Anthropologist analyzes war dead remains

Anthropologist analyzes war dead remains
Shuichiro Narasaki.

Bones sticking up in the air, bones in a squatting position but curved as if to hug a fellow soldier - whenever anthropologist Shuichiro Narasaki encountered the remains of former Japanese soldiers who had died in World War II, he mentally tells them: "I'm sorry for making you wait so long. You will be able to return home at last."

Since Narasaki first participated in a mission to collect the remains of the war dead on the Marshall Islands in 2011, he has analysed about 300 remains. He has taken part in 14 recovery missions.

Narasaki, 56, is a former Gunma prefectural government official who worked at the prefectural museum. In more than 30 years, he has excavated about 1,000 remains of early humans and others in Japan and abroad.

In summer 2010, after he retired from the local government, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry asked Narasaki to join a recovery mission as he is an experienced anthropologist. His role was to decide whether any remains found were those of Japanese soldiers, American soldiers or local people based on the shape of their bones and teeth.

"I thought I would be able to utilize my experience in the mission," Narasaki recalled as the reason he accepted the offer.

His father's brother was killed in a battle in Burma (now Myanmar) and his mother's uncle died in in a battle in New Guinea. The remains of both men have not been found. This prompted him to join the recovery mission.

In early December, Narasaki engaged in recovery work in Peleliu Island in Palau, where about 10,000 Japanese soldiers died. He was shocked to find the remains had been exposed to the weather for 70 years. Of about 2.4 million war dead, the remains of about 1.13 million people have not yet been recovered.

"I'd like to return them to Japan as soon as possible, even if [we can only find] one [set of remains]. I can hear their voices saying, 'Please find me,'" he said.

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