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Personnel working for Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare dig for remains from World War II in this undated photo.

Personnel working for Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare dig for remains from World War II in this undated photo. (Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa  Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in June revealed that 46 sets of remains the ministry recovered on Okinawa were scientifically identified as women, including one child.

The report offered insight into a conflict that claimed the lives of over 200,000 from the U.S. and Japan, including over 100,000 Okinawan civilians.

“We can guess they were involved in the battle or died after being asked to help the army,” Tsuyoshi Kitamura, professor of cultural anthropology at Osaka University’s graduate school, said by phone June 29. “These remains can help us understand the real situation during the battle.”

None of the 46 women and children have been individually identified, a spokeswoman for the ministry said by phone July 27. The remains were collected from several sources over an extended period.

The remains may be those of local civilians or Korean “comfort women,” a term used to describe women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military, according to Kitamura, who was not involved with researching the remains.

Much can be gleaned also from building genetic profiles of recovered remains, such as whether the individuals were related or their wartime activities, Kitamura added. However, few of the many sets of remains recovered from Okinawa by the Japanese have been identified.

“If we are able to determine where these remains were found, we can research how people acted during the war, for example, if they ran away as a family unit or if they were asked to help the army and were involved,” he said.

The ministry declined to provide details on where the remains were recovered, the ministry spokeswoman said.

Government spokespeople in Japan are often required to speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

The remains of 187,583 people have been recovered on Okinawa since the cessation of hostilities, the spokeswoman said.

Since 2003, the Japanese government has identified just six people out of those remains, the spokeswoman said. Two people were identified out of 600 DNA tests since application standards were revised in 2017.

Unidentified remains are cremated and buried at the Chidorigafuchi National Cementery in Tokyo or the National Cemetery for War Dead in Okinawa.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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