CHONGJIN, NORTH KOREA – Japanese visitors paid their respects Sunday at a site near the port of Chongjin in northeast North Korea for relatives who perished, many in a Soviet labor camp, after the end of World War II and the end of Japan’s colonial rule of the peninsula.
The 11 members in the group — Kita Izoku Renraku Kai — which includes Japanese who lived in the area that is now part of North Korea, seek to retrieve the remains of those who perished in Komusan, north of Chongjin. Where the Soviet prison stood is now just a cornfield.
It is believed the site holds the remains of some 3,300 Japanese soldiers and security personnel who died in the Soviet camp.
Sanpei Asano, 81, from Tokyo, whose older brother, Nishihide, died at the camp, lit incense and offered a silent prayer.
“The last time I saw him was at Nagoya Station (near home) to see him off. He must have suffered a lot,” Asano said with tears in his eyes.
Historians say the inmates were captured near the border with China and the Soviet Union after Japan’s August 1945 defeat in World War II and sent to work in labor camps.
It is the fifth visit allowed for Japanese relatives since North Korea allowed a tour last August on humanitarian grounds to study burial sites.
The delegation will also inspect other burial sites in eastern cities, including Bupyong and Hamhung, during the trip through June 25.
The purpose of the mission is to study sites believed to hold the remains of Japanese so they can be repatriated and arrange future visits by relatives.
The trip to the North was originally scheduled for April but postponed twice amid heightened tension between the North and South Korea, Japan and the United States.
About 34,600 Japanese are believed to have died of hunger and disease in the final phase of the war and in the chaos that followed in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, according to Japanese government data. The remains of 13,000 people have been repatriated to Japan.