$40M log kickback exposed in PNG
Musings of a District Commissioner

The bizarre bone man of PNG


Nishimura Kokichi As the lone survivor of a Japanese infantry unit in PNG during World War II, Kokichi Nishimura swore he would bring his dead comrades bodies back to Japan. Sixty years later he’s still trying. And it has cost him, well,  everything.

In 1979, he shocked his wife Yukiko when he told her, after 35 years of marriage and four children, that he was leaving. At 59 years of age he turned over one of Tokyo's most successful engineering works to his oldest son, and boarded a plane back for PNG.


"I'll be gone for a long time, probably years," he said. The object: to collect bones. Nishimura spent 26 years doing just that - at the cost of his business, his life in Japan and his relationship with his sons and wife, whom he never saw again. "I heard she died a few years back," he says, adding he couldn’t recall her name. And his sons: "They are nothing to do with me." Today, Nishimura lives with his daughter in a densely packed Tokyo suburb in a bland house, but for the propeller of a US B-24 bomber stuck in a garden of well-trimmed shrubs.

The remains of 1.2 million Japanese soldiers are scattered across Asia. At an age when most men consider retiring, the 60-year-old set up base in PNG, living in tents and makeshift huts as he searched for bones. In a quarter-century of digging, armed with a metal detector and hand tools, he found the remains of 350 men, including former members of his 144th Infantry Regiment. It became an obsession, consumed his life not to mention $4 million. Skulls, femurs, gold teeth, rusting knives, swords, buckles, spoons…..

In Papua remain the bodies of 78,000 of 128,000 dead Japanese troops. Nishimura continued to dig until last year, when, at 87, his frail body forced him to return to Tokyo. Before he left, he fought hard against one last indignity: skeletal remains dug up by locals displayed in stalls for tourists and offered for sale. "I asked the people: 'What if it was a member of your family. Would you treat them like this?' It was the worst possible way for Nishimura to leave the country.

Before he dies, the veteran has two missions. He wants to help build a new city at the mouth of the Sepik, which, he believes, will help lift PNG out of poverty. And he wants to visit all the graves of the 365 troops in the 144th Infantry Regiment. So far he thinks he’s visited more than 330. "I'm not sure how many. At my age, things begin to fade."

Source: ‘Finding Papua war dead a vet's life’ by David McNeill, The Japan Times, 2 July 2008


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