Nearly a century ago and in the name of academic study, a Kyoto University associate professor took the remains of more than two dozen residents of what is now Okinawa Prefecture, including the remains of a Ryukyu king.

Now, their descendants are suing the university, calling for the repatriation of the remains of 26 bodies stored at the Kyoto University Museum in the first case of its kind.

But as the case proceeds, it has raised a larger issue: whether or not the Kyoto District Court will make a judgement about the Ryukyu people as indigenous. With Japan only officially recognizing the Ainu, an ethnic minority based mainly in Hokkaido, as indigenous people, what the court rules in this case about the Ryukyus could be a first legal step toward the government eventually declaring them as indigenous.