Bereaved families from Okinawa visit Saipan, Tinian to pray for WWII dead

People in Okinawa who lost family members during World War Two are headed for islands in the Western Pacific where many people with roots in Japan's southwestern prefecture died in the fighting.

Participants attended a departure ceremony at an Okinawa airport on Thursday.

Thirty-seven people between the ages of 20 and 93 will visit the Northern Mariana Islands of Saipan and Tinian through Monday and pray for the souls of those who perished there.

Many people moved from Okinawa to the islands after Japan gained control of them following the end of World War One. It's estimated that 13,000 out of 50,000 with roots in Okinawa died during fierce battles between Japan and the United States in 1944.

The number of survivors is steadily declining. Yonashiro Haruko, 93, said her father, younger and older brothers and sisters have all died. She added that she has visited there six times and thinks this will be her final trip.

This year, some younger relatives -- including grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- are participating for the first time in the event.