Six Japanese citizens left for Pyongyang on Friday to visit the graves of relatives who died in what is now North Korea during the chaos at the end of World War II.
The group is scheduled to arrive in the North Korean capital via Beijing on Saturday and visit the burial site at Ryongsan cemetery, near Pyongyang, during their stay, which will last through Tuesday.
Last month, the group received approval for the visit from North Korea, which has no diplomatic relations with Japan.
Japanese family members have been traveling to North Korea since 2012, after North Korea agreed with the Japanese government to let bereaved families and relatives in Japan visit the sites in an apparent move to improve relations.
The most recent visit was in September last year.
“I would like to comfort all the souls of the people who have been left behind these 70 years since the war,” Yokohama resident Yasuo Nagashima, 78, who lost his sister at the age of 17 in a relocation camp in Pyongyang, said before leaving from Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
Masumi Arai, a 76-year-old resident of Chiba Prefecture, who was at her 3-year-old brother’s side when he passed away, said she hopes the visit will start a movement to build a monument to the deceased.
“The fact that so many Japanese died in North Korea should never be forgotten,” said 83-year-old returnee Tomoya Sato.
According to Sato, more than 2,400 Japanese who died from illness or malnutrition while trying to return to Japan are buried at Ryongsan.
An estimated 34,600 Japanese are believed to have died of hunger or disease around the end of the war in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, which was under Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945.
Approximately 20,000 of the dead are believed to have been buried in North Korea, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
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