My Youth Far Away -- Yoshio Suzuki

My Youth Far Away
Yoshio Suzuki, resident of Iwate prefecture

1. Spring in the Hell of Starvation

The blessings in nature guided us to our rebirth. The warm sun comforted our skin gently. We also began to be restless, like bugs that woke up from winter sleep. What everyone did first was look for something to eat.


2. Dandelions

When the surface of the frozen ground finally started to melt, everyone began to dig up the roots of dandelions. Anything that could become a digging tool was used for that – an iron bar, a spade, a bar, a fire stoker, anything was OK. The dried leaves of dandelions left from last year on the surface of the ground were good clues of where to dig. Once they found it, they really concentrated on digging up all the root at once.

The dug up root was washed and pushed into the mess kit, and then boiled on the stove. The top of the stove was all occupied by such mess kits. Some people had to make an open-air fire in order to boil their's.

The cooked dandelions were immediately swallowed into everyone's stomach. Then the mess kit was filled with other dandelions. Since this repeated many times, people were really busy digging, boiling, and eating. Unfortunately, it did not have any taste due to the lack of salt, but it did not matter. We just needed to eat. The action of eating itself brought an unequalled sense of satisfaction to us.

When dandelion leaves began to come out, we would eat them, and if the flowers bloomed, we ate the flowers too. By then, the sprouts of other weeds were begining to grow. We, of course, ate them too, like horses and cows did. I think it is appropriate to express this way because we were really abused like horses and cows anyway. We firmly belived eating would keep our health. That was the only reason to be engaged in these actions.

In fact, the supply of vitamins from these plants had a very good effect on our health. Our complections became better and better day by day, and more than anything, everyone began to become full of positive energy. We all talked about how much we were thankful for dandelions reviving us.

The roots were thoroughly dug up because of all this, and the field that was full of dandelions had no more dandelions in it whatsoever. Thus, we had to go after them in remote areas after that.


3. The Invention of Pine Bark Sticky Cake

When spring finally came, all the plants and objects in Siberia began their lively activities as if they were all revived. Even from the branches of logs cut down during winter time and stored in the lumberyard for a long while, new sprouts and leaves came out.

Around that time, the soft wet white bark inside the trunk was found if we peeled the three-layered bark of a log of Japanese red pine. We thought we could possibly do something with it. We knew we could get a lot of that from the abundance of logs we had. We tried boiling it for a long time in the mess kit, but we had a tough time. The fiber did not melt easily, so we poked it with sticks. After it became sticky, we mixed it into our own portion of food for the day taken from the kitchen, and we poked more to mix it. We named this food "pine bark sticky cake." It was our last resort to increase the amount of food to quell the needs of our empty stomachs.

Making this cake was a fad for a while, but it did not last too long because of the fiber entangled so persistently, making it difficult to eat. The scent of the pine was torelable, however.


4. Blessings of Bamboo Shoots

In August, there was a short summer that went away quickly, and soon, the beginning of fall came. Then, all the pine forests in Siberia were covered with bamboo shoots. They were huge blessings of nature given to us.

In between the light rain that was very rare in Siberia, we went to the forest with our own unique containers we created. We were so happy to see the bamboo shoots growing en masse all over the place. The most common varieties were so-called " chestnut-shaped bamboo shoots" and "the first bamboo shoots." There were also so many different varieties covering all the mountain surfaces, changing the entire area into a field of bamboo shoots everywhere.

In such cases, just like anything else, there was someone who was an expert (Dr. Bamboo Shoots) about the topic among us. He could tell us how to make a distinction from edible mushrooms to others. In another time and place, picking bamboo shoots can be a very enjoyable recreation; however, in our case, the purpose was to secure food that would determine life or death. Therefore, there was complete silence while we were digging.

After we took them back to our camp, we boiled them in our mess kits. Those bamboo shoots did not have any taste, but it did not matter. They were slurped into our stomachs as soon as reaching our mouths. The only thing that mattered to us was the feeling of a full stomach. We quickly finished eating a mess kit full of bamboo shoots, and then the next bamboo shoots were boiled right away. We were so busy because we could only do it in between our daily labors.

It was too bad that the season for bamboo shoots was so short, though. Some people wanted to get a lot of them in order to preserve them in salt. It was not possible, however, because we had no extra salt. Even for our daily cooking, there was not enough salt. We were in a condition to get salty taste from the fish preserved in salt for our needs.


5. The Hunters of Siberia

After the weather became better, detainees finally began to recover in mind and health. Experiences in labor helped them to minimize physical exhastion, and some improvement was also made in the environment. Dandelions and other weeds also really helped the survivors. It was interesting that the guards who were so strict in the beginning also became a little bit more friendly. To me, it seemed like another blessing given to us. There was no longer any gatekeeper by that time, and we were able to go in and out with a certain freedom.

My colleagues who regained their physical strength, then, began to show their smartness and ferociousness just like wild animals looking for prey. There were hamlets around the station, and their goats, pigs and cows were pasturing in our area looking for food. Those animals were the best targets. After making sure nobody was watching, a few people assaulted an animal all together. After being tracked down to the corner, the prey was quickly killed and stored in a secret place. Then it became additional nourishment for them whenever they needed it.

Back then, whenever more than three of us gathered, our topics were either "eating" or "going home." As we were a group of people suffering from severe starvation, everyone understood what others were thinking about regardless of the differences in position. In those circumstances, methods to obtain any extra food were developed one by one, and others imitated it right away. When we were in the extreme feebleness of the beginning of the detainment, we could have easily been bitten up to death by even a dog; however, now we were strong enough to hunt for dogs ourselves. Since dogs are friendly, they were very easy prey. I heard that some of them even worked on a calf. At such times, they were very careful – only a few were involved in it in complete secrecy. When they were asked what was in their mess kit at the time of the meal, they described that they got rabbits on the mountain – nobody had ever seen any rabbit in the mountains of Siberia though.

Because of the hunting, it was easily imagined that there could have been serious damage on the livestock in the nearby hamlet. Nevertheless, no particular complaint came. It may explain the way people are in the Soviet Union. Anyway, making this kind of effort was vital for us. We had to store enough energy to survive in the harsh winter that was coming again.


6. The Radish Theives' Night Excursion

After the war, the domestic cirmustances in the Soviet Union were a total confusion, but they seemed to have recovered somewhat. Because of that, the arrival of freight cars that was so random settled down. It became much easier for us since advance notice started to come once in a while. If we knew there were no freight cars coming that night, we could peacefully engage in our sleep. On such nights, I found a group of people who went out for a night's work apart from the labor of reloading at the station.

My work of maintenance on equipment and materiel easily continued to one o'clock in the morning every night. Therefore, I could see a few shadows coming out of the buildings quietly one by one, running to the gate and disappearing. In total, there were more than ten of them.

What I gathered later was that they got together in the middle and headed in a hurry toward the collective farm six or seven kilometers away. As soon as they arrived there, they dug up raddishes and carrots and put them in a big bag to bring them back. It seems that they repeated it several times, but one night people in the farm noticed what was going on and shot a hunting gun. All of them came back running. In the middle of a predicament, human beings develop a persistence to live. I had no idea about the fact they were storing raddishes and other sorts of vegetables in their food storage place under the floor because I was in a different building. I don't know how they dug up all the food. Hearing that later, I recalled how I used to see them nibbling on raw raddishes or raw carrots from time to time.

In an environment where one does not know if it's life or death the next day, nobody shares his food. Everyone was living with all their might just to protect themselves. It was a world where the pressure for living took away all the breathing space from helping others.


7. Chased After Digging Potatoes

In the small hamlets around Dzipuhegen station, the harvest of potatoes in the individual farming fields finished. In that area, the only crops they could make were raddishes and potatoes. However, the quality was not as good. Even the natives had to pick up even the smallest crops of potatoes for survival.

After all that, my colleagues dug up even more using their spades for the purpose of picking even the smallest potatoes that looked like small beans. Some could get a mess kit full of them.

When others saw what they got, of course, they wanted to do that, too. Sometimes, they could not find even one of them since they did not know the areas they were digging were already dug up completely by others. On top of all that, what they did irritated the residents and they yelled at them. They had no choice but to throw away their spades and come back running when it happened. This way, we lost our spades stored for labor, and I had a difficult time managing the equipment for our place as someone in charge of the count.


8. An Ingenious Device for the New Year's Feast

As the New Year of 1947 was coming close, what to do with the special New Year's food was brought up as everyone's interest. We decided that each person would save fifteen grains of rice a day with difficulty out of the already limited food that left us starving. What to do with the stored rice was left upto the people in charge of preparing food.

By the time the New Year came, a millstone and a pounder were created out of pine. A New Year's pine decoration was also made. As we listened to the pounding of rice cake, everyone thought of the fond memories of New Year, and we all waited for the special dish. To our regret, we could not quite make the sticky rice cake because all we had was regular rice. So we ended up having only the dumpling-like kind. However, it did not matter to us because it was pounded in a special millstone. When the New Year's meal was served, everyone was given one dumpling that was 5 or 6 centimeters in diameter, two small rice balls coated with sweetened red beans, and three very small dumplings rolled with mock seaweed which was actually made from the skin of salted trout. Additional dishes were salted vegetable rolls, one whole piece of grilled salted trout, and rice porridge that was a little bit harder than usual. This was the one best meal we ever had in our long life in Siberia. All of us were extremely happy with this special New Year's treat.

There were four men who were in charge of the preparation of this unforgettable splendid meal. They were Iseo Nagai from Ehime prefecture, Suekichi Owada from Rikuzentakata city, Asakichi Kudo from Aomori prefecture, and Tokutaro Ozawa from Kamaish city.


9. The Red Storm for Brainwashing

Everyone became skilled workmen. At the same time, they became interested in ordinary things such as haircuts, repairing clothes, making lamps, making low tables, and the maintenance of their personal belongings. Vitality was gradually coming back from the void everyone fell into after coming to Siberia. Interestingly, by then, soviet soldiers who used to be so inhuman and cruel began to be friendly to the point that some peaceful environment was developed. However, there was something else waiting for us. It was the maneuvering of ideological brainwashing.

By then, we could tell we were somewhat watched by Soviet political members and secret police. If we asked any questions about Stalin's policies of any soldier or resident of the area, they all closed their mouths tightly, showing the hand gesture of crossing two fingers of each hand. It meant they would be sent to jail if we talked about it.

The Soviet government seemed to be really working hard on education for Communist party members, but to my surprise I did not see any trace of the education toward common people whatsoever. It was as if it was considered, "the dumber the common people are, the easier it is to use them."

The Soviet people did not seem to be mindful of such facts at all, probably because they were already used to such treatment. They were pretty cheerful and friendly to everybody. They did not even minded talking to a foreigner who did not understand their language. They were so trusting to the point of entrusting the key of their storehouse once they thought it was alright.

There was a period the Soviet government set to give recognition by allowing the advancement of rank to those who accomplished their quotas well. In contrast, to those whose quota was not accomplished, their amount of food was decreased. Even if we got a fixed quantity, we were on the verge of starvation. Left alone, this kind of system was only a devastating cause for more death. In the Soviet Union, it was a common belief, "those who don't labor do not deserve food." We were thrown into the their belief. Japanese commanding officers frequently protested to Soviet leaders in regards to this cruel treatment, but never did any answer come back.

During that time, the Soviets totally utilized the strength of leadership in the Japanese army. It was important for them to maintain the order of the masses and sustain a linear system of command to gain practical effect. The results from forced labor were a key factor for the reconstruction of the Soviet economy, then in utmost poverty, after the war and for the increase of the power of the country. For those purposes, they continued the Japanese military system as it was, and gave the right to wear a sword and the power to command labor to the commissioned officers. Non-commissioned officers and solders were engaged in labor in formation and obeyed the distinctions of the ranks. They also continued to call superiors by the necessary respectful forms. Just like during the war, the detainees had morning assembly every day, and they looked toward Japan and gave worship toward the Emperor. While they remembered their parents, wives and children in their native land, the song they sang was "As we go along the ocean*."

(Translator's note: *This song was the song adopted by the Japanese government to promote the nation's interest in the war in 1937. "As we go along in the ocean, corpses are in water. As we go along the mountain, corpses are in the grass. When we die, it is the best honor to die at the side of our Emperor. I will never regret it.")

With our own efforts, we had to do everything possible in order to recover the conditions of our minds and health. When we recovered, the Soviet political officers were there to utilize this condition to their advantage. "Japan Newspaper" published in Khabarovsk for the detainees from a little while ago was utilized for that. Since we did not know anything about our home country, we were really pleased when we first received it, but the purpose of the paper became clear to us soon. The Soviets edited the paper so that they could make us criticize the policies of the past Japanese militant nation and agitate our fighting spirit toward them. The intention to abuse the support and friendship of the US was also apparent. The Soviets tried to change our image of the US so that we would hate them and blame them for all the misery and humiliation after our defeat in the war. Then, a Soviet was described with the image of "a caring gentleman who brought liberation."

Around September, 1946, "the interested group" was established with twenty people or so, and they began their researching activities in a little remote place from where we lived. People really did not show any interest in it in general, and there was not any particular change in the camp for a while. However, soon, Soviet political members began to be in and out very frequently in our camp, and they began to contact certain people among the Japanese very openly. That started the rumor of who would be able to go home, regardless of truth or falsity. After "the interested group" dissolved and developed into "the Democratic Alliance," their activities gradually became very controlling. At the beginning of that period, the structure of the Japanese army was completely demolished. In addition, the ranks and ways to call with a title of honor were totally abolished.

People somewhat welcomed the strict regulations of the army to become softened; however, it was extremely difficult to completely change the way of addressing those in higher ranks with only "~san" at the end. Because it was already our habit to address with ranks, sometimes we did that without really thinking. Such a habit ended up putting us in a terrible experience of oppression – the committee members in charge of structuring came and named us as rebels, and we were treated with violence. Thus, our camp went into chaos. However, as a next step, members of that policital activity called "actives" suppressed with the back up of Soviet political members, and succeeded in creating a completely new order under the Soviet way of democracy. As the nature of the activity changed from the Democratic Alliance into "Anti-fascist Alliance," it escalated into an amazing show of control.

Their method was as follows. First, under the name of a judge, public prosecutor or an attorney in the structure of a Soviet-style court, they pulled out those who opposed them or who did not show any interest in their activities. The show to severely criticize them continued throughout the night, and even the aged and assembled soldiers had to critize themselves under their command. Those who watched this process were all worried if they would be called next. As a result, some of them tried to ignore each other, or began to make a fuss showing their scornful feelings. This condition made an extremely difficult situation which dropped a dark shadow of distrust among people who were friends before. Evne though they used to be war buddies, they really had to watch what they said to one another.

The Japanese committee chairman for that activity was so powerful as to utter his right to interfere with someone going back to Japan. This idelogical activity was conducted with two different groups completely becoming one on the surface. One was completely in favor of the Soviets and stated it was impossible to reestablish Japan without strengthening the national power of the Soviet Union. The other kept active with the secret understanding that their involvement would be useful as a measure for themselves to be invited to go home to Japan.

Eventually, the youth active group was structured, and they began to lead the cultural and performing arts activities. Since we were a group of people of all sorts of professional abilities, we could find someone who was good at something rather easily. In the performing arts group, everything including stage setting, props, costumes, wigs, three-stringed Japanese guitars, and farming tools were all made by hand, utilizing something that was available in the camp. The scripts, production and starring were all covered by those who loved it and were talented in it.

Most of the performances were about the strife between a landlord and tenant farmers in the feudal period or something directly connected to the ideological activity such as "Enduring the Oppression of the Military Government" and "the Revival of a Fighter of Communism." Once in a while, there were scenes that involved our nostalgic thought about parents and siblings back home, and all who watched were strongly reminded of how much they missed their home country. The soviet political members who were watching such performances, as someone was explaining the content to them, kept saying "Horosho! - Good!"

This way, the ideological activity continued to expand and develop by the Soviet way of enligtenment. There were various rumors connected to it: some said the degree of change in their thought into communism would determine the timing of going home, and some said a group who was waiting to go home in Nakhodka was sent back to a deep area of Siberia again in order to reengage in the labor and their ideological education.

This way, those who could barely stand the harsh labor and the worst living environment had to face another unbearble difficulty. The forceful ideological activity by the Japanese faction close to Soviet political members was indeed similar to bullying. It radically continued until they left the port of Nakhodka for Japan.


10. Wisdom to Live On

Human beings demonstrate every possible knowledge and ability in order to avoid death. In a life experiencing the utmost limits of the human condition, there were people who could come up with amazing ideas and some clumsy people who showed unexpected abilities. Their capabilities were fully proven and evaluated.

In a primitive style of life, what they came up with was clearly amazing. The concept of what to make was followed up by what could be used for material, how to do it, and how to polish it. All the knowledge, devices and research avenues were exhausted. In addition, how they came up with the necessary tools was incredible. They collected old files, teeth of saws and broken serrations for the purpose of making short knives and drills. They had only little time to do all this, but they came up with some beautiful craftsmanship just like that of artisans. I will never forget all their hidden abilities.


11. Desperate Measures

The death toll of the detainees' camp number 551 in Dzipuhegen was so big that more people were transferred from other camps or sent out to other camps very frequently. Most of them were in Hsinking or in Shenyang when WWII began. Then the war ended while they were still in the position of waiting for the fight. In those cities, there were all kinds of new clothes and food released from the Japanese army warehouse. In fact, there were too many things going around in those cities that people did not know what to do with them. Therefore, those who came to our camp entered into the Soviet Union with everything they could carry on their backs and also in their hands.

Compared to our living conditions in torn clothes with nothing available, they seemed so lucky. It was as if they were in heaven and we were in hell. However, those transferred soldiers also experienced pillaging gradually, and they also had to sell those things one by one in order to get rye bread. Eventually, they became exactly the same as we were. In those living conditions, I found out the differences between people. Each person showed a totally different personality and way of thinking. That influenced their habits and their preferences. I found it fascinating when some people really cherished something I could not even imagine. On the other hand, residents in Siberia, where even migrant birds would not visit, were inconvenienced by almost everything in their lives. They really wanted anything and everything from us.


12. Cosmetics Made from Three Important Possessions

To our surprise, one comrade who transferred to our camp had unbelievable personal possessions. They were a big seal stamp pad for office work, ink for painting, and tooth brush powder. His creativity and ideas were also something else. No matter how much we were in need of sales to secure food, it was just so funny. The following is what he did.

Because they were all very rare products, he put them into good looking containers in small portions first. Then, he went to the area where Soviet ladies would gather in the early evening, and began to persuade them to buy tooth paste powder as "facial powder," seal stamp as "lipstick" and painting ink as "eyebrow ink."

Any ladies in any country want to put make up to look beautiful. Half of the residents in Siberia were actually descendants of white Russian aristocrats who were in exile after being chased away from a priviledged class at the time of the revolution. Therefore, they naturally inherited cultured taste, I heard. Probably because of that element, these sales were incredibly sucssessful - he was able to receive five pieces of rye bread all at once.

The following day, those ladies showed up at our working area to show their pretty faces. They were all good at putting on make-up, but it was so hard for us not to laugh because we knew what it was all about. There were some who burst into laughter, or some who sat down in the shade and put their faces down. As we were all so hungry at all times, so much laughing in that condition was almost painful.

The ladies had no doubt though. They had no idea what was going on and looked very satified with their "beautiful" faces. This was a funny story of three important possessions followed by a bit of bitter laughter.


13. How Crafts Became Our Activities

In 1947, the spring we kept waiting for finally visited Siberia after surviving two difficult winters there. Since we strived to improve our living environment and made our own efforts to supplement food from the nature around us, we could minimize the number of victims in the second winter. I have to mention that we could not let go of our strong desire to go home even a single day, however. By that time, we somewhat acquired some nerve to give up and enjoy some moments of breathing space in the midst of our difficult daily life.

I would like to mention how many handcrafts my comrades came up with to help us forget our anguish. It was, of course, for the purpose of exchanging them for food, and they did not have any other serious purpose, but there was a feeling of richness like a spring wind in the act of creation itself. It was actually a very difficult process because even a tool or material alone was not easily found in our primitive style of living. In the midst of that, one's own ideas, effort and persistence were the only source for the creation of a supreme product. Because of that, everyone became so enthusiastic about it. All their youthful energy was consumed for that and I enjoyed it as if I was watching an interesting play.

In reality, we could not even find one nail in our place, so even a scrap of a wide track number was saved as valuable material. After we beat its pointed end and flattened it, we sharpend it and then attached a blade. That could be used as a small chisel or a carving knife. Sometimes, a scrap of an iron board was sharpened to be made into a short knife. At other times, the blade of an old abandoned saw was sharpened with an old file found in the garbage, and a new saw was created in order to be used for working with small products. Wires were repaired to be used as knitting needles. Just like that, there were all sorts of things made in many different ways and people devoted an amazing amount of time for that.

In order to obtain such materials, we actually had to be engaged in garbage collection. We walked around the private houses in a hamlet, the station and repair shops. We then came up with an idea of how to use what we found, thinking about the level of usefulness of the final product itself. In the end, they could manufacture various products that caught the attention of buyers: there were spoons, rings, pipes for smoking, shogi (chessman) pieces, Mah Jong tiles, and knitted working gloves and shoes. They were so busy with such business that it was as if "a New Iron Age" were beginning.


14. A High Class Ring Created with Persistence

If we did not have anything to exchange, there was no method to obtain rye bread. Therefore, anybody clever would come up with an idea to create something that was worth selling. In order to make such a thing, we had to come up with something we could make with the materials that were available in our environment. One of the best ideas was a ring someone made out of a tin coin that was just worth a hundredth of a yen back then in Japan. Those coins were sewn onto a cloth made by a thousand people who prayed for our safety when each one of us was drafted.

He did not have any particular tool nor experience to make a ring, but he pondered what to do with the tin for a lengthy time with atmost secrecy, and a guy like him was proven to possess an amazing talent. It was nothing but just beautiful. Generally, great products like that were often made using just one wide blade knife or one chisel. However, there was not any fancy tool like that in our place. Only an old file was used instead. Nevertheless, the result was a superb article that was not inferior to products we might see on display in a department store.

However, there were always on-going senses of competition in our place, so similar products were researched and developed immediately one after another. Another person found a part of gun metal of a shaft and asked that to be cut into a ring shape at an automobile repair factory. As the last step, a really fine technique was applied to cut it into a shape of the relief of a diamond or a heart, and such products were falsly sold as products made of gold. They succeeded in getting a high price with great reputation among Soviet madams.


15. Making Spoons and Forks

In order to make spoons and forks, we used our mess kits. First, we drew the shapes of a spoon and a fork into a brick and carved them with iron scraps or a short knife. Then we kept beating a mess kit to make it into pieces and put them in a sturdy container. After that, we melted them using bellows in the area of the blacksmith in the equipment and materials storage room. Then we poured it into the mold in the brick. After the basic shapes were made this way, we beat or scraped them to make the best shapes possible. Then we filed and polished them with grindstones and sandpaper. These products turned out to also be as nice as something we could buy at a store. To tell you the truth, daily necessities made in the Soviet Union were usually mass-produced inferior goods, so what we made was not any more inferior to what was being sold there.


16. Products Made of the Curly Grain of Azaleas

The azaleas in the pine forests in Siberia grow over long long years and months, so the quality of the wood of their stumps was really extraordinarily good. The beautiful curly grain was as good as that of maple which was used for important ornamental alcove posts in Japan. Surely, someone discovered the quality of the Azalea stumps in no time. Then more people cut down Azaleas, cut open the stumps, and used the material to make pipes for tobacco, necklaces, and pins. First, they were in unrefined shapes, but gradually, everything was refined. In order to make a pipe, they made a hole with burned thin wire first, and then created any shape they wanted – round, oval, or hexagonal. Next, the part of the mouthpiece was roughly made and dried. As it became completely dried, the quality of the wood became hardened. While this was happening, they could still repeat the scraping and rubbing. The tools for such processes were glass, broken pieces of ceramics and grindstones. Each product was so shiny and pretty, reflecting the natural curly grains. Lastly, a cartridge of of a bullet was cut into one centimeter and inserted into the pipe. Then as a final polishing strategy, larvae of pine nematodes were squished out and their fat was used for rubbing against the surface of the product. Just like this, there were so many varieties of devices that were used for completition of such artwork.

Just to mention more about the way necklaces and pins were made, there were even different kinds of flower shapes and heart shapes. On top of that, additional fine carving was done to them. That way, each one became a true gem. They were as great as anything a professional would make. Every possible device was used for these creations, and they indeed became products their creators were truly proud of.

Actually, thewe were some people who possessed a professional level of knowledge to do this from their previous experiences in Japan, but the high level of skills and ingenious abilities always amazed the people in the Soviet Union.


17. The Belief of Cherishing Materials

Since we now live in a modern age where people have everything we need, we have forgotten the virtue of taking good care of what we have. There is a Japanese proverb comparable to "danger past and God forgotten." I feel it is happening now in Japan. During and after the war, everyone in our country went through misery and lived in tears because we did not have what we needed for daily living, but I feel that sense is being forgotten now.

Although my experiences in the Siberian detainment were so terrible because of starvation and discomfort, it at least taught me the true value of items and their importance. We never really notice how all sorts of goods and items are useful in our daily life until we lose the freedom to get them. Even though our experiences in Siberia happened under such peculiar circumstances, I have to mention that I gained the fundamental understanding of how a piece of paper, a wire, one thread or one empty can could become such a valuable item for us. If we are surrounded by an abundance of things we need, it is a true blessing of heaven or God's mercy. Therefore, I will make it a rule to have deep appreciation whenever I get to receive something, and once it becomes my possession, I would like to take the best care of it.


18. The Ropes Kept Becoming Shorter

When fall came and the evenings became longer, I noticed everyone began to knit after dinner under the lamplight in the camp.

Everyone seemed to be looking away from me because their threads were made of unwrapped cotton rope. Around that time, I was noticing that cotton ropes were cut each time we used them for labor. It dawned on me immediately why. However, it was the action of my comrades, and because our circumstances were such, that I pretended as if I did not know anything about it. The rope then belonged to the Soviets, but it must have belonged to the Kwanton Army before and it became the spoils of war. So I really did not care about it.

Nevertheless, I had to become concerned about it as the rope became shorter and shorter every time we worked. I was a bit worried about the monthly inspection of the materials that was coming, and I also did not want that to affect the effectiveness of our labor force itself. As there was no way to request a supplement, the only method left was to prevent it.

What I thought about was to make the edges of the rope more obvious by coiling them with wire. I also colored areas that were withering 30 centimeters from both edges in black ink. I knew it was just for my own temporary peace of mind. I was actually absolutely right. The next thing a clever one did was to cut the rope in the middle and put the rest together skillfully, and then put it away as usual. It was so well done that it was very easy for me to overlook. Knowing that it was a desperate action for survival, I told myself that there was nothing I could do anymore. If the shortened rope is ever going to be discovered at the inspection, I made up my mind to be responsible for it.

The rope was made of thick white cotton bundled together and 4 centimeters in diameter. If they had 1 meter, they could knit five pairs of working gloves. Therefore, everyone was concentrating on knitting, receiving guidance from the more experienced people from time to time. The rope changed into working gloves, soldiers' socks, vests and many other things. When the final products had any dirty spots, they were boiled in hot water with Japanese mugwort. Then some nice patterns emerged.

Thus, knitted products were used as items to be exchanged for food. They contributed greatly to storing their physical strength and as a utility for everyday living.


19. One More Smoke Before Throwing It Away

At the utmost limits of starvation and dizziness of consciousness, luxury items such as alcohol and cigars did not even dawn on us. Those who may have been matchless lovers of cigars or those who could not even live without alchol must have realized they were completely unrealistic luxuries in the life of Siberia.

It was proven that way because the items did not exist there at all, so cigarette lovers dried leaves of Japanese white birch, pine, Japanese mugwort and other trees to enjoy the cigarettes they made out of them.

In the third year of detainment, perhaps as a symptom of the recovery of the Soviet economy, a small amount of mahorka – cigarettes made of the mixture of sawdust made of tobacco powder and stems – began to be provided. In order to smoke these cigarettes, a piece of paper was necessary, but there was not any paper around. The Soviets always carried small folded pieces of newspaper in their pockets. Before smoking a cigarette, they tore the paper into 7 or 8 centimeter pieces and held them between their fingers, and then the with the other hand grabbed the mahorka and lined it up on one side of the paper. Then they rolled it very skillfully. At the end of the roll, they used their saliva as glue. We tried to do what they were doing, but it was not easy to stick the paper. We said to each other that we probably did not even have saliva because of malnutrition. After we rolled the cigarette, we twisted one end and made it stand with the end at the bottom. That was where we smoked, and the other end was where we lit it.

Soviet people were perhaps very used to this, and they were amazingly good at rolling mahorkas. Their saliva really worked well as glue. We tried the best we could to do it like them, but in vain. In addition, obtaining newspaper was not easy for us. It was the Soviet way to just give us the shredded tabacco, but to "do whatever you have to do with it."

The economic situation in a society is reflected in the way people live their daily lives – clothes, food and residences. Around that time, the Soviet way of life began to show some improvement, and generals in the army were able to wear better clothes and eat better food, we heard. What did not change at all was the way we were treated, however. There were some Japanese who were watching Soviet generals throw away their finished cigarettes (which changed from mahorkas) as if they were their watch dogs. They collected cigarette ends, unwrapped them, and used them in order to roll one mahorka themselves. Nobody said anything about their behavior even though it was wretched. Next to the person who made it, there was another person asking him to pass it to him before it was thrown away. Then after that person got it, another person asked him to pass it to him...

When someone made such a request, it was not anything anyone could deny. We all knew not too many people could actually smoke such a short cigarette, but "will you give it to me too before throwing it away?" became a line that was very popular among us back then.


20. Both Good and Bad Experiences about Making Cradles

I was in charge of providing and collecting the tools and materials necessary for the day's labor. It was very important to match the numbers of outgoing and incoming tools.

I also worked on the maintenance while there was no labor or while tools were in stock. If needed, I had to stay up all night to make sure everything was in good shape. More than ten items were damaged every day, so it would hinder the effectiveness of labor if repair was not completed within two days.

As the second year of my life as a detainee began, in the warm spring sunlight, I felt like engaging in woodworking like my peers did. I began to make boxes to store the remains of my comrades who passed away. I also made other useful things for our everyday life in the camp.

One day, one of the Soviet generals who was aware of what I was doing came into the warehouse for tools and said, "would you please make a cradle for me because a baby was born?" I knew "marinki" meant "a small child." However, I did not actually understand the other parts of the Russian he spoke. As I was standing perplexed, he tried to show me even the size of the cradle. He really wanted me to understand him.

It was not a request but almost an order coming from him, I felt.

Therefore, I explained the necessary steps in gesture. First, I would have to look for an appropriate material, and then dry it. Also, the lack of tools would be a difficulaty for me to come up with a good cradle. He seemed to understand what I tried to tell him, and said, "horosho (alright.)"

I informed my labor commanding officer of this request, Mr. Oto. After receiving his consent, I began to prepare for the job. I cut Japanese white birch into smaller pieces, and decided to use pine as a board for flooring. For tools, I made two kinds of chisel, one 1.5 centimeter and the other 2 centimeter in width and also made a slender saw made of a broken saw I found. I was not happy about the lack of a metal ruler, but I made a perpendicular ruler made of wood on my own. With these newly prepared tools, I had everything I needed. I had already possessed other basic tools such as a plane and a saw to be used for smaller areas.

Since I was able to leave the wooden materials for the cradle in a drying room with a heater, I could start with completely dried materials. The next step for preparation was rather hard – scraping with an axe and polishing with a plane. Because the dried Japanese white birch became much harder than I expected, it gave me a tough time to work with the limited temporary tools I had. By the way, all this work was done in between my responsibilities for the maintenance of tools and materials for labor. I just had to continue to work on it with patience.

After I gave all the finishing touches to the material, the rest of the work was going to be much easier. The general in charge sometimes came to see how I was doing, but he did not rush me or anything.

After I finished the formation of wooden joints, I added more style by adding engraved tulip designs on both sides of the lattice, and made the edges of the handrailing round.

When I informed him of the completion, the supervising general immediately came to see it. As he saw the cradle, he had a big smile on his whole face, saying "Ochen Horosho! (Very good !)" "Sposibo! (Thank you!)" He tapped on my sholders and showed his gratitude. Although our roles were entirely the other way around, I felt as if a true affection was springing out regardless of how other things were going because his feeling of satisfacton and my gratification of achievement became one.

The "marinki (baby)" who grew up in that cradle must be close to fifty years old by now.

In the mean time, in front of the camp, a few Soviet soldiers were taking turns to watch us, and I often saw a second lieutenant supervising them.

A few days after I gave the cradle to the general, the second lieutenant showed up in my warehouse. He said, "I also have a baby at home. Please make the same cradle you made for the general's baby." Apparently, it was another order, not a request.

His "order" came right after feeling a sense of freedom after completing the cradle with some difficulties. I was also very relieved because the other duty was completely over. My job was also getting behind. I wondered why I had to obey the demand for extra work under such conditions. My feelings became very complex with complaints as a prisoner. However, there was no choice for me but to obey.

Because it was the second time, I knew what to do, and the process was easier, but the work did not make good progress. The second lieutenant came to see me twice to push me during that time.

It actually did not dawn on me to make a difference for their ranks at all. I just had an easy going way of thinking that anything I was doing a favor for would be accepted without any complaint. As a result, I came up with the same kind of cradle without the extra carving of flower patterns. I actually did not feel like making an identical one twice, and I also did not have room in my mind to come up with other kinds of patterns to carve for this one.

He showed up again to pick it up without waiting for me to tell him. I could tell he came with lots of anticipation, and touched the cradle so happily. Suddenly, his smile disappeared and he pointed out the latice and yelled at me. I think he was saying, "this is different from what you made for the general." He was so angry, showing a gesture to indicate, "you reflected the difference of our ranks this way."

In a case like this, excuse or explanation did not work at all. As our wills or languages would have no way to communicate, all I could do was to be silent and put up with the situation. I stood there feeling anything might happen. He kept speaking ill of me as much as he could. "You are no good. You can not go home to Tokyo." After that, he took the cradle away.

This incident happened while the movement for ideology was unfolding in our camp, so his words, "you can not go home" really ached in my mind for a while.


21. Making a Trunk of Wood

One day, a supervising soldier came in with plywood. It was about 1 meter in every direction. He explained with a smile that he found it in cargo. I found the scars of coal and lime powder on it.

I intuitively thought it was used to cover the hole of a broken cargo crate. His request was to make a wooden trunk with it. After making sure of his wish with a conversation of gestures, I undersood that he wanted to use it to store his clothes and personal belongings in the camp, and then to use it as a luggage carrier after military discharge. He showed me how he would take it with him in gesture. He was good at making me understand what he had in mind, thus, I became interested in it.

In order to make the trunk, I shaved a broken pine board very thinly first. Then I polished it into 1.2 millimeters thick with a plane in order to make the shape of a box that was 60 centimeters in height, 40 centimeters in width, and 18 centimeters in depth. After I placed the boards of plywood, I struck nails into them to make the shape of a box. The side board was cut 5 centimeters longer than the top, where the cover would be attached. To fasten the cover, I hammered down a blade made of a thin board that was 5 millimeters higher than the corner of the box. Then I added a hinge to put the box and the cover together. The last thing to add was a handle. The trunk I came up with was actually a very simple thing, not anything special at all, but it had a special value in it because it was made at that time in Siberia. Soon, everyone else wanted it. Eventually, not only Soviet supervising soldiers, but even my Japanese comrades wanted it. This way, I ended up becoming so busy both making big ones and small ones, using plywood or pine board if plywood was not available. By the way, what I used for the hinge was a leather belt.

When they were discharged, those supervising soldiers must have walked away with the wooden trunks I made.

I wonder how they are doing now. They were just the same age as me.


22. Blacksmiths in the Soviet Union

For the maintenance of tools I was in charge of, I went to the blacksmith in Dzipuhegen hamlet very often. His place was in the middle of the lumberyard and the hamlet. Metal levers we used in the frozen ground were easily worn and needed the repair, so I carried them to his place everytime I needed to work on them.

He was a Mongolian man of fifty-five or six in age. His main work was to repair small metal utensils or to make parts such as door hinges for home use. After many years of practice, he was always working steadily with his style as a craftsman.

I don't know how many times I brought in the metal levers for repair, but he never showed any reluctance to help me. My supervisor always let him know about the importance of the repair ahead of time, but I felt he was so kind to work on my tools, and sometimes he even helped me first even though he had other things to do.

With his easygoing attitude of a craftsman, he stepped onto the bellow made of leather to carefully stir up the flame of the coke. Then he waited until the metal lever would be burned to bright red, and began to strike on the tip of the lever. There was not even a little intentional negligence in his work at all.

There was also a carpenter's hut a little distance away from his shop. The carpenter there was also of fifty-five or six years old, and he was working by himself. At first, I was guided by the supervising soldier to visit him to borrow a thin chisel, then I got used to him. He was rather quiet, but had a very pleasant personality.

Most of his job was to make the frames for glass windows of one meter square. In Japan, he would be called a cabinetmaker. He used two or three woods to make one frame, and did not use cogs like they would in Japan. The frames were roughly made. All he needed to do was to make sure glass would fit in the frame. He did not have to work on any extra appearances or anything. His tools were so limited that I was really surprised. He had nothing special but had only two saws, two planes, four chisels and three drills. There was nothing comparable to the metal ruler we use in Japan, and the hand-made wooden ruler was used for that purpose in his shop.

One day, when I went back there to return his drill, he was chatting with another old carpenter who was nearly eighty years old. He was a Russian man with good constitution. He began to talk to me as soon as he saw me saying, "Yaponskiy! (Japanese!)" I actually did not understand what he was trying to tell me, but he was trying very hard to communicate with me using his hand gestures and even actions.

What I understood was that he became a captive in Japan during the Russo-Japanese War, and was detained in a camp in Shikoku. According to him, "Japanese vodka (seems like "Shochu" in Japan) tasted great!" Our labor was not so bad and not too many comrades died there."

He was in the navy. He was an officer in the naval battles in the Japan Sea. After saying all that, he shook hands with me and encouraged me.

People in the Soviet Union, I think, are personally very broad-minded and sociable. They are a likable nation. However, as they had to cope with the oppression by power, stern orders, punishment and sanctions, they had to become strict so that they would not share thoughts even with family members. In this place called Siberia, not only the ground but also the human mind tended to become frozen, perhaps.


23. Collection and Burial of Remains

In 1947, when the short spring in Siberia began to bring the air of summer, a rumor about going home began to spread. It sounded like a very promising one this time. However, it really bothered us when we thought about how to take care of the corpses all over the place.

In the beginning, the deceased were buried under the direction given by the Soviets. After cremation was acknowledged, some remains were put into a handmade bag of gauze. The permanent address, home address and name, and the date of passing were written and enclosed on it. I made wooden boxes that were 30 centimeters in all directions, and each bag was put in such a box. The boxes were quietly stored in the office, but later, there was no more time to do anything. Without any choice, the frozen corpses were then stacked up on top of the sled, and left in the drifts of snow. The Japanese detainees' Communist Committee did not pay any attention to that matter.

Later, I was informed that Mr. Nagao, our labor commanding officer, and three other men secretly went out of the camp and walked to the mountains that were 10 kilometers away, spending two whole days. They found hundreds of corpses scattered on the surface of the mountains. They had already become skeltons and were left in the wind and rain. They collected as many of the skeltons as possible and put them in one place. They apologized to the corpses, how they could not mourn for them for a long time, and Mr. Nagao wrote "Cemetery of the emperor's soldiers" on a grave-marker made of Japanese birch, decorated it with wildflowers. Then they sang "As we go along the ocean*" and came back.

(Translator's note:"This song was the song adopted by the Japanese government to promote the nation's interest in the war in 1937. "As we go along in the ocean, corpses are in water. As we go along the mountain, corpses are in the grass. When we die, it is the best honor to die at the side of our Emperor. I will never regret it.")

At the work place in Sunhara, Mr. Tsukada, the labor commanding officer, also gave the direction to collect all the remains in one spot and bury them. In their place, I heard a man called Mr. Tokushita curved a statue of bodhisattva for dedication and put it in the soil with the deceased. In Dzipuhegen, we followd what they did – we had a small memorial service with offerings.

However, this is just one aspect of the big picture. The corpses were connected with thousands or tens of thousands of bereaved family members who were waiting for their returns to Japan. To abandon such corpses just like frozen tuna caused unbelievable anguish in our hearts. It is a stain on life which was never going to disappear. Corpses did not speak any words, but every final look on the face of the deceased was full of sorrow and grudge. They were all scorched into our retinas. It was about that time that, from time to time, we began to see the detained Japanese shaking their hands from the Siberian railway running from the west to the east. They were on their way home to Japan.


24. The Order to Go Home

July 5th, 1948 became a day of commemoration for me. It was the day the order came to go home to Japan. It was the day I was released to freedom. I will never forget that.

The summer in Siberia was so short, and it lasted only for a week or ten days after this time of the year. It was a sunny day. My comrades went to carry logs in the lumberyard. I was sorting out tools in the warehouse by myself. At about nine thirty, corporal Eto, who was in charge of general affairs, came running, saying in a high voice, "the supervisor came to tell us that everyone has to come back from the work place!" Then he kept running toward the lumberyard.

I had an ominous feeling right away – I wondered if any problems regarding ideology or any other sort of incident had happened.

Before long, my comrades came back in suspicion for figuring out what had happened, and they all gathered at the plaza.

There, the supervising general showed up and said, "Japanese soldiers, it is okay for you to go home." He gave us the direction to get prepared to go home.

By then, we had totally given up on any kind of false information or rumors about going home. Because of that, these sudden words truly astonished us. Then even the supervising officers who we considered as "demons " began to look like gods with smiling faces. My comrades had smiles all over their faces and hugged each other, crying "Banzai!" or saying "Great!" Where we were standing, we went into a state of a feverish mood of happiness and excitement. At the same time,there were some people who really did not know what it was all about, doubting if it was true or false. They just kept standing there in a daze, half in doubt.

At ten o' clock, the Soviet camp supervisor delivered the official order to go home to our 511 labor unit, and the time of departure was announced as three o'clock in the afternoon. The preparation for our departure was fairly simple. We all put our small belongings together quickly, cleaned up and organized the camp promptly following the spirit, "a bird does not foul the nest it is about to leave." We could not wait until the Sunhara division came down to our place to join us.

It was about two o'clock in the afternoon when the Sunhara group came down from the mountain by the lead of Mr. Tsukada, the commanding officer. They were all talking loudly, and had happy smiles on their whole faces, being merry as if they were children. Immediately after that, a meeting was held among the essential members of the Soviet army camp and Japanese commanding officers regarding the regulations for departure. As a result of their discussion, we were told we could take clothes, duffel bags, and personal belongings. However, everything that had any records, including the name list of the deceased, and anything we could record with, such as writing implements and paper were prohibited.

Nobody expressed objections to that. Each of us had only one life, and we were going to be able to take our lives home. That was enough, we thought. Nevertheless, it was our biggest regret that remains and articles of the deceased were prohibited to go back with us to Japan. This was something very difficult for us to consent to in the end.

It was because we were the ones taking care of reserving and administering the remains and articles of the deceased. The registers of names had been created by our master sergeant Takano. He made clear classifications for the deceased in the war and the deceased in Siberia. Why on earth can't we take it out? What are the members of the Japanese Communist committee thinking about? We were so angry for this unreasonable situation. Many different speculations were raised regarding this.

When we had a simple ceremony for our departure, there were greetings from both the Soviet side and the Japanese side. The Soviet major who was sent from his headquarters in Chita greeted us in fluent Japanese,

"Everyone, Thank you very much for your working such a long time. You are now going home to Japan. After you go home, please tell people in Japan what you saw in the Soviet Union. I am not asking you to become communists. If you tell the truth about our country to people in Japan, that is all I want."

Mr. Tsukada, our labor commanding officer, represented us and spoke.

"I wish for the glorious completion of the five-year plan of the industries of the Soviet Union and its endless growth."

Then we exchanged our national anthems. The representatives shook hands. However, everyone was so excited that there was no way to listen to such greetings. The prison camp blotted with sweat and tears – now was the time to say goodbye to it. Finally, we walked to the bridge toward the station to reach the railway side.

At the railway side at the lumberyard, there were thirty covered freight cars with two-stage preparations waiting for us. I don't know who put them there, but portraits of Lenin and Stalin decorated with Japanese birch tree branches were furnished on both sides of the trains. In the wide lumberyard, we saw the logs that were orderly piled up by us – it was where we shed blood and a lot of tears dropped on the ground.

On the bridge, we were divided into the trains. It was now our turn to be carried into them. Ever since the day we came off of the train with heavy steps, November 3rd, 1945, we had lost so many war buddies. Now, less than half of us were about to get onto the freight car. We were mixed with both scared and complex emotions, and again, we felt so painful about leaving eight hundred corpses behind us.

I took the last look at Dzipuhegen, the place I would never come to again, and then stepped into the frieght car. It moved toward the station. Both sides of the doors were open, and small numbers of people from the hamlet sent us off.

"This is it! We are moving toward the east! We departed for Nakhodka. We are going home!" Going home – the dream had never left our hearts. Tears of joy kept coming down – we made it! We made it through this ordeal! Our joyful conversation kept going on and on forever mixed with our tears.

Emotions came up – what happened to the remains of our war buddies? What happened to the registers of names of the deceased due to sickness or in action in the war? We should have insisted more strongly about taking them home... When we go home and see their family members, we have no excuses... Who is responsible for that?... Wait a minute. We were also made to give up all our diaries and memos... Various opinions came up, and it ended with silent eye movements and whispering in others' ears.

On our way, everytime the train stopped, the Japanese detainees' group that wore arm bands of the Democratic Alliance greeted us and encouraged us saying, "you are going home in order to overthrow imperialism and construct a newly-born Japan. You are going to land there to your enemies!" They saw us off singing songs for revolution. Seeing the scenery like that, we had to wonder and talked about the rumor that some groups who didn't show good results of the ideology movement were being sent back to the labor camp deep in the mountains again after reaching Nakhodka.

The returnees' trains were connected with other trains that brought the 515 Japanese Labor Group at Hangun Station, stopped at Chita station on July 7th, and finally ended the six days long trip to Kamenka, the final destination, close to eveningtime. From the east on the hill, there was a smell of the ocean – the Japan Sea that we missed so much. Happiness was waiting for us right there.


25. Nakhodka and the Ship Called Cyoranmaru

In Nakhodka, there were a large number of groups of people who were waiting for the evacuation boats in temporary camps and tents. Six or seven hundred thousand of the detainees kept in all over the Soviet Union were all supposed to gather here at Nakhodka, which was the final destination and the only port to get on to the evacuation boats. It was also the last barrier for the test for "domoy (going home.)"

At the Nakhodka camp, there were many Japanese actives (members of the ideology movement) with arm bands again, working on the procedures for returning, inspection and control. They were called aristocrats of the detainees who had much more power than the Soviet army themselves. We really needed to watch them more than the Soviets. I heard that there were actually some detainees' groups who were returned back to the deep place in Siberia again because of the judgement the actives made on them for their level of understanding of Communism or becasue they gave them names of betrayers. If on earth we were misunderstood like that, everything would be over. No matter what excuse we give, the Soviets would never listen to any of it. We knew their traits very well.

In this gathering place, everywhere we went, we were surrounded by the signs with slogans such as,

""Banzai -Hurray- to the Soviet Union, Fatherland for the Workers!"

"Overthrow Capitalism!"

"Strategy for Landing Operations on the Island of the Emperor"

In addition, actives with arm bands who had titles as "information specialists" were everywhere looking for problems. There were groups who were marching all over the place with placards in their hands, singing songs of labor. There were other groups who ran a big speech assembly, plays and music bands on the stage throughout the day and night. All of this pretentious atmosphere was terribly overwhelming.

There were the first to forth checkpoints, which were like barriers in Nakhodka. The forth checkpoint was for those who were sick or had weak health. Ordinary people started out at the first checkpoint and then proceeded to the third checkpoint in order to confirm their name, calling of the number of persons in the group, bathing, sterlization, checking clothing and personal belongings, and reorganazation of the groups. After passiong through the third checkpoint, we were ready to wait for the time to go home. Because the entrance and exit were totally detached, no one could go backward from the middle point. After taking our clothes off to take a bath at the first checkpoint, we could not go back to the dressing room even after finishing the bath. We had to proceed to the second chekpoint naked to receive sterlization. Then we reached the second checkpoint and received different clothes that were sterlized. With this method, there was no way for us to keep any personal belongings. What we were allowed to carry, duffle bags and some other things, were sterlized by the Soviets and went through very strict inspection. In addition, we had to be afraid of the eyes of the actives during this process. Everyone was so sensitive every day since they were really afraid of facing any unfortunate event.

On July 23rd, the thirteenth day after I arrived at Nakhodka, the final decision was made for me to get onto the ship. It came after a long long time of waiting for the ship day after day. On the 22nd, everyone was so happy and was in high spirits like kids, looking forward to the time we got on the ship the following day. In the midst of such excitement, I spent a sleepless night with my war buddies, talking throughout the night. At 9 o' clock in the morning, the names of the people who would go back to Japan started to be called. When I heard my own name in it, I was caught by really deep emotions. Then I joined the formation of five lines in order to move toward the wharf. The Japanese flag waving at the stern of the ship was convincing and relieving. On the deck, there was a big sign that said, "Thank you very much for all your efforts for such a long time." The name of the ship, shown at the stern of the ship was "Choranmaru" – it was a big ship of twenty-five thousand tons.

The Soviets inspected us one last time, starting from the person in front. How joyful we were as we went up to the ramp. On the deck, there was the ship's captain and nurses and they greeted each one of us warmly.

The Choranmaru was a ship used for transportation during the war, but it survived just like us and was still in use after the war. There were scars inside and outside the hull, paintings were peeling off, and rust was found everywhere – it had a very weary appearance. After I was given the cabin number to use, I went up to the upper deck, feeling the sense of complete freedom for action without any restraint. At ten o'clock in the morning, the Choranmaru left the port, hurrying to our home country, taking all the two thousand comrades onto the sea route on the big ocean. We looked back to the far away mountains in Siberia, where the spirits of our war buddies were resting, and gave silent prayers for their peace.


26. Going Back to Maizuru by Boat, my Home Country and Homesickness

On July 24th, under the sunlight of a very hot day in the summer, the Choranmaru was speeding pleasently toward our homeland, leaving a clear line of wake in the big deep ocean. According to the broadcasting on the ship, we understood that the ship was pulling into the port of Maizuru on the evening of July 25th. We were very comfortable and in a very reliable situation on the big boat. In a completely renewed sense of friendliness and liberation in the midst of peace, some made a circle for a pleasant chat, some exchanged contact information for after they got home to Japan, getting a piece of paper and a pencil from somewhere, some explained how to get home and talked about scenic and famous places in their hometowns, some laid by themselves in silent contemplation, and some indulged in their nostalgic conversation of the incidents in the naval battles during Russo-Japanese war. Everybody was purely enjoying the freedom of their actions without the need for restraint or concerns.

Meals given on the ship – white rice, miso soup, fish, raddishes, dried plums – were Japanese food, flavors of home that we dreamt of. With that meal, all of our greeds and complaints disappeared. Everyone had full smiles all over their faces. We enjoyed eating until we were full and everyone's eyes were shining with delight. We were all very thankful for the treat. This was an unforgettable scene.

About the time when the ship passed the middle point in the Japan Sea, our group was staying on the upper deck, talking about how we would be arriving at the port of Maizuru about the same time the next day. It was late into the night. There was not a moon, but the stars were filling the whole sky. The quiet ocean was just so comfortable, and many comrades were continuing the lively chat enjoying the cool wind.

All of a sudden, there were some rough voices coming from the stern of the ship. When I went closer, I found three men surrounded by ten or more men, kneeling with the tops of their feet flat on the floor.

"We can go home now, but what kind of excuse do you have for the bereaved family for the deceased comrades?"

"Do you have a face to show them?"

"It is your fault that the remains could not come home with us."

"Who followed whatever the Soviet Union decided?"

"Go and get the remains. Now!"

"Swim across this ocean and go to Siberia to get them!"

"Going to land in Japan in the presence of our enemy? So you said. What were you talking about?"

The wild uproar continued and some violence seemed to follow.

This was based on the grudge against the ideology movement in Siberia. In any situation, humans possess their own ways of thinking. However, when their own ideology was oppressed and could not fight against the order to leave the remains of their comrades in Siberia, they were filled with a feeling of shame. This incident was a reflection of all such chagrin and it just simply snapped in that way.

The three men who were sitting kept apologizing, keeping their heads down. When the time and situation changed, everyone had equal position and status. No one went in for arbitration, and we were worried about where it was going. Luckily, it settled down after a while.

On the afternoon of July 25th, someone excitedly yelled, "I can see Japan.....!" The crowd on the upper deck all moved towards that voice. The bow became full of people. When I looked, there was a shadow of land emerging over the horizon far away. Suddenly, there was a chorus of banzai (hurray!) all over the place. Tears were flowing from everyone's eyes. They all kept staring at the land. No one moved.

As the distance between the Choranmaru and the land became shorter and shorter, I could clearly see the range of mountains in the evening of Maizuru. Oh, I am coming so close to it after many a weary day! It seemed like an eternity! I am now coming to the end of it! The ship slowed down and quietly slid into the mouth of the bay.

While spending one more night on the ship that docked in the port, I looked around the port of Maizuru at the dawn. I found military vessels and troop ships that were tragically blown up and stranded there, but when I changed the direction of my eyes, there were ranges of mountains with new fresh green leaves shining in the morning light. It reminded me of the old Chinese poem, "the country was defeated, but the mountains and rivers of the homeland stayed the same..." The scenery instantaneously reminded me of my own hometown and stirred up my anxiousness to go back there.

There was a big banner strung across the temporary wharf, saying " Thank you very much for your patient work for such a long time." Together with additional ornaments around the arch, they were waiting to welcome our landing. Before long, two barges began to go back and forth to start our landing in turns. When I made my first step onto the ground of Japan with my full strength, the sensation of the ground pushed me from the bottom with a final feeling of relief. There were waves of people who came to greet us. I completely forgot about how miserable I looked, and just kept proceeding with smiles among them. There were people searching for their child, husband or a brother. The family who finally got together after long years held each other tightly in tears. Such an endlessly moving experience and the deep emotions I encountered there are something that will always stay in my mind throughout my life.

Over the following three days, we took care of communicable disease control, reports of the process of fighting in the war, reports of experiences in the camp and the ones who died in the war or became sick and died. Then on July 30th, two thousand returnees went to Maizuru station. During this period right after our landing, the citizens in Maizuru, as well as our families who came to greet us, gave us such warm comforting words and treated us to tea. They inspired us so much that we can not express enough appreciation for their kindness.

At the station, our delight to have returned home alive was hightened even more. There was a swirl of great joy and the words of encouragement all mixed, and it became so crowded. At the same time, everyone's heart was already flying for their home town. One by one, they went onto the train to go to the South or to the North.


27. In the End – Any War is in Vain..... The Comforting Spirits of My Comrades

Now in 1995, the sunlight of the New Year is shining on the land of peaceful Japan.

Time has passed, and this year is the year to commemorate fifty years after the war ended, and is also the turning point into the next half century. People who had a narrow escape from death from the war, exposing the period of their youth, and innumerable numbers of people who experienced the war are both decreasing as the time passed within the first half a century after the war.

No matter what kind of experience it may have been, people who had personal experiences in the war must have numerous stories they want to deliver to future generations. Also, as an individual Japanese person with pride, each person must be racking his brain for the difficult final settling of his understanding with the fateful war. Even if the method is not complete, any steps we take ourselves while we are alive will contribute to the maintenance of the peaceful nation in the future, I believe.

As history tells us, there have always been wars tagging along inside and outside our countries since a long time ago. Everytime a war happened, human societies had to go through cruelty and suffer enormous damage. In our human society, where we call us leaders with miraculous powers, this stupidity is something intolerable. I am sure everyone feels the same way.

In a situation of war, we will be killed if we don't kill the opponent. The killing takes place en masse between a group and another group. Even if one is just a general citizen, it is impossible to stay outside that framework. Atrocity is a usual measure, and all the nations' help becomes necessary to decide victory or defeat. Because human lives, weapons, and other enormous amounts of items are consumed and destroyed in it, people begin to be more preoccupied with victory or defeat itself without paying attention to the serious results of war.

However, no matter who wins or loses, the grief people go through in human loss is the same on both parties. The sorrow and predicaments that the bereaved family encounters is endless, and the lack of materials and goods will affect economic conditions of the nation tremendously, and they will eventually experience poverty. Any people who have gone through a war have the same experience everywhere in the world. They all say, "War is so stupid. It is the pinnacle of absurdity."

Fifty years have passed since the end of the war. The young comrades who had to stand against the huge Soviet army without any canons, guns or bullets, and just had to press hard on them, only to scatter their young blood in the vast field! The war buddies who became prisoners in Siberia with their bodies still suffering from war wounds and fatigue, responding to the torture against their invasion in the frozen plain worse than hell, tormented by the worst starvation and their dream to go home, but died in vain in the end! Their skeltons are still burried under the plants in Siberia, only to follow the course of weathering exposed to wind and rain, without any grave markers, nor a single flower nor an incense stick.

Fortunately, these days, the relationship between Japan and Russia has been changing for the better. As a result, in Heisei 5, in 1995, a new project to comfort spirits of the deceased in the Northern area was launched by a newly incorporated foundation, the Association to Comfort Spirits of the Deceased in WWII (Mr. Ryuzo Sejima, President.) As they plan on the construction of parks to comfort spirits for peace in Siberia, I am really happy to hear that they are working toward the collection of remains, making charnel houses, memorial towers, and multi-purpose assembly halls. Our friends who died in Siberia will never disappear from the back of our eyelids no matter what, and I have a conviction that those who can truly comfort their souls must be only ourselves who survived in those same hardships. I would like to live on with a strong spirit stating, "We will never repeat our mistake, I will never let it happen." I consider that my responsibility for the rest of my life, to contribute to the collections of the remains of the deceased in the war and to visit their cemetries in order to comfort their souls.

I would like to convey my heartfelt message to the sixty thousand or more souls still wandering about in Siberia, "Our youth is with you in Siberia forever."


Foundation for Peace
Oral History of the Hardships by the Japanese Interned in Siberia Volume 15

Published in March, 22nd, 2005

Independent Administrative Corporation
Special Foundation for the Project for Commemoration of Peace
2-6-1 Shinjyuku, Shinjyuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Printing: Bunshodo Printing co.