Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Memories from World War II

2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II, the year Imperial Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Forces. The aging generation who survived the war consisted of children growing up during the war (1930 - 1945) wherever they were at the time - Japan proper, neighboring Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria. The children in Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria had to return to Japan, the land of their parents. We knew we had to live with a moral obligation to earn redemption on behalf of our parents in dealing with such close neighbors, but lost contact 70 years ago.

My wife was born in Nampo, North Korea, and her family, after a few years under Russian occupation, voluntarily attempted border crossing at the 38th parallel to reach Seoul and Pusan and boated down to Sasebo (See reunion photos of Nampo returnees, mostly from the second generation. They have a motto "Our home is where we meet".) My Fukuoka friend TM (Toastmaster) Oishi was born in Rason, formerly Rajin-Sonbong, northeastern tip of North Korea, bordering Vladiostok. He took the Jirin land route, China, and back to Dandong to cross the Yalu River. He re-entered in North Korea and headed south to Japan. TM Oshiumi residing in Wakamatsu, Kitakyushu was born in Daegu, South Korea. Both Oishi and Oshiumi told me they have attended Korean school reunions. I know they were both studying Korean Hangl.

TM Mitsuko Nishimura, cofounder of Kitakyushu Toastmasters and her two sisters, born in Taiwan, were boated north from Keelung to Kagoshima. I read that Mitsuko tried to talk to local Japanese women farmers in Kagoshima but was baffled with an answer she couldn’t understand. This was the first of many reverse culture shock she experienced. It was the Kagoshima dialect! I remembered TM Oishi similarly was baffled with the Saga dialect.

My Kumamoto friend TM Uemura was born near Taichung. We traveled together to Taichung when we attended the Taiwan Toastmasters Conference. She took time to visit where she was born during the conference. I accompanied my Tokyo workmate Shimada to Taipei on his first-time return to Taipei where he was born. I introduced him to Taiwan Toastmaster Mrs. Quo who had taught at Ximen Elementary School. Shimada’s Nanmen school was close to Ximen Elementary. Mrs. Quo talked to the principal of Nanmen Elementary School and Shimada received a graduation certificate when he visited his mother school. I was very impressed with Mrs. Quo’s arrangements.

I found out that in 2002, Mrs. Quo organized a reunion of Ximen school classmates, Taiwanese and Japanese, to commemorate the 90th year since school opening and published an awesome book titled “Old Dreams-Deep Compassion” with collected essays from some of the participants. Now she is preparing a belated 100th reunion in March 2015.

The following is a quote from this book:

On board the repatriation boat - We were loaded into the vessel hold in a huddle, no free room to move and slept over rush-mat rug. Once out on the open ocean, the rolling of the vessel became intense and most passengers got seasick. They started vomiting and the bad smell filled the hold. They withdrew and grew lethargic, made no conversations and had lost their appetite. There were few semi-invalid passengers who died in such awful circumstances. Only those who could afford it went up to the deck and attended their burial at sea. The voyage took about a week. Upon disembarking, we all went through quarantine, being sprayed DDT from head to the sole of our feet.

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