April 18, 2006

Japanese WW2 soldier returns home after 63 years

TOKYO (Reuters) - A former Japanese World War Two soldier
who recently turned up living in Ukraine set foot in his
motherland on Wednesday for the first time in more than six
decades for emotional reunions with surviving relatives.

Ishinosuke Uwano, 83, was officially registered as dead by
the Japanese government in 2000, as he had not been heard from
since 1958 when he was last reported seen on Russia's Sakhalin

It was unclear why and how Uwano, who served in the
Japanese Imperial Army on Sakhalin until the war's end in 1945,
ended up in Ukraine.

"I have never spoken Japanese for 60 years, and first of
all I would like to say to you 'konnichiwa' (good afternoon),"
Uwano told reporters in Russian shortly after arriving at
Tokyo's Narita international airport.

"I'm looking forward to seeing and talking with my brothers
and cousins."

He was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army in 1943 to
join other soldiers on Sakhalin Island.

Japanese media said Uwano moved to Ukraine in 1965 and
married a Ukrainian woman. Uwano, who has three children, lives
in Zhitomyr west of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

During a 10-day visit to Japan, Uwano plans to travel to
his home in Iwate, about 450 km (300 miles) north of Tokyo, to
see relatives and friends and visit the graves of his parents.

Since finding Uwano in Ukraine in October, Japan's Health
Ministry has been trying to restore his residency registration.

"He is visiting Japan as a foreigner this time. We are
trying to restore his family register so that he can be
confirmed legally as Japanese citizen," a Health Ministry
official said.

Uwano has Ukrainian nationality.

"He might have to give up his Ukrainian nationality, but it
is up to him whether he picks either Japanese or Ukrainian
nationality," the official said.