Collecting Bones: Japanese Missions for the Repatriation of War Remains and the Unfinished Business of the Asia-Pacific War

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Despite the temporal distance from the end of the Asia-Pacific War marked by the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat, the war remains ‘unfinished business’ in the region and in Japan’s domestic social and cultural sphere. This article focuses on the recovery of war remains in post-war Japan as a window onto the repercussions of trauma and conflict. In particular, it examines the process of collecting the bones of the dead as an ongoing attempt at reconciliation. Quests to find and repatriate war remains attempt to mark an end to the long-term impact of war, and to finish, once and for all, the ‘unfinished business’ of grief and loss. These quests engage with, reflect and transform social and cultural economies of memory: the discovery of bones offers proof of the violent death of another human being decades ago. Those who search for and find them want to prevent forgetting, but also to promote reconciliation with the past by demanding acknowledgement of the death of others. As I will show here, in the case of Japanese bone-collecting missions, these processes are conditioned by the specific nature of Japan’s defeat in Asia and the Pacific, as well as the particularities of Japan’s own post-war transformation and the transformation of its regional relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-159
Number of pages15
JournalAustralian Humanities Review
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2017


  • War remains
  • World War II
  • Japan
  • Pacific
  • War dead
  • recovery missions

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