TOKYO -- Senior Japanese lawmakers on Friday launched talks on building an underwater train to South Korea, an ambitious project seeking to unite former rivals much like the tunnel under the English Channel.
The envisaged 128-kilometre (79-mile) tunnel would link the southwestern Japanese city of Karatsu and the major South Korean port of Busan through Japan's Iki and Tsushima islands, Japanese media said.
Ten lawmakers from Japan's ruling and opposition camps set up an organizing committee for the plan in a first step to look into the project.
"Concrete steps will be discussed in the future," said a secretary to Japan's former defense chief Seishiro Eto, a member of the committee, adding that the lawmakers have yet to inform South Korea about the plan.
The tunnel idea had been broached before when Japan and South Korea co-hosted the football World Cup in 2002, but the project has never taken off amid residual tensions between the two nations.
"This is a dream-inspiring project," Eto said, as quoted by Kyodo News. "We'd like to promote it as a symbol of peace-building."
According to local media, the Japanese lawmakers plan to continue talks and eventually ask the government for funds to carry out feasibility studies.
Relations between the neighbors have been fragile as anti-Japanese sentiment remains deep in South Korea over Japan's brutal colonial rule over the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
Their ties soured during the 2001-2006 premiership of Japan's Junichiro Koizumi, who made visits to a shrine to war dead seen by many Koreans and Chinese as a symbol of Tokyo's aggression in the early 20th century.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who took office in September, has stressed efforts to improve ties with Asian nations. Fukuda plans to travel to Seoul for president-elect Lee Myung-Bak Lee's inauguration in late February.
The train project would bear similarities to the Channel Tunnel, which was completed in 1994 connecting Britain and France with an underwater railway.
Like Britain, Japan's identity has always been linked to its status as an island nation separated from a vast continent. Japan shut itself off from the world for more than two centuries until the mid 19th-century.