Japan slowly recognises its war past

The repatriation of the remains of a Japanese prisoner of war from Australia is a significant step in the country's relationship with its war past, writes KEIKO TAMURA.

On the outskirts of the small NSW country town of Cowra sits the Japanese War Cemetery.

It attracts some tourists after they visit the nearby prisoner of war (POW) campsite and the Japanese Gardens but usually it is quiet.

You can easily contemplate the fate of the 500 or so Japanese nationals, POWs and civilian internees who died in Australia during the Second World War. 

Nearly half of those died on one day in August 1944, when more than 1,000 Japanese POWs broke out of the camp; 234 perished.

Yet, on a sunny spring day last September, the cemetery was a hive of activity.

The very first exhumation of a Japanese POW's remains took place.

The soldier's family travelled from Japan, accompanied by Japanese government officials. 

An archaeologist conducted the excavation, watched on by local council officials and media.

I was there primarily as a researcher but my involvement had turned rather personal through my chance encounter with the dead soldier's family a year earlier.

My interest in Cowra started about a decade ago and, since 2014, I have been researching how and why the Japanese War Cemetery was established. 

While Japan's official policy on soldiers' remains has been to repatriate, the only officially recognised Japanese war cemetery outside Japan is in Cowra. Why?