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Six former U.S. prisoners of war arrived in Japan on Sunday for an eight-day visit at the invitation of the Japanese government, marking the first government-sponsored trip by American POWs for reconciliation and mutual understanding between the two countries.

The former U.S. soldiers in their 80s and 90s, who were held captive by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, include Lester Tenney, 90, a survivor of the 1942 Bataan Death March and a professor emeritus at Arizona State University. The men are being accompanied by eight members of their families.

It is the first time the Japanese government has extended invitations to former U.S. POWs. The Japanese government previously hosted former POWs from other Allied countries including Britain and the Netherlands.

Tenney is scheduled to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on Monday. He will visit Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, on Tuesday and Kyoto on Thursday and Friday.

The United States surrendered on the Bataan Peninsula on Luzon Island in the Philippines in 1942 and thousands died walking for days in tropical heat to a prison camp about 100 km away.

After being captured in the Philippines, Tenney was forced to work at the Mitsui Miike Coal Mine in Omuta, Fukui Prefecture, from 1943 to the end of World War II.

In May last year, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki directly apologized to a group of former American POWs captured in the Philippines, including Tenney, who were calling for an apology from Japan.

At the time, Fujisaki also expressed hope that the Japanese government would facilitate plans for the former prisoners and their relatives to visit Japan.

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