Almost seven decades after the Word War II ended in 1945, Japan is still trying to find the victims’ remains as a symbolic gesture of paying respect to the soldiers who lost their lives during the hostilities. However, the country’s efforts seem to have a limited success.
“People sacrificed their lives to fight for the country. And their remains are left abandoned,” said Heitaro Matsumoto, a 72-year-old businessman who lost his uncle in Guam, as his relative fought and died as a Japanese soldier in the World War II.
“Unless we return their bodies, we cannot bring closure to the war,” says Matsumoto, who volunteers in a programme to repatriate fallen Japanese soldiers.
During the war, about 2.4 million Japanese soldiers lost their lives. Almost half of them, about 1.13 million, are still lying unidentified somewhere between Russia and the southern Pacific islands.
Politicians across party lines have passionately supported a programme that collects several hundred to a few thousand remains every year. They were partially helped by sentimental movies presenting the pain of the families who cannot hold a proper funeral for their lost relatives.
“The programme is open-ended at this point,” said a welfare ministry official in charge of repatriation issues. “We are conducting the programme as a national policy,” he said, according to the international press.
But the pragmatic ones say Japan should stop spending money on the programme and give up on the task, as it has little chances to succeed.
On the other hand, others say this would be a way for Japan to come to terms with its past.
“Recovery of remains can be interpreted as a form of recognition” of the fallen soldiers without any judgement on the nation’s uncomfortable past, Haruo Tohmatsu, professor at the National Defense Academy, said.