholar working on the San Francisco Treaty is Kimie Hara, who has published various articles on the Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. For example:
On Russo-Japanese relations, the work of James D.J. Brown is always insightful:
Official Stances on the Disputes
Why does territory matter? Here is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Note the maritime territorial rights that come with ownership of land.
Here is the Japanese government’s position on all three territorial disputes.
Here is the Chinese government’s position on Diaoyu Dao (Senkaku Islands)
Here are useful articles on each of the three disputes:
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