More than 70 years after the end of World War II, the government announces plans to locate and repatriate 1.13 million Japanese who died on battlefields across the Asia-Pacific region. Julian Ryall reports.
“There had been talks about joint recovery operations prior to the visit by the emperor and empress, but that trip did become something of a catalyst for more action,” said Charles Mitchell, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy of Palau in Tokyo.
On Peleliu, many of the Japanese defenders refused to surrender and so were simply buried in the tunnels that they had turned into a warren of interconnected fighting positions. Many of those tunnels have not been reopened to this day.
“We expect to be able to provide local knowledge of exactly where these caves are and where other remains might be, but there will also be a strong commitment to safety when recovery work begins,” Mitchell said. “We need to make sure that it is safe to enter these tunnels before we can start recovering remains.”
In May last year, a ceremony was held at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, built in 1959 to serve as the last resting place for the remains of unidentified Japanese repatriated from battlefields overseas, to inter the latest sets of remains.
Attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prince Akishino and his wife, Princess Kiko, the remains of 2,498 soldiers killed in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Russia were solemnly interred.