TOKYO (majirox news) — For the first time in nearly ten years, Japan’s Red Cross are holding talks on August 9 and 10 with their North Korean counterparts in Beijing about those Japanese who died during World War II in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. According to the Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the remains of about 30,000 Japanese soldiers, military officials and civilians are currently in North Korea.
The two countries have no diplomatic ties. However, North Korea told Sumiko Shimizu in April that they would cooperate if Tokyo retrieved the remains of Japanese in the country. The high-profile former upper house Diet member has visited North Korea more than 20 times.
“It’s about time to start normalizing the relationship and improve the sour ties between North Korea and Japan,” Shimizu said. “However, this will depend on whether the extremists groups in Japan or other countries interrupt the talks.”
According to a Japanese Red Cross spokesperson the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea will not be discussed at these meetings. Representatives from each country will discuss visits by Japanese to the graves containing the remains of their relatives who died during the war and shortly afterward and the possibility of returning the remains to Japan.
“The talks are happening at this time because Pyongyang is trying to build a new city and want to return the remains of those Japanese unearthed there,” Shimzu said. “It’s been more than 60 years since the war ended and their relatives have become old, and want this issue handled now. North Korea also wants the remains of those who died in Japan during the war returned to them. It’s important to have their ancestors come back to their own country.”
The issue of the physical remains of the deceased is an important one in Japanese culture. Such a feeling has prompted this rare meeting between the two representative organizations, which some see as a good thing.
Rumiko Nishikawa, director of the Association for Families to Retrieve Japanese Remains in North Korea, said, “When the relatives of those who died in North Korea found out about these talks, many phoned me and asked if it was really true. They want to visit North Korea and bring back the remains to Japan. We hope that no organizations will interrupt these discussions.”
But many Japanese still express a strong distrust towards and dislike for North Korea.
It’s too early to claim that North Korea is opening up to Japan under the new leadership, but maybe the ice is starting to thaw a little through exchanges such as these.