TOKYO (AP) — In 1944, the two men were in northeastern India as foes, fighting one of harshest battles of World War II between Japan and Britain. More than 70 years later on Thursday, they shook hands and sipped tea in Tokyo.
Roy Welland, 94, a former British sergeant, and Taiji Urayama, 93, a former Imperial Army lieutenant, survived the Battle of Kohima in northern India near the Burmese border and met for the first time at a British Embassy reception in Tokyo. Another Japanese veteran, Mikio Kinoshita, 95, who served as an engineer on the notorious Thai-Burma railway, joined the gathering.
A somewhat formal atmosphere quickly thawed, sending the audience into laughter, when the smaller Kinoshita bounced up from the sofa as the well-built and tall Welland sat next to him. Frail-looking Urayama arrived in a wheelchair assisted by his daughter but moved to the sofa to join the others. They exchanged gifts and shook hands.
While the men were mostly quiet, Urayama's daughter, Akiko McDonald, said she was "deeply moved" to see her father met Welland.
"Today we can remember the past, but we can also honor the change through reconciliation between people," British Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens said as the three veterans sat together on a long couch over English-style tea and cake.
Welland is in Tokyo for a reconciliation program between the two countries. Japan invites American and Australian former prisoners of war under similar friendship programs.