Yokohama: Thousands of Japanese took to the streets on Saturday during a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, protesting against what they said was Beijing`s imperialism in a territorial dispute with Japan.
Relations between Asia`s two biggest economies have been soured by a spat over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Public anger has been fuelled in Japan by the recent leaking of a video that shows a Chinese fishing boat appearing to steer into Japanese patrol vessels.
"The islands are Japanese territories...It is only after it became known that the area has resources that China has tried to take them away from us," said Misae Fukumoto, a 35-year old kimono-clad housewife who, like many others, said she was protesting for the first time.
Hu is in town for a meeting of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group.
The Chinese side has declined so far to say whether Hu will accept an invitation for bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
Hu barely smiled when he was welcomed by Kan to a lunch with APEC leaders.
It was the fourth such demonstration since September, attracting protesters from all walks of life and organised by a nationalist group led by Toshio Tamogami, a former air force general who has argued that Japan was not an aggressor during World War Two.
Trouble with Russia after its President Dmitry Medvedev visited another set of islands that Tokyo claims has also spurred nationalist sentiment and added to headaches for Kan who has seen his support rating slide over his handling of the rows.
A crowd of more than 3,000 gathered peacefully in Yokohama, under heavy police guard, carrying large Japanese flags and placards with slogans like "Down with China`s imperialism" and "We will not allow Communist China to invade our territories”.
They did not come near the venue where the leaders were meeting. The size of the crowd was an indication of how the issues have attracted ordinary Japanese to the nationalist cause.
"We are not extremists...we are ordinary people who have come to protest against China and our own government," said Ayano Miyakawa, a 29 year old housewife, who came with her two children.
The protest was one of at least seven planned on Saturday in Yokohama, a port city and known for having Japan`s biggest Chinatown, with anti-globalisation activists, helmeted left-wing students, and other nationalist groups also marching.
The shouts of one group of protesters could be heard inside the sprawling conference centre, demanding the return of islands claimed by Japan but held by Russia.