Collecting the Remains of the War Dead: Japanese Missions to Papua New Guinea

Beatrice Trefalt

Monash University, Clayton, Australia

The first Japanese mission to recover and collect the remains of the war dead in Papua New Guinea took place between 11 October and 16 November 1969. Fifty-five veterans of the campaign and several employees of the Ministry of Health and Welfare collected the remains of about 8000 war dead along the coast between Lae and Wewak. On their return a book of essays and photographs recounted their search for war remains. Missions to collect war remains (“ikotsu shūshū”) from former battlefields in the Pacific were the culmination of long-running pressure on the Japanese government to account for the war dead. War bereaved families in Japan joined with veterans’ organisations and others to demand the repatriation of their remains from 1948 onwards. By the late 1960s, the Japanese government funded and organized a number of well publicised missions to recover remains, of which the Papua New Guinea one was an important example. This paper focusses on how the 1969 mission was described in the accompanying book, and the function that such missions and commemorative travelogues performed in 1970s Japan.


Beatrice Trefalt is Associate Professor of Japanese Studies in the School of Languages, Cultures, Literatures and Linguistics at Monash University. Her research has focussed on Japanese experiences of the war and the war’s legacies in Japan, and on the pursuit of Japanese war crimes. She has co-authored, with Sandra Wilson, Robert Cribb and Dean Aszkielowicz, Japanese War Criminals: the Politics of Justice After the Second World War (Columbia University Press, 2017).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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