Thousands of Japanese war dead remain unclaimed

The Japanese army presses forward in the Pacific theater during World War II.
The Japanese army presses forward in the Pacific theater during World War II.

As VJ Day has been commemorated around the world, the cremated remains of over 7000 Japanese war dead killed during World War Two remain unclaimed and are held by temples throughout Japan.

More than 3500 of those victims are held in the Asakusa Kannon temple in Tokyo.  All of the remains are held in their own individual urns and each has had its identity confirmed. The remains are housed in temples across eight cities in Japan. The cities are those targeted by the Allies for air bombing raids during World War Two, meaning that there were high civilian casualties in those areas.

In the southern islands of Okinawa many civilians were killed by bombings from the US Navy and the land invasion that saw thousands of US troops landing for a ground attack which lasted around three and a half months in early 1945.

Meanwhile those on mainland Japan suffered more under the aerial bombardment as key US targets were the central cities and urban areas.

One air raid at the beginning of March 1945 has become known as the most damaging raid ever, as more than 275 B-29 Superfortress bombers flew over Tokyo dropping more than 1500 tonnes of explosives on the city.

Tokyo was emblazoned and around 100,000 died in the fires, while around 125,000 were wounded, and 1.5 million inhabitants became homeless.

Osaka, Yokohama and Kamaishi were all also targeted in the campaign. There are also over 800 remains kept at Hiroshima awaiting collection, who were killed by the atomic bomb, dropped in early August 1945. At Nagasaki more than 100 remains are being kept.

The temples across the cities keep and store the cremated remains out of respect for the dead, and they are ever hopeful that they will one day be collected by family members. The bodies were originally identified by the clothes they were wearing or identity papers that they were carrying.

There have been many appeals over the years for families to visit the temples and reclaim the remains of their family members. However, as the years go by it is less and less likely that they will ever be returned to their families, The Telegraph reports.

Of course many families were completely wiped out, with the men killed on the frontlines and other family members never being identified. More than half a million Japanese are thought to have died during the war.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE