Japan's government is hoping to buy the private Senkaku Islands to bolster the country's claim to ownership in the face of increasing Chinese counter-claims.
The central Japanese government has been leasing four of the five islands from the Kurihara family for many years. Landings are by government permission only and rarely granted, Kyodo News Agency reported.
But the government is looking pay about $25.4 million to the Kurihara family, which owns four of the five islands at the center of Japan's diplomatic row with China, Kyodo said.
The government wishes to head off a bid by the Metropolitan Government of Tokyo's right-of-center leader Shintaro Ishihara, who would incorporate the islands into the city administration. He began making purchase overtures to the Kurihara family in April, Kyodo said.
A group of Hong Kong activists landed on the biggest island, Uotsuri, this month, as part of China's public relations campaign for ownership.
Shintaro is looking for the Tokyo city government to buy Uotsuri, Kita Kojima and Minami Kojima islands to clarify Japan's ownership of the Senkakus, which China calls the Diaoyu Islands.
Taiwan, which also claims the Senkakus, calls the Senkakus the Tiaoyutai Islands.
The five islands and their accompanying rocky outcrops are around 100 miles north of Japan's Ishigaki Island and 116 miles northeast of Taiwan. At the end of World War II in 1945 they were under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the captured Japanese island of Okinawa. But they have been under Japanese jurisdiction since 1972 when Okinawa was returned to Japan.
Ownership of the Senkakus, as with other disputed islands in the South China Sea, brings with it rights over the increasingly important oil and natural gas fields on the seabed, as well as fishing rights.
Many Japanese fishing vessels from Ishigaki work close to the islands and the Japanese coast guard is constantly on the lookout for what Japan calls illegal fishing by foreign ships.
In September Japanese patrol vessels detained a Chinese fishing boat in the Senkaku area after the captain of the trawler allegedly deliberately rammed the two Japanese vessels during its escape bid.
Kyodo said the Kurihara family is taking seriously the central government's wish to buy the Senkakus.
This month Chinese and Japanese leaders have increased the number of public statements over ownership, many of which cite historical claims.
Last week China expressed "strong displeasure" about a remark by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda who claimed the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory, China's government-run news agency Xinhua said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Noda's comment "sabotages China's territorial sovereignty."
Hong said the Diaoyu -- Senkakus -- and surrounding islets "have been the inherent territory of China since ancient times" because they "were first found, named and used by the Chinese."
Xinhua reported that the earliest historical record of Diaoyu Islands belonging to China dates to the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644.