Chapter Six


Shall We Go South?

I couldn’t rouse myself out of bed the next morning, maybe because I was too drunk with happiness—my husband was back. I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to let him take care of me again—to amaeru—that delicious feeling of losing myself in him. I was so happy that I could relax, even a little. But two days after he arrived, there was a change in our group. Dancho Tono learned his missing wife was in Chinnanbo, a town further south, and he decided to leave our group to go find her.

Who is going to be our next dancho? This was wartime and we couldn’t depend on the usual procedures we followed for this sort of thing. They would probably select someone based on a his former job. Out of the eleven men, the ones most likely to be chosen were Mr. Narita and my husband In addition to these two, there was Mr. Oe who was ten years older and used to be a manager. So there were three candidates. Watching the eleven men seated in a circle in the middle of the room, intently talking, it looked like the dancho job was going to be handed to my husband, but I prayed that he would turn the job down.

Mr. Narita was a weak, scholarly man and I dismissed him, thinking, “He’s not much use in this situation.” Next they talked about my husband. I was worried sick that he would end up with the job because I knew my children and I would end up secondary to any dancho responsibilities. They kept talking through the morning but still hadn’t made a decision yet. When my husband came back to talk with me during their break, I told him to not accept this job, “Never!” He didn’t say anything but just nodded.

In the afternoon, it was decided. The new dancho would be Mr. Oe, who was older and known for being a tough boss. Next in line—fuku dancho, the assistant head, would be my husband. I was uneasy but grateful that he wasn’t picked to be the dancho. Dancho Oe and fuku-dancho my husband, they were announced to the other Japanese.

Everyday at one p.m. representatives from all the refugee dan met at an elementary school in the center of town. When Dancho Oe and my husband, the fuku-dancho, got back from these meetings, we gathered round to hear the latest news. But who knew if the information was really reliable or not. I thought a lot of it was gossip, or just more propaganda from the government. I waited anxiously for my husband to get back because he sometimes managed to pick up some apples or Korean rice cakes on the way back.

The information from these meetings made everyone uneasy. There was always talk of something terrible about to happen to the Japanese—the hated former colonizers of Korea. More and more Japanese fled south when the trains began to run as they did before. I thought we should take the chance, too, and go to Jinsen in southern Korea, rather than stay here northern Korea with people I didn’t know. The former head of the meteorological station, Mr. Wadachi, his wife and others would be down south.

I had the feeling that if we could somehow get to Jinsen, we could escape this terrible situation. “Now. Now, we should go south,” I urged my husband. When he was extremely worried, a deep wrinkle would appear between his thick eyebrows. He said, “But what about the other families who get left behind?”

“But in this situation, we don’t have the luxury of thinking about other families,” I said.

“That’s just your selfish logic,” he shot back. “It’s true that if we go south, we would be saved. At Jinsen, there’s not just Mr. Wadachi, there are a lot of people I know from the Korean meteorological station. That’s true that we would be better off than we are now. But, who’s going to help these other families get home?”

“What are you saying? There’s a great dancho here, and there are a lot of other men who could do the job,” I said.

“You don’t understand,” he said. My husband became very serious.

Did he intend to endanger the lives of all five members of our family and have us stay in this dangerous place? All because of his sense of responsibility, his devotion to other Japanese refugees, and his willingness to meddle in their problems?

I said, “Times have changed. The meteorological station is gone. And you are not a manager of anything now. You have no department. If there’s any connection, it’s just the people who were civil servants, and they look to you as a mentor. Why should your freedom be held hostage by forty-nine strangers? How is that a reason for staying behind?”

I ignored Mr. and Mrs. Mizushima who sat next us. Mr. Mizushima wiped his glasses, but he was obviously listening in on our fight. I pressed my husband even harder. But he dug in his heels, and ignored my pleas. “My boss, Mr. Taya, asked me to look after these people. If I go now, this dan will become a mess,” he said.

My husband’s idiocy, as he went on and on about his duty and his obligations finally got to me. I shouted, “You’re just thinking about yourself. You have a twisted, one-sided prejudice against your own family. Stupid ideas about your own superior character and sense of justice are all you care about!”

“What? Superior character?” he angrily sputtered.

I shot back, “That’s right. I don’t know what Mr. Taya said to you but you’ve gotten so full of yourself, you think you are the only honorable person here. I’m sick of your thinking. Do whatever the hell you want,” and I turned away from him.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mrs. Mizushima cover her mouth. She trembled and clung to her husband as I spit out my words. My husband didn’t try to argue. He finished his dinner quickly and gazed at the group as everyone got ready for bed. His eyes focused on two or three families in particular, those with children. The Mizushima’s leaned their heads close together, to gossip about our fight, no doubt. From time to time, they glanced back at us. My husband finally noticed them.

“I’ll think about it tonight,” he said.

After that he didn’t say a single word.

When he ended his silence the next day, he began talking with Dancho Oe about going south. They decided that those who wanted to go south should be allowed to do so. He said, “Let’s ask everyone what they want to do.” At the next group meeting, the idea of going south was brought up. Many were pessimistic. They said, “The more we move, the more dangerous it will be. If we just stay where we are for another month, we can go back to Japan with those from the north.” There were many who believed this nonsense.

We devoted the day to deciding what the dan should do but the discussions just went around in circles, with no end in sight when we went to sleep that night. The next day, the dan still couldn’t reach an agreement and I grew irritated with all the waffling. The morning of the third day, my husband made an announcement to everyone. “Not as your fuku-dancho, but as an individual and a family man, I’ve decided to go south. If anyone else wants to come with us—we leave tonight.” After saying that, we began preparations to leave. Then the people who were so opposed to him suddenly changed their minds and began preparations themselves. Soon everyone joined in the preparations.

Mr. Kimoto and another man ran to the train station to check on the departure times. One man told us a train would leave at 6 p.m. that day. But as we hurriedly packed, Mr. Kimoto came running back from the train station and said, “Mr. Fujiwara, it’s no good. Starting today, the trains are not allowed further than Heijyo, in northern Korea, which is only a little ways south of us.”

I felt that whatever we decided to do was going to determine our fates. (I think this was August twenty-fourth.) They said the 38th Parallel was closed and trains would no longer be allowed through. We stopped packing and were stunned into silence. My husband remained quiet and gazed out toward the eastern sky for a long time.


Chapter Five


Meeting My Husband Again

It was very late at night on August 15th, when there was a sudden commotion at the front gates of the school. I had already put Masahiko and Sakiko to bed, and was still up mending the split seams on their clothes when I heard loud voices. I put my sewing down and crept down towards the front door to see what was going on.

“They’re from the meteorological station,” one of the women said as they stood in the hallway. I gasped and hurried into the entryway. Beneath a dim light, I saw several men. Among them, I immediately recognized Mr. Narita, a meteorologist from my husband’s office. I ran about looking, “Where is my husband?” But I didn’t see him. I sank with bitter disappointment against the metal bannister. As if I had lost any will to live, I just stared at the faces of the men from our meteorological station as they lowered their rucksacks to let people see what they brought.

Then suddenly, Masahiro, my eldest, said in a strange voice, “There’s Daddy!”

I jerked awake and looked where Masahiro was pointing. My husband was separate from the other men—he kneeled at a table—surrounded by a crowd, and was writing something. When he finished writing, he talked with the Hoantai, the Korean police who had brought our men. I grabbed Masahiro and crumpled to the ground in tears.

There were eight men who returned to us that night. With these men, now there were eleven families restored, made whole again. But six men did not return—their families sat desolate as the rest of us rejoiced. I touched my husband’s rucksack and asked if I could take it. He shrugged as if he didn’t care. “Go ahead,” he said. There was a mountain of things for us to talk about, but when we took his bag to our ‘home’ in the classroom, he gently touched the cheeks of our sleeping children, Masahiko and Sakiko. Then he laughed, and took out a wrapped present for Masahiro. He started to go talk with Dancho Tono, to catch up, and I stopped him to say, “Be sure to thank Dancho Tono. He’s been a good leader despite his missing wife.

He nodded his head, again surveyed my ‘home,’ our family’s sleeping area on the school room floor, and strode over to Dancho Tono and they talked quietly for some time.
I was delighted as I went through my husband’s bag. He brought a new blanket for us! And his winter underwear. I was so happy with the thought that we would sleep under a warm blanket that night. Happy families here and there laughed and talked late into the night.

But I noticed the six families left out of the happy reunions. They sat apart from us—dejected and silent. I waited for my husband to come sit by my side. I was so happy and relieved, and repeated to myself, “My husband is back.” I wanted to chatter about everything—all my complaints, my worries. Although I knew I would sound silly, I didn’t care anymore. “I can talk with him.” I pulled out the Longines watch I kept in my clothes to show him.

“See. I still have it,” I proudly said. The pocket watch swung on a heavy black silk rope. He took the watch and put it up against his ear to listen, to drink in its nostalgic ticking. When I tried to untie the watch to give it back to him, he refused. But that watch didn’t mean anything to me now that I had my husband’s breathing to replace its sound. The hands of the Longines pointed to two a.m.

I think my husband hadn’t expected to ever see us again. In his bag, there were no clothes for the children or me, but I found a small square package wrapped in cloth. Out of the cloth, photos fell out. He had taken them out of our photo albums. Photos from our wedding, photos of the children, about ten photos in all, carefully tucked away.

That night, as soon as he curled his body around the children, he fell asleep. Grateful for the warm blanket that he had brought, I silently thanked the universe before I lay myself down on the other side of the children. His sunburnt face glowed in the moonlight shining through the window. After I gently lifted my side of the blanket to slip in next to the children, I fell into a deep sleep, so deep it felt like several nights rolled into one.

Table of Contents


Table of Contents.

Click on the highlighted links to see the chapters.

(from print version of Tei, a Memoir of the End of War and Beginning of Peace)

The Story of Her Story                                                                   II
Historical Background                                                                 VI
Translation Notes                                                                           X
Map                                                                                                 XVI


Four Kilometers to the Train Station                                       3
The Separation                                                                             9
The Open Freight Car                                                                15
The Day the War Ended                                                            22
Meeting My Husband Again                                                    28
Shall We Go South?                                                                    31
A New Worry                                                                              36
Corn Husks                                                                                  40
Where is My Husband Going?                                                44
The Hill of Tears                                                                        50
Making Ourselves Invisible                                                    55
Diamond Dust                                                                           58
The Child Who Doesn’t Cry                                                    62
Shooting Stars Are Alive                                                         65
I Love You Right Now                                                              69
A Sundial of Ice                                                                         73
The Sound of Breaking Ice                                                     75
Smoke from the Ondoru                                                         79
Cause of Death                                                                          83


Below the Hill95
The Men from the Graveyard                                              100
A Potato with Teeth Marks                                                   108
A Marriage Proposal                                                              112
The White Cross                                                                      116
The Element of Love                                                              126
Fighting the Spring Wind                                                     132
Teacher of Soap Sales                                                            136
The Couple Who Lived on Bickering                                  140
I’m Just a Beggar                                                                     147
Trembling Hands and Lips                                                   153
A Mad Woman                                                                        156
The Molested Doll                                                                   161
Black Gloves for Gennadi                                                     167
Food Shop Assistant                                                               170
Two Lives Versus One Life                                                   174
The Hikiage Plan                                                                    177
How I Made Three Hundred Yen                                        182
Our Dan Divides                                                                     186


The Content of the Letters                                                    195
Struggle in the Red Mud                                                       199
Before Freezing to Death                                                      206
The Bald Head of Kappa Man                                              211
Two Thousand Yen Promissory Note                                 215
We Reach Shihenri                                                                 221
Rest in the Grass                                                                     224
The Agony of Crossing the River                                         229
A Dead Old Woman                                                                234
Through the 38th Parallel                                                     239
Rescued by Americans                                                          246
Pebbles of Bitterness                                                             248
The Lawyer who Pretended to be Mad                             252
We Reach Giseifu                                                                   255
A Can of Corned Beef                                                            258
Social Decency on the Train                                                261
Hundred Yen Magic Trick                                                    264
At Fusan                                                                                   267
Fat Fujiwara and Thin Fujiwara                                         270
Woman with Children                                                          276
Beelzebub’s Invitation                                                          286
The Four Thousand Yen Carrier                                         290
Landing Day                                                                           295
The Second Day after Landing                                           298
From Hakata to Suwa                                                          303
Finally, My Parents Embrace Me                                       308

Author’s Notes from 1976 and 1984                                  313
About the Author                                                                  319

Glossary of Names, Places, and Terms                             320

Chapter Four

Japanese Surrender

The Day the War Ended


I woke up early and found myself lying on the cold floorboards of a cement building, on the edge of town where we arrived the night before. I lifted my head, so as not to wake the children, and tried to see where we were. Everyone was fast asleep—dressed as they were when we all collapsed upon arrival. The morning sun shone on the children and intensified their ghastly faces, white with fatigue beneath ugly streaks of coal dust.
Sensen Agricultural School took us in to join about three hundred Japanese refugees already here—mostly women and children. As the sleep slowly dissolved from my eyes, my first thought was, “I must wash Sakiko’s diapers.”

I slowly rose from beneath the single blanket that covered us, unwrapping my arms from around my three children, who remained asleep. I crept outside and after going up a little ways on a dew-covered farm road, I found a clear small stream and followed it up into the middle of the woods where a beautiful western-style red brick-building stood. When I went past the front of the building, a lovely view suddenly appeared.

It was a pretty town. More sturdy western-style buildings, perhaps a school or a library stood next to what looked like a church tower. Below that, several neat dwellings lined up, all of them still dark in the thin morning light. Mountains embraced this valley while a river ran through the middle of a town laid out in a square. A single lonely train track crossed the river, then wound around and disappeared into the mountains.

Behind our refuge, this school where we slept, the men were building a simple kitchen. They had set up a cook stove, a place to put the pots, and a communal serving area. Later that day they prepared a mixture of half soybeans with half white rice and made onigiri to distribute twice a day. But the soybeans must have gone bad. After eating, almost all the children got upset stomachs, and most of the adults ended up with a most unpleasant diarrhea.

A cow looked up at me in curiosity. Thank goodness, there was a cow at the agricultural school. Those of us nursing babies each received a small portion of her milk. We mothers were helped a great deal by this cow, but there were so many of us that the milk was not nearly enough. Those whose breasts stopped making milk became desperate as their babies became weaker and weaker.

Once we settled in, I dragged myself several times a day to the river to do the laundry. Sometimes I heard planes flying overhead and each time, I followed the contrails and wondered, “What will happen to us?”

On August 14th, around noon, a single plane began circling high in the sky. “There must be some good news,” we fervently hoped, and rushed outside to wave at the plane. As if to answer our signal, the plane scattered handbills. But they only contained a message from a senior officer of the Japanese Kanto Army asking, “Where are our families?” They only care about their own.

August 15th was a clear day. I was carrying Masahiko on my back, sitting under the poplar trees when—suddenly—bells started pealing. I could hear the footsteps of the agricultural school students as they gathered in their school yard. There must have been four or five hundred of them. A bald man we recognized as the headmaster stepped up to the speaker’s platform. I watched and waited for something to begin.

Then the headmaster waved his right arm at me, as if to tell me to go inside the school building. I looked around to see who he had waved at. There was no one behind me. He waved his hand again in big movements. I gave up on my day’s excursion and began slowly climbing up the hill back to our building.

Then suddenly, like a wave coming towards me, I heard strange sounds. I turned around and those sounds quickly became cries and moans. A male student with a white shirt and crewcut cried so sharply that icy shivers went up my spine. Without any further thought, I hurried back to our schoolroom. Something must have happened.

That was when I first heard the news. “The war is over,” announced Dancho Tono, his face pale and drained. As I watched his tears drop one by one to the ground, our nerves stretched to the breaking point. One woman burst into hysterical wails. Her cries sparked all of us. So many times, I wept since leaving Shinkyo. As I began to cry this time, I thought, “Where is my husband? Where is he hearing this news?”

Another fear quickly grew amongst us. “Would we all die now? What is going to happen to us?” Japan was defeated. Our world was coming to an end and something catastrophic would happen very soon. The evening of the fifteenth we prepared to flee as quickly as possible. Terrors of the worst kind filled our imagination. I sat with Sakiko strapped onto my back. If we had to run then I’d throw away everything I had in my pitiable rucksack. I took out the Longine watch my husband gave me and looked at it in the moonlight—it was past midnight. I had Masahiro and Masahiko go to sleep with their white cotton shoes on, ready to run at a moment’s notice. I watched their restless legs tangle together, then untangle as they slept.

The wait for morning was exhausting. I was stiff from sitting up for so long with the baby on my back. When dawn finally arrived, we were so frightened, our own shadows spooked us. But nothing happened. While the boys slept, I got up. Severe diarrhea sapped me of any strength I had left. But I continued, dragging myself up through a thick fog to wash the diapers.

Outside the school, crowds of Koreans passed by, they waved flags, and there was a festive mood flowing about the town. They were celebrating the end of Japanese rule. We felt nervous and uneasy for the rest of the day, especially when all the dancho ordered us to stay inside. The children and I huddled quietly in the classroom.

As the hours ticked by, we grew hungry. A few bold women from our group ventured out to climb the hill beyond out building where cornfields and apple orchards lay. They managed to get food from nearby people. But I was so afraid, too afraid to do as they did, so I watched them with envy as they came and went. I had money, but since I couldn’t go out, I tried to satisfy the children’s hunger by feeding them strings of lies.

When I separated from my husband, I had a three thousand yen certificate from the Bank of Manchuria and my post office savings book. But in this town, the Manchurian money was useless. I had managed to get to the post office once to get Korean bank certificates. Using them, I bought a few vegetables from the town market. But living in a group like this, there was little tolerance for individuals. When I approached our common cooking area to try to cook our own food, the men yelled at me and drove me off. I had no choice but to give up.

All four of us had diarrhea. Masahiro, my oldest, and I had it the worst. I knew we needed to eat okayu—rice gruel—but we didn’t have any. From the window I saw the Japanese Kanto Army families, their strong men, stripped to the waist, mixing big pots filled with okayu and good-smelling soup. The military families had a lot of supplies and we saw their storage containers filled with canned food, sugar, and various other items.

I envied them as they ate and enjoyed their food. It became obvious that those of us in the Meteorological Station dan were the poorest of the Japanese refugees here at the school. Why had our group not saved as many supplies? Why were we so poorly treated? I wondered. My husband was one of those who were treated as second-class citizens by the Japanese military authorities.

My life was soon reduced to walking a small triangle—from the corner of our room to the toilet, and then from the toilet to the small stream at the top of the hill where I washed the diapers, and then back to our corner. Back and forth. Back and forth. My diarrhea worsened. Then as Masahiro’s fever rose, he could no longer walk. I put him on my back and carried him along that triangle over and over.

In the toilet, I tried to check to see if there was blood in our stool, but the others waiting in line behind us complained for us to hurry, so I rushed out with Masahiro’s feverish, limp body in my arms. When we returned to our ‘home,’ I found Masahiko and Sakiko bawling, and the neighbors glared at me. Their eyes burned white-hot with hate as they wallowed in their own misery. I stopped talking to anyone the whole day. I scolded the children to be quiet and swallowed the bitter phlegm in my throat. As diarrhea tortured my body, walls of agony closed in on me, and the fever burned away everything in my mind. Everything except the desire to go home. The desire to go home and thoughts of my husband.

Chapter Five



Chapter Three


The Open Freight Car

 When I leaned against the outer railing of the train car and held completely still, loneliness pushed up against me, then engulfed me like a huge, dark ocean wave.  I had just lost that one person I could lean on, my husband. Now how was I going to survive?  As I thought about this, I couldn’t stay still any longer. I looked around me.

Dancho Tono waited to see if his wife would make it in time. He stood up and looked anxiously into the frightened crowd on the train platform. She was nowhere to be seen. At ten, the train started moving. I was relieved. At least, something was happening. I thought, “That’s good, the train will keep moving, keep going all the way to my homeland, Japan…” Japan? How silly I was!  How childish. As the train started moving everyone turned back toward the station and started waving their hands.  I knew that my husband was gone. He wouldn’t be standing on the platform anymore. But along with everyone else, I started waving a handkerchief at the crowd remaining on the platform.   A throng of faces—all turned toward us but not a single familiar person—no friends or anyone I recognized.

Somebody cried out, “Shinkyo sayonara, Good-bye, Shinkyo!” I wondered what the person who shouted that was feeling. I felt empty, devoid of emotions.

My children. As the train moved forward I thought, how can I keep the smoke, the flying soot and cinders from smothering them?   Both of the boys, Masahiro and Masahiko, were exhausted. Unlike their usual selves, the two boys just sat there silently, in a daze. Baby Sakiko slept, her tiny face nestled in the sling against my body. How could I protect her against the coal dust? I tried to take Masahiko’s hand towel to cover her face. He suddenly broke out of his trance and pulled back with unexpected strength on the towel. He cried, “No, don’t!”  He cried out so piteously that I let the towel go. Masahiko blinked his round eyes, fighting back his tears, and held on tight to the towel that his father had draped around his head.

“Poor child. Let him hold onto that small token of his father’s love a little longer,” I thought. So I opened the rucksack and found a dry cotton diaper that I pulled out and placed over the baby’s face.  Without warning, my tears came. I turned my face toward the wooden wall of the train to hide. I cried and cried. I was not alone in my grief. A number of the wives wailed and joined me in  sorrowful chorus.

I closed my eyes. In my mind, I took myself back to the life we had before last night. Our cozy brick house—the home we enjoyed until only yesterday. From the second floor I looked out to the yard where I had planted vegetables; the sight calmed and soothed me. The rocking and swaying of the train receded into a faint backdrop. This train was just a dream.  I wanted to wake up from this nightmare.  Oh, don’t forget! There was a little red kimono I made for Sakiko up on the top shelf of the closet. I wanted to try it on Sakiko once. My precious baby daughter was sleeping peacefully under the south window.  How strong was that sensation that Sakiko was still sleeping upstairs…

Suddenly I was jolted out of my vision. Sakiko hadn’t been fed since yesterday. My breast milk had stopped since last night, since the nightmare began.My baby will surely die,” I thought,  “if I can’t feed her.” My tears started again.

Dancho Tono stood up and announced, “Attention, everyone, please.” His voice pierced my aching head. He spoke formally and introduced himself as dancho—our formal group leader, “Let’s call our group  the Meteorological Station dan.  As your dancho, I will be honored to accompany you all.” He bowed formally to us.

The wind chopped up Dancho Tono’s voice. I strained to hear his words “…rules for our group…must stay together…take care of those with many children…do not not wander off on your own,  check with me before leaving the group…”  Dancho Tono’s thick eyebrows twitched with concentration as he gave his directives.

As the morning turned into midday, August reared its ugly head. Beneath the burning hot sun, people began to dry up and— just like vegetables, they sought shade and water.

The children began to incessantly demand water from me.  From time to time the train stopped at a small station and, with Sakiko in my sling and a canteen in my hand, I got  off the train to try to get water, but always, strong men and women pushed in front of me.

Miserably, I returned to the train empty-handed.  But even more troubling was washing the baby’s soiled diapers. If it looked like the train would stop for a while, I tried to rinse out the diapers at the station’s water pump. But as I stood in line, with my baby and the diapers, men shouted at me, “Don’t do anything dirty near the pump!” as they carried buckets of water back to the train. Finally I found a small fetid, foul-smelling pool near the station and hurriedly tried to clean the diapers in the blue-black muddy water.

When I got back to the train, my two thirsty boys cried, “Mommy, did you get water?” I didn’t know what to say to them.

“I’m so sorry.  I couldn’t get any.” Saying this, I sat back in my seat, and looked reproachfully at the hot sky with a sigh.

Suddenly, I noticed a young couple, seated a few rows in front of us. They poured water out of a full jug into a pan. The splash of water sounded heavenly. The young man grunted with effort as he lifted the heavy pan.  “He’ll share that water with us,” I thought hopefully.  But then he put the pan in front of a round-faced woman sitting next to them.

“I’ve never washed my face in a cooking pan,” the round-faced woman joked to the young man as she put both hands into the pan and began splashing water onto her face.  Then without any hesitation, they threw the water off the side of the train.

When the train stopped at a larger station, a group of the Japanese Wives Association brought in dozens of onigiri (seasoned rice rolled into serving-size balls).  They also gave us stewed acorn squash.  The children were delighted and ate with gusto.  But I was so terrified they would ask me for water afterwards that I had no appetite at all.  I just thought, “Were these women feeding the refugees on each train—every train as it came through from where we came? Why don’t they save themselves while they could?”  No one knew anymore what would happen to us or Japan.

As we left Hoten, the sun was in the west. And for the first time that day, I saw the shadow of our train on the side of the tracks. Then I remembered. Hoten was the train station where we first arrived here, in April of 1943. My husband was transferred here from Japan. We had come from so far away, but I remembered Hoten as a much more beautiful and quiet train station back then.  At that time, Masahiro was our only child.  Now I thought, “Here I am again. At this station. An exhausted mother with three children riding on a open freight car—where are we going this time?”

We were all afraid. Where are we going? Where could we escape? Rumors spread among the panicked passengers. We would go east to Tsuka—but that turned out to be untrue. Would we go straight south from Sokato, or would we double back then go south? Would we go west to Tairen or go towards Korea? The train had come to a point where someone would have to make a decision. I was too tired to care which way we went. I leaned my back against the wall and closed my eyes.  Then someone said it was decided. We would go south to Anton and then on to Korea.

“Oh, what a beautiful sunset,” said a woman who was standing near me. I raised up my head. The huge sky was filled with spectacular shades of red and orange and purple. Our first night arrived. I gathered the children as close to me as I could, and tried to go to sleep. We were alone. Countless stars began to emerge in the darkening sky, and they remained fixed in their places, unlike us.  How small I felt beneath that massive dome.

When I woke up, the train had stopped, and dawn was on the horizon.  We were at a station called Renzankan. As far as I could see, green fields of maize lay under a thick layer of mist, flat as a blanket on top.  The train started moving again as the sun rose. It would be another hot day like yesterday. But compared to the day before, I had a little more energy. If my children and I were to survive, I knew I had to change. I wasn’t afraid to be more pushy anymore.  I got better at haggling and managed to get water, some melons, and tomatoes. I nursed Sakiko. At Ryukaga there was rain which drenched our clothes.  I busily wrung out the sopping wet things, laid them out to dry around us, and somehow, someway the four of us got through another day.  By the time the clouds clustered on the horizon and turned purple, our train neared the border.

The men gathered together in the middle of the car and began discussing something.  They appeared to have made a decision.  Dancho Tono turned to everyone and said, “Soon the train will pass through Hojo. We’ve thought of a way to send a message back to Shinkyo. The Hojo Meteorlogical Station is located right next to the railroad—so when our train goes by, let’s all raise our voices to let them know we’ve gotten on the train.  Then they can send a telegram back to Shinkyo for us—to let them know we’ve made it this far.”

I suddenly stood up with renewed energy like a rescued woman.  My husband must be still in Shinkyo, so worried about us. This was the one line of communication I had left with him. I grabbed one of the drying white diapers to wave, and stood with everyone on the side of the train car.

Soon we saw the red building of the meteorological station.  The familiar weather monitoring devices on the rooftop.  But our train was moving so fast.  We would pass this little station too quickly.  The steam from our train glittered in the setting sun and looked beautiful.

When our train was less than fifty meters from the weather station building, we all faced the building and yelled as loudly as we could.  “Oooi, Kanshoo-jo, oooi, kansho-jo! Hey – Weather Station, Weather Station!” we called out to the people in the building.  But no one came out of the building. We couldn’t tell if anyone was there or not.  Just as we gave up, I saw the four metal cups of the Robinson anemometer gaily spin round and round, as if to mock me. I was so angry. What’s the use?

As I sat down, full of disappointment, another night arrived.  We didn’t know where we were going. We were frightened people with only uncertainty ahead. Then the train started making a loud “goro-goro” sound, the sound of metal wheels going across the long steel bridge which spanned the Ooryoko River. We entered northern Korea.

The people in the train started talking excitedly, “We’ll stop soon and reach our final destination.”  But there was no sign that was happening. The train kept going on and on.

Just as I had done the night before, I sat up, lost in my world without time or place, and not sure if I was asleep or awake, when the train stopped at a station, one that was larger than most.  The sign said “Nanshi.”  While the train stopped, the men representing every dan jumped down from each car, and joined together to talk. We were then told for the first time that the final destination would be—Sensen.  We wondered, “Sensen, Sensen, what sort of a town is Sensen?” What would be waiting for us there?  We started to get ready to get off the train.  All I could think about was how I desperately wanted to sleep.

The 38th Parallel

The 38th Parallel was Tei’s “Holy Grail”, the key to the survival of her family and tens of thousands of other refugees fleeing from what is now North Korea. There’s fascinating old photos and video footage of this important place.



Chapter Two


The Separation

Shinkyo Station was a mass of people stumbling in the dark. There were supposed to be about fifty in our assigned group, the dan. It was a minor miracle that my husband and I found them, huddled in front of the government travel office in front of the train station.


“Good. We made it,” he said.


But I didn’t see anyone’s face that I recognized. I collapsed, so thoroughly exhausted that I couldn’t do anything. The families of the Kanto Army formed nervous lines around us that steadily snaked into the train station. We were told that our group’s departure would not be until seven that morning, long after these military families left on the first trains. I spread out a single blanket on the bare dirt ground, and together with the children, curled up into a circle to sleep. The only comfort I had was the knowledge that my husband was near us until we had to leave.


An uneasiness, the unfamiliar sensation of being surrounded by so many people, grew like a web in my brain. In my sleep, I must have breathed in the soot-filled air. A fit of coughing woke me from the desperately needed rest. It was dawn. Now we were surrounded by a crowd that had grown through the night; how did we sleep without being trampled? My husband was nowhere to be seen. As I looked for him I was relieved to see faces I knew right in front of us—Mr. Daichi and his family! Their kind, friendly faces lined up near us was reassuring. Between Mr. and Mrs. Daichi sat their teenage daughter, Seiko who hid her pretty face in her father’s shoulder. Mrs. Daichi held their baby. It turned out that my husband had gone to the office to get more instructions.


The chief of our General Affairs Section, Mr. Shibata, was busy trying to organize our group. “Is Mr. Fujiwara back yet?”

Mr. Shibata waited anxiously for my husband’s return. By the time my husband came back, it was already past seven. Now we were told that our train would depart at nine.


“What did the director say?” Mr. Shibata impatiently asked.


My husband said, “He told us to make our own decisions on how to select the men.”


The two of them moved away from me and began discussing matters in lowered voices so that I couldn’t hear. But I knew they were deciding which men would accompany us on the train. By us, I mean the women and children. Four men were selected. The families of the lucky four joyfully crowded around their own husband or father.


“Who should we choose as dancho, to head the dan?” Mr. Shibata looked at my husband’s face.


“Mr. Tono would be good,” I distantly heard my husband say.


Mr. Shibata hesitated, then said, “Hey, Mr. Fujiwara. Why don’t you go on with this group? You’ve got three young my  children… I can explain everything personally to the director later. Even if you stayed behind with us, it’s just a matter of two or three days anyway.”


My husband didn’t answer. I stood up unsteadily and went closer to him. “Dear…please come with us,” I said.


My husband looked at me accusingly, as if to blame me for embarrassing him. “I will not go,” he said very clearly to Mr. Shibata. Then he shouted so that everyone could hear, “Mr. Tono. Mr. Tono, you’ve been selected to head this dan.”


I couldn’t believe it. I witnessed my husband sacrifice his own family. For what? For the sake of appearance, for the sake of honor. He did what he was expected to do in his position, I suppose. Back then, all I could do was cry like an ordinary,

helpless housewife. Tears poured down my face.


Night gave way to morning, and Shinkyo Station became clear in the light. The station as much more crowded than it was when we arrived in the middle of the night. Lines and lines of people formed, most of them women and children. Japanese soldiers ordered everyone about with hoarse shouts and barks. My husband brought a bundle wrapped in our large furoshiki cloth, the cloth I used to wrap my packages. He must have picked it up from our house on his way from the office.


“You might end up throwing this away but if this bundle stays at the house, it won’t do any good there either,” he said. It was mostly clothes. In my husband’s other hand hung a basket full of my freshly picked tomatoes. Seeing my fresh vegetables made me happier. As the children and I ate the sweet, juicy tomatoes, I watched my husband’s eyes—red, bloodshot eyes that hadn’t had any sleep at all. There was one hour left before our train was supposed to depart. It was a terrifying sixty minutes.


The motorcycle sidecar that was supposed to fetch Mrs. Tono, our dancho’s wife, came back loaded with baggage belonging to someone, I don’t know who. But Mrs. Tono was not aboard. Mr. Shibata shouted something at Mr. Daichi. People argued, discussed, bickered. I listened distractedly, no longer capable of caring. At eight o’clock we were allowed onto the train platform. Then we were assigned to an open freight train car with the number thirty-five painted on in black and white. It wasn’t a passenger car, just a freight car used to transport logs or rocks with no roof overhead, no seats.


My husband dragged us onto the car, with our children and our bags. But by the time we got on the freight car, the ‘good seats’ on the car floor were already taken by the nimble people. We were left with the worst spots, in the front—right where the train’s steam engine would shower us with smoke and coal dust.


Mr. Shibata then called out, “All right, men, we’ve got to get back to the office!” They were leaving us.


My husband loved two-year-old Masahiko with a special tenderness. He was a lively little boy who looked just like his father. My husband picked him up and put his face close to his son’s. He spoke using his usual paternal tone. “Masahiko-chan, remember your Daddy’s face, all right? Don’t forget me, all right? Do as Mommy tells you. Okay? Listen to her; listen to her well. All right?” He nuzzled Masahiko’s frightened face and set him down beside me.


Then he turned to our eldest son, Masahiro, who stood in a daze. My husband knelt down, faced him, and placed his hand on his small shoulder. “Masahiro, how old are you?”


“Five,” he said in a small voice.


“That’s right; you’re five years old. So you’re old enough to understand what Daddy has to say. Listen to me carefully, Masahiro. You are going on this train with Mommy, your little brother, and the baby to a place that is far away. Daddy has to stay behind in Shinkyo. I am not going with you, so you need to do as Mommy says and be a good boy.”


Masahiro obediently said, “Yes, Daddy:”


My husband then turned to look at me and simply said, “Dewa tanomu yo—I leave this matter in your hands,” just the way he asked me when he needed me to do an ordinary task, and then he stood up. It was a man’s job to be strong, not sentimental.


This might be the last time I would see my husband. The last time I would see him alive. I couldn’t possibly utter the word ‘good-bye’—not like this. I stood up and said gently into his ear, “Please stay alive, dear. Stay alive. Do whatever you have to do, just please stay alive.” I whispered this over and over into his ear.


Without saying a word, he took out his watch from the pocket of his tailored government jacket and gave it to me. It was his precious Longines pocket watch.


“Kodomotachi wo tanomu yo,” he said, asking me formally to take on the responsibility for the lives of our three children, a terrible burden to place in my hands, and then he turned his back to us—to get ready to jump off the train car. Just then, a small towel tucked into his waist brushed against his hand. He stopped, came back to us, took the towel out, and put it around Masahiko-chan’s head and face.


“Don’t let him get sunburnt. He’ll get too hot.” He said this without losing control over his emotions. A father worried over his son. Then without hesitation, he took a big leap off the freight car and lightly landed on the station platform. He ran to catch up with the other men.


Long after I lost sight of him in the crowd, I kept looking and looking, hoping that he would reappear. The cold Manchurian wind penetrated me, and sliced my heart.

Chapter Three


Chapter One


Four Kilometers to the Train Station

 Shinkyo City, Manchuria

August 9, 1945, around 10:30 p.m.

I heard a loud knocking at the front door. The children were asleep. My husband and I were talking about getting to bed soon because we had stayed up late the night before.

“Mr. Fujiwara! Mr. Fujiwara! We’re from the meteorological station!” a young man shouted from outside.

My husband and I opened the front door to find two young uniformed men holding rifles.

“Sir? Are you Mr. Fujiwara? Please come immediately to the office,” said one of them.

My husband asked, “What is going on?”

“Sir, we don’t know the reason is but everyone is being called to an emergency meeting. Please cooperate and come right away!” The two rushed off to the next house to continue their mission.

When I closed the door, I felt light-headed. My intuition told me that I shouldn’t let my husband go into the pitch-dark night by himself. “Are you sure you want to go out alone?” I asked.

Right after I said that, I peered into my husband’s eyes to try to extract what vital knowledge he had. I was sure that there was something he didn’t tell me, something he hid about what was going on with the war. The last two or three days, uneasiness clouded his eyes.

“Don’t worry. I want you to wait for me,” he said. Then he sighed. “It looks like the day has finally come,” he added and he opened the door again. “Here. Listen…it definitely isn’t the same old Shinkyo City we know.”

I turned my attention to the night and listened carefully. In the distance I heard cars running, people’s nervous voices, and other restless noises. A big change was about to happen. It was like an omen, vibrating all around us in the dark night air where the new moon shed no light. “Has the day finally arrived? Is this it?” I asked. I sat down in the dark, narrow hallway as all of the strength drained from my body. I clung to the bottom of my husband’s jacket and trembled.

Baka! You fool,” he scolded me. “What are you doing? Hurry; you’ve got to get everything ready so that we can leave this place right away.”

“Leave here? Leave our home—to go where?” I asked.

“I don’t know myself. I don’t even know yet if we’re really leaving or not—but we’ve got to prepare ourselves; we’ve got to be ready.”

He hurriedly wrapped his uniform leggings around his trousers and rushed out. The meteorological station where my husband worked was in the suburbs south of Shinkyo, in a place called Nanrei. From here, it was going to take at least thirty minutes for him to get there by foot. Even if he turned right around, it would about an hour before he got back home.

I went upstairs and tried to decide what to do. From the second-floor window, I saw confirmation of my fears. Even though there was an official blackout order, scarlet points of light flickered between the window shades of the neighbors’ houses.

Tonight, it wasn’t just my home. Everywhere, in every home, terrible thoughts ran through people’s minds. Turmoil and fear spread, like a plague. The shadows in the windows moved about hastily, as if they were in a panic. ”I’ve got to do something,” I

told myself and opened up our emergency suitcase.

Inside, our winter clothes—children’s and adults’ were neatly packed. What about emergency food? Some packages—sugar, hard biscuits, and canned goods were already packed inside. If we have to leave Shinkyo tonight and go who knows how far—other than these things—what in the world should we take? As I thought about this, my heart pounded faster and faster, and soon any semblance of rational thought fled my mind. I couldn’t think.

Under the mosquito netting hung in the center of the eight tatami-mat room, I saw the faces of my children, all sleeping together on one bed—limbs and bodies intertwined as if they were one creature. How could we possibly leave this house and get very far with these children? My two boys—Masahiro was five years old and Masahiko was only two. My baby girl, Sakiko, was a newborn who had just turned one month old. As I nervously packed and unpacked things in and out of the backpack and suitcase, I was overcome with dread, and my eyes welled up.

“I’m not strong enough for this. There was nothing I could do by myself,” I thought. A woman alone with her children. All I could do was wait for my husband to come back. As I sat quietly, various sounds outside seemed to press in on my home from far away. Looking out again from the window, I saw the unfamiliar sight of the headlights of many trucks reflecting off the white walls of our housing compound along the Daido Daigai Road.

My husband came home. His pale face was so tense that he seemed like a different man from the one who usually stood before me. “We’ve got to get to the Shinkyo Station by 1:30 this morning,” he said.

“What!” I cried. “Shinkyo Station?”

“We’ve got to evacuate by train,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

He explained the situation quickly in terse sentences. The military families of the Kanto Army were already moving. The authorities had issued an order; families of the civil servants must do the same. There was the real possibility that Shinkyo City would be engulfed in the turmoil of this war. I thought, “Did that mean the Soviets were invading the city?” Any Japanese who remained would be risking his life. We had to leave right away. Other families besides those of the meteorological station were also preparing to leave. We needed to evacuate immediately.

He said, “We’ve been assigned to a train. In just thirty minutes…we’re supposed to leave. Hurry!” My husband instructed me as if he were ordering the troops,

“Of course, you’re coming too, aren’t you?” I asked. There wasn’t time to argue with him any more than this. I felt that as long as we were all together we would somehow survive. I looked at his face.

“I will take you as far as the train station but I’ve got to stay here,” he said.

“What! You’re leaving me?” I was shocked. With fear and anger rising in me—like a woman who had lost her mind—I hurled harsh words at him. As I screamed, I barely heard him say, “I still have work to do…” and something about “…as a man in my position, I can’t leave without first finishing what needs to be done…” But he was overwhelmed by my anguish and stopped talking. He looked into my eyes. As I noticed my silent husband gazing at me, I realized that there was nothing I could say to change his mind. I stopped.

He put his hand on my shoulder as I crumpled in tears.

“Now hurry. Think about the children,” he said.

With those words, I regained my composure. I‘m a mother…a mother who has to save her children by running away. I became resolute. There was no room for crying now.

Once more, from the beginning, I organized our belongings. But with three children, how much could I carry? With just the essential things—the children’s winter clothes—the bags were full. I put two-year-old Masahiko piggy-back in a sling across my back while my husband tied Sakiko, papoose-style, on top of his backpack. In both hands he carried the other bags. Masahiro was just old enough to walk, carrying his own small bag. That was how we decided to get to Shinkyo Station.

As we opened the door, the cold night air blasted our faces and took my breath away. We had the children wear as much as they could. Since I was also dressed with layers of winter clothes, the dry cold wind blowing in from the Manchurian plains felt just right. From the many vegetable plants I had in our yard, I picked a couple of tomatoes and put them in my bag. My husband kept saying, “Hurry, hurry,” while I thought about how I wanted to properly pay my farewell respects to the neighbors, Mrs. Maeda and Mrs. Sato. But tonight, the six houses in our compound were dark and empty. Where did they go? I said good-bye to them silently as we walked out toward the Daido Daigai Road. As I looked back once more at our home of two years, I saw only a dark square shadow, and it looked like a pile of dirt.

Shinkyo Station was four kilometers away, straight on the Daido Daigai Road. But before we had even walked one kilometer, I was exhausted. My poor body had given birth to Sakiko just a month earlier, and I was in no condition to carry a toddler like Masahiko. I tried to catch my breath around Daido Park, but was overcome by a sadness that I have never felt before in my life. In front of us passed a truck heavily loaded with the military families and their luggage. There were parents like us who were fleeing, holding onto the hands of their small children. How could it be that just two hours earlier, my family had been living here in such peace? My husband and I had often admired the vast Manchurian night sky. Why do we now look at that same starry sight with such fear? What could a woman with children do? We passed the thickets of the park and, almost horizontally in front of us, a large shooting star flew across the sky.

I felt as if an icy blade were plunged into my chest—hopelessness bled into my body. I said, “Let’s go home. If I am going to die anyway, I’d like to die at home.”

My husband said nothing and kept marching. He took out his pocket watch and tried to look at it in the light of the stars. I knew he wanted me to keep walking. There were still three kilometers to go. I thought if I kept walking like this I would collapse, a body already weak from loss of blood.

“Please. Please…let’s go home,” I pleaded one more time. But I knew that I was making an impossible request.

Translation Notes


I am not a professional translator or an academic, so the reader may wonder how I came to translate this work. First, my language background in a nutshell: My parents both immigrated from Japan as adults. I was born in the United States, but spoke Japanese at home and attended school in Japan several times for stays ranging from half a year to a year (yochien, middle school, and college). I vividly remember learning English when I began kindergarten in Boulder, Colorado. I lived in Japan for a total of about ten years, spread out over several visits.

I enjoyed reading many Japanese-to-English translated works through my middle school and high school years, but found many of them to be difficult to read. I have consciously tried to avoid the stiff style I encountered in some of those translations. Once I reached college age, I did not major in Japanese but I did study Japanese at the University of Colorado, and in the Master’s program in International Affairs at Columbia University. (My major was economics as an undergraduate, and international affairs, with a focus on modern Japan, at Columbia University.)

Much of the Japanese I learned was through living and working in Japan. Besides attending Japanese schools, I worked for a large Japanese steel company (Nippon Kokan) for two years, the Japan-US Educational Commission for four years, the Chronicle of Higher Education for a year, and was the busy mother of three children who attended local Japanese schools for two years. Many of my relatives and friends are Japanese.

I do have professional experience as a Japanese-English interpreter (translating the spoken language) with two companies here in Colorado. I was an interpreter for a Japanese heart transplant patient in Denver, other Japanese medical clients, and an American engineering company with Japanese clients. I find translating written work more difficult because I am limited to written characters. Fortunately, I can ask family and friends to clarify the Japanese vocabulary. Now, I mainly communicate in Japanese with my parents.

I don’t have the linguistics background to explain the intricacies of my translation process. My goals are to be accurate and translate the emotional intent of each sentence. In any case, I hope that most readers are going to be more interested in the story rather than my translation process. I am going to cheat here and quote a professional translator, Professor Jay Rubin, who translates Haruki Murakami’s works and is much better than I am at articulating the translation challenges.

The Japanese language is so different from English …that true literal translation is impossible, and the translator’s subjective processing is inevitably going to play a large part.

I try to write in a natural style which is enjoyable to read. I believe the translation should be invisible, just as the camera is invisible in a good movie. But the reader should be aware that this is my interpretation of Tei Fujiwara’s story, not a literal translation. What is the difference, you ask? I will give you a specific example from Jay Rubin’s work mentioned in his book Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words (ISBN 1 86046 952 3 (tpb). A paragraph from the Professor Rubin’s translation of Haruki Murakami’s “The Girl from Ipanema”:

When I think of my high school’s corridor, I think of combination salad: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, asparagus, onion rings, and pink Thousand Island dressing. Not that there was a salad shop at the end of the corridor. No, there was just a door, and beyond the door a drab 25-meter pool.

Professor Rubin notes that a literal translation of the same paragraph would actually look like this (foreign non-Japanese words are italicized):

“High school’s corridor say-if, I combination salad think-of. Lettuce and tomato and cucumber and green pepper and asparagus, ring-cut bulb onion, and pink-color’s Thousand island dressing. No argument high school corridor’s hit-end in salad speciality shop exists meaning is-not. High school corridor’s hit-end in, door existing, door’s outside in, too-much flash-do-not 25-meter pool exists only is.”

The differences in grammar between Japanese and English make translation between these two languages challenging. Professor Rubin’s example is from a Japanese book which is widely regarded as more American in style than most Japanese books. So the reader can imagine Tei Fujiwara’s book, written in the 1940’s, is going to be even more difficult. Here are a few notes for this translation:

  • Please see the Glossary at the end of the book to see the original kanji (Chinese characters) used by Tei Fujiwara for the names of people and places. If I had a choice, I used the simpler pronunciation of a name.
  • I purposefully left out Tei’s husband’s first name since she only refers to him as “my husband.”
  • I used Western ages for people (a person becomes one year old after a year has passed from the date of birth.)
  • I inserted pronouns and gender and titles to clarify the identity of the speakers, and used Mrs., Mr. and Dancho as the form of address instead of the gender neutral -san.
  • I used -chan as the Japanese do, when addressing children.
  • Okusan (literal meaning Madam) is the form of address commonly used when talking to Mrs. Fujiwara and other married women.
  • I used the original map from Tei’s memoir with the Kanji characters. These are the 1940’s Japanese names of the cities and towns. I added a larger map for readers unfamiliar with the region.
  • I added a few details to clarify the context of the story and the identities of the people, but did not change any of the events of Tei’s story.
  • The Glossary in the back provides additional information.

If readers notice errors in the English or the translation, I would appreciate you letting me know. One of the drawbacks and benefits of the Information Age is the ease of making mistakes myself, and correcting them with the help of many others.

Nana V. Mizushima

Setting 1945


 Historical Background

Since I am not a historian, I will present only basic information and anecdotes from my own family who immigrated from Japan after the war ended. I hope these snippets will help the reader better understand the background for Tei’s memoir. Tei and her family traveled through Manchuria and Korea, both former colonies (1868 to 1947) of the Empire of Japan.

My great-grandfather, Masamichi Mizushima, served as a general in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) which gave the victorious Japanese significant influence over Manchuria and Korea. The Japanese military at the time was instrumental in expanding the Japanese Empire which extended over Manchuria, Korea, Taiwan and other parts of Asia. But like many members of the former samurai class, he grew disenchanted with the military, and encouraged his son, (my grandfather), Seizo Mizushima, to study and begin a career outside the military. Education, not family background was the key to success in the new Japan.

My grandfather Seizo was the first civilian in his family, and he built a successful dental practice in Tokyo during the prosperous, liberal Taisho Era (1912-26). Several members of my family went to the United States to study and seek their fortune during that time. Well-educated young men like Tei’s husband and Seizo’s son (my father), were also eager to learn from the West. My father’s uncle, a medical doctor, followed in the footsteps of other Japanese scientists who went to the United States, but a tragic car accident killed the ambitious doctor and his wife in Stockton, California. My relatives were dismayed to hear how poorly the Japanese and the Japanese-Americans were treated in the U.S. at that time.

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 killed over 140,000 people in the Tokyo-Yokohama region, set back the economy, and increased social instability. My family survived the earthquake but remembered the anti-Korean sentiments—thousands of Koreans living in Tokyo were killed by panic-stricken Japanese who believed the Koreans had poisoned the drinking water. Conservative military leaders fanned such xenophobic feelings toward foreigners and the West, and they began silencing the liberals, imposing more restrictions and military control.

As my grandfather Seizo saw the growing militarism in Tokyo (In 1932 young fanatic military officers assassinated the Prime Minister), he was probably relieved when his sons took academic paths away from military school. The Kenpeitai (secret military police) forbid political meetings, censured student meetings, confiscated foreign books, and tortured dissenters, including my father’s friend who never recovered. The Kenpeitai were known to be brutal, particularly in Korea.

By the time Tei’s husband moved to Shinkyo City, Manchuria in 1943, the Japanese army had been at war with China for three years. Manchuria was an important source of raw materials for Japan, a resource-poor island nation. Although my father and many others in the educated community knew the U.S. would defeat Japan, the militarists, particularly the army, pushed for war, especially when the U.S. threatened Japan’s oil supplies. My father escaped widespread military conscription because he could do scientific research—such as on alternative fuels. Tei’s husband was also one of the educated who was not drafted.

Tei and her husband were part of a thriving economy in Manchuria. Over 850,000 Japanese lived in Korea and more than 2 million in China. In Shinkyo, where Tei and her family lived, the Japanese made up almost a quarter of the population. Modern factories, and institutions such as the Meteorological Institute where Tei’s husband worked were well established.

Tei begins her story in August 9, 1945 as they fled from the invading Soviets who declared war on Japan right after the U.S. dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima. The Japanese military abandoned the civilians, leaving them completely vulnerable. More than 11,000 Japanese settlers died as they fled, about a third by committing suicide. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese men were captured, including Tei’s husband, and were sent to the Soviet forced labor camps, the infamous gulag.

After the end of the war, the hikiage began, the massive reverse migration of millions of Japanese soldiers, civilians, women, and children back to Japan. Most of Tei’s memoir takes place in what is now North Korea. Long before the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese merchants settled throughout Korea, seeking economic opportunity. Westerners were also in evidence on the peninsula. Tei saw a church and a hospital left behind by Protestant and Methodist missionaries who arrived in Korea from the United States and Canada beginning in the 1880’s. By the time Tei arrived, these missionaries were gone, replaced by the Japanese military. Tei’s group stays in the house next to a shinto shrine which was burned down, most likely by locals who resented the Japanese and their regulations: the abolishment of the Korean language in public schools and public functions, the pressure for Koreans to adopt Japanese names, use Japanese language, and bow to Japanese shinto shrines.

When Tei finally reached the shores of Japan in 1946, the situation was not much better—food shortages and the spread of the black market. My relatives experienced malnutrition and vividly remember the U.S. emergency food packets which saved many lives. It was no wonder that Tei thought her memoir might be her last testament. Her world in 1946 looked bleak and uncertain. Tei’s memoir is about a year that was the confluence of tremendous change—the end of the most devastating war the world had experienced, and the beginning of tremendous social change for Japan and the rest of the world. For her personally, her memoir documents the end of her innocence. Just as Pandora found when she opened the box, Tei found hunger, pain, suffering, cruelty and all the evils man could inflict on man. But also like Pandora, Tei finds one last spirit still remaining in the box—hope.

Nana V. Mizushima

March 2014