Ex-Imperial Japanese Army Soldier Found In Ukraine Visits Japan

NARITA, Japan -- A former Japanese soldier traveled from Ukraine to Tokyo on Wednesday to see relatives he had not contacted since World War II.

Former Japanese Imperial Army soldier, Ishinosuke Uwano, 83 (C), speaks to media as his son Anatolii Zaichuk (R), listens upon his arrival in Narita, east of Tokyo, Wednesday, April 19, 2006. Uwano, who last seen by his family when he went off to fight in World War II and later resurfaced in Ukraine arrived in Tokyo Wednesday on a visit to see his relatives for the first time in 60 years. Woman at left is an unidentified official of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Ishinosuke Uwano, now 83, seemed surprised by the large number of reporters awaiting as he disembarked at Tokyo's international airport in Narita with his Ukrainian son, Anatolii Zaichuk.

"I have not spoken Japanese for more than 60 years," Uwano said through an interpreter. "So, the first thing that I want to say to all of you is 'konnichi wa' (good afternoon)."

Uwano - who despite a shock of white hair looked younger than his years - said he was grateful to the Japanese government and consular officials in Kiev and Moscow for making his return home possible.

Uwano and his son will travel to Morioka, Iwate prefecture (state), on Thursday to meet the former soldier's older brother and other surviving relatives. Uwano said he was looking forward to seeing his brother, though he wasn't sure what they would say to each other.

"I'm sure once we've met we'll find topics in common to talk about," he said.

He is also expected to call on the deputy governor and stay with his relatives in Iwate - about 470 kilometers (290 miles) northeast of Tokyo - for a week.

In his old hometown of Hirono, Uwano's relatives were making final preparation for his arrival Thursday. "A week of visiting would be very short, but I hope (my uncle) would make himself at home," Uwano's nephew Yukio told nationally televised interview on Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

Uwano was an Imperial Army soldier serving in a force occupying the island of Sakhalin in Russia's Far East when the war ended in August 1945.

Suminori Arima, a health ministry official in charge of locating war veterans lost overseas, said Uwano was last reported seen there in 1958.

Uwano - who will be in Japan for 10 days altogether- said Wednesday that he had not been able to return earlier "due to the former Soviet regime," without elaborating.

According to Arima, the aging Uwano asked someone in his local community in Ukraine to help him track down his Japanese relatives. Inquiries by the acquaintance eventually reached the health ministry, which sent staff to interview Uwano at the Japanese Embassy in the Ukraine capital, Kyiv, Arima said.

The health ministry declined to provide more information on the former soldier and details of his Japanese and Ukrainian families were not disclosed.

Kyodo News agency said Uwano moved to Ukraine in 1965 and has three children. He lives in Zhytomyr, a city about 144 kilometers (90 miles) west of Kyiv, the report said.

The government believes about 400 former Japanese World War II soldiers are living in the states of the former Soviet Union, and 40 of them have been identified.

Source: AP