The Kurile islands, now generally written 'Kuril' islands, stretch northeast from Hokkaido, Japan, to Kamchatka; very much as the Ryukyu islands stretch southwest from Saikaido (Kyushu), Japan, to Taiwan. They separate the Sea of Okhotsk (Jap. "Hokkai") from the North Pacific Ocean.
They are known in Japanese as the クリル列島 (=Kuril Archipelago) or 千島 (= the thousand islands). They were inhabited by the Ainu from time immemorial until they were expelled by the Russians. Japan inherited them all in 1875 in exchange for ceding Sakhalin to Russia.
The islands are renowned for their fogginess but are rich in seaweed and marine life, such as fish and otters. The northernmost, Oyakoba, 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 Fuji. The southernmost islands are claimed by both Russia and Japan, a continuing Kurile Island conflict.
See also: Treaty of San Francisco