NHK has found that for at least 14 years, Japan's welfare ministry has not addressed suspicion over remains collected from the burial sites of Japanese people who died while in detention in Siberia after World War Two.
A delegation sent by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry recovered remains at two locations in Siberia in 2017 and 2018. NHK already learned that DNA analyses have suggested that the remains may not be of Japanese.
NHK has newly discovered that DNA experts pointed out to the ministry that remains collected at seven other locations in Siberia are also not of Japanese.
Experts have raised the suspicion of wrong remains 15 times which was raised at closed-door meetings at the ministry since May 2005 through March this year.
In July this year, the suspicion that the remains are not of Japanese surfaced for the first time. At the time, ministry officials explained that they were in the middle of an internal study on the matter and they intended to make it public after consulting the Russian side.
The ministry was aware of the suspicion at least 14 years ago, and yet did not disclose it and effectively left the matter unaddressed.
According to the minutes of a 2007 session obtained by NHK, multiple experts presented their views about the remains of 125 people retrieved in the Khabarovsk region.
One expert pointed out that many of the remains are from women, which makes him wonder who were buried in the graveyard.
A senior ministry official replied that it is an unwelcome discovery. The official also said that if it had not been for DNA testing, they would have been simply interred at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo.
The official suggested that it could lead to suspicion about those who had already been buried at the national cemetery.
A 2012 meeting discussed the remains of 128 people collected also in the Khabarovsk region. Experts pointed out that almost all of the remains are not of Japanese and suggested that it is unacceptable to keep what are believed to be the remains of Russians in Japan.
One official said the ministry will consider the possibility of turning down any application for DNA testing from bereaved families of Russians.
The ministry has declined to make any comment on the issue, saying that it is at the stage of verification.
The welfare ministry says about 55,000 Japanese internees died in Siberia and Mongolia due mainly to hard labor and starvation.