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News Navigator: How many remains of the war dead are left on Iwo Jima?

An airstrip on Iwo Jima is seen in this photo taken in January 2018. (Mainichi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers common questions readers may have about retrieval of the remains of Japanese war dead on Iwo Jima, amid a government investigation and excavation of a landing strip zone there.

Question: What kind of investigation is the government conducting on the island of Iwo Jima, which is part of Tokyo's Ogasawara Islands?

Answer: The government is carrying out an investigation to find the remains of war victims at the landing strip zone on the island. About 21,900 Japanese soldiers and 6,821 U.S. soldiers were killed during fierce battles on the island toward the end of World War II, from February to March 1945. While U.S. Marines collected all of the remains of their victims, the remains of more than 10,000 Japanese soldiers who died have not been recovered.

Q: Why have about half of the remains of Japanese soldiers not been recovered?

A: The former Ministry of Health and Welfare (the current Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) and other organizations began to recover the remains of the war dead on Iwo Jima in 1968 when the island was returned by the U.S. government to Japan. About 23 years had passed since the end of the war, which made it difficult to collect the remains, while recently it has even been hard to find the dugouts which many Japanese troops used.

Q: Where are the remains of the approximately 10,000 war dead buried?

A: Those involved in the retrieval have long focused on an underground area of the landing strip, where there is a high possibility that the remains of the war dead are buried. The airstrip, built by Japanese troops, was upgraded for use by the U.S. military, and continued to be utilized by the Self-Defense Forces after the return of the island to Japan. The excavation of the remains is proceeding in all areas of the island, but the government had failed to conduct a thorough survey of the landing strip zone.

Q: What kind of investigation is the government conducting?

A: In the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years, the government used underground search radars to look for the remains of war dead and dugouts. The excavation efforts carried out from fiscal 2014 to 2017 in nearly 1,800 locations where the radars received responses managed to recover the remains of two war dead from inside a shelter. The government is planning to continue the survey this fiscal year, developing enhanced underground radar.

Q: Who are collecting the remains of the war dead?

A: Survivors and the families and friends of the war dead have been collecting the remains for a long time. One midsummer, this writer joined the recovery efforts of the remains of the war dead, and it was very tough. We are obviously approaching the limit in the way we leave such tough work to elderly people. Even if dugouts and other evidence are found, volunteers and related ministry and agency officials are needed to join the efforts to recover the remains of the war dead.

(Answers by Toshio Kurihara, Cultural News Department)

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