The wave of anti-Japanese protests currently sweeping across China has its roots in history but more recently can be traced back to April, when the firebrand governor of Tokyo announced plans to buy a group of islands claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan.
He did so without the apparent knowledge or approval of the Japanese government.
Spying an opportunity to assert Japanese control over the Senkaku islands, or Diaoyu as they're known in China, Governor Shintaro Ishihara launched an online appeal fund to buy them from their private owners.
Donations poured in, prompting a sharp rebuke from China and forcing the Japanese government to wade into the dispute with its own offer for the contested land.
Who is Shintaro Ishihara?
Ishihara has a long history of making inflammatory comments about China, so much so that in 1999, when he was appointed Tokyo governor, Japan's then chief cabinet secretary, Hiromu Nonaka, sought to reassure China that relations would remain "friendly."
Before taking office, Ishihara was a well-known author whose name became famous in his early twenties after writing "A Season of the Sun," which won Japan's most prestigious literary prize.
He's an outspoken nationalist who in the past has cast doubt on historians' account of the 1937 Rape of Nanking, in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed by Japanese troops.
After launching the fund, Ishihara likened China's claim to the islands as like "a burglar in Japan's house."
What was China's reaction?
Back in June, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin dismissed Ishihara's attempt to buy the islands as "irresponsible," and repeated China's ownership claim.
"The Diaoyu Islands are China's territory since ancient times," he said. "The willful talk and action of some Japanese politicians is irresponsible and tarnish and smears Japan's reputation."
When did the Japanese government step in?
Faced with the prospect of the islands falling under the jurisdiction of the Tokyo metropolitan government, the Japanese government stepped in with its own bid for the disputed islands.
On September 11, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura confirmed that the government had approved the islands' purchase from private owners for 2.05 billion yen (US$26.2 million).
In an interview with CNN, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda claimed there was no territorial dispute within China and the only question of ownership emanated from within Japan.
"The Senkaku Islands are an inherent part of Japanese territory, historically as well as under international law, so there's no territorial claim issue between the two countries," he said.
"Right now, it is the ownership issue -- whether the individual owns these islands, or the Tokyo metropolitan government or the state. And I think we have to clearly and solidly explain these stances to the Chinese side."
China responded by dispatching six patrol ships to the surrounding waters, ignoring a warning from the Japanese coastguard not to approach. They entered the disputed waters for a short time before leaving, Japan's coast guard reported.
At a press conference, Ishihara said of the Chinese patrols: "We'd better shoo off those who walked into someone's home in dirty shoes, we should shoo them away."
"I think China has gone crazy. We can't put up with their attitude like Mine is mine, but yours is mine too," he added, in quotes that appeared on the Tokyo Metropolitan government website.
Citing a government statement, state-run news agency Xinhua said the patrols were "aimed to demonstrate China's jurisdiction over the Diaoyu Islands," while the Japanese prime minister said the government would "take all possible measures to ensure security" around the islands.
How a war of words turned into protests
While the verbal sparring between the Chinese and Japanese governments has played out in a series of statements, protesters from both sides have been taking direct action to assert their countries' control over the islands.
In late August, Japan deported 14 Chinese protesters who were arrested after five swam ashore the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and waved the flags of China and Taiwan. Nine others aboard the waiting vessel were also detained.