December 28(Tuesday)

No. 9[Postwar]Prime Minister in Ioto. The Task Force Team for Recovering the Remains of the War Dead


The Prime Minister answers the question, "Why, all of a sudden, at this juncture, did the Prime Minister go to Ioto?" The answer is a discovery of the Task Force Team led by the Prime Minister.



Narration: On Tuesday, December 14, Prime Minister Kan and a non-
partisan group of Diet members headed for Ioto, a remote Pacific
island 1,250 kilometers south of Tokyo. With all the residents
having evacuated the island during World War II, no one but a unit
of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces is living here today. As many
as 21,900 Japanese soldiers lost their lives on this small island,
which became a fierce battlefield during the war.


Prime Minister: I've been very much concerned about Ioto since my first visit to the island four years ago. That is why I organized a team, the first task force team in my Cabinet, for recovering and collecting the remains of the war dead there.


Narration: Mr. Shoichiro Nagasawa, a bereaved family member, has
long been trying to recover the remains on the island. About 8,700
remains had been recovered before the end of last year, but...


Mr. Nagasawa: The scale of the recovery project had reduced significantly since around 1998. The survivors and I used to go inside the dugouts in the island to recover the remains until we had excavated all of the dugouts.


Narration: About 13,000 remains of Japanese soldiers are reportedly
still buried somewhere in the island, awaiting their return home.
This is the largest number of unrecovered remains in a battlefield
in Japan. Having searched almost every place possible, only a few
dozen or so remains had been recovered per year in recent years,
but the recovery rate started to grow suddenly since this autumn,
with more than 300 remains already having been recovered thus far.
The number is expected to continue increasing. An instruction Prime
Minister Kan gave to the team leader upon his appointment this
summer was the trigger for the rapid change in situation.


Mr. Akutsu, Team Leader: I was instructed to go to the United States. The Prime Minister said the US National Archives must have documents on Ioto. He looked in my eyes convincingly and gave me a clear instruction to start with scientific research and collection of documents.


Narration: We found related documents at the National Archives in
Washington, D.C. --about 400,000 pages in total stored in some 600
boxes. Out of the mass of documents, the research group found small
letters on the map, which read "enemy cemeteries," which seem to
indicate cemeteries the US army built for Japanese soldiers.


Mr. Akutsu, Team Leader: I was really astonished. We started excavating the area in October, and within a short time period, we have already identified two sites with numerous unrecovered remains. Without the instruction of Prime Minister Kan, who was convinced of the existence of documents on cemeteries, we would never have discovered these sites.


Narration: Bereaved family members were immediately notified of the
discovery of the documents.


Mr. Nagasawa: The Prime Minister told me on August 10 of this year that documents on cemeteries were found. I really couldn't believe it. As a bereaved family member, I really thank the Prime Minister for starting the search in the released information, finding the documents, and bringing about results.


Prime Minister: 65 years is a long time to wait. I am truly sorry.


Mr. Nagasawa: It was worth waiting for.


Prime Minister: With this discovery, they can now return home.


Mr. Nagasawa: Yes, indeed.


Narration: There were two cemeteries marked as "enemy cemeteries"
on the map. After visiting the first dig site, the Prime Minister
went to the second site, at the foot of Mount Suribachi. What makes
the Prime Minister work on this issue so enthusiastically?


Mr. Akutsu, Team Leader: I just happened to hear Prime Minister Kan say that politicians' failure to act has kept some 10,000 remains of the war dead unrecovered in Ioto. It seemed that the Prime Minister strongly resented the inaction of politicians, including himself, questioning why they haven't carried out a responsibility of the government.


Narration: At a memorial service on the island, the Prime Minister
read aloud a letter General Tadamichi Kuribayashi wrote on the
island to his young daughter. The General led the garrison in Ioto
during fierce battles.


Prime Minister: "My dear Tako, your father wants you to grow up
quickly and be a source of support for your mother. Keep yourself
healthy, study hard, do as your mother tells you, and put your
father's heart at ease." Those who have fought to the death were
fathers who protected their families, good husbands, and sons
carrying promising futures, before they were soldiers. I pledge
here that we will examine every grain of sand and spare no effort
to bring about the recovery of the remains of even one more among
the deceased.


Prime Minister: I myself unearthed some remains. When I saw and actually touched them, I felt something strongly. I thought if the remains had been collected more promptly, we could have returned them home to their families earlier.


Narration: In respect of the war dead, the government stopped using
the term "collection of the remains" to replace it with "recovery
of the remains." The soldiers fought to the death and 65 years have
passed since then. The bereaved family members waiting for their
return are also aging.


Mr. Nagasawa: I would like to see for myself my father's remains and welcome him back home. That is the strongest desire I have as a child.


Mr. Nagasawa: Thank you. We are almost 80, so this should be the last duty for our parents.


Prime Minister: I hope that younger generations will learn more about this. I really respect your endeavors.


Narration: Prime Minister Kan intends to steadily advance efforts
in Ioto first and then move on to the return home of the remains
that are waiting to be recovered in other battlefields.


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