TOKYO – A former Japanese soldier last seen by his family when he went off to fight in World War II said Tuesday he was eager to visit his parents' graves and see Japan's famous cherry blossoms.
"I would like to visit my parents' graves and to see cherry blossoms," Uwano, 83, said at the main airport in the capital, Kiev, before traveling to Japan with one of his sons.
Speaking Ukrainian and wearing a traditional Ukrainian cap over his gray hair, Uwano told a handful of reporters he has no plans to live in Japan.
"Ukraine has become my homeland," he said.
A Japanese official in charge of locating war veterans lost overseas, Suminori Arima, has said Uwano would visit surviving relatives in Iwate, about 290 miles northeast of Tokyo.
Japanese Public broadcaster NHK said Uwano was drafted in 1943 to fight on the island of Sakhalin in Russia's far east -- north of Japan. He was there when the war ended in August 1945 and last reported seen on the same Pacific island in 1958.
He never returned to Japan or contacted relatives there, and in 2000 his family agreed to register him as having died in the war.
Japan's Kyodo News agency said Uwano moved to Ukraine in 1965 and has three children. He lives in Zhitomyr, a city about 90 miles west of the capital, Kiev, the report said.
Uwano asked someone in his local community to help him track his Japanese relatives and eventually he was interviewed at the Japanese Embassy in Kiev, Arima said.
The government believes about 400 former Japanese World War II soldiers are living in the states of the former Soviet Union, and 40 of them have been identified.