Japanese hope to bring WWII remains back from North Korea

A Japanese delegation landed in Pyongyang on Tuesday in a bid to bring back the remains of relatives who died in North Korea during World War II.

The 10-day trip by a group called Seishinkai comes on the eve of the first official talks between North Korea and Japan in four years. Those talks are to take place in Beijing on Wednesday.

North Korea does not have diplomatic ties with Japan, which colonized Korea from 1910 until its World War II defeat in 1945. Seishinkai members will visit the graves of Japanese who died in Korea in the closing stages of the war.

Sadao Masaki, head of the four-person delegation, said he was happy to make the trip after waiting so many years.

"Things have proceeded to a stage that is beyond what we had even hoped for," he told reporters in Beijing before boarding his flight to Pyongyang. "We are extremely grateful."

He said he hoped for better ties between Japan and North Korea. Tokyo and Pyongyang have not held government-level talks since August 2008 due to animosity over the colonial past, disputes over North Korea's nuclear program and the kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Our final aim is to realize an improvement in relations between our two countries," Masaki said.