NAGANO – Sumi Karasawa, one of the thousands of Japanese left behind in Manchuria at the end of the war, is determined that as many people as possible know what the “war orphans” went through.
Karasawa, now 81, spent time in a Soviet internment camp in Manchuria after the war. She recalls seeing children left abandoned and crying for their mothers after Soviet forces attacked the Japanese settlements in northeastern China shortly before the end of the war. She was 20 at the time.
She is a member of a group dedicated to passing on the message of the importance of peace and the tragedy of war. The Narrative Group of Settlers in Manchuria and Mongolia was established in May 2005 by the city of Iida’s chapter of the Japan-China Friendship Association.
The association asked war-displaced Japanese from Manchuria and Mongolia to join. The group has 37 members. Some came to Japan soon after the end of the war but others grew up in China, and came to Japan under a government program that started after Japan and China normalized diplomatic relations in 1972.
Japan occupied Manchuria in 1931, declared it “independent” and created the puppet state of Manchukuo. It was returned to China in 1945.
Karasawa’s family is from the village of Toyooka in Nagano Prefecture. Nagano had the largest number of emigrants to Manchukuo of all the prefectures. About 33,000 people from Nagano settled in such places such as Liaoning, Jilian and Heilongjiang.
Karasawa spoke to a group at a hotel in the city of Nagano in February. She told them about her experiences when the Soviets invaded the rural community where she lived and her life in the detention camp, where she was held for several months.
She also recounted the hardship she underwent after being released, including her battles with illness and starvation, her life with her Chinese husband, her return to Japan in 1994 and her feelings toward her homeland.
The war orphans “have a duty to convey to posterity the things we experienced. I want to cherish the remainder of my life and use it to continue telling my story,” she said.
The group’s members are mostly in their 70s and 80s. The oldest member is 94.
Because of the ages of the members, the group has stepped up efforts to establish a memorial peace hall dedicated to the settlers in Manchuria and Mongolia. The idea is to have young people continue to tell the stories of the settlers and to set up an office for historical research on them.
The projected memorial hall will exhibit photographs and diaries showing the Japanese settlers’ lives in China and show documentaries about the group’s activities.
The target for opening the hall is March 2009, but the group faces two other problems: getting the 400 million yen needed for its construction and finding a place to build it. Iida is viewed as one possible location, and foundation status might be sought to help raise funds for the hall.
Hidefumi Terasawa, who heads the preparatory committee for the hall’s construction, said he hopes the hall serves as a start to change the negative legacy of the war.