The government plans to subsidize Japanese visits to the apparent burial sites of relatives who died in what is now North Korea, officials said.
Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, unveiled the plan during a meeting last Monday with Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for negotiations on normalizing diplomatic relations with Japan, in Shenyang, China, the officials said Friday.
Government assistance would help more Japanese visit the burial sites, given the high cost — about ¥500,000 per person.
While some people have urged the Foreign Ministry and other government agencies to make the visits a state-run project, North Korea has called on the Japanese government to become involved in the hope of earning more hard currency.
The government hopes the initiative will prompt the North to resolve the abduction issue, in which an unknown number of Japanese were kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the officials.
But the government may be criticized for taking action that can financially benefit North Korea even though it hasn’t yet received the first report on Pyongyang’s new round of investigations into the abductees.
The government and North Korea plan to discuss such details as when to launch the project and the size of the visitor groups, they said.
Some speculate that North Korea may demand that Japan lift a ban on chartered flights between the two countries so Japanese can travel to Pyongyang without stopping in Beijing.
According to Japanese government data, about 34,600 Japanese are believed to have died around the end of World War II in what is now North Korea. The people either lived there or were on their way back to Japan from places such as Japan-occupied Manchuria, or Siberia, where they were imprisoned in labor camps following the war.
The Korean Peninsula was annexed by Japan from 1910 to 1945. The remains of 13,000 people have been repatriated to Japan.