World War II ended seventy-five years ago, but one million Japanese soldiers are still missing. Their remains are scattered from Russia, China, and Mongolia to the islands of the Pacific Ocean and Asia. It is unfortunate that the remains of these people will most likely never be found, identified, and returned to their families for an honorable funeral.
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare is responsible for helping affected families, and ministry officials believe only half of those missing can be recovered. The rest of the soldiers are either on the ocean floor, buried in unknown places, or in unstable areas for political or security reasons.
The US Department of Defense is working with Japan in trying to find at least what happened to these soldiers, or where did their corpses end up. What further complicates the situation is that relatives grow old and die. Documents and artifacts are lost or damaged, so valuable information is destroyed. Also, another problem is the storage capacity of the recovered remains.
In 2016, an effort to recover the remains was launched by the Japanese Parliament. The enacted laws promised an eight-year program to recover the remains of U.S. military bases in the South Pacific. The US Department of Defense is working with Japan to ensure DNA compatibility.
Consistent and regular DNA testing was not done in Japan until 2003. Then, such testing was performed only at the request of families. This year, Japan has set up a DNA testing center for the remains that are being found.
The Japanese authorities do not consider it important to recover the remains.
Truly, the Japanese government has never been very effective in recovering the remains of soldiers. In 1943, the families received boxes containing stones and no information about where the soldier lost his life. Instead, they insisted that all soldiers be honored as gods at the Yasukuni Altar.
The Japanese authorities do not consider it important to recover the individual remains. In the years after the war, families still received too little information about their dead relatives or the places where the remains were deposited.
In 1952, Japan began conducting scrap recovery missions, but efforts were thwarted in many Asian countries due to Japan’s war-torn violence. Most of the remains collected were not identified and were never returned to relatives
By 1962, authorities had recovered nearly 10,000 war victims. At that time, they tried to stop the project but were forced to continue after several requests from families and war veterans.
To date, about 340,000 sets of remains have been recovered, and most are stored at the Chidorigafuchi National Unknown Soldiers Cemetery in Tokyo. The DNA of these remains has never been tested. Most likely, the remains of Korean and Taiwanese citizens are among these remains of Japanese soldiers.
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