TOKYO -- Hundreds of orphans left behind by Japanese troops fleeing China at the end of World War II sued the Japanese government on Friday.
A total of 637 plaintiffs in two groups filed a lawsuit seeking $173 million in compensation and an apology, Tokyo District Court spokesman Hideyuki Ito said. The smaller group, comprised of 40 older plaintiffs, is hoping for quicker proceedings by filing separately.
Each plaintiff is seeking $273,000.
The orphans are also demanding more government help with Japanese language education and job training. About 500 of them marched through Tokyo on Friday with banners saying, "Secure our living."
"We have been discarded by the state for the past 40 years, plaintiff Sumie Ikeda told reporters after the march. "We want the state to apologize and compensate us for its irresponsible policy."
Japan's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry refused to comment on the lawsuit.
Japanese colonizers fled their empire in the Chinese province of Manchuria as Soviet forces closed in at the end of the war, leaving behind homes, belongings and thousands of children.
The plaintiffs claim the government neglected its responsibility by closing its doors to the orphans, presuming them dead despite evidence they were alive.
In 1981, Tokyo began spending tens of millions of dollars a year helping orphans come to Japan by paying for their visits and providing support services for those who wanted to live here permanently.
But many who came to Japan have found it hard to adapt and make ends meet. They receive monthly welfare payments of $164 to $248 per person. That amount is about one-tenth the average monthly cost of living for a single person in Tokyo.
Out of 2,455 orphans, 1,072 were successfully reunited with relatives at the end of November, Kobayashi said.
Most were too young when orphaned to remember their Japanese names or their natural parents' faces. As many are now in their 60s and 70s, the likelihood of finding family members fades each year.