Seventy-six years since the Second World War hit Australian soil it appears Japanese troops could soon be conducting military drills out of Darwin.
A looming defence pact between Canberra and Tokyo could be a stepping stone to a formal security alliance down the track, but one expert warns Australia should tread carefully.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will visit Tokyo on Thursday for an annual leaders talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.
They hope to cement a visiting forces agreement, which is expected to be signed later this year.
The agreement sets out the legal status for military personnel visits, moving equipment and weapons.
Under the deal, Japanese troops could conduct military exercises out of Darwin - almost 76 years since Japan's airforce bombed the city in World War II.
Australian National University Professor Hugh White believes the visiting forces agreement could be a precursor to a formal security alliance, in the context of defending shared interests against the challenge posed by China.
"Governments might not be willing to say that out loud but that's what this is really about," Professor White told AAP.
He warned Australia couldn't afford to regard alliances as "a diplomatic box of chocolates that you give someone to be nice", saying it's a serious undertaking.
"Are we really prepared to drift towards a situation in which we are committed to supporting Japan in a conflict with China over the (uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea)?" he said.
The visit is Mr Turnbull's first overseas trip since his government released its foreign policy white paper last year and coincides with a tense period in Australia's relationship with China.
Mr Turnbull drew a stinging rebuke from Beijing after suggesting his anti-foreign interference laws before parliament were aimed at the Asian giant.
And last week the two countries exchanged barbs over China's aid program to Pacific island nations.
University of Hong Kong fellow Ryan Manuel predicts there is likely to be a verbal backlash from China over the pending Australia-Japan visiting forces agreement.
"This is more fuel to the fire," he told AAP.
Mr Turnbull is expected to visit a Japanese Self Defence Forces base outside of Tokyo, where he'll inspect Bushmaster armoured vehicles, made in Victoria.
Japan has already purchased four Bushmasters and four more have been ordered - representing Canberra's biggest defence export to Tokyo.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Abe are also likely to discuss North Korea's nuclear threat as well as moves to revive a four-country security forum between the US, India, Japan and Australia which is widely seen as an effort to counter China's growing influence.
Trade and investment are also a key focus of the trip.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Abe have been champions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement which is still in limbo.
There were hopes the agreement could be revived at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Vietnam last year, without the US.
However, Canada threw a spanner in the works at the last moment when it also withdrew from the agreement.