The government said Monday it will start negotiations with Australia toward returning the remains of indigenous Ainu people being held at Australian museums.
Australia’s ambassador to Japan, Richard Court, is expected to meet with representatives of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido as soon as Thursday in Sapporo to explain how the remains have been preserved.
The government will confirm the wishes of the association before beginning talks with Canberra, diplomatic sources said.
Australia notified Japan in May about three sets of remains, all skulls, stored in the National Museum of Australia in Canberra and elsewhere, the sources said.
Inquiries by both countries found documents confirming that Yoshikiyo Koganei, professor emeritus at Tokyo Imperial University Medical College, which is now Tokyo University’s faculty of medicine, had sent the remains to researchers in Australia between 1911 and 1936.
“It has become global practice to return the remains of indigenous people that were taken overseas,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference, confirming that the Australian ambassador has information about the issue.
Ainu remains shipped out of Japan for anthropological research purposes before World War II have also been found in Germany, Britain and the United States. A German academic society decided this year to return one set to Japan.
A government panel on Ainu affairs compiled a report in May stating that Japan will quickly make arrangements for the return of any remains found to have been taken overseas so they can be memorialized with dignity by the Ainu.
The indigenous Ainu, who have their own customs and language, have lived for centuries throughout Hokkaido and nearby areas, including Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.
But Japan’s indigenous people have long been marginalized under the assimilation policies of the government and in the face of discrimination and lingering views among the public that Japan is ethnically homogenous.
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