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Seeking to return the spoils of war

by Louise George Kittaka

Lifelines takes a step back in time this week with two questions linked to World War II.

First, from reader TT in the U.S. comes a request to help identify the owner of a Japanese sword. He inherited it from his late grandfather, along with some photos of the original owner’s family in a canister found with the sword.

He writes: “My grandfather was a Staff Sergeant in Luzon with the #305 HDQ 37th Infantry Division. The story he told about the sword was that during [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur’s return to the Philippines [in 1944, two years after being forced to flee], an exchange of fire occurred in the mountains outside of Manila, and a small group of around six Japanese were killed. The sword was taken from a fallen Japanese officer, placing him in the Philippines at that time.

“If we can find out what Japanese units were there in early 1945, we have a place to start.”

Our reader would dearly love to return this sword to the fallen soldier’s loved ones. He added that he reached out to various groups for help, including several Japanese embassies, but has run up against a brick wall each time. “The way I look at it, if there was a similar artifact belonging to an ancestor of mine, I would like to have it returned.”

Can anyone help with his quest?

U.S. Embassy by Tokyo Station?

Next, an interesting query from history buff JM, who has an old Tokyo map showing an “American Embassy” marked in the Mitsubishi Shoji Building near the south side of Tokyo Station in the Marunouchi district. He can’t find any record of the U.S. Embassy existing there and wondered what this was about. The embassy website includes a link to its history at http://208.131.143.216/e/jusa-usj-embassy.html but it mentions nothing about this location.

As JM notes, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the embassy was shut until 1952, before reopening in its current location in Akasaka.

A call to the embassy’s reference section threw some light on the matter. A staff member recalled hearing about this building, and believes the information came from a company history published by Mitsubishi Shoji. While the embassy has no official record of this facility existing, she said there were Americans living in Japan during the period the embassy was officially closed, and they of course they still needed representation in Japan. It is possible that the Mitsubishi Shoji building housed a quasi-embassy to take care of their needs. Do any readers have further information?

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on NHK’s “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send comments and questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.