The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has received an increasing number of inquiries from the families of U.S. World War II veterans concerning the personal belongings of Japanese soldiers taken from battlefields, officials said Monday.

Inquiries of this kind, where the ministry is usually asked to locate the owners of these items or their relatives so that the belongings can be returned, have increased steadily over the years, topping 200 in fiscal 1998.

The ministry, which handles lists of personnel who served in the Imperial Japanese Army or Imperial Japanese Navy, has received more than 260 inquiries in fiscal 2002, according to officials at a ministry section in charge of veteran affairs.

While such inquiries include those submitted by Japanese veterans or their family members, the majority are filed by American relatives of veterans who have passed away, said Mayumi Kitamura, director of the section.

An increasing number of cases involve Japanese students in America being asked by veterans or their relatives to find the original owners of the items, she said.

“It is a phenomenon that marks the more than half-century anniversary of the war’s end,” Kitamura said.

Such items, mostly Hinomaru flags bearing the names of soldiers or their families, were taken by American soldiers as mementos from battlefields or prisoner-of-war camps, mostly located on southeastern Asian islands, Kitamura said.

Other items include personal belongings such as family photographs, personal stamps, letters and pens.

Often based on limited information, the ministry will try to locate Japanese veterans or their families to whom the articles belong, although this process can be difficult, she said.

The search, usually conducted in cooperation with prefectural governments, often takes more than a year per item, but the ministry each year manages to return between 90 and 100 items to the veterans or their families, she said.

Families are usually appreciative, especially those who previously had no articles left to connect their memories with the deceased veterans, Kitamura said.

But some families are hesitant to receive such items because they remind them of bad memories associated with the war, she added.

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