Police in northern Japan have found eight men near a boat at a seaside marina who said they were from North Korea, and appear to be fishermen whose vessel ran into trouble, rather than defectors, a police official said on Friday.
Police took them into protective custody, where they were being questioned with the help of interpreters.
Hachiro Okonogi, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, told reporters that the eight men said they had been fishing when the boat's propeller stopped and they drifted ashore.
The men were able to walk without assistance, said the state tv channel NHK.
Waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula are known as a rich fishing ground, where poachers from North Korea and China have been detected. More than a dozen cases of wreckages have been reported in the three northern prefectures facing the Sea of Japan this year, the Coast Guard said.
Sometimes their occupants have already died at sea, with their vessels delivering headless skeletons and rotten corpses to Japan's fishing ports, with media occasionally calling them "ghost ships".
But the Japanese coastguard occasionally rescues North Korean fishermen in maritime accidents in regional waters.
Defections by boat to Japan are not common given the distance, though it has happened before - in 2011, nine North Koreans tried to sail to South Korea but ended up across the sea in Japan.
The two countries have stormy relations, Pyongyang making threats regularly and firing missiles close to or above the japanese archipelago.
The coastguard last week saved three out of 12 North Korean fishermen after their boat capsized in high seas. The survivors were returned home.